for the love of science

There is a television series which I am plugged into for the first time since I don’t know when: Cosmos. Neil deGrasse Tyson does a masterful job with it, and it frankly leaves me spell-bound, even if I’m a bit lost. I think my wife gets aspects of it better than I, since she has something of a scientific mind. To appreciate science is to appreciate creation, to even become awed by the immensity, complexity and simplicity which makes up the natural world. It has a beauty all its own. The best scientists often are as much into art, so to speak, as science, having a creative flair which can help them see something of the immense creativity present in creation.

Science is good, at least in terms of the basics which make it up: observation, hypothesis, testing, theory, and more observation. Of course the word theory is used not at all in the way it is popularly used, but simply to draw up what has been understood from what has been observed, that being tested and refined in the same ongoing process over time.

Science per se is not the problem, but scientism is. Scientism is basically naturalism, or the idea that everything can be explained in scientific terms. That all of reality is material or somehow observable as part of the natural world. We are so steeped in that kind of thinking and world, that it doesn’t seem all that far fetched to us. Even though strictly speaking it is a statement of faith. In that faith scientism makes the wild declaration that unless something can be verified in scientific terms, we either can’t know, or we can at least doubt it. For example some doubt that one can explain human interactions apart from science. Love for example in their minds is reducible to scientific explanation, indeed the entire world is. That given time, everything could be explained scientifically, in scientific terms. No God of the gaps. I don’t think that idea is all that far fetched, however would that explanation explain it all? I don’t believe so for a moment.

We have all kinds of matters which make the thought that science is the explanation for everything more than questionable. Morality is one example. And the morality of Jesus of Nazareth in particular. The way of the cross, death and resurrection seems at odds with a naturalistic spin, I would think. God’s love expressed in that, and of course a God in the first place who created all things, and will make all things new in a new creation in and through Jesus. That is a faith statement, but to some extent may someday be verified as to its substance and reality in the science to come.

Meanwhile we can thank God for science, for scientists, even as in wonder we look with them at the mystery and beauty of the world, the wonder of creation.

the debate on origins

There is nothing more divisive among American evangelicals than suggesting that Genesis 1 is not scientific in the sense of telling us how God created the heavens and the earth and all things, but rather doing so in terms of purpose and order, especially in the sense of how it fits together and why in theological terms. Science can never answer such questions, but is confined to the what and how in terms of the material (matter). Science observes by hypothesis, testing, and ongoing hypothesis and testing beyond that, within the scientific community in terms of peer review. Theology and particularly that in Genesis is taken up with an entirely different matter.

This is why neither evolution nor creation science (or “intelligent design,” even though there most certainly is such in creation) won’t win any debate. One side or the other may win a debate, but neither touches what actually is going on in the biblical text. The one is not true to the biblical text, and the other is not disproving the biblical text. Because the text of Genesis must be read in its historical context to see what is going on. To the original readers the Genesis account is a breathtaking view of the majesty of God and creation in terms of a temple narrative. We can read it simply, and we need to take what we read literally, but literally in terms of what it actually is, not at all in terms of what we impose on it with our understanding of science, etc.

The video can give us more of a sense of what is actually happening in this wonderful poetical account of creation.

approaching issues

I’m thinking here about issues which can be studied out in scripture, but probably also about issues which are brought up in society. Today an example being gay marriage. On that issue Christians approach it from all different kinds of angles. But to boil it down it would seem there are those on both sides (traditional and for lack of a better term, progressive) who appeal to scripture and an interpretation of it. There are those progressive Christians who appeal to scripture, but insist on giving different knowledges of the day some say, so that if something is demonstrated to be true, then something Paul says might not be true. Or more likely, they might say, it could not have taken into account all that is known today, so that what Paul says rightfully undertstood on the issue, is true, but he simply doesn’t cover it all. And I would think more variation among the progressives. This is not to say that the traditional view, which I hold to on this subject doesn’t have some variation, only to say, we would still hold to heterosexual sexual activity within marriage as what is according to God’s revealed will in scripture and therefore God’s will for human life. And then there are the liberals who see scripture as religious tradition, and put their weight entirely on an interpretation based from knowledges of the day (see these posts, first two).

Getting away from the specific example above, I believe that when we approach issues as Christians, we must take a stance within the grounding of scripture. However that doesn’t mean we pay no attention to the knowledges of the day, such as the sciences. And one avenue of knowledge which can have direct bearing on the text of scripture itself would be the kind of textual criticism which is not trying to undermine or throw out scripture, but is studious in regard to writings of the day in biblical times. Say writings in the Ancient Near East, so that we can compare biblical writings with them (as in the Genesis account of creation compared with other creation accounts either of, or known at that time).

In the end, as one who would be in the sphere and spectrum of the traditional, I would insist that scripture is the word of God from Genesis through Revelation, that all of it is true, properly understood, and that the truth of it is not far removed even from the face of what appears in our translations of scripture. In other words, though we’re sure not to get every jot and tittle right from our interpretation of the Bible, we will still be basically sound in where we stand, from a careful study of scripture. This last thought is rather naive, however, when one considers the history of hermeneutics, or biblical interpretation among those who are traditional, because we do vary on many counts with where we stand on biblical issues, baptism and the Lord’s Table being two examples. But even on those issues, if we set aside our differences, we can usually find common ground, which all has its basis in scripture.

Back to the drawing board briefly: scripture has primacy, followed by tradition (how the church has been led), reason and experience. Only scripture is infallible, but not our interpretation of it, it is not.

All of this should help us see both our need for humility demonstrated in dependence on God, and our commitment to keep working especially on what scripture itself is actually saying, its emphasis. Without ducking the hard issues on the table during the time in which we live. All of this done and taken in by us in Jesus for the world.

afraid of science

When my wife Deb and I walk to our public library, we often buy a coffee and go to the newspaper, magazine, reading room. I grab a Scientific American magazine, my favorite there. I really don’t have a gift to do science myself, but am an admirer of it. And its subject matter, nature both in its microscopic and telescopic proportions, along with all things pertaining to nature ends up being quite fascinating. The magazine mentioned excels at bringing down to someone who is uneducated and untrained in science, concepts without watering them down, I trust. Or at least getting across the essence of the subject matter.

In beginning to understand the work of scientists, I find that the discipline is conservative by nature, and moves along slowly within the constraint of peer review. Hypotheses are tested over and over again, because that is a key part of doing science, to never imagine one has the final answer, but to always come up with apt questions which can then be tested and either verified, or not. And so the exploration goes on.

Christians, especially since Darwin have often held science at more than arm’s length. It is not to be trusted, it is on a conspiracy, it is grounded in a naturalistic worldview which is not only at odds with and incompatible to the worldview of scripture, but antagonistic against it. This has been a key part of the culture war between a large segment of American conservative Christianity and the scientific establishment.

Through RJS, who is a scientist and professor who teaches at a major university, I have come to accept evolution, as I was inclined to do beforehand, anyhow. She has contributed many posts on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed, which have helped me become convinced that the hypothesis of evolution has been tested over and over again, and in various ways, and has been found to be solid. (See also BioLogos).

However, not unlike the American political landscape especially in our faces now, given the upcoming presidential election, it sometimes appears to any skeptics that it’s a he said/she said proposition. And that nothing solid is on the scientific side, while on the Christian side we have the word of God.

But I have found that an acceptance of science as it is, the study by observation, hypothesis and testing (a friend who was a wonderful scientist in the UK, a birder, is gone, through whom I was learning, and so I’m rusty in remembering well any basics I understood) of nature, does not in the least make me question the validity of scripture as the written word of God, or the Genesis account. The Genesis account stands well on its own. The point of scripture is what matters. There is no doubt that we readers often impose our scientific understanding on the text. I have no doubt whatsoever that the text shows us the greatness and goodness of God in creating all things, including humanity in God’s image. Humanity’s responsibility is found in the mandate given to it from God, and we also are told how humanity is alienated from God and from each other due to sin. It is instructive to compare the Genesis account with other creation accounts of that time. Actually there is no comparison. The Genesis account stands alone in giving one the sense of the why, or purpose of creation, something science by nature cannot do, as it is concerned with what, when and how questions.

And our faith is centered and stands on God’s revelation in Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus, the good news of King Jesus.

Christians need not be afraid of science. We have to watch out that any scientist doesn’t impose a naturalistic worldview coming from their own thoughts. But science inherently is not equipped to say anything beyond the nature it studies, but to simply observe it, and let is speak for itself, so to speak. It is only by faith that we understand that the worlds or universe were framed or created by the word of God, so that what is now seen did not come from what is visible.

That is my testimony. Weak as it may be. But settled over time. As I go on seeking to live in God’s good will in Jesus together with others in Jesus for the world.

mysticism

By faith we know, as the book of Hebrews tells us. Yet at the same time we have good evidence enough to make a sound rationale for why we hold to the Christian faith, specifically in terms of the resurrection account of Jesus, and the aftermath of that.

But there is a certain element of mysticism inherent to our faith, which smacks against the naturalism which many in the academics hold to (though certainly not all). By mysticism I mean something which can’t be explained according to the natural, everyday occurrence of things we observe and experience. And by this I don’t at all mean a kind of god of the gaps, by which we explain all we can’t explain by ascribing it to God and God’s miraculous working.

This sort of Christian mysticism is inherent in God himself (or, God’s Self) as Trinity, as well as entering into creation through the Incarnation when the Word became flesh in Jesus. And the faith is now received and lived out through the Spirit. This mysticism is also relevant in terms of heaven and earth becoming one in and through Jesus, beginning now, but someday to be realized fully and completely when Jesus reappears, the new creation being completed in him.

I like sound, coherent explanations, and therefore I like scientific endeavor, even though I don’t naturally think well with reference to it, but rather am an admirer of it. But even within that realm, while in theory everything may be explainable, we know in practice that what is found as humans are able to more and more probe the depths of things, is just how mind boggling reality is.

But when you bring a Creator into the picture, one immediately has to accept the idea of faith. Faith in something which cannot be observed or experienced in the normal way humans go about life. Though that last thought does open up big questions when we think of love. Yes, we could make that into nothing more than natural responses and grind that down even further into elements and what is behind that, naturally speaking. But is that even rational in itself, really? Of course it would be in terms of naturalism, but what about in terms of life itself as we live it?

Mysticism to some extent saves the day for me. I mean it ends up that God in Jesus by the Spirit makes all the difference in my life. And that difference is in regard to big and small matters. In every matter. But it’s a mysticism as alluded to above (ref: Jesus’ resurrection) which has its foot in the real world. Which lives in the same mess and blessing in which the rest of humankind lives (give or take starkly different circumstances globally).

It ends up being “me and God” to some extent (of course understood in terms of God being the center). And me and others in God through Jesus. Together in Jesus living out this mystic faith and life in and for the world.

what are we known for?

In our society “evangelical” is a name which is known and shunned to some extent. Of course Christians want to attribute that to them being persecuted. But I think other reasons are involved as well.

Evangelical Christians advocate war more than the general population in the United States. We also have an aversion against science. Taking a stand against naturalism is one thing; doing the same against peer reviewed science itself is another. And we are known for taking a stand against gays. We have political clout in everything. We’re known for wanting to take America back for God. As well as having fringes of “left behind”, apocalyptic sentiments. And being anti-intellectual.

This is all a tragedy. Some of it is indeed unfair. Just as we need to listen to the other, they need to hear us out as well. At the same time we are deserving of some of this, I’m afraid.

What should we be known for?–is the question. The answer has to be related to the good news we are to live out, be a witness to, and proclaim. The good news in and through Jesus. That he indeed is Messiah, that God’s kingdom has come in him. That there is a new way of being human, indeed a new community in this world in and through him. That the old ways are gone, to be judged, to be thrown on the trash heaps of history. That the new way in Jesus has come to stay. Resurrection life in the way of the cross in Jesus.

This must be more than just about our individual lives. It must be communal, missional, intentional, active.

Whatever we might be known for, that is what we’re to be about. What God is about in and through Jesus to and for the world.

deeply saddened

I am amazed at how Christians divide over politics and science, etc. It’s as if our oneness in Christ is secondary to some truth war. And I realize I’m not really ready for any of that. I mean the agenda that is set by many American conservative Christians.

On the one hand I’d just like to go into hiding, or find some place, or something on which we can all get along, and go on, and hopefully even thrive in our life together in Jesus in and for this world. But I realize there is no escape.

On politics, I’m not that favorable toward any American agenda. Or for that matter political agenda in this world. It gets too complex. There could be fruitful discussions on it, though usually what happens is simply sound bite kind of arguments, which really don’t help us think well through the issues. And politics is inherently debatable. Though  in some ways we Christians with our message and reality in Jesus are beyond all that. And yet we need to speak and live well into it. As the light and salt we in Jesus are. Especially in this democracy of ours.

On science and faith, I don’t think we’re left with any alternative other than to accept evolution. But we need to fight naturalism. And we need to learn well what the early chapters of Genesis in God’s word mean in the point they make. What that means for a historical Adam and Eve, a literal garden, etc. What that means for the truth of the Adam-Christ words of Paul in the New Testament, etc. Even in the case of evolution itself, I realize that this divide remains, and may be deepening.

This is all pitted in black and white, and as nothing less than all out war. So I guess I’ll have to work at it, because as much as I’d like to avoid it altogether, it is in my face, and there seems to be no escape.

Some may tell me I have chosen this for myself. Actually I see it as pursuing truth wherever it leads, within a commitment of faith to follow the Truth himself, Jesus. One thing I find unacceptable is to be dull when life calls us to become sharp in the part we need to play. Yet at the same time I want to major on that which unites us together in Jesus and in our calling in Jesus to and for the world.

These are my thoughts for now. I know this puts me in a place which I really don’t enjoy being in. But it seems inescapable. Or am I missing something somehow somewhere?

the culture wars

Last evening I watched a deeply disturbing, troubling, but I think insightful documentary, regardless of which side you’re on in the creation/evolution debate. I don’t like to frame it that way since I am an evangelical Christian who believes the Bible is the word of God, and that God is indeed the Creator of heaven and earth. But I also accept evolution. Most of the time I lay low on this, knowing the ire, even contempt that can come against those who hold this view. I know the other side too can experience that, though I think it often is more in terms of incredulity as people are astounded by the lack of science, or how the book of God in nature, called general revelation, is not accepted on its own terms. Of course in the end all truth is God’s truth. The heart of that truth is the good news of Jesus and God’s grace and kingdom come in him. All of scripture for the Christian is fulfilled, and therefore seen in light of this gospel.

Here is the blog of a website of an organization committed to the Christian faith, working through the issues of faith and science.

I can’t identify with today’s culture wars. I just don’t line up on the Christian side, even though I’m not on the other side. In issue after issue I find myself questioning our stance in reference to following Jesus, and to truth itself. That being said, the world would consider me a conservative Christian. And I would not be surprised to see some serious issues coming to a head over our faith in the coming days in reference to law and society. I can only hope that freedom will remain for us to live by the dictates of our conscience in accordance with our faith.

In the meantime, I think we need to stay in the word and prayer in community in Jesus, to the goal of fulfilling our missional calling to the world. What that looks like with reference to the hot button issues of today we pray will be Jesus-like. And true to God’s calling and the truth as it is in Jesus.

seeking knowledge and truth

The story of the Magi is marvelous for this day in a number of ways. We live in a day in which skepticism of the Christian message at least in the western world abounds. This is called a post-Christian culture for good reason. Science and in fact life itself is thought to negate the Christian message and the proclamation of Jesus.

Enter the story of the Magi who indeed come from a different culture, apart from the covenant God made with Israel for the benefit of all humankind. But in part due to that revelation, and to God’s working in their own lives, they had a sense that there was something beyond their senses and learning, yet related to their learning, I’m imagining, which they needed to seek.

The star which they became aware of may have been some unusual heavenly occurrence such as a comet. How this plays out, even in some way leading them to the Christ child, we do not know. Maybe something natural but unusual. Or something we would call supernatural. But their inner witness comported with the outer witness, and they brought gifts fit for a king. Probably not knowing much about this kingship at this point. We see that they did not necessarily have a strong grasp if any on the Hebrew scriptures from the account in Matthew.

But they kept going. And they were rewarded for their perseverance. God’s light of revelation for the Gentiles had indeed dawned.

In this day and age we do well to be seekers of knowledge and truth. The knowledge part is well accepted in academia. It’s the truth part that gets seekers of it into trouble with that establishment. There is an inherent, inbred skepticism against imagining any truth, or any truth other than what science might provide. But while the “new atheists” have a popular following, yet by and large humanity still retains some sense of the divine.

Seeking carries with it the sense of humility. Acknowledging a lack in knowledge. And the seeking of the Magi carries with it an openness not only to knowledge, but also to truth. Their practice probably emphasized the knowledge part, indeed astrology while linked to deities had within it much of the elements of scientific work today, from what I understand of it. We probably can only surmise what their practice involved.

Science and faith is a hot button issue today. But unnecessarily so if one retains an openness not only to knowledge itself, but to truth. Of course the new atheists while denying truth talk as if they speak the truth. Science as practiced now has nothing to do with truth and should not pretend otherwise, and has everything to do with knowledge. But as the Magi long ago discovered, there is something more to life than the gathering of knowledge. And more than the best of what humankind has gathered as the meaning of it all. Meaning is found in a person. The truth is found in Jesus. A truth not just to be known in one’s head, but for all of life. A truth to be lived in. For all the world.

 

faith is intellectual

After the series of faith last week it would seem strange that I would end with a post which with good reason I should have began such a series with. Actually I did not intend anything beyond the first post, “faith is moral and spiritual.” But afterwards I realized that as important as I believe that point was, it is inadequate by itself to describe the basics of faith. To end on this note (as far as I know now) I think may be appropriate, however, in view of current day issues.

While it is true that the demons believe in the existence of God and shudder, their faith being only an intellectual faith, it is also true that faith is indeed intellectual, though at the same time not dependent on mere human intellect. God gives us his word through words and that involves our intellect, but in such a way that a child can hear, believe and be saved in a simple trust of the Father. We are also called to love God with all our being and doing, and part of that explicitly stated is that we’re to love him with all our minds (“…heart…soul…mind…strength”).

Mark Noll wrote some years back now, a telling book with a nearly scolding title: The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. There is no doubt, and the more the years roll by, the more true it is, that some first rate intellectual work has been done by evangelicals in theology, and biblical exegesis, not to mention the vital linguistic work for Bible translating that has gone on for some time. So the critique here might be compartmental. It has been years since I read my copy, but Noll’s book does hit on something which I’ve witnessed and think I’m witnessing in the midst of “the culture war” raging at full strength here in the United States.

From our commitment to the orthodox Christian faith, I agree with Os Guinness that we should indeed have no fear. While we need not be gullible, neither should we retreat into a faith which ends up reading Scripture in a way it was not written or understood originally, and which fears that the foundation of our faith may end up being destroyed under the stress of worldly thinking. Of course we see attacks on the faith from some, and we are indeed called to defend the faith once for all entrusted to us, God’s people.

Faith is being undermined by her friends however, when we think that the Reality in God through Christ is undermined by science, or any other entity of this world. I choose science, because from it are hot button issues of today such as evolution and climate change. In any endeavor one has to separate the discipline itself from extras added on to it. This is clearly the case in science when a fine scientist such as Richard Dawkins heaps ridicule on religion and especially on Christianity in the name of science. In actuality it is not his science that undermines the faith, but his conclusions he draws from it. He makes metaphysical assertions that science all but rules out the existence of God, rather than sticking to the physical, science itself.

Science is at the heart of what Christian theology calls the general revelation of God. We ignore it, and I speak here of mainstream peer review science, to our own peril. In so doing we are actually denigrating a part of what God has revealed and what humans are to study.

Our best intellectual work should be given to both general and special revelation. Special revelation is the Christian theological term which means God’s word given to us which is rooted in history and is about God’s creation, covenant, redemption and new creation through Jesus. And the two disciplines need to come together, so that those devoted to the study of either, think together on how Christians are to think on these things.

For us “everyday” Christians, we need to major on what God has called us together to do, both in the general mission of God through Jesus by the Spirit in the world, and with reference to our own unique place in that calling. We each have our special part. And we’re to each love God with our entire minds in the way that comes naturally and works best for us and contributes to the good of others.

This is a difficult issue, particularly in view of the heat which is generated. What do you think is important in this consideration, and do you agree with Mark Noll and others that we evangelical Christians have sometimes missed the mark on this?