Let’s Keep Our Eyes on Jesus

The next chapter of Greg Cootsona’s new book (Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults) broaches the subject of Adam and Eve. Were Adam and Eve historical individuals, the progenitors of the entire human race. This is probably the single most contentious question within the church when it comes to mainstream science and Christian faith. It is also a question where dogmatic pronouncements can sometimes close the door for evangelism. This is particularly true among scientifically inclined emerging adults – those in Greg’s primary target audience.

Greg outlines three approaches to the question of Adam and Eve.

(1) A historical couple living something like 6000 years ago (perhaps a little longer) specially created by God from the dust or clay of the earth. This approach has a long history in the church, but runs seriously afoul of mainstream science on many levels and, in fact, raises a few biblical conundrums as well – most significantly the question of wives for Cain and Seth and the population that Cain (Adam’s firstborn) feared. Greg is convinced that this option isn’t true.

(3) At the other end of the spectrum we have the suggestion that Adam and Eve are paradigmatic of the human condition. In the Problem of Pain CS Lewis outlined such a scenario. The reality of a “fall” of some sort is maintained as is a God implanted divine image, but the story of Adam and Eve relates this event, not the story of two unique (and sole) persons. There is some biblical support for this approach in the form of the story of Adam and Eve. Most significantly, in the early parts of the story adam is not a proper name, but “the man” or “the earthling”. His wife is named “life.” These names are consistent with a paradigmatic, typological, and/or archetypal view of Adam and Eve. Continue reading

Posted in Adam | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Theology of Science?

It has become common to study the science of religion and as a result the science of theology. Religious practice is a social construct amenable to study in the context of sociology, anthropology, and evolutionary psychology. Presumably religion exists because it has some survival benefit for the human race. Religion/theology is a valid subject for scientific study, but to leave it at this misses a very important element of theology, whether Christian or not.

Ernest Rutherford (who discovered the “nucleus” in a famous experiment with alpha particles and gold foil and thus set the stage for the atomic theory of matter) famously noted: “All science is either physics or stamp collecting.” (See here for more details on the attribution.) While many will take offense at this, there is an important truth here. Ultimately physics is a search for a grand unified theory of everything based on the principle that the natural world is comprehensible and describable. In a real sense it encompasses all other subfields of science unless we tack on a restrictive definition of physics. Chemistry, biology, and psychology, as examples, are aiming for coherent unified truth, not simply classification and local truth. In any event, science is not simply a collection of disjointed facts, the practice of science involves a quest for intelligibility in the material world.

What then is a theology of science? Tom McLeish explores this idea in the penultimate chapter of his book Faith & Wisdom in Science. This is where he has been headed all along and it is worth mulling over the ideas carefully in a couple of posts. In this first we will reflect on the concept of a theology of science and then move to dig deeper into details. Continue reading

Posted in Science and Faith, Theology | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Day Without a Yesterday

Is the universe fine-tuned, designed as it were, for our existence?

One of the key doctrines of the Christian faith is also the opening line of the Apostles Creed. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” Or the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” God is the creator of everything that exists. Even time – defined by the material universe – is part of creation.

Does the universe contain evidence of design, evidence of the Creator? Greg Cootsona (Mere Science and Christian Faith) uses fine-tuning and the big bang to explore the relationship between science and Christian faith. Most importantly: should we expect science to prove the existence of God?

The Big Bang. The consensus view until rather recently supported an eternal static universe defined by regular cycles of time. Modern cosmology, i.e. big bang theory, points to a beginning before which the universe as we know it did not exist. Stephen Hawking, well known and accomplished physicist and cosmologist at the University of Cambridge, who died yesterday at the age of 76, put it like this (source):

Since events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the Big Bang. Events before the Big Bang, are simply not defined, because there’s no way one could measure what happened at them. … the Big Bang is a beginning that is required by the dynamical laws that govern the universe. It is therefore intrinsic to the universe, and is not imposed on it from outside.

Continue reading

Posted in Science and Faith | Tagged | 1 Comment

Outdated or Authoritative?

After an introduction and a brief discussion of emerging adulthood, Greg Cootsona, Mere Science and Christian Faith, digs into hermeneutics – the principles of interpretation that shape the way we read scripture, including the creation passages. It is unfortunate that some Christians and atheists find common ground on the issue of interpretation. Either a favored interpretation is true, or scripture is false and Christianity based on a misguided myth. Christianity is said to stand or fall with such ideas as a young earth, Job and Jonah as history, and a global flood.

Closer to the truth: the Scriptures are a collection of sophisticated and deep writings assembled for a purpose, to lead us to God and to tell his story. Greg quotes the statement put forth by Fuller Seminary “All the books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, are the written word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” (p. 62). He also points out that the early church creeds say nothing about Scripture, although the church fathers clearly read and valued Scripture as authoritative, shaping both faith and practice. Consistent with the echoes of Mere Christianity in Greg’s book, he also notes that C.S. Lewis “made it clear that he disagreed with inerrancy, which he called “Fundamentalist,” and didn’t concern himself with whether the Bible contained errors or not. He simply believed it was authoritative, read it daily, and sought to live out its message.” (p. 62)

Continue reading

Posted in Bible, Science and Faith | Tagged

Views on Natural Theology

The next chapter in Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos looks at the scientific method with focus on methodological naturalism and natural theology. J. B. (Jim) Stump (BioLogos) and Jeff Zweerink (RTB) again take the lead for their two organizations. James Dew moderates the discussion.

The discussion starts with methodological naturalism in the practice of science.

It will probably surprise some that Jim sees more issues with methodological naturalism than Jeff, but this is a result of their distinct approaches to the questions of origins. It isn’t that Jim dismisses methodological naturalism, but rather that as a philosopher he takes the long view. There has never been one consistent set of ground rules for the practice of science over the centuries. Methodological naturalism is “a contingent value of most practicing scientists today.” (p. 109) Methodological naturalism, i.e. the restriction of scientific investigation to natural explanations, is an extremely useful approach to science. “Science has proved remarkably successful at figuring out the causes of phenomena that once were explained only by supernatural agents- from thunder and solar eclipses to disease and epilepsy. Of course that doesn’t mean that science will be able to figure out everything in the future. But it should give us pause before thinking we’ve found some phenomenon for which there will never be any natural. explanation.” (p. 109) However, methodological naturalism also shows us as Christians the limits of science – it cannot not probe and explain (establish causes for) that which is above or outside of nature – supernatural.

Jeff actually takes a very similar view on this question: “For practical purposes, scientists must operate largely from a standpoint of methodological naturalism in the sense that explanations for the vast majority of phenomena will flow from God’s ordinary providence described by the laws of physics. However, that does not completely exclude theological considerations.” (p. 113) However, RTB views many creation events including human origins as events that transcend nature. They find that a “soft methodological naturalism provides the most efficacious approach to understanding the world.” (p. 115)

Continue reading

Posted in Bible, Natural Theology, Science and Faith | Tagged ,

Mere Science, Mere Christianity

I recently received, courtesy of the publisher, a copy of a new book due for release in a week: Mere Science and Christian Faith by Greg Cootsona. Greg has BA from Berkely (overlapping with my years on campus as a Ph.D. student), an MDiv from Princeton, a Ph.D. from the Graduate Theological Union, and decades of experience working with emerging adults (defined as 18 to 30 year-old) at a number of different churches. Currently Greg leads STEAM, (i.e. Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries) and teaches in Religious Studies at California State Chico, courses such as Introduction to Religion and Science and Religion.

Greg went to Berkeley from a non-Christian background and found God. Not the usual scenario. I went to Berkeley as a Christian and emerged as a Christian, but with a lot of soul searching and wrestling in the process. The tools for dealing effectively with the questions raised at the interface of science and Christian faith did not exist (at least I didn’t find them). The local church (First Presbyterian, Berkeley) was good, but not much help on this front. Bracketing the questions away for a time was the only way forward. Today there are many resources available. Mere Science and Christian Faith is a nice addition to the mix and comes from a fresh perspective.

Continue reading

Posted in Science and Faith | Tagged | 2 Comments

Looking to the Future

Tom McLeish in his book Faith & Wisdom in Science explores the New Testament approach to creation – especially in Paul’s letters, the Gospel of John and Revelation. McLeish notes that recent scholarship has emphasized Paul as “in continuity with the hope of Old Testament Judaism, perceiving the Christian church as the way to fulfil, rather than to negate, the law and prophets.” (p. 152) The Jewish story of creation is a story with a beginning, middle, and end. The end involves a future reconciled and reconstituted world. Paul sees this story as expanded beyond Jews to include Gentiles as well. Romans makes this argument quite clearly, connecting accountability not only to the law (given to Israel and the Jews) but also to the very nature of creation (Romans 1).

Refiner’s fire, pangs of childbirth, the sprouting of new growth.

The current state of the world is cast in terms of anticipation. Romans 8 makes this most clearly.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (c. 18-23)

Continue reading

Posted in Creation, Eschatology, Wisdom | Tagged