The Christian Origin of Science?

stumpJ.B. (Jim) Stump has a new book, Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues. This book is designed as a college textbook to introduce the reader to various facets of the problem. It is not an apologetic for science or for Christianity. The book is short – 180 pages – and an easy read. It will provide an excellent introduction for Christian leaders at all levels, including (and perhaps most importantly) the local church. I gave a brief introduction in an earlier post (Signposts to God and More).

Science as we know it today originated in the Christian West. There is no debate about this. All cultures are capable of science – and the scientific revolution has traveled the globe, but it originated in Christian Europe. The role Christianity played in the development of science is less clear and debated. Was this an accident of history or are there features of Christianity that allowed scientific thinking to develop?

Other cultures seemed to have been further along the road of scientific development in the ancient world. But their attempts at birthing science were “stillborn” to use the phrase of Stanley Jaki…. The Scientific Revolution occurred in the Christianized Europe of the 16th and 17th centuries. (p. 20)

Some people, those who view the relationship between science and Christianity as dominated by inherent conflict, will claim that science developed in spite of Christianity rather than because of it. Others view the relationship between Christianity and the Scientific Revolution as incidental. There are, however, solid reasons for believing that the Scientific Revolution occurred in the Christianized West because of Christianity. Not because Christianity is true or false, but because it led to an environment ripe for scientific thinking.

Continue reading

Posted in Science and Faith | Tagged | Leave a comment

Learning About the Cosmos From Job

¬†how-to-read-job-2The book of Job, as John Walton and Tremper Longman II point out in their recent book How to Read Job, “contains more extensive discussion of the cosmos and God’s role in it than any other book in the Bible with the possible exception of Psalms.” (p. 120) Today we will look specifically at the discussion of the cosmos in the book of Job.

The view of the cosmos presented in Job represents an ancient cosmic geography familiar to the original audience of the book.

From the ancient reader’s perspective the discussions of cosmic geography and the operations of the cosmos do not differ from the opinions affirmed in the rest of the Bible. Furthermore, what we find in Job is basically in line with the thinking of the time throughout the ancient Near East, except with regard to the identity of the controlling deity. (p. 120)

The major distinction between the book of Job and the thinking of the general ancient Near Eastern culture is the role of God’s justice and wisdom in the operations of the cosmos. There is no modern science hidden within the text – although metaphors are used at times “we cannot maintain that those metaphors conceal a view of the cosmos that was actually much like ours.” (p. 121) Walton and Longman go on to make an important point:

We all recognize that scientific understanding changes constantly. If God’s revelation were embedded in a particular scientific view, there would be no room for further investigation. Statements about the operation of the world cannot easily be so general as to fit the current knowledge and understanding of any generation. … After all, science is not simply a compilation of fact; it expresses society’s consensual understanding of how the world works. (p. 121)

Continue reading

Posted in Creation, Job | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Don’t Tread on Me!

640px-gadsden_flag-svgHuman freedom, constrained only loosely by the caveat “do no harm,” seems the rallying cry of much of Western (especially North American) civilization. Tim Keller, in his new book Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical, tackles the issue of freedom. The Western ideal of individual freedom has brought both gain and loss. Keller notes: “the ideal of individual freedom in Western society has done incalculable good. It has led to a far more just and fair society for minorities and women. Indeed, there is a danger that a critique of the ideal of freedom could be used to weaken or roll back these gains.” (pp. 100-101)

I’d go even a step further than Keller, the Western ideal of individual freedom has also done incalculable good for the poor of all races, both male and female. The oppression of the poor for the good of the wealthy has been quite real. The labor movement of the early 20th century was a response to this situation. Voting laws help us track the developments. In 1790 in the US only adult white male property owners of the correct religion (defined at the State level, I believe) had the right to vote. In 1810 the last religious prerequisite was eliminated. By 1850 the elimination of property ownership and tax requirements gave most white males the right to vote. Literacy laws were devised to discriminate against certain immigrant populations. In 1870 the 15th amendment gave most adult males the right to vote regardless of race or creed. Some States responded with poll taxes and literacy tests (often with poor and illiterate whites “grandfathered” because they could vote before the 15th amendment passed). In 1920 women were granted the right to vote and in 1924 Native Americans were granted the rights of citizenship. Threats to voting rights remain, but they are not quite as blatant.

The losses precipitated by emphasis on individual freedom have come from a weakening of connections in families and societies, and from a weakened sense of the divine. This needs more elaboration. Freedom defined as an absence of constraints is “unworkable because it is an impossibility.” (p. 101) We all experience constraints – some are simple facts of biology. Certain behaviors conflict with health.

Continue reading

Posted in Books, Problems for Faith, Resources for Discussion | Tagged

Is Suffering Just?

700px-job_rebuked_by_his_friends_butts_setThe retribution principle is simple: the righteous will prosper and the wicked will suffer. The corollary is that prosperity and suffering are always deserved. If someone suffers, it is because they are wicked, while prosperity is evidence of righteousness. Christianity puts another twist on this. Ultimate justice comes, not in this life, but in the age to come.

The book of Job puts the retribution principle on trial. There are three aspects to the trial. (1) The challenger suggests that people are righteous only for the reward, without the reward righteousness (i.e. behavior pleasing to God) would vanish. (2) Job’s friends are convinced that he must have done something to deserve his suffering. (3) Job, on the other hand, knows this isn’t true and challenges God’s justice. Where can this go? And a related question: are Christians righteous only for the reward (heaven)?

In part three of How to Read Job, John Walton and Tremper Longman III dig into the retribution principle. The idea that the world runs on a principle of justice was common in the ancient Near East, and remains common today.

Even among Christians today it is common to encounter the belief that if someone is doing well in life, he or she must be doing something right – pleasing God and gaining his favor. Inversely, people quickly jump to the conclusion that if life takes a bad turn, there must be a reason. (p. 90)

Some Christians will argue that all suffering is deserved because all sin, prosperity comes from undeserved grace (but, whispered, is probably a sign of God’s favor). This isn’t on the table in the book of Job. We know from the get-go that Job is righteous in the eyes of God. Righteousness doesn’t mean sinless perfection, but a life lived to please God.

Also not on the table is a hope for justice in the age to come. The Israelites did not have an expectation of an afterlife in communion with God. Justice, including reward and punishment, was a this-worldly affair. Because this comes as a surprise to many Christians, Walton and Longman devote a chapter to defending this idea. The resurrection is a later idea, still controversial in the New Testament, and, except for the book of Daniel (esp. 12:1-3), absent from the Old Testament.

Continue reading

Posted in Job | Tagged ,

Bridges or Walls?

From Buda to PestThere is a well known image often used in evangelism – the bridge diagram. The cross is a bridge spanning the chasm between God and humans. A google search on “bridge diagram” will turn up many examples. The bridge to the right is a very different kind – connecting Buda and Pest.

We, too, are called to build or be bridges. Now, clearly we don’t replace the cross or the one-off work of God through Christ in any way, shape or form … but that doesn’t change the point. Bridges bring connection, walls divide (purportedly to protect). A few I’ve seen include Hadrian’s wall, the Great Wall of China, modern examples include the fences and walls in Israel/Palestine.

great-wallBridge or wall? I have been posting on science, Christian faith, and related topics for more than eight years now, 850+ posts! This, and the conversation with many commenters and many perspectives, has dramatically changed the way I think about and approach controversial issues. The lead question to myself in any post, comment, or conversation is: bridge or wall? Am I building a bridge that brings us to understanding, increased faith, and hopefully some people to faith? or, alternatively: Am I building a wall that identifies and protects us while keeping them out? The building blocks for the wall can be subtle, a turn of phrase, a name, an inside joke that identifies. A bridge takes work, conscious thought, and care. Walls are relatively easy. Walls lead to high-fives and affirmation. (And attacks as well, but who cares what “those people” think.) Bridges tend to be blas√© by comparison. An occasional thank you (I appreciate those), but no adrenaline rush. Walls keep us talking only to ourselves and others who think or live the same way. Bridges require effort, patience, and facing challenges head on.

Continue reading

Posted in Church, compassion and mission, Problems for Faith

Signposts to God and More

Books, books, books …

What is the best book you’ve read on Science and Christian faith?

It seems to be the season … not the holiday season, but the book season. I recently received three new books. Books by a physicist, a biologist (with training in theology as well), and a philosopher. All three tackle questions of science and Christian faith. Each of the three presents an interesting perspective – and I intend to dig into them more completely over the upcoming months.

busseyPeter Bussey’s book, Signposts to God: How Modern Physics & Astronomy Point the Way to Belief, looks at evidence for the existence of God in the heavens. Bussey is an elementary particle physicist, currently at the University of Glasgow. He appears to address the question: Does science uncover evidence that the world is designed, i.e. evidence for the existence of God (or a god)? Bussey argues that the idea that science and faith are in conflict is grounded in two myths: The myth of social progress (we have outgrown religion – a way station in human development toward a more enlightened future) and and the myth of physicalism (it is naive to think that there is anything more to reality than that which can be revealed through the science of physics.) Biological sciences and chemical sciences are grounded in physics, but is this really all there is to life? Bussey explores ways that physics and astronomy point to something beyond the merely materialist view. Bussey’s book will provide an excellent opportunity to dig once more into natural theology and evidence for design in the universe.

lamoureuxDenis Lamoureux’s book, Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes, builds on his strong background in biology and theology. His focus in this book, as in his others, is primarily on Scripture. Denis writes in an engaging style, opening with his story – dental school followed by a Ph.D. in theology and in biology – initially with the aim to refute the evolutionists who had destroyed his faith in college, but later to show that Christianity and evolutionary biology are not inherently in conflict.

The first chapter, Trapped in “Either/Or” Thinking sets the stage. Denis opens with the story of a student in class angry at her parents, Christian school, and pastors for teaching her that “Satan had concocted the so-called theory of evolution,” that she “had to choose between evolution and creation” and that “evolutionists cannot be true Christians.” He moves on to tell his story of being raised as a Christian, becoming and atheist in college, and returning to faith convinced that evolution was a lie against which Christians should battle. He went on to get a Ph. D. in theology, where he learned to view the Bible through eyes of faith, but more sophistication; after being shaken to the core by a revered professor: “one day after class I cornered my professor in a hallway and asked him directly, “What do you think about the idea that the world was created in six literal days about six thousand years ago?” He answered bluntly, “It is an error.” I can still remember how the word “error” rattled my soul. … This was the very first time in my life I had met a real Christian who said that creation in six days is wrong.” (p. 28) This was a first step toward understanding.

Continue reading

Posted in Books, Resources for Discussion, Science and Faith | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

What Do You Love?

making-sense-of-godWhat do you want from life? What brings a satisfaction that lasts?

Wealth, power, sex?

The correct candidate winning today’s election? (I am sure this hits a nerve with a large number of readers.)

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Tim Keller digs into the question of a satisfaction that lasts in the next chapter of his new book Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical. There is much in this chapter, but I will focus in on one issue. Greek Stoics suggested that the way to happiness was acceptance. Epictetus said: “Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well.” (p. 78, quoted by Keller from Haidt The Happiness Hypothesis – I found it in The Enchiridion a Manual of Epictetus complied by one of his disciples.)

In contrast “modern culture encourages its members to find satisfaction through active efforts to change our lives.” (p. 79) But this too is meaningless … the teacher (Ecclesiastes).

Keller suggests that a quest for happiness is the wrong journey. “To get at our condition more accurately, we should ask about joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction in life. Are we achieving those things?” (p. 80) One way to make sense of God is to contemplate the origin of true satisfaction.

The functional cause of our discontent is that our loves are “out of order.”

Augustine taught that we are most fundamentally shaped not as much by what we believe, or think, or even do, but by what we love. “For when we ask whether someone is a good person, we are not asking what he believes or hopes for, but what he loves.”[Online copy of The Enchiridion or handbook of Augustine, ch. 31:117.] For Augustine, what we call human virtues are nothing more than forms of love. Courage is loving your neighbor’s well-being more than your own safety. Honesty is loving your neighbor’s interests more than your own, even when the truth will put you at a disadvantage. And because Jesus himself said that God’s law comes down to loving God and your neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40), Augustine believed that all sin was ultimately a lack of love. (p. 89)

Continue reading

Posted in Conversation, Problems for Faith | Tagged