Friday, November 06, 2009

Religion and Science -- The Death Match

If you pay attention to much of the rhetoric these days, it would appear that religion (especially Christianity) is in a death match with science. Only one side will come out on top. Some, perhaps a growing number, scientists are insisting that religion must be destroyed, that it is a danger to science. In large part this is a reaction to creationist and intelligent design folks, who are trying to define science for scientists. This fear of religious inroads, may explain why there was a reaction on the part of some to the appointment of Francis Collins to be the head of the National Institutes of Health. On the other side of the coin, there are those in the religious community who fear that scientists are out to topple God, and thus they must be resisted.

There is, of course, a middle ground -- Religion offers why answers, science offers how -- but that no longer seems enough for many in the room. And so the death match goes on.

Philip Clayton, a theologian with strong interests in science, wants us to think in another way about this issue. He has written a piece for Religion Dispatches entitled: "Evolution and Creation Fight to the Death: What Emerges from the Ashes." In it, he suggests that we go beyond the why/how middle ground, and begin a conversation between the two parties, but one that will require us to live and let live. Then we can start asking some intriguing questions.
When evolutionary and religious explanations are construed as fighting for the same territory, they will unleash their weapons upon each other—as today’s religion wars show. When we recognize and acknowledge their different strengths, a far more interesting discussion emerges.
And what will that discussion look like?

This new debate is challenging because it requires both sides to give up certain hegemonic claims: scientists, the claim that science provides the answer to all metaphysical questions; and religionists, the claim that they know better than science how nature works. Yet a whole series of fascinating questions arises when hegemony is off the table: is there a directionality to evolution or is it, as Stephen Jay Gould thought, a “drunkard's walk”? Do the emergent worlds of culture, ideas, philosophy, art, and even religion make any irreducible contributions to explaining what it is to be human? How (if at all) could a divine influence on cosmic history be compatible with the scientific study of the cosmos? What kind of influence would it have it be? Will humans respond more appropriately to the global climate crisis when scientific data are combined with religious values and motivations for action?

Of course, the question will remain, especially from the religion side -- where does God fit? On these questions Clayton stirs our imagination -- oh, and he points us to an upcoming book by John Haught entitled: Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life (WJK, 2010).



15 comments:

Steve said...

Bob, it appears that Clayton has not moved past the why/how model. Rather, he is calling us back to it by admonishing each side to limit themselves to their legitimate concerns (either the why or the how), and quit interfering with the other's turf. The end of hegemony is the return to the humility of each pursuit.

What am I missing here?

Wayne said...

I work at a evangelical, traditionally conservative Christian Camp and have been in charge of our Outdoor Education Science Camp... I'm not a conservative Christian, per se. It has been an interesting situation coming into a less than healthy dialogue between the public and the conservative Christian view of creation.In my brief experience, both sides are fearful, neither really understand the issues and are very reactive and emotionally charged. I've learned a lot. The Bible, in my opinion isn't a science text and Darwin isn't the authority either. Anybody watch the movie "Expelled"? Just saying that there's a ton of fear out there and very little real, helpful dialogue. ~~Jan

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

I think, if I read him right, he wants the two "sides" to have a conversation, but we need to recognize the limits that each voice has. It's not merely one side has a why and the other a how, maybe we could talk about these categories in a different way.

Maybe I can goad Philip to come and give an answer to your question!

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Jan,

I've seen parts of Expelled and it does a disservice to the conversation. From a more evangelical perspective, Daniel Harrell's book Nature's Witness is helpful -- though his view is the more traditional how/why perspective.

http://pastorbobcornwall.blogspot.com/2009/02/evolution-from-theological-vantage.html

Steve said...

I'd like to hear from him (Clayton)here, as well. The notion of redefining why/how is intriguing.

Anonymous said...

Dawkins is just a book peddler.
He uses FOX news type tactics to sell them. He's a bore.

Most scientists are not godless, just the opposite.

How many occupations support a belief in God (or the opposite)? Most workplaces do not allow it anyway.

Science can explore the hows (apparent facts) of nature and the human condition. Not the whys. It's a never ending quest and old understanding topple like playing cards all the time..

We have a long way to go before we can possibly become a threat to true faith in an everlasting being.

I can't share your concern.

David Mc

Anonymous said...

As the bible says, "test all things, hold fast to that which is good". That's what scientists do. Don't demonize the hard working, curious, humble ones. David Mc

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

David,

I'm not all that concerned that people of faith will lose their faith because of this debate. I also recognize that there are plenty of scientists who are people of faith. Therefore, it has not been, nor is it now, an either/or proposition.

Besides, the debate isn't all that new.

But, I'm concerned first of all that the ferocity of the debate can turn some away from either science or faith -- you have to choose up sides.

I'm also concerned that fruitful conversation points will be lost, which I believe is Clayton's point!

Anonymous said...

-- you have to choose up sides.

Why did you say that? Are we heading for another inquisition?

I know the debate is 100s of years old. Ever heard of Robert Boyle?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Boyle

David Mc

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

David,

I guess I misstated myself -- there are those who insist you must choose sides. I don't believe that!!

Thanks for the corrective.

Anonymous said...

"Religion and Science -- The Death Match"

Are you just saying we're all gonna die? That's debatable. Once we figure out the mind, and with more progress in nanotechnology etc, we might have a choice.

Makes me wonder...could God commit suicide? David Mc

Anonymous said...

Here's a more practical pondering-

If I refuse a $100,000 operation that (might) save my life, reasoning the money could save 1000 starving children, would that be suicide?

Science gets blamed for how we use technology. It aint fair I tell ya.

David Mc

John said...

I think the whole "debate " is misguided. There is no genuine debate. Science is the study of that which God brought into being. It is the method by which we explore and learn about the wonders God spoke into being. There is nothing science can discover which should ever be a concern to religion or to genuine believers i religion.

The most challenging moments of scientific progress will, at worst, expose those superstitions which have little to do with the truths of God.

Where the "debate" went wrong was when religious people who were overly concerned with protecting their superstitions attempted to control the results of scientific inquiry and when the equally dogmatic proponents of science elected to mis-identify superstitionists with believers in God.

Those who believe that God fashioned the universe cannot be afraid of what science may disclose - while science can veer off course (i.e., eugenics) genuine, morally responsible science is about exploring the mysteries which God has embedded in creation and into which God, by making us stewards, anticipated our explorations.

We must understand that Scripture is not about science, but theology, and to the extent is includes references to nature and geography, the references are contained in language which is understandable to writers and readers from 2000 to 3500 years ago. There will be no discussion of dinosaurs, evolution, distant galaxies, quantum physics or string theory. Not because these ideas have no merit, but because people from 3000 years ago would have found completely unintelligible. All our ancestors needed to know was that God was responsible for creation and that God created the universe intentionally, and that what God created was good. As far as our ancestors are concerned, the rest of the mystery was left for their heirs to decipher, if we are equal to the task.

John

Anonymous said...

Human nature is a lot more threatening than science. David Mc

Happy birthday Carl Sagan (75 today). David Mc

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Now David, this is down right meddlesome, suggesting that we humans are a greater danger than science. We're perfect -- oh I guess we're not!

In anything, including science, we must consider the human factor. Science can be, and has been, used for evil purposes. It can also be used for quite beneficial and humane purposes.

Sometimes, the results of science -- such as a Hubble Telescope picture -- can be quite beautiful and uplifting!!!