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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R Hampton - #53201

March 4th 2011

A timely example of Christian resistance to Science, from today’s Oklahoman - Letters to the Editor:

<i>...If you can’t believe that God created man out of nothing, you probably don’t believe many other events in the Bible are factual. Jesus and the writers of the New Testament
treated Genesis as literal, factual and historical. If you can’t
believe Genesis as the true account of creation, then it’s a lie and
therefore the whole Bible is questionable. I believe the Bible is God’s
word and God doesn’t lie. If any part of God’s word isn’t true, then
none of it’s true. Our nation is on the road to ruin because so many
Americans don’t believe the Bible is true.</i>
     
 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #53207

March 4th 2011

Please forgive the minimalist form of my last post. 

Under this new format there is less flexibility, but God makes a way. 


sy - #53211

March 4th 2011

“If you can’t believe Genesis as the true account of creation, then it’s a lie and
therefore the whole Bible is questionable.”

That is the heart of the matter. I think that conservative evangelicals who reject evolution and are angry at Biologos are not (mostly) debating fine points of historical or theological accuracy, but feel that they are defending the very substance of Christian faith. I have read Mohler and others claim that if we accept evolution, we are on the slope toward rejection of everything in the Bible, and are in danger of losing the entire moral compass given to us by God.

I don’t at all agree, but I totally understand this concern. If the Bible is our life boat in a stormy sea of moral and mortal danger, then poking even the smallest hole in it, can seem terrifying. For this reason, it is vital for Biologos to demonstrate (as I believe they do) that acceptance of evolution, and the variety of views of Adam, are in fact not disputations of the inerrancy of the Bible. They are alternative interpretations of the inerrant word.

In their book, Giberson and Collins stress this point. They quote Augustine, (as quoted by Galileo) arguing that humans cannot be certain that their understanding of what they read in the Book is correct. Biblical interpretation has always been a mainstay of Christian theology. As has often been stated the Bible is not a text book, or a manifesto. There is a long history of alternative interpretations of scripture.

But of course, the slope argument is potent, because there have been examples of liberal theologians who have argued away some of the basic tenets of Christian faith. It must be made clear to all, that the Biologos view is not in that camp. Embracing evolution and the rest of science does not in any way diminish our faith in Christ, the resurrection, original sin, free will, our redemption by Christ, and so on. In fact, we need to show, as this book does, that science enhances faith, and that the moral basis of the Bible’s teachings are in no danger from scientific revelations.

We are all in the same boat, and the sea is indeed stormy. But we are not poking holes in the boat’s structure, we are instead strengthening it, by firming up those parts that have gotten worm-eaten or weakened by age or neglect, misunderstanding or misinterpretation. Fear, is as always the enemy, and faith is our protector and guide.


Gregory - #53216

March 4th 2011

“It must be made clear to all, that the Biologos view is not in that camp. Embracing evolution and the rest of science does not in any way diminish our faith in Christ, the resurrection, original sin, free will, our redemption by Christ, and so on. In fact, we need to show, as this book does, that science enhances faith, and that the moral basis of the Bible’s teachings are in no danger from scientific revelations.” - sy

It would be hard to deny some ‘liberal’ tendencies in BioLogos views, given the willingness to discard historical Adam & Eve. If they didn’t accept “no real A&E” at something like a 90%+ rate, I’d be less likely to associate the term ‘liberal’ with them. As it is, I don’t find the label ‘liberal’ as much a problem as ‘heterodox.’

Sy, *nobody* embraces “evolution & the rest of science”. There are many ‘sciences’ that I doubt & question, some of them even from the inside! Again you seem to be walking that fine line with ‘scientism,’ as if one now ‘needs it’ to ‘enhance faith.’

Just so you know, I’ve met many wonderful non-scientists in my life, who have healthy religious/faith lives too. I’m sure its the same with you.

You have work to do, friend, to re-gain credibility for biology after the work of so many ideologues in that field, pawning their wares into other fields as if they rule the roost of the Academy. Try getting rid of ‘cultural replicators’ modelled materialistically upon biology!

‘Evolutionism’ as ideology - the ‘science’ of ideas - is the main problem, sy. I’m fine with the eVo biology you do. What are you doing to push back against evolutionism, which is in large part due to reductionist biologists? It is indeed the ‘moral’ assault of evolution-ism in human-social sciences that gets at the heart of your desired accommodation. 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #53220

March 4th 2011

R Hampton,

In my view the letter reflects people’s ignorance of what the Bible says.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #53225

March 4th 2011

Sy,

I share your concern for conservative Christians, especially those who are concerned about moral relativism, which a the real concern about postmodernism which some posters on BioLogos seem to accept.

However the best protection for Christianity is good theology, not the old time religion.  Jesus did not seek find the lowest common denominator in His conflict with His theological opponents.  He challenged their legalism.  He challenged the status quo.  

For better or worse we must do the same.  Neither modern absolutism nor postmodern relativism are viable in today’s world.  Jesus, the Logos, is the Answer, and we must drag both the Church and science into the present and future even if it is kicking and screaming. 
 
BioLogos is built on the idea that conservative Christians need to accept science, which has some validity, but it is also true that scientists and all of us need a better theology to meet the challenges of our world.  


John - #53228

March 4th 2011

Gregory wrote:

What are you doing to push back against evolutionism, which is in large part due to reductionist biologists? It is indeed the ‘moral’ assault of evolution-ism in human-social sciences that gets at the heart of your desired accommodation.”

Gregory, why is the misuse of evolutionary theory in the social sciences more pernicious than the misuse of evolutionary theory on the political radical right to justify not assisting the less fortunate among us, something Jesus Christ taught much more than He taught biology?

John - #53231

March 4th 2011

Roger:

I share your concern for conservative Christians, especially those who are concerned about moral relativism, which a the real concern about postmodernism which some posters on BioLogos seem to accept.”

How funny, given that the real pomos here are the ones who try to claim that what people say trumps real science and real evidence, trying to claim that the people who are trying to change a scientific construct without bothering to produce a single new prediction or a single new datum from tests of their hypothesis, which they falsely tout as a theory.

And those who tout them, like you, Roger, are afraid to examine the evidence for themselves. It all has to be hearsay.

John - #53232

March 4th 2011

That should read, “...the people who are trying to change a scientific construct without bothering to produce a single new prediction or a single new datum from tests of their hypothesis, which they falsely tout as a theory, are correct.


sy - #53233

March 4th 2011

Roger #53225

Very well said. I couldn agree more.

@Gregory

I know your feelings about the inappropriate spill over of biological concepts into the social sciences. But  I wonder if some of the fault with that lies with the social scientists themselves. Most biologists (Dawkins being a notable exception) are not really interested in spreading evolutionary concepts to where they dont belong.


John - #53235

March 4th 2011

sy:

I know your feelings about the inappropriate spill over of biological concepts into the social sciences. But  I wonder if some of the fault with that lies with the social scientists themselves.”

It’s interesting that Gregory is so much more keen on blaming an ill-defined “-ism” instead of identifying actual people.

Jon Garvey - #53247

March 5th 2011

@sy - #53211

+1 to these thoughts, Sy. There is a danger (here) of using weasel words to fudge the clear distinction between re-interpreting Scriptural doctrine and re-writing it. That would be just one-of-those-things if the mission statement didn’t include “Evangelical Christianity.”

Support is a lot harder to gain (and to many of us harder to legitimize”) if the message is “Science and Christianity are entirely compatible: all you have to do is jettison a few core doctrines and paste in some postmodern vagueness, and all is well!”.


penman - #53249

March 5th 2011

Roger A. Sawtelle - #53197

“These are important doctrines, but they are not Biblical.”

You lost me there! If these doctrines aren’t biblical, in what sense are they important? Did you mean they are important mistakes - significant errors?

“Paul said
that sin entered humanity through Adam, yet Eve sinned too, & did it
first.”

Surely Paul knew that. He had read Genesis. I seem to recollect that the Reformed exegesis of the “golden age” (16th-17th century) takes “Adam” here as shorthand for “Adam & Eve”. Because Adam was Eve’s head, & because both sinned, the head alone is identified.

“The issue is Biblical inerrancy.  The B is true as a whole, but not in every detail.”

There are books aplenty on inerrancy. Its friends & foes seem to find it equally easy to caricature it. And I don’t particularly care for the word. I prefer a postive term like “veracity”. I just take it to mean that whatever scripture teaches as true IS true. But that doesn’t get us very far. We then have to plunge deep into hermeneutics: what does scripture teach to be true? And of course there are different kinds of truth: historical, philosophical, moral, etc.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #53277

March 5th 2011

Penman,

Doctrines are teachings or explanations.  Some are better than others.  Some are completely off the mark.  Paul was trying to make a point.  Many people question now and then how one person can make such a big difference in human history as Jesus did.  Paul used Adam to say that if one person introduced sin into the universe, then one Person Jesus Christ could bring the remedy for sin into the universe.  The analogy is forced somewhat if we say that Adam here is not one person, but a couple.  

The point is that this is an analogy based on analogic thinking, which is the way Jesus and the Rabbis of His day (like Paul) thought and expressed themselves.  Modern people think in terms of facts, not analogy.  Something is either factual or not, and Paul’s statement is not factual.  The analogies of the Bible are true, but they are not necessarily factual which is where these doctrines fall down because they are often accepted as factual by believers and non-believers alike.       


Roger A. Sawtelle - #53278

March 5th 2011

Part 2

In terms of inerrancy I am sure that you are right in saying that much is written about it.  If a doctrine is not clear and easily misunderstood, then it would seem that it is not doing its job which is to give reasonably clear explanation of the faith. 

My solution is to clear up one obvious misunderstanding of conservative Christians which is the Bible is the Word of God.  (See Oklahoma letter above)  Jesus is the Logos, the Word of God, as clearly taught by John 1 and reinforced by other parts of the Bible. 

It is my view that if we base our understanding of reality and the Bible on this clear Biblical teaching, we really do not need the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible which has caused much confusion and harm to the Body of Christ.


penman - #53280

March 5th 2011

                                                      Roger A. Sawtelle - #53277
                 

“Paul used Adam to say that if one person introduced sin into
the universe, then one Person Jesus Christ could bring the remedy for
sin into the universe.  The analogy is forced somewhat if we say that
Adam here is not one person, but a couple.”

Well, Roger, all analogies break down at some point, otherwise they’d be univocal, not analogical. If you look at the old Reformation writings, they often say that Adam AND Eve were the joint causes of sin. E.g. the 1689 Baptist Confession (the Philadelphia Confession in America) says:

Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original
righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon
all… They being the root, and by God’s appointment, standing in the room and
stead of all mankind, the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature
conveyed, to all their posterity.”

So it’s Adam & Eve, historically, at least according to my tradition. But Adam is named without Eve in Romans 5 because Adam was the head, & ultimate responsibility devolves on the head.

I don’t think Adam introduced sin inti the “universe” - only to our bit of it (planet earth). He was the head of humankind, not Martiankind or Jupiterkind.


Martin Rizley - #53284

March 5th 2011

penman,
When I said that conservative evangelicals have responded strongly to the Biologos website, that statement is factually true.  One does not see the same negative response coming from  Catholics, Orthodox, or liberal Protestants.  It is conservative evangelicals who hold to biblical inerrancy that have responded negatively.   I didn’t say ALL who regard themselves as conservative evangelicals have been critical of the website.  Neither am I saying that all the writers on the website or those who post comments on it deny a literal Adam, a literal fall, or the resulting theology that flows from that historic evangelical belief.   But the number of articles promoting those negations reveal a theological agenda, it seems to me, which if taken seriously by the evangelical community, would radically alter the content of the evangelical faith and is quite frankly heterodox.


penman - #53285

March 5th 2011

Sorry about that previous attempt - the BioLogos system doesn’t like the 1689 Confession! Here is the quote again (hopefully):

“Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all… They being the root, and by God’s appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity.”

And to repeat my comment:

So it’s Adam & Eve, historically, at least according to my
tradition. But Adam is named without Eve in Romans 5 because Adam was
the head, & ultimate responsibility devolves on the head.

I
don’t think Adam introduced sin inti the “universe” - only to our bit of
it (planet earth). He was the head of humankind, not Martiankind or
Jupiterkind


sy - #53317

March 5th 2011

@Jon #53247

I have no interest in rewriting scripture, I think it is perfect the way it is, and is in fact the word of God. And yet there is no denying that the actual writing of the word and its translation from inspiration to human language was done by men. I am not saying that mistakes were made, simply that men can only write down what they understand.

And if you think Biologos are the only people who interpret scripture in a way to fit their ideas, check out any other theologian. Ken Ham has an interesting interpretation of long life spans and Cain’s wife. Is he right? Maybe. But certainly, there is nothing in Genesis that doesnt need interpretation of some kind. 

The Bible was written to be interpreted. That is to me a fundamental part of its holy nature.   


Unapologetic Catholic - #53337

March 5th 2011

“would radically alter the content of the evangelical faith and is quite frankly heterodox.”


What authority do you have for this declaration of unorthodox?

I have very strong authority based on the teachings of the Catholic church that it is you position that is not only heterodox, but an extreme outlier among christians generally.



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