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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Gregory - #53392

March 6th 2011

“That is to me a fundamental part of its holy nature.” - sy

I’ll come back to discussion on page 1 here soon. Just want to ask a question to sy on this clear example.

Why ‘nature’? Why not ‘character’? Why not “part of what makes it holy”? Why not just drop the term ‘nature,’ sy?

What does speaking about ‘the nature of’ the Bible actually accomplish, what does it add, what does it ‘do’ in your sentence, sy?

Thanks,
Gregory

p.s. please don’t offer me dictionary definitions. I’ve consulted enough on this topic already. I’m curious in your personal explanation as a religious biologist. & I’m doing it as part of my on-going challenge to ‘naturalism’ as well as due to my concern that religious believers are (unknowingly) following the mouldy crumbs left behind by naturalists, with phrases such as ‘the nature of things.’

No, for me, nothing ‘human-made’ is ‘natural.’ It is artificial or something else. Saying something is ‘natural’ that is actually ‘artificial’ is a basic grammar/philosophy mistake.

Saying “the Creator is ‘natural’” or “the Bible is ‘natural’” are category errors. 


Gregory - #53395

March 6th 2011

“the most desired outcome or effect of this book is a reduction of the tension and hostility between science and religion.” - K. Giberson

o.k. then, 2 recommendations

1) ‘hostility’ is by characture/nature or inherent in the version of ‘evolutionary theory’ that is ‘red in tooth and claw’, that focuses primarily on a ‘struggle for life,’ and which measures ‘reproductive success’ as a primary indicator of ‘meaning’ (which is of course imported from outside of NPS theories) in human life. The only way to step onto new ground or ‘other’ ground from what is essentially an inevitably ‘conflict-based’ scenario is to involve non-conflict voices. This will be tough to be in this case because one of the most prolific of ‘conflict-based’ theories ever devised in the history of (natural) scientific thought is Darwin’s ‘natural-selection.’

Darwin said human conflict is (as) ‘natural’ (any other ‘degree’ of conflict *in nature*). In scenario, yes, science & religion, like everything else, were *born to fight* with each other.

I see no other way to de-conflictualize or to ‘disarm’ the relationship btw these 2 major realms of knowledge/being (which is the *main* thing the ‘academic’ converstaion addresses) of S&R than to give ‘general evolutionary theory’ a serious makeover. Cleanse it of conflict & struggle by substituting a new meta-narrative.

Is ‘Bio-Logos’ a new meta-narrative? ‘Evolutionary creationism’ is simply *not* a sufficient ‘theory’ for this task.

2) the opposite of ‘tenion’ is often (but not always) ‘relaxation.’ Therefore, it follows if you want to ‘reduce tension’ that you will need to seek to ‘elevate relaxation.’

So the big question is: What will make people ‘relax’ about this topic?

What @ BioLogos & this book (thank goodness to have something from FC also to speak @ again here) helps people to elevate their relaxation about the relationship btw S(,P)&R?

Quarks, indeterminacy, origins of consciousness? No problemo!


Martin Rizley - #53451

March 7th 2011

Unapologetic Catholic,
You write, “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.”  How can you regard my position as heterodox, when the authority to which you appeal, the Catholic church, asserted the very same opinion by means of its visible head, the pope?   In his encyclical Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII said this about the ‘heterodoxy’ of those who deny a literal Adam:  When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.



penman - #53457

March 7th 2011

                                                      Martin Rizley - #53284
                 

“When I said that conservative
evangelicals have responded strongly to the Biologos website, that
statement is factually true.”

No doubt. It’s just the way it came across - like someone saying, “Christians believe X or Y”, when the true meaning is that SOME Christians believe X or Y. The rhetoric in your original post seemed to be very sweeping.

“But the number of
articles promoting those negations [denial of Adam & historical Fall] 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.”

I doubt that it necessarily reveals a theological agenda. In many cases, it’s just people wrestling honestly with the empirical data of human evolutionary history, & trying to make sense of a Bible they lovein relation to those data. I think they’re making a needless sacrifice by dropping Adam & the Fall. It damages the structure of biblical theology, & creates problems of theodicy (the origin & nature of human sin). But that’s a judgment of the argument; I don’t want to hint at some alleged plan to promote a “frankly heterodox” theological agenda under cover of frankly sound science.


Gregory - #53462

March 7th 2011

Hi penman,

You wrote:
“In many cases, it’s just people wrestling honestly with the empirical data of human evolutionary history, & trying to make sense of a Bible they lovein relation to those data.”

Yes, we are agreed about people wresting honestly with empirical data & their love for the Bible (if they are Christians). The fork in the ‘human evolutionary history’ argument comes when one decides to speak @ ‘human beings’ or ‘homo sapiens sapiens’ from a zoological vs. an anthropological perspective. Talking @ both at the same time gets just @ everyone’s tongue twisted.

Also, I agree with you re: ‘needless sacrifice,’ though it puts us both at odds with most BioLogos leaders on this. Nevertheless, it may be worth considering that ‘evolution’ is today a heterodox idea in *some* scientific realms, the ones that have to do with consciousness, ideas, beliefs, values, choices, ethics, intuitions, etc. ‘Evolutionary economics’ is still ‘heterodox economics’ in many peoples’ views.

There are many things that ‘don’t evolve’ in ‘human history.’ How much longer would discussions @ them take than would the much simpler/primitive ‘biological evolutionary dimension’ of human existence? Could it be that more of the ‘most important things’ @ humanity/human existence are best said not to be part of an ‘evolutionary history’, but rather of an alternative history of human change & development that is free from the ideological cage of evolutionism?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #53471

March 7th 2011


“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.”

Penman, this is a good statement thast I an agree with, however for me it also demonstrates a problem.  It says that original sin is imputed.  This is not a scientific word.  Modern people want life to be “scientific” or factual.  Therefore they probably prefer the idea that original sin is passed down by sex as Augustine wrote and  Catholics believe.  

My observation is that we are in mess, and by this I mean the Church and science and the culture.  We need a new reformation.  Time, history, and thought do not stand still, until the Return of Jesus, which is not yet.  I think we are missing the Forest, Jesus Christ, by focusing on the trees, whether they be science, the Bible, or Christian doctrines, all of which are fine in their own way.

However until we get our eye back on the Prize, we will still be lost, which is why I insist that the Logos, Who is Jesus Christ, must be the focus of our understanding of the Bible, our theology, and our understanding of Life and science.  I know that this is easier said than done, but I am looking for someone to say, it is worth a try, instead of trying to justify some other position.        


penman - #53474

March 7th 2011

Gregory - #53462

Hi Gregory

Thanks for the comments. I have no desire to export biological evolutionary ideas into other areas. (I think you’re saying we shouldn’t do this, & I’m agreeing.) Certainly, outside biology, there’s “evolution” in the sense of development - e.g. the development of doctrine. (As a church historian I’ve some familiarity with this…) But such things don’t really work like biological evolution, & it can be misleading to use that language. Evolution, a biological theory, then becomes “evolutionism”, a universal metaphysics. That’s unproven, unless it’s watered down to mean nothing more than “everything has a history”. Even that loses some of its force if certain new properties “emerge” by some quantum leap. You’d have a history punctuated by anomalous discontinuities.

I don’t think human consciousness, as we experience it, merely evolved by natural processes. Specifically, elements of human consciousness like moral consciousness & God-consciousness: whatever goes into the making of the imago dei. But I suppose my reasons for this are biblical not scientific.


penman - #53476

March 7th 2011

Roger A. Sawtelle - #53471

“Penman, this is a good statement that I can agree with, however for me
it also demonstrates a problem.  It says that original sin is imputed. 
This is not a scientific word.  Modern people want life to be
“scientific” or factual.  Therefore they probably prefer the idea that
original sin is passed down by sex as Augustine wrote and  Catholics
believe.”

I don’t want to die for the word “imputed”. Or even the use of the concept. It has been misused in my own tradition, when Adam’s sin has been seen as imputed to the rest of us as an “alien” sin.

Yes, it isn’t a scientific word. But theological jargon isn’t - incarnation, trinity, sanctification, etc.

Still, impute is a biblical word. As used of God’s dealings with us, it means (roughly) God God reckoning something as ours. He imputes both sin & righteousness. Romans ch.4 is the locus classicus. I think that the Primal Sin is, that sense, imputed to us ONLY because we participated in it, although I’m agnostic about the mode of participation. It’s reckoned ours because it IS ours. Or at least that’s the old, historic Reformed view.


Martin Rizley - #53489

March 7th 2011

penman,
Not only is ‘imputed’ a biblical word (Romans 4:6, 8, 11, 22, 23, 24; 2 Cor. 5:19), the concept is, I believe, fundamental to a proper understanding of the gospel of Christ.  The proper meaning of ‘imputed’ is to reckon or put to someone’s account, and the Bible clearly teaches, as you said, that sin and righteousness are imputed.  Adam’s sin was imputed to mankind in the sense that in and by the ONE transgression of Adam, the entire human race came to share in his status of alienation from God.  By his ONE act of disobedience, Paul says, the MANY were ‘constituted’ sinners—referring to a change in legal status—and consequently, “the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men.”  The good new is, that God is able to redeem men in the same way that they were lost—through the representative action of another.   For just as Adam’s sin was imputed to us, the sins of the “many” were imputed to Christ on the cross, so that Christ’s righteousness can now be imputed to all those who believe.  The denial of Adam’s personal existence, federal headship, and imputed guilt, undermines the biblical teaching on salvation.    


R Hampton - #53505

March 7th 2011

Martin,
I hope you understand that the Catholic Church, while maintaining the historical fact of an individual Adam, does not deny that Adam arose through evolution - only his God given soul.


Rachel - #53534

March 7th 2011

Yes, the Bible does say that we should love everyone, that isn’t what Christianity is based on. The Bible says that we are all siners and that the punishment for sin is death. Because we are siners, we can’t save ourselves, but since God is a generous God he sent his son to die for us so that we only accept his gift of salvation, we can have eternal life. So we are to love others just like Christ loved us based on his example. There is no point at all in preaching if all you preach is love and you don’t tell people that they need to be forgiven.                Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord                John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.


Martin Rizley - #53535

March 7th 2011

RHampton,
Yes, I understand that.  The point I was making is that Unapologetic Catholic has no ground for saying that my position is ‘heterodox’ when I insist that the denial of a literal Adam and a literal fall is heterodox, when this has been the position the Catholic historically.  As I pointed out, this was asserted with great force by Pope Pius XII when he said,”. . . the faithful CANNOT embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.”


Rich - #53557

March 8th 2011

Martin (53451, 53535):

I appreciate your quotations.  However, you are going to find R Hampton and Unapologetic Catholic a tough sell unless you quote them the most liberal statements you can find from post-Vatican II Church officials.  They have their eyes and minds closed to statements which represent Catholicism as it was for the greater part of its history.  In their “a la carte” Catholic theology you pick the Popes and Cardinals you like and ignore the rest, and you hold up as irrefutable metaphysical truths the passages of Aquinas that you like and brush off as examples of Aquinas’s medieveal ignorance the passages—such as the ones about the direct creation of man and the higher animals— that you don’t like. 

But then, I suppose that it’s not surprising that Catholic TEs would display the same incoherent position regarding tradition that we find in Protestant TEs.  No Protestant TE here will respond to my quotations from Calvin endorsing natural theology, and I don’t expect UC and R Hampton to seriously engage you on what Pius wrote, or to do any scholarly, primary-source research on the history of Catholic attitudes toward evolution from 1859 to the present.  Googling for recent proof-texts that say “I love Rome and I believe in evolution” is much easier.

Martin, I disagree with you on Biblical interpretation, and on many other things, but I do respect the fact that you take theology seriously, and don’t simply let it blow with the wind.


penman - #53566

March 8th 2011

Martin Rizley - #53489

Are we agreeing with each other? It looks like we might be.

My only caveat is to repeat that Adam’s sin shouldn’t be seen as an “alien” sin when we speak of its imputation. The historic Reformed view is that Adam’s sin is imputed to us because it is ours. The modern view, derived from Charles Hodge’s innovations, is that Adam’s sin is ours because it is imputed to us.

In other words, I’m rejecting the idea that Adam’s sin is gratuitously imputed. It’s imputed on a basis of justice & truth, because his sin was not purely personal; the human race participated in it, which makes it genuinely our sin, rather than loaded onto us by an arbitrary decree (imagine God arbitrarily deciding to load the rebellion of Lucifer onto us - to impute Lucifer’s sin to us!)

I agree that rejecting Adam’s race-headship creates the gravest problems for biblical theology. I’ve said so. But I don’t think my belief in an evolutionary biological origin for Adam is in the same category of problem-creation.


penman - #53567

March 8th 2011

Rich - #53557

“No Protestant TE here will respond to my quotations from Calvin endorsing natural theology.”

I apologize for missing that thread! I owe a lot to Calvin’s articulation of natural theology in terms of the sensus divinitatis, the innate sense of deity which (he says) is woven into the fabric of human nature. It’s not peculiarly Calvinian, though; St John of Damascus says the same.

There’s an interesting new book called “Tayloring Reformed Epistemology” by Deane-Peter Baker, which tries to synthesize Calvinian natural theology (especially as expounded by Alvin Plantinga) with the religious philosophy of the great Roman Catholic thinker Charles Taylor. It’s had good reviews. I’m just starting it.


Gregory - #53598

March 8th 2011

Well said, penman #53474.

Just one thing to add to your final sentence: your reasons can be anthropic, which is not un-scientific, but rather seeks a definitive collaboration between science (natural-physical  & human-social), philosophy and religion/theology. The notion of ‘anthropic’ pushes back against ‘scientism,’ which is on display regularly & constantly in USA, one of the ‘most scientific’ nations in the world. By speaking ‘anthropically’ & ‘reflexively’ about the way ‘science is done in society’, we can talk about the ‘moral consciousness’ you mention in a non-reductionistic/materialistic manner. But then again, & this is returning to sy’s question earlier, there are many human-social scientists who treat ‘morality’ in a way that separates ‘it’ from its ‘origin(s)’ by waving everything into a process ideology in terms of the history of humanity with ‘cultural-materialistic principles’.

Fascinating result on # of books published in ‘science, philosophy, religion, faith, logic’ 1900-2008. 
http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/graph?content=science,religion,philosophy,faith,logic&year_start=1900&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=0


R Hampton - #53599

March 8th 2011

They have their eyes and minds closed to statements which represent Catholicism as it was for the greater part of its history.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as the Church’s understanding of all knowledge, progresses over time, thanks in no small part to Science:

Distinguished Academicians, I wish to conclude by recalling the words addressed to you by my predecessor Pope John Paul II in November 2003: “scientific truth, which is itself a participation in divine Truth, can help philosophy and theology to understand ever more fully the human person and God’s Revelation about man, a Revelation that is completed and perfected in Jesus Christ. For this important mutual enrichment in the search for the truth and the benefit of mankind, I am, with the whole Church, profoundly grateful”.

- Pope Benedict XVI’s Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
October 31, 2008


Piltdown Superman - #53615

March 8th 2011

Why do compromisers squeal like stuck pigs when the truth comes out? Christians are supposed to follow the Bible and please God, not to please man.


unapologetic catholic - #53638

March 8th 2011

Martin,

Your YEC position and your version of biblical inerrancy are unothodox.  In fact, they are violations of the First Commandment.

Yoru reading of Humani Generis is incorrect but understandable.  It would take too long here to explain but the Cliff Notes version is that not every Papal expression of either science or theology is necessarily accurate, or up to date or cast in stone Humani Generis is not up to date, to say the least.

The Catechism is intentionally vauge on the subject:

“390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.  Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.”


There a lot of orthodox room for interpretations of “figurative language,”  “primeval event” and “first parents.”


Martin Rizley - #53642

March 9th 2011

unapologetic catholic,
When the Bible itself equates the expressions “God says” and “the Scripture says” (see Romans 9:14-17, Galatians 3:9, 16-17—notice how the Scripture also “foresees’ just as God ‘foresees’) it seems to me a totally false charge to say that those who uphold biblical inerrancy or the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture are violating the first commandment.  The fact is, there is ample evidence that 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.


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