Celebrate Science, Don’t Fear It

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February 12, 2011 Tags: Science as Christian Calling

Today's entry was written by Karl Giberson. You can read more about what we believe here.

Celebrate Science, Don’t Fear It

In The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions, Francis Collins and I make a familiar but underemphasized theological point: the world cries out for explanation at both a scientific and an emotional level, and the latter must not be reduced to the former. We are familiar with the science discussion and the many things that we have learned about the world—gravity, electricity, continental drift, atoms and molecules, and so on. Although these ideas are challenging to learn, often because they involve advanced mathematics, they are simple to contemplate: gravity is described by such-and-such a mathematical equation and that is the end of it.

In the familiar verse that opens the Bible we read: In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth. Too often, when we “fill in the blanks” here, we focus on the material world described by science. The language perhaps tricks us into thinking of “planet earth,” and “the rest of the cosmos” as the referent for what God is creating. But the Genesis creation story is telling us that God created everything. Everything.

Everything is far more than planet earth and the rest of the cosmos (and even those, of course, are conceptualized far differently by us than they were by the ancient Hebrews.) It is in this “everything” that we find our deepest emotional connection to the world that God created.

Francis and I used these passages to make this point in The Language of Science and Faith:


“We marvel at the elegant beauty of flowers, the songs of birds, and the scampering chipmunk. Sunsets, mountains, waterfalls, and alpine lakes express a grandeur our poets struggle to capture. And yet the laughter of toddlers exploring their new and unfamiliar world with such curious delight is also strangely spectacular, especially as we ponder our deep intuition that we must care for that young life. Some of this experience is captured in hymns like “How Great Thou Art:”

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

More than two thousand years ago the Psalmist expressed similar sentiments:

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

In the past couple of centuries, another layer of extraordinary beauty has emerged. Scientists studying God’s creation have uncovered the elegant and hidden foundations of our world. We now understand why the sky is blue and why sunsets are red. We know about chlorophyll and how it gathers energy from the sun to empower plant life. We know that stars like the sun shine by using the energy of nuclear fusion—an almost limitless source of power. Our planet is a fascinating yet fragile sphere, suspended like a dust mote in the life-giving rays of the sun. It rotates reliably on its axis, giving us day and night, and revolves reliably about the sun, giving us regular seasons.

Figuring out the shape and the motions of the earth were the first great triumphs of mathematical physics—the enterprise that has uncovered the profound and breath-taking rational undercarriage of the world. Off the radar of our immediate sense perceptions, we now understand that the world is made of invisible atoms and that they are composed of electrons, protons and neutrons. The protons and neutrons are composed of quarks, bound together by gluons. And all of these particles dance to elegant mathematical tunes, reliably and faithfully being themselves so that the world that is made of them will be stable and congenial to life.

Those of us who appreciate mathematics find a beauty buried deep within nature rivaling that of the sunset. The created order radiates with layers of beauty from the sunset to the orbit of the electron; from the song of the bird to the laughter of the toddler. We strain to summon analogies to describe the remarkable world that God created. Perhaps, in some way, we might think of the creation being like the humble onion with its layers. Each layer of the creation is beautiful in different ways and, as we unpeel it, we encounter so many different kinds of grandeur and beauty.”


In this excerpt, we are driving home the point that the created order must not be reduced to what science can quantify. The easiest description of just about anything is the scientific description, and so we too easily default to that. Evolutionary psychology enthusiasts like E. O. Wilson, Daniel Dennett, and Stephen Pinker are quick to reduce aesthetics to hard science in an effort to collapse all forms of experience and explanation to science. But there is more to the world than the scientific description, even though it is all but impossible to theorize effectively about that.

The previous blog is adapted from The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins. The book, which will appear in February 2011, is the first in a series of books that BioLogos will be producing in concert with InterVarsity Press. (Collins’s contributions to this volume ended when he became head of the NIH).


Karl Giberson directs the new science & religion writing program at Gordon College in Boston. He has published more than 100 articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. He has written seven books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.


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Alan Fox - #52376

February 23rd 2011

I’ve never read Dawkins.

May I suggest you have a look at his"The Extended Phenotype”. From the odd remark from you, I suspect you don’t think much of him.  Dawkins became Charles Simonyi Professor of Public Understanding in Science in 1995 so his job since that time has been to promoter science to the masses rather than primary research. But “Extended Phenotype”, written in 1981, is a scholarly work brimming with references to the primary literature.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #52382

February 23rd 2011

Gregory wrote: Then you agree with Darwin (although he didn’t use the term ‘ecosphere’) and also with many of the rest of us here. Hurrah, Roger!

Roger:  I also agree J. B. Lamarck who said evolution was natural, but the Theory of Evolution is said to be Darwin’s because he differed with Lamarck as to how evolution works, and I disagree with Darwin. 

I believe that God created the world, but clearly God did not create the world as a static system.  The universe is changing, the earth is changing, people are changing, and the biosphere is changing.  The question raised is, How does YHWH make this happen?  Does God use a linear closed method as Darwin suggested, or a nonlinear open process more like the ecological organic view?  Now if you do not understand this distinction I understand.  Many westerners do not, however it is an important distinction if we are going to understand science in today’s world.

Quantum science is nonlinear.  It is also nondeterminant, although not random since the unity of the group cancels out the randomness of the individuals.  Dawkins still clings to random as part of his Darwinian creed.

Thus the question is not natural or not, but how does nature work?  I hope that is clear enough.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #52383

February 23rd 2011

Gregory,

Even Lysenko believed that evolution was “natural.”  Does that make us Lysenkoists?


Gregory - #52403

February 24th 2011

You are refusing to read carefully, Roger. Lysenkoists are an easy target for you (& many others). Just as pseudo-greens & puppet ecologists are an easy target for me, cf. the ‘nature-fakers’ in USAmerican language.

“Does God use a linear closed method as Darwin suggested, or a nonlinear open process more like the ecological organic view?  Now if you do not understand this distinction I understand.  Many westerners do not, however it is an important distinction if we are going to understand science in today’s world.” - Roger

What are the ‘non-western’ ideas that you are proposing, Roger? You don’t seem to have a coherent grasp of what you’re proposing. I work in a mathematics institute! & I’ve actually lived in the ‘east,’ Roger. Have you? It sounds to me like a westerner trying to criticise ‘western’ thinking. Good luck!

Ecology vs. Darwinism is a silly argument.

“the unity of the group cancels out the randomness of the individuals” - Roger

Huh?

Do you know why it is important to come to terms with what ‘ecologism’ means? Because it will stop you from becoming a fanatic, deep ecology, anti-Christian Gaia-talk.

I come from Western Canada, Roger. Not many greener places than that.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #52426

February 24th 2011

Gregory,

Nothing lasts forever.  Not even traditional Western philosophy which is based on pagan Greek thought. 

Thank you for your concern that I not be captured by ecologism.  I can assure you that it has not and will not happen because my thinking is based on sound Biblical thinking.  Unfortunately the theology and philosophy found at Biologos is not, as I have been trying to explain.


Gregory - #52473

February 24th 2011

Well, Roger, you surely do *appear* to be captured by ecologism to me, that is perhaps why you won’t define it or acknowledge the seriousness of this ideology. Instead you are embracing it, and even involving the name Gaia in your approach. I asked you to name a Gaia Christian theoriest. No answer.

If you’re going to try to ‘merge’ or ‘integrate’ or ‘link’ the ideas of “Gaia” with “Christianity,” then please say this upfront and directly.

Pitting ‘ecological’ against ‘Darwinian’ both as ‘qualifiers’ for a type of ‘natural selection’ doesn’t appear to me to offer much fruit, if any. Well, you’ve got apples and oranges to eat with your comparision. But this doesn’t make it intellectually nutritious or valid.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #52535

February 25th 2011

Dear Gregory,

As I have said before I am not interested in adopting an ideology, I am interested in science.  I am sure that you can find many Christian environmentalists of different stripes if you are interested. 

You seem to be spooked by Gaia the Greek goddess, while I am interested in Gaia the scientific theory.  If you think that Dawkins’ Selfish Gene is superior to Lovelock’s Gaia theory, that is fine.  Just please provide some evidence, please.  Neither of them pretend to be Christian, but I prefer ecology and Gaia because of the evidence and because it is closer to the Christian understanding of reality.

I am not trying to merge Christainity with anything, however I thought part of the goal of BioLogos was to create a dialog between science, biology in particular, and theology.  Last time I looked Ecology was a biological science & an important one. 

I do not really understand why BioLogos concentrates its attention on Darwin & evolution when climate change is the most pressing challenge of the world today.  It seems that climate change is behind bad weather which caused crop failures around world that have raised food prices which in turn contributes to civil unrest in the Middle East.


Gregory - #52550

February 25th 2011

Sorry that I´m picking on you in recent days, Roger. I know many greens, few of whom are monotheists.

I do respect you saying: ¨my thinking is based on sound Biblical thinking.¨ & I am not ´spooked´ by Gaia, just leery of ecologism - taking ecology too far. Celebrating science is possible in the context of ´science, philosophy, religion´ discourse. Unfortunately, philosophy is rarely celebrated these days.

You wrote: ¨I am not interested in adopting an ideology, I am interested in science.¨

It remains 1) you have already swallowed an ideology [& to USAmerican anti-Marxists, ´ideology´ is not *just plain a bad thing*, but is actually *necessary* to human existence], & 2) you are not a scientist. So you promoting science & ideology, not realizing your ideological dependency.

Even gingoro came to my defense [first time in years!], suggesting that amateurs often muddy the waters.

Climate change to civil unrest in the Middle East!! Roger, you must be kidding if you think the 1000s of other social, cultural, political, religious & linguistic variables are not important or simply less important than environmental policies.

BioLogos knows ´evolutionism´ is a hot topic for evangelicals.


Gregory - #52551

February 25th 2011

Also, Roger, is it not possible to be a non-Gaia promoter of ´ecology´? It seems that you are suggesting the two are inseparable.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #52595

February 25th 2011

Gregory,

when you are interested in discussing science, we will resume our conversation..


Gregory - #52669

February 26th 2011

Roger,

when you are interested to discuss science, philosophy and religion, perhaps we can resume our conversation.

have you read W. Runciman, S. Sanderson, G. Hodgson, U. Witt, J. Tooby, L. Cosmides or R. Trivers? check out the Fracchia & Lewontin vs. Runciman exchange on the question: “Does Culture Evolve?” (1999). Runciman responds half-a-dozen later, saying yes (2005), to which Fracchia & Lewontin respond with “The Price of Metaphor” (2005) in Journal History and Theory. this will enter you on some recent scholarship on evolutionism, cultural materialism, evolutionary psychology and ‘general Darwinism’. & it might save you, Roger, from feeling a need to hark again and again and again to R. Dawkins.

unless those are scientific/scholarly fields about which you are not currently interested to learn…


Roger A. Sawtelle - #52791

February 28th 2011

Gregory,

Thank you for the information.  I think we may be much closer that you think.

After some searching I was able to find the abstract of “The Price of Metaphor,” [which is “eternal vigilance.”]  Please correct me if I am wrong.  My understanding of the point F & L made was that one cannot substitute a metaphor for a well defined process, which is what they claim evolutionary language does to social sciences.  In other words one cannot say simply that a society evolved and think that one has explained something.

I would take this further by saying that just because one has said that life has evolved, one has said little or nothing.  Darwinian natural selection is a metaphor, not a process.  Darwin thought that Mathusian population theory provided a process, but it does not.  Dawkins tried to provide a process by showing how artificial computer programs can produce “similar results” to evolution. 
This is not natural selection.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #52794

February 28th 2011

Others have criticized the metaphor, natural selection.”  The recent book “Where Darwin Went Wrong’ complained that by using the word selection, Darwin strongtly implied agency, and since nature as science understands it is not an agent, not a person, then there is no selection by nature.  If one looks at the statement in Origins which Darwinists accept, the purpose of natural selection is to improve and perfect organisms, which sounds like teleology to me.
Part 2

Now these are arguments that I used in my book, Darwin’s MYTH: Malthus, Ecology, and the Meaning of Life, but I was not interested in proving that Darwin was mistaken, but wanted to find a natural process which does work.  Darwin’s Blindspot opened the way to using ecology, which always made more sense than Darwin. 

Popper was right.  Darwinian natural selection is a metaphor, not a testable scientific hypothesis. His problem was he could not explain the reality of evolution if natural selection is a myth.  He lived before ecology came into its own.  Now we have a real alternative to Malthusism, but still most scientists are ideologically wedded to Darwin.  Of course harsh attacks on evolution do not encourage objectivity.


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