Monday, September 14, 2009

A Science -- Religion Truce? Is it Possible?

Philip Clayton is a theologian who seeks to engage in discussion, as a theologian, with science. He has taken up this challenge, which he has largely engaged in through academically oriented books and articles, in a Religion Dispatches essay -- the first of several. I should note that Philip has a new book coming out with his graduate student Tripp Fuller (both of whom I finally met at the Moltmann Conversation) entitled Transforming Christian Theology (Fortress 2010), in which he speaks of a decision to leave behind the academic discussions and engage with a broader audience. So, here is a good start!

He starts by giving a bit of background on the issue -- that is -- how we got to this point. There have been three eras. The first, which ran into the Medieval period, was dominated by philosophy and theology. The second era, the era of Descartes and Galileo was one of asking questions of received traditions -- which of course gave birth to Darwin and onwards to Dawkins. Religion lost its place in the discussion. Now, we move into a new era (that seems to be a common theme -- see Phyllis Tickle's Great Emergence and Harvey Cox's soon to be released Future of Faith (HarperOne). In this new era, religion and science need not be kept in two hermetically sealed spheres, nor must one trump the other. Instead, they can talk to each other in fruitful and respectful conversation. Each can learn from the other. This "post-modern" move is, Clayton the way of the future. Of course, being that this is a transitional moment, the discussion won't be easy.

Thus, he concludes:

In the American public square today, it’s hard to find discussions of the interplay between science and religion that achieve what our society most needs: genuine self-criticism on both sides, born of the recognition that both sides will have to do some bending if any sort of truce is to be achieved.

Yet if we do not begin to engage in productive partnerships, how will we address those urgent global issues (such as global climate change) that can be solved only if the sciences and the religious traditions learn to work in tandem?

I suppose the question that must be asked, and an answer awaited, concerns the contribution that theology/religion can make to these important discussions.

4 comments:

Katie Z. said...

Now is also a really interesting time for this conversation since Francis Collins has been approved as the NIH director. I listened to an interview with him on the way home from Moltmann on "science friday" =).

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Katie, it has been interesting to see the response on the part of some who believe that because of his faith he is incapable of serving in such a post. This will be an interesting case study, won't it?

Anonymous said...

Science is an open book and can take the heat. Religion can't be pinned down since we all have our own "methods". Science does try to speak to the average listener. Maybe not always so effectively, but if they didn't meet up with so many deaf and/or closed ears they could be more inspired. David Mc

Science is an open book and can take the heat. Religion can't be pinned down since we all have our own "methods". Science does try to speak to the average listener and with one (the one with the best data) voice. Maybe not always so effectively, but if they didn't meet up with so many deaf and/or closed ears they could be more inspired.

Global warming and a coming end to the economic growth model is a fact. Big changes are coming. There are many paid impostors, watch for them. David Mc

Anonymous said...

oops