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What Do We Hope to Accomplish with “The Language of Science and Faith”?

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March 3, 2011 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now
What Do We Hope to Accomplish with “The Language of Science and Faith”?

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

Few books are written with just one purpose. Some books are written because authors believe passionately in the message of the book; some are written to entertain; some are written to make money (although most of those authors end up deeply disappointed!); some are written because authors were paid to write them. And some books should never have been written.

The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions has several purposes but a friend asked me what I might suggest was the primary purpose. After thinking about this a bit, I would put it like this: the most desired outcome or effect of this book is a reduction of the tension and hostility between science and religion. There is a real sense in which I wish—perhaps unrealistically—that this book and the entire BioLogos project would be so successful that BioLogos could shut down and no more books on this topic would have to be written.

The most discouraging aspect of the discussion in this book and at BioLogos is that it is, for the most part, between fellow Christians—a sort of civil war pitting brother against brother, and sister against sister. If Christians of all stripes were united against poverty or sickness, that would be a glorious war, as they set aside their small—and even large—differences to do battle with and ultimately defeat a genuine enemy. There was something grand in that. But there is something sad when Christians at Answers in Genesis and Al Mohler’s seminary, at the Discovery Institute, and even at BioLogos attack each other over the topic of origins. And, although nobody loses their lives in this war, there are real casualties, like Bruce Waltke, who lost his job last year for suggesting that evangelicals needed to take evolution seriously, or the faculty members at Calvin College on the hot seat now for their publications about Adam.

Intramural quarreling is a great embarrassment to Christianity. The clearest marker of the Christian, according to Jesus, who should know, is supposed to be love: “By this all men shall know you are my disciples,” said Jesus in John 13:35, “if you have love for one another.” Unfortunately, our love for each other is often set aside as we quarrel about evolution. I have been uncharitably maligned by Ken Ham, Al Mohler, William Dembski and other fellow Christians—all of whom I could easily imagine joining for a service project to Haiti, or communion in any local church. I would love to say that I have consistently responded to them with only the most gracious love but, given that another Christian virtue is honesty, I dare not put such an obvious falsehood in print. I, like them, am only too eager to leap into the fray and use whatever weapons I have at my disposal against my fellow Christians when I disagree with them. It would be nice to say that I do this because I am young and foolish and will eventually grow out of it. But, alas, my youth has long since departed without taking my foolishness with it.

Intramural quarreling among “family members” is often incredibly heated. In the most literal sense, we are more likely to get into heated arguments with our brothers and sisters, or spouses, than we are with our friends. And we are less likely still to get into heated arguments with people we barely know. Anyone who has heard pre-school siblings engaged in a border dispute about their respective “sides” in the back seat of a car understands that there is something innate about our need to protect our point of view—not matter how trivial—against those closest to us.

In a 1917 paper, Sigmund Freud coined a phrase now in common usage --“the narcissism of small differences" -- to describe our tendency to react so strongly -- with aggression, vitriol, even hatred -- to those that resemble us the most. In Freud's view, those with whom we have nothing in common cannot truly threaten us, for they are wholly "other." They can be rejected. They can even be destroyed in physical conflict for they are not us. In contrast to those we readily demonize as the “other” are those who share many but not all of our views. They can threaten us, precisely because they embody the possibility that we might be wrong. Baptist Christians argue far more aggressively with other evangelicals than they do, for example, with Moslems. Wesleyans argue with Calvinists, not Buddhists.

Christians in the conversation about origins are invested in their positions, of course, and rightly perceive that much is at stake for their faith. But there is much more that is not at stake for their faith. No belief about the actual teachings of Jesus is threatened, and certainly not his most important command that we should be known by our love. If that central Christian idea received the emphasis it deserves, perhaps the scientific ideas about origins would seem far less threatening.

In my teaching, I have the pleasure of engaging regularly with college-aged Christians. This rising generation of Christians approaches faith differently than previous generations and countless books are appearing trying to understand what is going on. The most consistent message these young people bring is that they are tired of intramural squabbling among fellow Christians. Almost none of these young people are enthusiastic about their own denominational traditions. They want to be known simply as “followers of Jesus.” They are far more concerned about the plight of Haitians than the age of the earth. They want to talk about social justice, not the parameters of biblical inspiration.

Last year at the BioLogos conference at Gordon College I had the pleasure of meeting one of the rising voices of this new generation of Christians, Rachel Held Evans. Her book Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions reflects her frustrations as a young Christian growing up in Dayton, Tennessee (known as “Monkey Town” after the famous Scopes trial) and being taught everything about Christianity except the centrality of love and compassion. Like the students in my classes, Rachel is eager for Christians to put aside differences and celebrate what we share.

Francis and I were thus delighted when Rachel agreed to write the following blurb for our book. If you read between the lines you can see that she shares our vision for the purpose of The Language of Science and Faith—namely to bring Christians to the point where they can accept modern science and stop arguing over whether that science threatens their faith.

"For too long, followers of Jesus have been told they have to make a choice--between science and Christianity, reason and belief, their intellectual integrity and their faith. The Language of Science and Faith is a readable and comprehensive resource for the thoughtful Christian who refuses to choose. Giberson and Collins tackle difficult topics with charity, accessibility and integrity, moving the origins conversation forward in a way that honors God and builds up the church. This is a must-read for those who want to love the Lord with their heart, soul, mind and strength."

Dr. Karl Giberson is a physicist, scholar, and author specializing in the creation-evolution debate. He has published hundreds of articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. Dr. Giberson has written or co-written ten books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age. He is currently a faculty member at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, where he serves as the Scholar-in-Residence in science and religion.

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Rich - #53652

March 9th 2011

UC (53638):

Figurative language in Genesis, yes.  Room for interpretation, yes.  But not as much as you say.

“Primeval event” is expanded upon:  “a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man”.  This means Genesis is no mere symbolic story about inherent sinfulness.  And “first parents” as well is qualified by “at the beginning of the history of man”.  That doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for the view that the “first parents” were *not* the biological parents of the race, but only the “federal head” of the race, unless you reinterpret “man” in a very unconvincing way.  And “an original fault freely committed” by one or two individuals wouldn’t “mark the whole of human history” unless the effects of that fault were inevitably transmitted to each new generation, i.e., unless each new generation no longer had the freedom to make the reverse decision from that made by the first parents.  So you’ve got inherited sin, don’t you?

You say this language is “intentionally vague”—which I don’t know how you could know unless you were one of the drafters of the language, which you weren’t.  But even if it was intentionally *broad* (which is different from vague), it doesn’t follow that the drafters were hedging their bets in case biology proved that historical first parents, a historical Fall, transmitted sin, etc. were untenable.  I doubt they intended it to be “vague” enough to leave a door open to the possible later rejection of the classical Pauline-Augustinian theology of sin and Fall.  You’d have to prove that to me (and to Martin) with documentary evidence from the files of the drafters.  Got any?

penman - #53660

March 9th 2011

Martin Rizley - #53642

“the apostolic writers made no distinction whatsoever between the words of Scripture and the words of God or between what the Bible says and what God says.”

I agree with the basic idea. Can we give it a better, fuller expression? “God says” doesn’t mean we interpret what He says with a sort of flat, prosaic lack of imagination & common sense alike. Eg we couldn’t insist that the inspired Gospel accounts of Jesus’ words (& the words of all the other speakers) are exactly what they said. They would have spoken Aramaic. We have translations into Greek which - across the Gospels - differ from each other. So “God says” is compatible with a fair degree of latitude & flexibility of expression.

Add to that the complex phenomenon of the narrative parts of scripture. The book of Job is inspired, but a lot of what’s said before the end turns out to be false theology. There’s the complexity. It’s “God says that they said this, & what they said was false.”

In short, a “God says” approach to the words of scripture has to be combined with a far from simplistic mode of interpretation.

In passing, the classic essay defending the “scripture says, God says” view was by B.B.Warfield, who believed in an ancient earth, saw huge gaps in the Genesis genealogies, & was positive about evolution (descent-with-modification-over-deep-time, not natural selection)!

Martin Rizley - #53696

March 9th 2011

As I see it, Warfield’s concern—like that of Francis Schaeffer— was to determine the parameters set by biblical revelation,  so that believers can know “how much” of modern scientific theory is compatible with bibilcal teaching and a Christian world view.  Because Warfield viewed the teaching of Scripture as inerrant, however, it exercised ‘veto authority’ over the claims of science.  That is why he absolutely rejected a ‘naturalistic’ origin for Eve, for he saw that the Bible teaches unequivocally that Eve’s body was made from the body of Adam.  Warfield’s desire was to know how much of modern science the Scripture allows us to accept as plausible—and he concluded that Scripture allows us to accept evolutionary mechanisms as one of the means that God employed in creating biological diversity in the animal world.  Many of the writers at Biologos, however, seem to take the opposite approach.  Their question is, how much of Scripture does science allow us to accept as plausible.  That is to grant final, infallible authority to science over Scripture in the material realm—something Warfield would never have allowed.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #53699

March 9th 2011

I said above that Chrsitainity needs a New Reformation, not because God has changed or the Good News of Jesus has changed, but because humans and our understanding of the world has changed. 

Science is going through a reformation, a radical change caused by the discoveries of relativity and quantum theory.  Part of the problem with Darwinism is that it is still living in a Newtonian universe.  So is Creationism. 

If there is any truth to the two book theory and here again the Logos is the key to our understanding of the Bible and nature, then Christians must look to Jesus, rather than doctrines about Jesus for a fresh understanding of our world and our faith.  Jesus, the Logos, is the A through Z of all reality.

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