Facing the Future in Community (RJS)

BioLogos held a workshop at Gordon College last week – well attended and well worth the time from what I hear. Some 50-70 people were in attendance, mostly college professors. Several regular readers of this blog were at the workshop.  One who was there told me that it was a huge success, with many good conversations throughout. I was traveling, at science conferences myself, or might have looked into attending.  (If I hadn’t been traveling I would have noted this: Hawks Beat Flyers to Win Stanley Cup, and this: Chicago Celebrates Stanley Cup. Even Wrigley paid homage: Blackhawks Bring Their Cup Party to Wrigley.  World Cup, World Series take a back seat … nothing compared to a ‘real’ sport and prize.)

But back on topic…

Rachel Held Evans – who recently published a book Evolving in Monkey Town was among those who attended. I have a copy of the book compliments of Zondervan and will post on it once I’ve read it. Rachel posted comments on the conference on her blog and on the BioLogos blog Science and the Sacred yesterday 13 Things I Learned at the BioLogos Conference

Among her 13:

It is possible to talk about the origins debate with an attitude of respect and humility.

Science professors (particularly at Christian colleges) are desperate to find good ways to counsel students whose faith is challenged by the scientific data they encounter in the classroom.

At the heart of the tension between science and Scripture is what Pete Enns calls “genre misidentification.”  [See my earlier post today.]

The question “where do you draw the line?” is not one that only evolutionary creationists have to answer.

“Evolutionary creationists” is a preferred term to “theistic evolutionists.” [I agree]

Both evolutionary creationists and proponents of intelligent design believe that God is the creator of the universe.

The smartest people are the ones who are humbled by how little they know.

You can read the full commentary on Rachel’s blog or on BioLogos. 

What do you think of her observations?

If you were at the workshop – what are your observations?

  • Rick

    I thought Rachel had a good post, and included some funny observations as well.
    RJS-
    “World Cup, World Series take a back seat … nothing compared to a ‘real’ sport and prize.”
    It will be interesting to see if Scot remains silent on the victory. It will tell us which means more to him: His appreciation of the city of Chicago, or his dislike of hockey. ;^)

  • RJS

    Rick,
    I am sure Scot will simply claim it is old news by the time he returns to blogdom … but we will suspect the truth.

  • http://www.rachelheldevnas.com Rachel H. Evans

    I wish you could have been there, RJS! It would have been nice to hang out in person. :-) Hope you enjoy the book.

  • Darren King

    I think the fact that evolution remains such a stumbling block for so many Evangelicals says the Church has A LONG way to go in engaging the world in relevant ways.
    And, by the way, I could say the very same thing – coming from the opposite direction – of some of the atheistic scientists who pass philosophy off as science.
    #2 is perplexing to me. When young Christians in college are so set in their ways regarding readings on origins that professors are “desperate”, I just throw my hands up and say – wow, people live in different worlds – even in the 21st century. Again, the perspectives of some atheistic scientists supports this conclusion too – even if confirming it from the other direction.
    Genre misidentification doesn’t quite say it for me. Its more about a complete lack of understanding, or even awareness of, genre to begin with. In other words, its not so much that people misunderstand the genre of given texts, as that they don’t even ask the genre question to begin with.

  • RickK

    “At the heart of the tension between science and Scripture is what Pete Enns calls ‘genre misidentification.’”
    I don’t think so. At the heart of the tension between science and Scripture is the lack of sufficient evidence for God. When you turn the scientific method toward the fundamental assumption of God, the evidence is weak and growing weaker.
    “Natural Philosophers” of the 17th, 18th and 19th century weren’t out to disprove God’s existence. Many investigated nature specifically to understand how God worked. Some famously thought they’d found God by finding natural phenomena for which there was no explainable natural cause. Newton knew he’d found God when he couldn’t come up with any way to set the planets in motion.
    But the human knowledge kept advancing and discoveries continued. Mysteries were explained – REALLY explained – reliably, predictably explained.
    For the first time in human history, people could REALLY agree on things – not like the weak, partisan, politicized type of agreement found in things like theology. But REAL agreement – where a person could write down knowledge and someone from a completely different culture in a different part of the world could use that knowledge and achieve the same results.
    And it made many many natural philosophers and scientists uncomfortable. The implication was more than most would consider. Throughout history and even today, I’m sure you’d find that MOST professional in the natural sciences would WELCOME discovery of the direct hand of God acting on nature. But as the decades passed by, and more and more natural phenomena were explained by natural causes, it became more reasonable to pose the questions:
    “What if we remove God from the equation?”
    “On what evidence did we base our initial God assumption?”
    “Does that evidence meet the same standards of quality that we impose in other investigations?”
    These are fair questions – questions not born out of the wicked minds of a few contrarian atheists, but questions honestly and reluctantly derived from hundreds of years of intense study of the natural world. We can now honestly question the existence of God, and it was the scientific method that got us to this point.
    That’s where the tension comes from.

  • Rick

    RickK-
    From Biologos:
    “Science is not the only source of factual statements, and religion does reach beyond the realm of values and morals. As Gould acknowledges, science is limited to the factual claims about the world’s physical behavior, and therefore provides only a portion of complete knowledge.”
    http://biologos.org/questions/science-and-religion/
    Therefore, Enns is probably correct. When a healthy understanding of the two (science and religion) are taken into account, the question on some specific issues moves to genre.

  • RickK

    Rick – you’re starting with the assumption that Gould was correct – that the magisteria are non-overlapping.
    My point is that they in fact do overlap, and the overlap or demarcation has moved steadily, with “natural philosophy” claiming ever more ground and with religion in retreat.
    Gould says the natural world is the realm of science, and the immaterial is the realm of religion. But that’s NOW. A few thousand years ago, gods were just at the top of the next mountain, and spirits inhabited everything around us. Then gods were pushed up into the heavens or below the earth. Now they’ve retreated to a completely immaterial realm, and their influence on the natural world recedes daily.
    Are morals or ethics outside the realm of science to investigate? The authors of holy books codified their ethics in those books. The books were used later to inform later generations in the society, but the society also “evolved”, its ethics evolved, and things that were acceptable to the authors of the holy books are now no longer acceptable (slavery) and things that were not acceptable now are (homosexuality).
    What are those social forces that cause ethics, and cause them to change? Are those forces beyond natural investigation? What goes on in the brains of the people who are part of that society? Can a person’s ethics or morals be influenced by material agents?
    We’ve seen intriguing differences in brain activity when engaged in religious or meditative practices. If faith can have a material effect, are we so certain it doesn’t also have a material cause?
    Is there an absolute, objective demarcation between religion and science, or do we just want to impose one? Do we declare such questions off limits because we want to preserve the illusion of NOMA? That seems backward and authoritarian.
    Seeing how the NOMA demarcation line has moved in the past 500 years, I wonder where it will be in another 500 years.
    Anyone uncomfortable with such questions has just discovered the tension that Evans is trying to define.

  • Rick

    RickK-
    We certainly should look at such issues and questions. RJS, the author of this post is a scientist who is looking into such issues. Likewise, the Biologos crew, Alister McGrath, John Polkinghorne, etc.. is just a sampling of scientists (of faith) who are not shy about looking into such questions.
    One question to keep in mind as such questions are tackled: do scientific discoveries diminish the role of God, or do they teach us more about Him?

  • RJS

    Darren (#4),
    I don’t think it is that young Christians are so set in their ways … rather they are asking hard questions and need either answers or approaches. In this discussion we have more method than answer.
    RickK,
    Not so simple. I don’t buy Gould’s NOMA approach, but the nothing but materialism approach is also not really effective. With respect to brain activity and physical cause – it is not either material or immaterial but both material and immaterial.

  • RickK

    Rick said: “RJS, the author of this post is a scientist who is looking into such issues.”
    Good, then he’s exactly the right guy to ask. Except… I thought the immaterial was beyond science.
    Rick said: “One question to keep in mind as such questions are tackled: do scientific discoveries diminish the role of God, or do they teach us more about Him?”
    How many times do you conclude: “we thought God did this, but now we’ve found a natural cause” before you ask “so is there a God?”. So each time you find an alternative explanation to something that was once explained by “God”, does that diminish the role of God? What do you think?
    And please note – I’m not talking about “belief in God” – the belief clearly exists and has an enormous effect on society.
    RJS said: “Not so simple. I don’t buy Gould’s NOMA approach, but the nothing but materialism approach is also not really effective. With respect to brain activity and physical cause – it is not either material or immaterial but both material and immaterial.”
    How can you be so sure? I *think* there may be nothing but the material. Given history and evidence, that is my personal starting assumption. But I can’t be 100% certain. Where does your certainty come from?
    Tell me, where do you see the current boundary between material and immaterial? What parts of a human being are “immaterial”?

  • Rick

    RickK-
    “So each time you find an alternative explanation to something that was once explained by “God”, does that diminish the role of God? What do you think”
    No. It may tell us more about the how, but not the Who.
    By the way/just fyi: RJS is a she.

  • RickK

    Rick – thank you for correcting me re RJS – I apologize to her and you for the mistake.
    As for the comment “No. It may tell us more about the how, but not the Who”, that’s a glib response.
    Your question was whether scientific discoveries diminish the role of God or tell us more about him. Well, did the discovery that God did not directly create the diversity of living species diminish the role of God?
    Doesn’t all the anti-evolution vitriol stem from people’s concern that natural evolution does significantly diminish the role of God?

  • RJS

    RickK,
    Much of the anti-evolution vitrol flows from three sources (in Christian thinking):
    1. A view of the inspiration of scripture which requires a reading of Genesis and select other texts that is inconsistent with evolution.
    2. A theology of Original Sin and understanding of anthropology that is incompatible with evolutionary human origin (although it may be compatible with animal evolution).
    3. The expectation of empirical evidence for the existence of God in otherwise inexplicable phenomena. (An active designer.)
    On a lay level there is a fourth (perhaps more important cause):
    4. The opinions and positions of trusted authority.
    On your question – “did the discovery that God did not directly create the diversity of living species diminish the role of God?” No – as Rick said, increasing understanding of chemistry, physics, and biology, including evolutionary mechanism tells us how. It doesn’t address the question of God.
    On grounds that have nothing to do with the how, I suggest that the who is God. The thoroughly naturalist view dismisses “who?” as a meaningless question. But here is the crux of our disagreement – not science but metaphysics and philosophy. We have to wrestle with the hard questions not trash them on spurious grounds.

  • RickK

    “Is there a ‘who’?”
    I don’t consider that question simple, or spurious. But I do think it is a prerequisite for any discussion of whether “God” is a reality or a belief.
    What strikes me as “spurious” is skipping directly to the “God” conclusion.
    As for philosophy versus science – it is a problem that philosophy doesn’t have a laboratory. But 800 years ago, the true nature of the lights in the night sky was a discussion for “metaphysics”. The origin of the Earth was “metaphysics”. 200 years ago topic like the origin of musical ability was in the realm of “metaphysics”.
    Which current topics in metaphysics will be firmly in the grasp of science in 500 years?

  • http://www.precipicemagazine.com Darren King

    RickK,
    I think its important to say that, for those of us who do believe in God, we do so not because the universe is too complex to exist otherwise; at least, that’s not our primary reason. We believe because we have an interactive relationship with something more than the physical universe. If you ask for physical evidence of such a thing, that’s going to be difficult to come up with – by the very nature of the apples and oranges issue. While some Christians still think God just had to go “poof!” for stuff to exist in some supernatural way, many of us are very happy to say God used some long, drawn-out mechanism. And that’s what RJS is talking about: just because we understand more of the mechanism, doesn’t make us back off from the God argument. That’s because we’re not trying to build a God-of-the-gaps argument to begin with. In fact, many of us think that’s a rather silly (and not ultimately helpful) way to go about it. I agree with you that many have done this in the past, but that’s different than what many of us here on this blog are attempting to do.
    One last note: Near-death experiences may be one area where there is what amounts to something like evidence of a more than material universe. Certainly some skeptics have come up with rather stretching theories to explain the phenomena – as a natural reaction of a dying brain and such, but these seem like stabs in the dark rather than very plausible explanations of the experiences people have. Now, I understand, a materialist can do nothing BUT try and come up with naturalistic explanations of such phenomena. But from the pretty extensive reading I’ve done on the subject, these theories just don’t do justice to the evidence involved. As a side-note, I personally know of a couple people who’ve had such experiences, and no naturalistic science I’m aware of can explain them. These experiences break the very laws that naturalistic science would set. Now, maybe you say, “No way, we just don’t have a science yet sophisticated enough to get there.” Maybe… but that honestly seems like much more of a stretch, again, based on the evidence, than an alternate conclusion that states that the material universe is not all there is.

  • RickK

    Darren, thanks for your thoughtful post and for your sincere attempt to help me understand your perspective.
    You said: “We believe because we have an interactive relationship with something more than the physical universe”. What do you say to people who have interactive relationships with dead ancestors, with alien entities, and with demonic spirits? How does one differentiate the voice of a supernatural entity from the voice from within one’s own head, hopes and fears?
    You said: “Near-death experiences may be one area where there is what amounts to something like evidence of a more than material universe”
    That’s interesting. What do you consider the most compelling evidence or most compelling examples of near-death experience? I’d very much like to understand that better, and “kick the tires” on the evidence.
    I’m curious – what do you say to someone like Susan Blackmore? She had an experience that she was certain proved the existence of a realm outside the material. But later, after experimental research and deep introspection, she realized that the most plausible explanation was that her experience was entirely within her head.

  • http://www.precipicemagazine.com Darren King

    RickK,
    Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with Susan Blackmore’s experience.
    For background on where I’m coming from I’d recommend something like Jeffrey Long’s “Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences”. This is a book from someone who’s been studying and compiling evidence about these events pretty much longer than anyone else – well over 10 years. By the way, he began with an assumption that life ended at physical death. Then, while in medical school, he came across the phenomena – that was not being reported on, because it was not popular with the establishment – and chose himself to study it. Though he comes from a thoroughly scientific background, he’s now convinced that human consciousness cannot be reduced simply to the firings of a chemical/physical brain. And he’s convinced there are dimensions of reality that exist beyond the physical one we experience. “Spiritual” would be the best way to describe this other dimension. Long’s approach is to compile data and then approach it scientifically. So he makes comparisons across cultures, across time, across religious groups, across ages, etc. His conclusion is that 1.) something much more than a self-fulfulling prophecy is going on. In other words, people often have experiences that go against the grain of what they’d expect to experience – so they’re not just “projecting”, and 2.) that with zero brain activity there’s no way they should be able to have these experiences and remember about them at all. He presents 9 key reasons, based on 9 separate lines of evidence, why he believes these are real experiences.
    One of the aspects of the evidence that I find the most compelling is when people accurately report details from events and locations that they couldn’t possible have perceived if they had remained lying unconscious (or even conscious) on an operating table. I’m talking about people retelling experiences of floating out of their bodies, going down the hall and overhearing conversations between doctors and nurses. After being “brought back” they’re able to recount these conversations in detail. There are numerous accounts like these in the book.
    Again, this is not just a happy collection of anecdotal experiences. Long and his team approach it much more scientifically than that. That’s what made his studies, and the book, really stand out for me. I didn’t come away thinking “Sure, but you didn’t control for this”, or “sure, but what about cross-cultural comparisons” etc.
    Anyway, I’d recommend you check out the book yourself.
    Peace,
    Darren

  • Darren King

    RickK,
    And on your other question on how I differentiate my experience of an interactive relationship with God from other people’s tales of interacting with ancestors, alien entities, etc, I think that’s a very complicated question. First off, I’d say I don’t rule out these other experiences per se. I think we should approach all of these kinds of experiences with as little bias as possible. At the end of the day, I think – to some extent – we all have to wrestle with these kind of questions – whether we claim an experience of spiritual interaction or not. And surely the fruit (or lack thereof) of our lives goes a long way as to answering the question of veracity for us, as individuals, and as communities.
    Let me say this though: I do think some people write all such experiences off, without really looking into the details of various claims. And I don’t think its until we’ve really done that kind of thorough comparative analysis that we can write off the bunch just because its highly probably we can write off a few.
    In some ways this is an unanswerable question. But let me say this: Just because some people enter the American Idol competition thinking they can sing when they clearly have no clue as to pitch whatsoever, should not therefore lead us to believe that no one in the world can actually sing.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X