Denis Alexander on Restoring a Traditional Creation Theology

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December 30, 2010 Tags: Science & Worldviews

Today's video features Denis Alexander. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

In this video, Denis Alexander discusses the need to restore a traditional creation theology to the discussion of science and faith. One way to do this, argues Alexander, is to discourage investing evolution with an atheistic narrative, and instead allow it to do the job it is meant to fulfill: to explain the origins of biological diversity.

To argue that evolution is inherently atheistic, however, is an error, notes Alexander, as it takes the scientific theory and imposes one’s personal ideology upon it.

“We don’t have to choose between creation and evolution because they are two complementary narratives,” says Alexander. “You need both accounts to do justice to the complexity of the world around us.”

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.


Denis Alexander is the Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge, to which he was elected a Fellow in 1998. Alexander writes, lectures, and broadcasts widely in the field of science and religion. He is a member of the International Society for Science and Religion.


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Papalinton - #45529

December 31st 2010

“We don’t have to choose between creation and evolution because they are two complementary narratives,” says Alexander. “You need both accounts to do justice to the complexity of the world around us.”

From the theological perspective this is right.
From a scientific perspective, theology is unnecessary.  There is only one science, with universal acceptance and appeal.  The science is the same for everybody, no Islamic neurosurgery, no Judaic physics, no Buddhist chemistry.  The question is, which religion [that is universally accepted as representing all humankind] should we append to the science to do justice to the complexity of the world around us? 

Cheers


Cal - #45542

January 1st 2011

Papalinton:

To do justice to either they must compliment:

Science answers the how, Theology (and or philosophy) answers the why does it matter.


Mike Gene - #45577

January 1st 2011

There is only one science, with universal acceptance and appeal.  The science is the same for everybody, no Islamic neurosurgery, no Judaic physics, no Buddhist chemistry.

It’s not as clear-cut as you seem to think it is:

One of the classic examples of selective reporting concerns the testing of acupuncture in different countries. While acupuncture is widely accepted as a medical treatment in various Asian countries, its use is much more contested in the West. These cultural differences have profoundly influenced the results of clinical trials. Between 1966 and 1995, there were forty-seven studies of acupuncture in China, Taiwan, and Japan, and every single trial concluded that acupuncture was an effective treatment. During the same period, there were ninety-four clinical trials of acupuncture in the United States, Sweden, and the U.K., and only fifty-six per cent of these studies found any therapeutic benefits. As Palmer notes, this wide discrepancy suggests that scientists find ways to confirm their preferred hypothesis, disregarding what they don’t want to see. Our beliefs are a form of blindness.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/12/13/101213fa_fact_lehrer#ixzz19nzOVasq


sy - #45595

January 1st 2011

I agree with Mike. There are also political versions of science, such as Soviet genetics (Lysenko), and anti imperialist virology (the view that AIDS is not a viral disease, which helped kill thousands of South Africans). These are extreme views, but within science itself, there is far from unanimity regarding scientific values and importance. Many molecular biologists are ignorant of, and dont care for statistics, and consider epidemiology to be pseudoscience. Many physicists think that all of biology is a trivial matter, that any good physicist can easily make sense of (I happen to profoundly disagree with that one), and the tension between pure experimentalists and pure theorists is legendary, even while the interaction between the two is crucial

These disagreements and quarrels may not always rise to the level of religious warfare, but they stem from the same sort of cultural and philosophical differences, as well as simply “That’s what I was taught” that can be found in religious diversity.

Lets remember that as scientists and believers, we are still only human, and therefore can only try to get some handle on the truth. We cannot tell which path is the right one.


Papalinton - #45598

January 1st 2011

Hi Mike Gene

Oh Dear
Acupuncture.  Minor ailment stuff.  Acupuncture, an effective treatment for what?  The trials in Asia do not specify for which ailments. The key words in the reportage above is from the Western trials, “therapeutic benefits”.  therapeutic [adjective] - the therapeutic effects of acupuncture healing, curative, remedial, medicinal, restorative, salubrious, health-giving, tonic, reparative, corrective, beneficial, good, salutary.  [antonym:  harmful].
Even the tenor of the definition suggests minor.  In other words generally for minor, not life-threatening conditions, illnesses or diseases.  It is a procedure that has little significant impact in the world of medicine other than at the margins usually in GP clinics, along with headaches, colds, tonsil inflammation,  chronic back pain, arthritis etc. 
I am not sure one could find evidence for its general use in cardio-vascular surgery,  cancer treatment [other than in a peripheral manner],  kidney transplant. 

If the efficacy of acupuncture were undeniable, do you think Western doctors would be so crass as to not use it?  If you do, ye of little faith .....

Sy,  re AIDS - Catholic christian policy- Africa,  enough said.  I rest my case.


Papalinton - #45602

January 1st 2011

Sy
“Many molecular biologists are ignorant of, and dont care for statistics, and consider epidemiology to be pseudoscience. Many physicists think that all of biology is a trivial matter ... “

Surveys?  Reports?  Studies?  Research?  You know, good old fashion evidence, proof, fact.  That is all one asks.
Sy, I seem to detect in your commentary a distinct dislike for science although you repeatedly blog on the BioLogos site, a site in which contributors are asked to weave the christian message among the threads of science, good science. 
In respect of acupuncture, I have no doubt a Chinese patient would dispense with acupuncture if it meant deciding its efficacy against that of a more conventional medical/surgical procedure to resolve a serious health problem, say a choice between spinal fusion or the continued use of acupuncture to alleviate chronic back pain.
My original comment upthread was not about the science but which form of theology should represent the truth of the spiritual and supernatural area of human activity.  There seem to irreconcilable versions of the truth, all of which remarkably align along the same social and anthropological fault lines as their host societies. 

So which is the RIGHT one? 

Sheesh


Jon Garvey - #45604

January 1st 2011

@Papalinton - #45602

Just as a quick comment - as someone who ran a chronic back pain clinic for 2 years I’d be careful about extolling the virtues of spinal fusion over acupuncture in chronic pain.

It is another example of the bias of science that Mike and Sy point out from within their own diciplines: the orthopaedic surgeons saw surgery as the answer to everything, whereas the pain consultants (with, I might add, a considerably better grasp of the neurophysiology involved) preferred less invasive methods, including acupuncture. The rheumatologists just got a headache whenever they saw back patients, which is why they were so keen to help me set the clinic up.

The patients - well, they arrived with a hotch potch of false beliefs that came not only from osteopaths, chiropractors, physios, reflexologists and helpful neighbours, but from scientifically (but divergently) informed specialties within the medical profession. The job was more about demystifying the condition than even the treatment.


Papalinton - #45610

January 1st 2011

Hi Jon
Great to hear you contribute wonderfully to the community. Commendable.
Are you an acupuncturist?  Is it a one-off remedy [a cure perhaps?] or is its efficacious strength in the repetitive nature of the procedure? 
I am ambivalent about acupuncture, and I understand it works in some instances and not in others.  And as one of a range of tools that a pain specialist can find in his toolkit is laudable.  But to trot it out as some major defining rift in medical science is stretching it a bit, don’t you think?

I probably wouldn’t place it among the many big ticket issues confronting us.  Science does as science will,  it is self-correcting.  That is its driver.  Religion, alas, is self-reaffirming.  And there are so many areas of the christianities that are sacrosanct, off-limits, not open to investigation, just as the Nicene or the Athanasian Creeds clearly demonstrate.  They are statements containing ‘universals’[?] around which all other things can be queried, manipulated, contrived, misused, whatever one wishes to do with them.  If the christianities are self-evidently the truth, then why the necessity for a creedal mandate?

No commenter has yet offered a response to the religious component of my query.

Cheers


Mike Gene - #45620

January 1st 2011

Papalinton,

You are side-stepping the issue.  If “there is only one science, with universal acceptance and appeal,” then the example cited raises a troublesome question – why do scientific findings depend on the culture of those who do the finding?


Papalinton - #45624

January 1st 2011

Mike Gene
You are side-stepping the issue. 

As I ask earlier:

Which form of theology should represent the truth of the spiritual and supernatural area of human activity?  There seem to be irreconcilable versions of the truth, all of which remarkably align along the same social and anthropological fault lines as their host societies.

So which is the RIGHT one?


Jon Garvey - #45645

January 2nd 2011

@Papalinton - #45610

“Great to hear you contribute wonderfully to the community. Commendable.”
Well, not really - they paid me a lot. Worthwhile work, though.

“Are you an acupuncturist? “
No - a physician. Spec ialised in back pain in general practice (amongst other things) for 25 years or so and tacked the clinic on the end before retiring.

“But to trot it out as some major defining rift in medical science is stretching it a bit,”
Not at all - it’s a plain fact that the Chinese research indicated you could do major surgery and all sorts under acupuncture, whereas the western research is grudging about its doing anything. If/when it works - and for some people the process seems to - it probably acts by reprogramming chronic pain pathways at spinal level, much as spinal manipulation, chronic pain drugs and (in an overkill way) much spinal surgery does. That’s the area where science is redefining the parameters for understanding the problem.

But incidentally, if we waited for the science to give authoritative direction in a field as fuzzy as medicine, we’d never treat anyone at all.


Jon Garvey - #45647

January 2nd 2011

(...)
Your challenge over religion is misplaced. Firstly because you insist on using scientific criteria for religion, as futile as using them for music, or politics, or any other human activity. Denis’s post is not about establishing creation as a scientific discipline, but in restoring it to its proper place as a metanarrative (where its rival would not be science, but naturalism, which cannot be scientifically validated, witness its recourse to the Multiverse Creation Myth as its own origins metanarrative).

Secondly, Christianity, like science, is self-correcting with ref to its axioms. If you have to compare chalk and cheese, the Nicene and Athanasian creeds are not axioms but consensus global theories, like relativity or the Neo-Darwinian synthesis. Only they have lasted many centuries longer than either. Far from being sacrosanct they are, as I found when doing theology, as widely critiqued as strict Neo-Darwinism is within biology now - yet like the latter remain solid enough to be a convenient touchstone for new ideas.

The fact that I have real fellowship with Scottish Calvinists, Russian Orthodox, Swiss Pentecostals, Alexandrian Copts etc shows that your “christianities” is more polemic than useful.


Papalinton - #45652

January 2nd 2011

Hi Jon
Thanks muchly for your response. I note your rationalisation of the christianities but I think considering their variation as simply ‘polemic’ does not address some of the deep doctrinal and theological differences that exists.  But then I only posses the expertise of a lay person in theology.
More germane to the discussion though is the level of agreement between christianity, islam, Buddhism, Hindu and the myriad of other religious traditions.  There is one science, there are many theologies.  How does one universally reconcile science with theology?  What form of theology is the one true one, as all claim to be? I’m sure you appreciate the question, as difficult as it is.  I try imagine the possibility of this discussion happening in a Muslim country, and while the science would be the same, the outcome would be quite different, and the result would have little universal application.  How does one marry “both accounts to do justice to the complexity of the world around us”  as Alexander suggests.  I suspect his idea of the world might only be a very limited conception, less than worldly, in a real sense.

[cont.]


Papalinton - #45653

January 2nd 2011

To jon [cont]

Back again

What I am certain about, Jon, as sure as night follows day, theists will append whatever current and future science discoveries are, and will be made, and in the Catholic domain, the pope will sanctify them.  There is a long recorded history that infers this is the ordinary process of progress.

Cheers


Papalinton - #45654

January 2nd 2011

Hi Jon
I neglected to add the point I was about to make. 
‘There is a long recorded history that infers this is the ordinary process of progress.’

However, the burden of change will always fall on the shoulders of theism.

Cheers


Jon Garvey - #45663

January 2nd 2011

@Papalinton - #45654

So your logic is that when new discoveries lead science to change, the Church will say, in the end, “OK, no problem .” And that makes the burden of change fall on the shoulders of theism. Somehow.

Actually, as Denis points out, the understanding that science and Christianity are dealing with different aspects of reality avoids the need for Christianity to change when science does. Or where science is divided culturally.
Nevertheless, one could think of a few exceptions to your posited rule:
*Science said (from Ur until Newton’s time, pretty well) that plotting the positions of the stars would tell you your destiny. The Bible taught (through Isaiah) that astrology was bunk.
*Science said the universe was infinite and eternal, until the Big Bang displaced Continuous Creation, within my scientific lifetime. The Bible taught there was a begiining and end, and a spatial limit.
*Science seriously considered polygenism until recent genetics disproved it, give or take a few stray Neanderthal and Denisova genes. The Bible always taught the unity of humanity.
*Science taught spontaneous generation of life from corruption, until microbiology. The Bible taught that all life derived from life. There are others.


Jon Garvey - #45693

January 2nd 2011

@Papalinton - #45690

How is it that I knew when I posted that you would wilfully misunderstand what I wrote? Precognition or just clinical experience?

Your actual mistake was, I think, not reading carefully enough: perhaps a good Bible study would train you in this, but probably reading scientific papers would do just as well.


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