Review: The Language of Science and Faith

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In this book, the authors, Francis S. Collins and Karl W. Giberson, lay the foundation for Biologos and the scientific worldview based in Scripture while remaining well within the scientific community. This book is, at times, a little professorial, but for the most part, it is an easy read for either the lay-scientist or the lay-theologian. Frankly, it is one which should be examined as a middle ground in the current ‘war’ between science and a faith of a few, which is built upon an extremely literal reading (usually of a translation) of Genesis 1.

They begin chapter one by discussing the views (often erroneous) of Darwin. This view of Darwin and Darwinism is something which they must change, mainly due to our normal appetites of taking in only what is spoon fed to us, regardless of historical accuracy. Their goal in the introduction is not to make Darwin likable, but to explain first and foremost that the terminology most often applied, Darwinism, is outdated at best, and a purposed distortion at worst. Indeed, both YEC and Evolutionists use Darwin and it’s cognates to describe what is best seen as evolution. What is interesting is the way in which evolution has changed since Darwin. While Chick (Jack T.) would have us believe that Darwin is not only the basis, but the sole source of evolutionary thought, the authors are able to briefly, and with lay terminology, show how science has advanced far past Darwin, evolving you might say, to where we are today. So much so, that to continue to label evolution as Darwinism is patently false. Part of this advancement is due to Christian scientists, such as Mendel, who have furthered science while holding on to their faith in God. On this note, let me add that in this brief introduction they mention the word most often feared by scientists, atheists and Mainliners – GOD. (For scientists, they use ‘God talk’ an awfully lot.) It is not forced, and neither is the use of God as second hand thought. With the ground laid, they move on in the first chapter to discussing key terms.

In the second chapter of this book, Can We Really Know the Earth is Billions of Years Old?, the authors explore the process by which the scientific community has come to date not only the age of the universe, but so too the planet earth. And, for my benefit, they use simplistic laymen’s terms, while for your benefit, they do not blatantly attack or engage in name calling the YEC. They simply show that through various independent methods, the age of the universe, that of 13 billion years old, is proved time and time again. You’ll have to read the book to find out about measuring light, reversals and the such, as they are able to break down the mountain called science into pebbles for our understanding. And their question on page 68 is correct – unless God has spent time creating false facts, lies (my word), then we can only assume that the universe and the earth is as old as science has revealed. The last part of the chapter deals with ancient Christian interpreters and how they suggested dealing with the bible and science. They use Origen, Augustine, and as they do in subsequent chapters, Aquinas. This is important, especially in their assertion that neither the bible nor Christian Tradition requires us believe in a 6000 year old earth. Further,in their time line, they note that hardcore Young Earth Creationism comes to us in present form from the 1960s. Interesting enough, they even quote from The Fundamentals as examples of conservative Christians not requiring a detain interpretation if Genesis 1.

In the third chapter, How Do We Relate Science and Religion, they try to correct the myth that Science and Religion are at war with one another! Wait, you mean that they aren’t? They quote Augustine and Aquinas – who, in my opinion, is a central figure in exploring the role of science and theology – to show that Christian theologians have valued science. This is true, whether or not fundamentalists – believers or non-believers – want to be historical about the whole thing. One of the issues which we have today is the lack of historical context. How many of us actually study history, quantifying data, examining and exploring the field? Instead, we simply settle for one book on the subject. If we do the latter, which more often than not is the preferred choice, then we are going to fall into the same trap that science and religion are perpetual enemies where only one can survive.

The fourth chapter, Can Scientific and Scriptural Truth Be Reconciled, may be a difficult one for some to grasp. You have to get what they are saying, what they are calling you, the reader, to grasp about truth and Truth. There are truths which are subjective, moral and ethical truths, and the such are difficult to prove but nevertheless are easily assumed by people, groups, without question. They give several examples, but I am not going to copy and paste. You’ll just have to buy the book. The fact is, is that truth in our known universe is under attack, especially by forces of postmodernity, and yet these scientists, and indeed according to the authors, most scientists, reject the idea that truth is localize or somehow only for momentary purposes. Now, I know that this will trouble some of you, in that we are taught to believe that scientists see truth as relative. But such an approach is opposite of what a scientist has to do. This very belief in truth, in order, is what underlies both religion and science. This is important as they go on to explore the orderliness of the universe (109).

They move on to discuss the (mis)use of the Bible as a scientific text. They note that we are violent to the text, my words here, when we assume that the ancient writers are abiding by our modern rules. They write, ‘We must allow them to be authentic members of their own time and then make the effort to understand what that means.’ (107) This bit of insight is invaluable when we examine storytelling in Scripture, or the use of other sources as Luke did. As a matter of fact, it is an invaluable lesson when we examine much of history, even of the secular variety.

The fifth chapter tackles the theology of the ‘image of God’ and in a way which might threaten several atonement dogmas. Tough, I know, but so is the fact that many of us have created the image of God which we desire to see instead of finding ourselves being transformed by God. We are hesitant, when something might prove us wrong, to accept that the new fact, even to accept it as plausible, because for us, that disproves God – when in fact, all it proves if we were to accept this new information is that we remain humble enough to accept the fact that we simply do not have the mental capacity to always, and in every way, fully explain God. This is a tough chapter because it will force you – it should, you know – to come to terms with how evil is presented by your own personal doctrine of the Creation. What these authors have done is to unite theology and science, to allow science to answer the difficult question which plagues us – Why Does God Allow Evil? – and in such a way in which free will and God’s sovereignty is maintained. Unlike some, these authors do not see God as abandoning Creation, but instead actively maintaining, guiding it, and following the same natural laws which He forces us too – and yet, even in these natural laws, we find freedom to control. So – how do you explain the presence of evil, the origin and allowance thereof, in your theistic response to the natural world?

Some of these arguments are difficult – not to difficult to understand even if you read it – read it a few times, as it is called reading for a reason – but I am not about to try to write them down, merely regurgitating their thoughts. You’ll have to buy the book, but let me turn briefly to page 138. In it, they mention that nature has freedom, a freedom God allows but maintains natural laws. We can understand this politically, right? Freedom comes when laws are maintained. Here, to explain the great evils of humanity, such as the holocaust, the authors turn to those same laws, these dancing electrons (read the book as this portion of it is extremely fascinating) which is the epitome of free will, to explain how nature has developed evil – how we use our Life to develop evil. It is about choice, mostly. For me, I have to wonder then – maybe they will, maybe they won’t get to it – but to the extent at which God has foreseen the future, such as the future in which Christ would be needed to begin the New Creation. Even at this point, they offer some solid statements, but if free will is so easily allowed, what about the needed events which bring about certain events in the history of the Divine and its creation, humanity? For the issue of God and time – something I would like to see explored more is the issue of God as a quantum observer in a sort of quantum superposition with humanity – see p144-149, and especially 145.

Chapter 6 deals with the controversy which surrounded and still surrounds Darwin’s theories while chapter 7 deals with something which I find uniquely interesting – the ability for this universe to support life. What is interesting is the history of the reaction to science, especially in this country. It wasn’t really until the 1960′s that we found the extreme reaction to evolution that we see today. As the authors show, even the pioneers of Fundamentalism (this is something that I struggle with – separating fundamentalists from the early Fundamentalism, especially on this topic). The authors, though, know their history – and they are able to show that like other events in American history, the rise of YE-Creationism needs to be examined as a-historically as possible. You see, even before Darwin, there were extreme scientific introspections, even among Christians, as to the dating of the earth and thus the interpretation of Genesis 1. There was also freedom in this arena, unlike what we see now. The response to Darwin’s theory was over all, muted. There were religious leaders which support Darwin’s theory, even against the theology of the Fall. As the authors explain it, evolution presents a bottom up picture of life, where as some Christian theology presents a steady rate of decay. (p152) Here, I have to wonder how entropy might play into theological speculations. Also, I have to wonder how evolution might play into the theology of progression… We see this progression of God’s interaction with humanity throughout the Text until Christ. The relationship grows, matures, and is renewed. Further, we are told that we are progressing towards the realized New Creation.

Again, let me stress that the authors are not riding down hard on Young Earth Creationism. They are mindful to present the sides factually correct. But, they are also hard pressed not to call YE-Creationists (and later IDs) out on their inconsistencies, pitfalls, and problems. They are also not shy about their history, as I stated early. See the documented reaction to Darwin on 156-157 as well as their interpolation into our story of another fruit from 7th Day Adventism. For those who remember, it was the Adventists who gave the world King James Onlyism. They have also given the world much of the theological support behind the ‘science’ of YE-Creationism (compare Warfield, the Baptist, and White’s reactions to science (158 – 160)).

After much of this history, they move on to tackle several of the pseudo-scientific claims against evolution, such as the often misapplied second law of thermodynamics. They end this chapter by discussing the scientific origins of Life, to which they admit that no one can provide an insightful answer to just yet. I think we need to understand, in this debate, first what life is and second how unusual it is, how fragile it is.

It is chapter seven in which they discuss with exciting detail just how unique the conditions of life are in this universe. I say this universe because as those who have read Dawkins knows that he advocates a multi-verse. What is important is that, as the authors show, each theory against the uniqueness of this universe needs more evidences to support it. Further, as our authors state, rather explicitly, a scientist needs objective data. The multi-verse does not meet these requirements (p189).

These natural laws which make it possible to support life supports the idea of a fine tuning of these laws, and thus a fine tuner. It is important that you take this chapter as equally theological. They note how unsettling these laws are to naturalists and the such – and I can see that – especially with the detail which they provide. There is no reason why Life should exist, why the planets should exist, why anything should exist as it does in this universe of ours – except that it does.Everything has to be magnificently perfect.

What are we to make of Life itself? Our authors, and others, call it the grand narrative (p198) and truly it is. It is the tale of how evolution points us towards life, and the unique characteristics which all life shares. It is about consciousness, and indeed conscience, but it is about the fact that from the very ‘in the beginning’ to the last ‘and it was good’, Life has been the focus of the universe. In the previous chapter, the issue of fine tuning was dealt with; in this chapter, the authors examine Gould’s (201-202) and Conway Morris’ (202-204)theories on the role in which Life occupies. The former sees it as a random chance, while the latter sees Life – our life – as the predetermined course which the universe had to follow. To provide a reason for this is the theologian and the philosopher’s task, but to provide the systematic examination and order of this process is the scientists’ task. As they note, once you stand outside the process, their is a certain trajectory which is inexplicably noticeable (p199).  They give the example of the eye, which has developed at last seven noticeable times. They take this example and use it as a ‘full frontal assault on the standard picture of evolution as a random and meandering path to nowhere.’ (p204). This ‘favored pathway’ of Morris’ thought should be explored by scientists, and they are being explored, but understood by the theologian as the telos of the universe. If there is a telos (purpose) and a logos (the foundational order) to the universe, then to the open mind, we have pointers to a very plausible God.

The telos of this book is indeed to bring the logos to a believer’s understanding of the role of Science and Faith, and that indeed, they are no archenemies, and neither should they be so separate that they are only joined in opposition. What are we to make of a book which doesn’t disparage believers  but takes its time to develop an overall natural theology in which God is not merely the God of the gaps, but is actually very present in our world, and in the continued operation thereof? The authors has provided – even if you don’t exactly accept every point of evolutionary science – as great source book in dealing with various claims of those who deny science  in the role of Creation and those who deny the role of a Creator in our universe.

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