In this episode of Missing Links, the FESQI bots have found stories on the internet you may have missed last week, including articles on scientists’ religious beliefs, the Virgin Birth, and the limits of science.
Sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund, author of the influential book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think, has released another set of data from her massive study of religious beliefs. The book focused on religious beliefs of scientists in America; this new study has gone international. Ecklund and her team collected data from more than 9000 people around the world, and conducted in-person interviews with more than 600 of them. This was the largest international survey of science and religion ever conducted. What did they find?
“The study’s results challenge longstanding assumptions about the science-faith interface. While it is commonly assumed that most scientists are atheists, the global perspective resulting from the study shows that this is simply not the case.”
Blogger “RJS” covers science and faith at Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog at Patheos. She has just started a new series on the evidences for evolution. The first post is a consideration of God’s involvement in the order of nature, and considers a seasonally appropriate test case, “Evolution, Belief, and the Virgin Birth”. Different Christian thinkers come to different conclusions on God’s intervention in the natural order vs. his interaction with it. RJS gives a characteristically careful discussion of the topic. I’m excited to see where this series goes.
Jonathan Merritt at The Atlantic discusses the ever-changing boundaries of the American religious landscape in “Defining Evangelicalism”. He says, “Depending on how you define the term, evangelicals comprise between 7 percent and 47 percent of the American population.” That’s a pretty big range. The difficulty is that there is no central governing body that gives the official definition of what it means to be an Evangelical. For a while it could be determined by membership in certain denominations. But now, the logic of the Protestant principle has worked itself out to where non-denominational churches are the leading edge of the evangelical movement.
Samuel James, writing at The Gospel Coalition website, is concerned that too many people are wowed by science and its cultural authority. He says, “When a little bit of childlike faith meets a lot of studied atheism, fear can take control.” Some of what he says is the standard advice about the proper limits of science—the sort of thing you often hear on this site—and it is worth reading. On the whole, though, I’m concerned that the piece is preaching to the choir and giving them reassurances that they don’t have to take the findings of science too seriously. For example, one of his main points is: “Scientific consensus can and does frequently change.” OK, but how about acknowledging that science really does figure some things out? I don’t think the consensus will change about heliocentrism or germ theory. What we need are some guiding principles for helping to discern what is settled science and what is still speculative. Otherwise we’re left picking and choosing our scientific theories according to what suits us most.
At the other end of the theological spectrum is a review at New Scientist of two new books that consider what makes humans distinctive from other animals: The Secret of Our Success: How culture is driving human evolution, domesticating our species, and making us smarter by Joseph Henrich; and The Crucible of Language: How language and mind create meaning by Vyvyan Evans. The books consider the roles of cultural evolution and the development of language in making us what we are today. This is fascinating stuff and I think it is totally worth the effort to learn what we can about the evolutionary development of our cognitive capacities. But I also can’t help thinking when I read things like this (I mean the review, as I’ve not read the books themselves) that they’re leaving conceptual resources on the table. If we humans really are created in the image of God, to discuss human nature without considering theology is like studying the stars without a radio telescope—you can learn some things about them, but there is a whole bunch of reality you’re not taking into account.
Let’s not forget there are hints of what makes us human in other species, testifying to the fact that we are not completely separate. This video of the orangutan laughing at a simple trick made its way around the internet last week.