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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

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

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

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."


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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Ryan G - #53051

March 3rd 2011

I think BioLogos has been quite thorough regarding the science-faith dialog, and this book seems to be a successful culmination.

However, I would very much like to see a more comprehensive tackling of the Genesis texts purely on theological grounds. I think Pete has been enaged in this, but his contributions seem to be conversation starters - intriguing digs at conventional and common interpretations. The “Questions” section is helpful, but maybe a systematic and thorough book is in order? Or, has John Walton rendered this task obsolete?

Creationists can state their literal hisorical-grammatical interpretation of Genesis in a few sentences. I’d be hard-pressed to do the same, despite being convinced that the literalistic interpretation falls far short. Maybe the fault is mine?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #53054

March 3rd 2011

The basis of Christian unity is or should be Jesus Christ.

The basis of the Christian understanding of the universe is the Logos, Jesus Christ. 

Now I do not expect scientists to accept the second statement, but most scientists beleive I think that science and the universe has a rational (logical) basis.

Christians need to understand what it means to believe that Jesus Christ is the Logos, the rational/spiritual foundation of the universe, and then see if they can form a bridge of understanding with scientists (many who are Christian) who believe that the universe has a rational basis.

I am saying that Christians need to get our theological act together, and we have much material for that in the NT (Genesis should not be our only source of understanding), before we dialogue with science.  We can do this with or without evangelicals, but of course the wider the participation the better.


Daniel Mann - #53057

March 3rd 2011

SEVERAL ISSUES:     

1.  BioLogos can’t complain about the Hams and Mohlers and their contentiousness and judgmentalness, while BioLogos is pointing its finger against them.

2.  The controversy isn’t between science and Christianity. It never was! Macro-Evolution is the issue.

3.  We are required to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3). Many of us are concerned that the embrace of evolution requires an entire remake of the Faith, including all of the theology-laden NT assertions that the Genesis accounts are historical. In this regard, please see: http://mannsword.blogspot.com/2011/02/fruits-of-christian-evolution.html


Calvin Wray - #53099

March 3rd 2011

I agree with your concern about how embracing evolution can cause damage to ones faith. It sure did mine, and I had a mid-faith crisis!

After being a YEC for forty years, I mustered the courage to dive headlong into an honest evaluation of the evidence. At first it was unsettling and depressing. But now, my understanding of science AND Genesis has allowed me to engage in conversations with non-believers with a confidence I couldn’t have fabricated before.

Relax, Genesis isn’t obsolete. It is impossible for God’s revelation to mankind in scripture to conflict with his revelation to mankind in nature. (to paraphrase Matthew Maury - father of oceanography)


defensedefumer - #53060

March 3rd 2011

Among all the websites discussing science and religion I have been to, Biologos has been the most respectful and honest. Keep up the good work!

To Mr Mann:
“Macroevolution” is the same as microevolution. Taxonomic ranks are naming conventions. Evolution does not suddenly halt when it hits the species/genus/family barrier.


aberg - #53064

March 3rd 2011

When we consider how God (Logos) reveals himself to us, we are quick to take God at his word when He speaks through Scripture, but we seem to be so reluctant when He speaks to us through Nature.  Nature and Scripture both have their source in God.  Theology is our best attempt to understand Scripture.  Science is our best attempt to understand Nature.  In both cases our understanding changes over time as we learn more, and as we learn more, we realize how much more we are ignorant of.  Science and theology were never meant to be alternative explanations, but complementary.  They address the same issues, but at completely different levels.  Why has it taken us so long to realize this?


merv - #53074

March 3rd 2011

Nice summary, aberg.  As to “why has it taken us so long to realize this”; I don’t think the situation is one of sudden insight overwhelming previous generations of ignorance.  There are Christians here who would deeply understand the “two books” analogy and yet still have their reasons for rejecting it as a faithful Christian model for understanding reality—or at least rejecting it insofar as it would seem to them to put science and scripture on “equal” footing.  It would seem that this disagreement is the more persistent historical artifact, although individuals may certainly experience personal epiphanies of new understanding if they had never been exposed to this kind of Christian thought.

—Merv


R Hampton - #53082

March 3rd 2011

aberg - well said.


conrad - #53083

March 3rd 2011

Evolution explains “the dust of the earth”....ONLY!

The “breath of life” is still mysterious.


R Hampton - #53088

March 3rd 2011

adberg,
To answer your question, for Christians who are resistant to a scientific explanation of the Creation, their entire ability to believe in Christ rests on literal truth. Furthermore, they seem to think that literalism is essential to the belief of (most) eveyone else. A noted example, Ken Ham:

God’s absolutes dictate that there are rules by which we must abide. Christianity cannot co-exist in a world community with relative morality as its basis. One or the other will yield. There are two world views with two totally different belief systems clashing in our society. The real war being waged is a great spiritual war. Sadly, today many Christians fail to win the war because they fail to recognize the nature of the battle.

It is my contention that this spiritual conflict is rooted in the issue of origins (creation/evolution). Although the thought may sound strange or new to the reader, biblically and logically this issue is central in the battle for men’s souls.

“Christianity Is Under Attack”
Ken Ham, President of Answers In Genesis - USA
http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/the-lie/chapter1.asp


Roger A. Sawtelle - #53092

March 3rd 2011

“God’s absolutes dictate that there are rules by which we must abide.” Ken Ham

Thank you R. Hampton for that quote.

However, what is true is that God does not speak to us in absolutes.  Love your neighbor is not absolute language, but relational language.  Faith, Hope, and Love abide, but they are not absolute, but relational divine values, not absolute divine values.

This is what I mean by getting our theology straight.  Ken Ham and those who agree with him are correct to say that relativitism is not the way to the future.  However they fail to understand that absolutes lead to legalism which is also against that Jesus stood for. 

The Logos stands for cooperation which is opposed to Darwinian conflict and survival of the fittest.  The Logos stands for Agape/Love which also stands against absolutes and legalism, which many conservative Christians seem to embrace.


conrad - #53142

March 4th 2011

Well for a “two book” policy you must read both books.

 The science book didn’t end when Darwin died.
 I recommend ‘Parallel Worlds’ by Michio Kaku.
 I think you will find that scientists are quite spiritual.
 It is organized churches whose authority they reject.

See if you can read about an observer collapsing the wave function SIMPLY BY OBSERVING  without feeling spiritual.

Martin Rizley - #53144

March 4th 2011

Daniel Mann in #53057 has done an excellent job of succintly summarizing the reason why there has been such a strong response by conservative evangelicals  to the Biologos website.  As Daniel points out, as Christians, we are called in Scripture to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” and the context of that statement indicates that Jude’s exhortation was prompted, not so much by false religions outside the church, but by false teachings within the church that were being put forth in the name of Christ.  Certainly we must speak the truth in love to one another, but we cannot, out of love, minimize the importance of the issues involved when someone is proposing what really amounts to a radical redefinition of evangelical faith that involves the jettisoning of such cardinal biblical teachings as the inerrancy of Scripture, the representative headship of Adam, the historic fall of mankind into sin through the one sin of one man, humanity’s radical depravity in Adam (which Wesleyans and Calvinists have both agreed on historically).


nedbrek - #53167

March 4th 2011

aberg, no one is against science (repeatability and observability).  The issue at stake is uniformity (the present is the key to the past).


penman - #53169

March 4th 2011

Martin Rizley - #53144

How many more times, Martin, are you going to lump all ECs/TEs together in the same little boat as purveyors of classic “liberal” theology? Some ECs/TEs here have said repeatedly - sometimes in conversation with yourself - that we aren’t “liberals”. Sometimes we’ve even spoken up for you concerning your belief in a historical Adam when others have rejected it. Your list - “the inerrancy of Scripture, the representative headship of Adam, the
historic fall of mankind into sin through the one sin of one
man, humanity’s radical depravity in Adam” - articulates views I myself hold. And I’m not alone.

Try to be a bit more discriminating, otherwise dialogue becomes almost impossibly difficult.


Martin Rizley - #53171

March 4th 2011

penman,
You have read more into my words than I actually said.  I do not lump “all EC’s and TE’s together” in the same little boat as purveyors of classic “liberal” theology.  I have never said such a thing.  I would not say that B. B. Warfield proposed the “radical redefinition of evangelical faith” that one sees frequently affirmed on the Biologos website as falling within the realm of Christian orthodoxy.  What distinguishes Warfield’s view from that proposed by numerous writers on the Biologos website?  He did not give to science the unlimited authority to redefine the historical content of the Christian  faith that many seem prepared to do on this website—an authority that is practically infallible.  He remained to some degree skeptical of the alleged ‘certainities’ of science and was unwilling to concede the truth of any scientific claim that contradicted the inerrancy of Scripture, its complete reliability in historical matters, or the system of redemptive theology based on representative headship that is clearly taught in Scripture. (cont.)


Martin Rizley - #53172

March 4th 2011

 He did not jettison the cardinal biblical teachings that I mentioned above, nor did he minimize the seriousness of rejecting those teachings.    


penman - #53179

March 4th 2011

                                                      Martin Rizley #53171

“You have read more into my words than I actually said.”

What you said was that “conservative evangelicals” have reacted against “the BioLogos website”. Very general language. Then you explained this reaction by listing your fundamental doctrines. Your proof that you aren’t lumping us all together in the “liberal” camp by praising B.B.Warfield as a “conservative” theologian open to evolution isn’t really relevant, since Warfield isn’t a BioLogos contributor (unless there’s something weird going on that I don’t know about).

Maybe what you meant is that there are conservative evangelicals who have rightly reacted to those contributions on BioLogos denying some doctrines deemed fundamental, like a historical Adam as head of humankind, etc. That would have been a fair point to debate. But you’d then have to grant that (for example) the historicity of Adam has been discussed positively by some BioLogos contributors - like David Opderbeck & Denis Alexander. And some posters like myself have added their voice within an EC/TE perspective.


conrad - #53183

March 4th 2011

Science today has a spiritual quality.

 Multiple pasts and multiple futures are apparently a reality.
 When I heard about that i thought “maybe when Christ says your sins are washed away it really does erase that version of the past”.

Charlie - #53185

March 4th 2011

One thing I have learned is that you are always going to have some different opinions with absolutely everyone.  As a non-religious scientist and med student, the same thing is true when talking to others who are non-religious, scientists, and or med students.  I think the most important thing is for one to be able to discuss and debate peacefully and respectfully.  I disagree with a lot of what my wife believes (a religious Lutheran and scientist) but that doesn’t mean we go at each others’ throats.  We discuss and, because of respect and peaceful debate, we are still happily married.


conrad - #53187

March 4th 2011

Differences of opinion do not necessarily have to be resolved.
    Both may be right.

KG - #53485

March 7th 2011

But presumably, your wife believes you’re on the path to hell. Luther certainly would have done so. How do you deal with that?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #53197

March 4th 2011

 “the inerrancy of Scripture, ..., the
historic fall of mankind into sin through the one sin of one
man, ....”

These are important doctrines, but they are not Biblical.  Paul said that sin entered humanity through Adam, yet Eve sinned too, & did it first. 

The issue is Biblical inerrancy.  The B is true as a whole, but not in every detail.  Read Mt 13:31-31  Is the mustard the smallest seed & does it becomes a tree?  

These are not necessary to the meaning of the parable? Does it negate the meaning of the B if Jesus or Mt made a factual error?   

Jesus is the Word of God, Who is perfect because He is without sin, not because He is omniscient.   

The B teaches that Christ is the Word of God.  Protestants believe the B trumps tradition.   

Maybe God could have made the B inerrant.  So what?  What does the B say? It says Jesus Christ is the Logos.  If we start from this one basic premise, everything falls into place. 


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