Thursday, August 25, 2011

Origins (IWU Coffee Talk)

Over some lunches, coffee, and reading groups, another topic that came up from time to time these last ten years was our faith and science, not just the topic of evolution, but brain research, etc.  Thankfully, IWU doesn't have any "in the face" scientists like the gentleman at Calvin who recently parted ways.  Its science faculty present various perspectives on these sorts of issues.  In the 00s, Burt Webb was often at the lunch table wrestling with us in relation to these sorts of things.

In the absence of any official statements on the issue, Keith Drury's book, Common Ground probably comes closest to a position by the Wesleyan Church on origins currently: "Christian doctrine does not offer final answers to these questions.  Individual Christians have hunches, theories, and opinions about these things, but none of us knows for sure.  We read books on these things because we are curious, and some of us have even started organizations to promote one or another of these theories. However, we do not do this because we are Christian theologians. Christian theology says little about how God created.  Theology addresses the "who" of creation--we believe the God of the Old and New Testaments and the Father of Jesus Christ our Lord is the creator of heaven and earth.  How he created is interesting but is not relevant to our core faith.  Christians insist on rejecting any theory of creation that leaves God out, but we are open to discussing any theory that confesses God as creator.  We let Christians in the field of science give their theories on how it might have happened, but these scientific theories are merely interesting to us, not vital.  We claim only that God is creator" (46).

In my opinion, this is a very wise position.  On the one hand, as our own Wim VandeMerwe would often remind us, there are presuppositions involved in science.  As Thomas Kuhn once suggested, paradigms shift often unexpectedly and sometimes drastically.  It is impossible for us to know what the scientists of 100 years from now will be saying.

On the other hand, as Kenneth Miller warns in one of the books we read these last 10 years, it is dangerous to base your faith on gaps in our current knowledge.  I personally find it problematic to stake my faith on the hope that the vast majority of experts on any topic are incorrect--especially when they haven't substantially changed their position in over 100 years.  Christian scientists and theologians should be brainstorming how faith could fit with evolution and other prevailing scientific theories.  Those of us who are not experts on these issues--either science or theology--should be careful about our own assumptions as well.  It is not only scientists that can have unexamined assumptions.  We can have unexamined assumptions about theology as well.

Some discussions these last 10 years at IWU meandered through these sorts of topics. I can't say that we broke any new ground, but I think it would be fair to say we agreed that Christian scientists should have space to explore these sorts of things.  Not only can scientific theories be wrong but biblical interpretations can be wrong too.

21 comments:

::athada:: said...

"Finding Darwin's God" is a great, if not crucial/required, read for people who are feeling conflicted on questions of science and faith. The "god of the gaps" example he mentions, if I'm paraphrasing rightly, was a priest who explained to little Catholic children that "only God knows how this flower blooms - scientists don't have a clue." The memory came to mind while he was sitting in a lecture that was describing, for the first time in science, exactly how that flower flowers.

FrGregACCA said...

Another recommendation: Dr. Francis Collins' "The Language of God". This book's title refers to DNA and is a defense of a Christian acceptance of evolution in light of what the continuity of DNA tells us about relationships between species. It is also Dr. Collins' testimony of his conversion from atheist to Evangelical Christian.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The universe is a BIG place, too big to phanthom, and theories about how the earth came to be are various. This leaves questions.

Human societies must organize themselves in some way, though, to live on the planet for structure and an ability to predict. This is where people have used myth in the past, to create and organize society. The question today is the method of "myth" past?

The myth of "a Creator" was useful to "make sense" of the world. And, our Founders understood used such myth as a value of establishing a "moral order" under a Constitutional government. Such order was not so much about "God", as it was "the human". And what is best for humans and society is the place of policy and political argument!

Humans are equal before the law in the West, and thus had rights that were to be protected. A country is a specific "culture" in which to make or define laws, which the legislature and judicial branches do in American society. America believes in liberty and justice, but what defines liberty and what values justice upholds is open to debate, as individuals must determine these for themselves in free societies and then, enter the political process to make their choices/values heard, and rationale understood!

So, the 'origins" argument, seems to me a little misguided, as we all must live on the planet in some way. And "the way" in which one values one thing above another, is the place open for debate, as to what, how, and who!!!

FrGregACCA said...

Angie, here's a book recommendation for YOU (besides Dr. Collins' book, especially the part about his conversion): it's called "God:
The Evidence" and it is written by another former atheist (who was in the Reagan White House while he was an atheist, and he apparently was not the only atheist there). His name is Patrick Glyn.

Yet another book I would recommend to everyone: "Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality" by NPR Religion Reporter Barbara Bradley-Hegarty. Below is a link to a review I wrote of this book:

http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/2009/06/book-review-fingerprints-of-god.html

Angie Van De Merwe said...

FrGregACCA,
Thanks for the suggestion. But, I'm not interested in defending "God". I think "God" is the "problem", as religion defines things to make others conform. Whereas, free societies allow for diverse interests, and growth!

Arguments from "God" have their basis in 'order' many times, but these also can be used for authoritarian means to support tyranny. Conservatives like "social order" and liberals love to defend the "minority position". Each has its costs,but are there limits and what are those limits, and which is to define our society?

Myth has always been useful in ancient cultures to shape or form society, and these are "traditional" ways of authoritarian structuring.

Science has given us understanding about many things, but the human doesn't develop fully under authoritarianism, whether a form of parenting, or governmental structuring.....order is needed, yes, but creativity and diversity is also needed for liberty and justice!

FrGregACCA said...

Angie, a society that does not allow for freedom of religion, freedom for even for what might be considered by some to be nasty, intrusive religions, is not a truly free place and is restricting "liberty".

So, again, Angie: what's your agenda here? I don't want to run you off, as if I could, but I still don't understand your purpose in commenting here.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Yes, liberty of conscience was of value to our Founders, regarding religion. And the 'seed" of religious liberty was the Protestant Reformation, as to government over a person's conscience!

But, what has become of the Protestant Reformation was not what the "seed" intended! Luther wanted to prevent abuse of power, from Church authority. He sought to equalize such discrepancies by education. In bringing about education, he used the primary resource of the Church, which were the scriptures.

The fact in the 1500's cannot be used without understanding the impact of a "supernaturalist position" under Augustine. These two strands impacted the "Fundamentalist" movement, which resisted the 'natural sciences' and education itself!

While this was true on the "spiritual side", science proceeded to impact those that were open, or educated to the new ideas, or theories that were "out there". Our Founders were impacted by the Enlightenment principles of "free thinking", and empiricism. "Order" was of value in understanding the world, society. As social sciences developed, psychology understood the individual withint context, and the impact of such social contexts.

Today, we are at the cross-roads in analyzing what makes for human flourishind and the "human" himself! These questions are places of investigation in neuro-science, social science and political science!!!

FrGregACCA said...

Okay, well, Angie, as the books by both Bradley-Hegarty and Glyn document, an empirical case can be made for the positing of "supernatural" activity within the natural realm. For that matter, Williams James discusses this as well, writing a century ago, as have others, including Paul Davies and the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne.

Any scientific inquiry that a priori closes itself off to the possibility of such activity/effects is unnecessarily self-limiting.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

This is true, but to define such mystery as "God" leaves the individual and society "passive", while those that define such things by natural means seek to understand within the natural world, which makes for a curious and motivated stance toward society.

William James used experience as the main method of investigating "truth", not reason, which affirms diversity in cultures, as to definitons about "God". And I already "know" how people use the argument of parenting to defend the Christian God, as Father". Didn't Schleiermacher also affirm similar "appeals to cultural relativity"? I've been n religious culture too long!

In fact, wasn't it Schleiermacher that the fundamentalists reacted against in defining the "fundamentals of the faith"?

I've seen, heard, and experienced enough of religious intolerance....and our Founders ALSO understood the dangers to religious intolerance, that was the basis of their argument for religous liberty of conscience and the separation of Church and State!!! Otherwise, religious wars (under the name of "God") and/or definitons about liberty would define everyone's life!!!

Jim ~ Random Arrow said...

Ken, thank you. Timely for me too. I’m having exactly this question arise now on my blog. I work with dozens of clergy from different denominations who read the blog. Because they’ve seen good results in cases they’ve referred, I have a little good will to spend in answering why I’m Darwinian (ala Miller) and why Francis Collins (ala FrGreg here) are great heroes to me. Most clergy cannot do the Bayesian math of the good Reverend Bayes who Collins invokes for his inferences from biology to God. Most clergy can understand simple distinctions between facts and inferences. And keep an open mind. I don’t push my point of view. But I badly needed this reminder from the Wesleyan’s right now. ~ Jim

FrGregACCA said...

Jim, I think that many clergy from "traditional" Evangelical denominations need to be able to plausibly understand the first few chapters of Genesis as something other than literal history, yet still being "true" before they can really embrace evolution, etc.

That requires some kind of introduction to the possibility that "fiction" can be as inspired as any other literary genre.

Failing that, there is always the Gerald Schroeder Talmudic reading of the Genesis accounts of creation...

Jim ~ Random Arrow said...

Hey! There’s a Jewish fellow (gov’t service intern, science background) leading us through Levinson’s Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel. Sloooowly. He wants to do a series too on Gerald Schroeder’s, God According to God. What’s your take? – on Schroeder? – worth a read? I’m not worried about Christian-Jewish debates, since there are some awesome off-blog email debates between a heavy-duty Barthian (seminary grad. and insurance actuary!) and the Levinson stuff. Almost all playful. Quite inexpert! Which makes it fun. What I’m really worried about is whether Schroeder is accessible to clergy? – and to some attorneys and counselors with little science background? – how much hand-holding and explanation would be required to work through Schroeder? – is it worth the extra work? – also, are the theoretic concepts from physics exportable/importable by analogy for evangelical clergy, that is, with some work? ~ Jim

FrGregACCA said...

What I've read of Schroeder is pretty easy to understand by anyone with a good general education (that would be me; I am no expert when it comes to any scientific specialty), probably at a level similar to Collins, perhaps less technical (although I don't recall "Language of God" being especially technical). So yes, I think Schroeder would make for some great intellectual fodder for such a group.

Jim ~ Random Arrow said...

FrGreg, thanks. Exactly the kind of info I needed.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

FrGregACCA,
you said, "Angie, a society that does not allow for freedom of religion, freedom for even for what might be considered by some to be nasty, intrusive religions, is not a truly free place and is restricting "liberty"."

Those that are intrusive and nasty have not right to tolerance! Otherwise, we tolerate to our destruction!!! We cannot let these kinds of religous commitment and zeal undermine liberty for all of us!! Liberty is the principle to every other value and right! Law cannot result in liberty, as State's demand obedience to ther designs, if liberty is not allowed! The same for religious authoritarianism!

FrGregACCA said...

Well, Angie, as long as "bigots" (and one person's "bigot" might be another's "idealist" or whatever) don't break the law and don't try to physically impose their "bigotry" on others, we have to tolerate them in order to preserve our own freedoms!

And that goes for bigots of whatever sort, whether they be religious (or atheist) or of one political or another, or whatever.

The solution for bad free speech is more free speech, not suppression of expression.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

FrGregACCA,
But, isn't that the problem FrGregACCA (we ARE agreeing here)? Bigotry that makes laws that legislate against "sin" are nothing more than Islamic fundamentalism!!! stoning may not happen by the Christian communities, but, the *gasp* SIN is the only thing focused upon! Such thinking is not about the human beings that suffer under such situations, OR whether there is a way to understand these "irregularities", but to uphold a TEXT, a BOOK, which is considered HOLY and REVELATORY about "God's Will", "God's Purpose" and "God's Plan"!!!

Social problems exist n the world. Some may want to label them "sin", but they are really problems to do with "life". And life is about Tragedies, Human tragedies!!! And these kinds of Christians believe that the "ANSWERS" are in the BOOK! Sad, sad, sad!!!

That said, I still don't like paternalistic religions or governments! Collectives aren't a value of mine.

FrGregACCA said...

Well, sorry, Angie, but we are in this together. Humanity is an inherently social species: "Do not ask for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee." Or,as St. Paul puts it, "We are members one of another."

And also, authority is an integral and inescapable part of human life as well, regardless of whether it within religion, politics, or yes, scientific inquiry as well as any other human activity.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Of course leadership is needed for structures to survive. The question not whether leadership is good, but whether it is limited! as to intrusive invasion of privacy, the personal right of choice about one's pursuit of vocation, etc. That is what our Founders understood as liberty, not liberty FROM government, but liberty OF government!

The indivdual, yes, is a part of a social environment, and politics plays a big part of how leadership functions. Aren't there rules governing ethical violation concerning such leadership in Congress? Transparency is when parties are open about their intents and purposes, allowing both parties to evaluate interests, their own, the greater good and if that is gong to be a commitment of value! That is ALL I am saying.

Authority is not about AUTHORtarianISM! Personal responsibility s a value in our society. or at least it was!

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for posting this. I hadn't read Drury. We would be a lot better with the statement you quoted than the kind of statement I fear may come up, as a Memorial, at this General Conference, or a later one.

superrustyfly said...

Any thoughts on Francis Collins and the BioLogos organization?

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