Test of Faith – Does Science Threaten Belief in God? (RJS)

There is a new resource available from the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion that I would like to point to today. This web site, Test of FAITH, was put together to provide introductory resources for those who are interested in or troubled by the interaction between science and faith. There is a film: Test of FAITH: Does Science threaten belief in God?, a book: Test of Faith: Spiritual Journeys with Scientists, resources for group discussions with a leaders guide and study guides Test of Faith: Science and Christianity Unpacked, a version for youth 11-14 and 14-18 (here) and a version for kids planned, a YouTube Channel and more. I will come back to more of the material in later posts.

Among the resources on the site are videos of a number of short interviews.  These can be downloaded from Test of FAITH or found on YouTube. In this video Dr. Collins discusses the personal cost of discussing science and faith.

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It is certainly true that there is a cost to this discussion. A cost in the profession as a scientist, not so much because of the science itself, but because of the baggage attached – from the image of religion as anti-science and anti-progress.

There is also a cost to the discussion within the church, where emotions often run high. As it happens the church I belong to is a church Dr. Collins attended many years ago. My pastor was in a bible study with Dr. Collins at that time. Yet evolution is still something of a controversial issue within our church (although not with the leadership, in this sense I am lucky).

I hope that some of the resources available at Test of FAITH will help forward the conversation.

How can we go about having open and honest discussions about science and faith?

There are many other excellent resources in the video section. In this clip Francis Collins discusses evolution and the problem of suffering.

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Does the point by Dr. Collins about the over statement of death and suffering in evolutionary creation make sense?

What other questions are raised by the issue of evolutionary creation?

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • Jason Lee

    2nd vid is a keeper. …needn’t be more tooth and claw than having slightly duller teeth for munching on leaves…over time.

  • rjs

    Jason,

    I agree. Evolution throughout history was no more bloody in tooth an claw than the world we see around us today. Evolution is a continuing process.

    This still causes some problems. I think it means that the idea of an “idyllic” origin (no carnivores, no parasites, no cancer, no drowning, no death via tar pit…) is incorrect. We misinterpret scripture when we think this is the teaching.

    But we didn’t emerge from a past any more violent than the natural world today.

  • Rick

    The “death” aspect does not seem as troubling as the “suffering”.

  • http://growinggrace-full.blogspot.com/ Chris Donato

    What other questions are raised by the issue of evolutionary creation?

    In my reading on the subject, why does it seem that many of those who take evolution seriously and who are also theologians lean in the direction of open theism? Is it because evolutionary theory provides a good natural theology that supports the revelatory theology of openness?

  • Joshua Wooden

    RJS,

    I’ve been curious: do you ever talk to your classes about the relationship between faith and science? If so, what do you talk about?

    @ Chris Donato,

    You know, I’ve been wondering the exact same thing. I’ve actually been looking at the things that Arminians, Open Theists, and Theistic Evolutionists all have in common…. Still trying to figure that one out. Let me know if you come up with anything.

  • normbv

    Open minded education in both science and biblical studies are the essentials needed to move the discussion along. Not everyone is interested enough in studying science or biblical issues to consider them together in context. It turns out that science plays a big part in bringing to light misconceptions we have had about biblical literature. If the contradictions that have become apparent weren’t verifiable through science then many would not have chosen to pursue the question of why is that. Who would ever have dreamt of challenging the ancient geocentric points of view without science leading the way? Who would have challenged the literature of the flood and Babel accounts if we did not have modern geology and archeology refuting a literal reading that has been prevalent?

    The urgings of science have made us better biblical students in that we have dug deeper into the literature and often found out that we were misreading and misinterpreting even the ancient intentions. Scripture uses analogy and symbolism as a deeply imbued method of presenting the stories. If we didn’t have science to shake us out of our comfort zone of woodenly literal scriptural interpretation then we would still all be in one accord with the literal Left Behind crowd that has arisen this past century. Science has indeed been a blessing to biblical interpretation by making us perform our due diligence regarding it.

    Dr. Collins foray into this arena is turning out to be a blessing that will continue to bring about insights regarding the intent of scriptures for ages to come. People need to continue asking “why”.

  • rjs

    Joshua,

    It never comes up in my classes. We don’t have a forum for discussing science and faith and it isn’t related to the course material.

    Chris and Joshua,

    With respect to the open theism question … how does this relate to the question Scot asks in the other post today? Is there one correct and predetermined plan for our lives – or is this more related to developing the right orientation toward God’s purposes?

    In both cases (evolution and plan for life) I lean toward a real openness in the context of an overall plan of God.

    Having said that, evolution is also consistent with a more closed approach, and many do prefer that position.

  • http://growinggrace-full.blogspot.com/ Chris Donato

    RJS, I think it’s the latter (“developing the right orientation toward God’s purposes”), if those are truly the only two options.

    For my part, I do think God is unconditionally free—that whatever he has planned and decided to do will certainly come to pass. It may also be that he has himself decided to incorporate openness into the fabric of his plan.

    Nevertheless, I’m not so sure the only two options are God, the master of puppets (as if God’s purposes are a kind of blueprint of history that automatically take place as the years and centuries pass by) and God, the one who exists only within “time.”

    I guess that’s off-track enough to just stop there . . .

  • http://melbournechurchofchrist.org/ Steve

    Scott, didn’t know the best way to get this to you, but here’s a wonderfully insightful article that you might want to review on your blog that is somewhat related to this topic from the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Blind Willie Johnson story is worth reading alone.

    http://chronicle.com/article/The-Bible-Is-Dead-Long-Live/127099/?sid=wb&utm_source=wb&utm_medium=en

    When are you coming back to Malibu for Pepperdine Bible Lectures?

    Peace.

  • Tim

    Does science threaten a belief in God?

    Yes. Of course it does.

    Not because there aren’t good reasons to believe in God. I believe there are. But rather because we now have far more reasons not to.

    If we lived in a world where pillars supported a firmament upon which traveled globes of light, the case for a deity would be pretty strong. There are no conceivable naturalistic, “godless”, processes that would produce such a thing. But now we have cosmological processes as discerned through scientific inquiry that explain our world to us – all without requiring a God. Ditto for Evolution with respect to life. If we saw all life appear on this planet fully formed, with no ancestral history whatsoever, that would be a pretty good case for believing a deity created them. But Evolution requires no supernatural creator to be effective insofar as we’re aware.

    So the threat of science is to make a belief in God more superfluous than it otherwise would have been without it. Far more so in fact. My own argument for God is largely aesthetic. But imagine how much more I could draw in if science hadn’t provided alternative explanations?

    So of course science poses a threat to theistic belief. Not a fatal one of course, but a threat nonetheless.

  • normbv

    Tim,

    I’m an evolutionist and science and biblical enthusiast, but your arguments seem be lacking from some presuppositions that you appear to bring to the table. I think you are simplifying the discussion from some weaker biblical ideas that may not hold up in the long run.

    You’re a good thinker but maybe there is more data that might change your perspective somewhat.

  • Tim

    Normbv,

    I’m not making the argument that Genesis “requires” an ancient cosmology or special creation. I am not setting Genesis, or the Bible for that matter, at odds with science. Rather, I am drawing from pre-scientific models of cosmology and life that did, more or less, argue strongly for a “creator”, and then contrasting those with our modern scientific understanding where the “need” to invoke a creator out of explanatory necessity has diminished substantively.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Tim@10 tells the truth, and stated it well. The issue that I believe his comment brings to light is that science is dispelling some of the erroneous beliefs that gave undue credibility to the “Belief in God”.

    I think Tim’s view should be the standard, then force people to understand the implications and understanding.

  • http://litl-luther.blogspot.com/ Triston Dyer

    The real issues at stake for us Christians is: “If evolution is true, then people are not created in God’s image.” Since you don’t seem to have a problem with evolution, I would really appreciate it if you would address this serious question.

    The implications of this would be that people are no more important than animals and the Bible is in error.

  • http://growinggrace-full.blogspot.com/ Chris Donato

    Tim (#10), all you’re saying, whether you know it or not, is that we displace one god for another. So what else is new?

  • http://www.virtuphill.blospot.com phil_style

    I believe that science threatens faith at a suppositional level, because as many of our atheist friends have accurately pointed out, the scientific method requires making certain assumptions about the world that specifically exclude the supernatural. So yes, science threatens faith (a threat is not a destruction thereof though), and some specific theologies must surely be rendered false in the light of science, whilst perhaps others are given more plausibility.

  • rjs

    Triston,

    That is an excellent question.

    The logical conclusion of a view where evolution is merely physical process producing the world around us is that human beings are no more or less important than other animals.

    The first point I’d make is that while I do think, based on the evidence, that evolution is the method of creation this does not rule out plan, purpose, or intention. The development of human being, conscious, rational, creative, creatures in the image of God is part, probably the major part, of the purpose of creation.

    The statement of purpose isn’t a scientific judgment though, and revelation in scripture is a significant part of my reasoning here, as it is for all who take a more abrupt view of creation.

  • rjs

    Tim (#12),

    Good point – and I think this underlying tension is what gives rise to the appeal of Intelligent Design as a scientific demonstration that we must still invoke a creator.

  • normbv

    Tim,

    Sometimes I think it is a matter of someone seeing a glass half empty and another seeing it half full. You state that your belief in God is based more on an aesthetic view which I can fully appreciate. However I don’t think the revelations of science are detrimental to an aesthetic approach and actually enhance that view for me personally. The intricate design of life and the physical should be just as beautiful and God revealing as is viewing the mountains, flowers and all the other grandeur around us. Simon Conway Morris in his book “Lifes Solution, Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe” testifies to the grandeur of the evolutionary process that he sees in his life pursuit of the evolutionary process. In the long run it doesn’t really matter as much about the archaic details of ones science as it does about how one views the magnificence of the hand that created it. Discovering the evolutionary process does not establish that life arose from nothing without a creator and in fact very well could be a testament itself to the nature of the Creator as we see the design within the flowering of evolutionary processes.

    It seems interesting to me that all peoples of the world have had this innate sense that there is a force behind the beauty and complexity of what we see, feel and touch. When the Europeans came upon the new world they did not find a peoples devoid of this inclination, no they found them with an assortment of approaches trying to wrap their minds around the “great spirit” of Nature. The aesthetic awe has always been there except in a few who don’t have a clue themselves.

    I think we make way too much of the ANE idea of the solid dome view when it is simply an ancient backdrop for illustrative purposes behind a much more important subject. The story of the Creators redemption of mankind is what drives the themes of the Old and New Testament and not their ancient science.

  • AHH

    Triston (#14),

    I think your statement is a non sequitur.
    “Created in God’s image” is not about human biology. Whether one takes the interpretation of the “image” as an assignment of responsibilty (as seems to be the position of most OT scholars) or as some sort of spiritual capacity, the means by which God produced our physical bodies has nothing to do with God’s assignment of the “image”.

    Physical continuity with animals no more means that we are “no more important than animals” than physical continuity with the dust of the Earth (in a literalist interpretation) means we are no more important than dust.

  • normbv

    AHH is correct. The Image of God appears to be a theological description culminating with the indwelling of the Spirit of God through Christ, it doesn’t appear as a biological application biblically.

    What can be stated is that God deemed Man above the animals in that He was willing to send His Son to die for us and not the animals.
    Being confered with the Image of God brings “eternal life”.

    NT Wright has an excellent discussion on this subject at this link.

    Being Human (N. T. Wright)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73OA7H4Tjj4

  • Edward Vos

    If our eyes see God revealed in the natural world isn’t science then an extension of our eyes where we use our mind and the process of ellimination to discover truths about our natural world. If we say God created it, the world that is, then science is only an extension of the world that God created.

    God created the blue print for the world. Science is the tool we use to read the blue print. Therefore science is explains the how of things and points to the who did, but can never answer the why God made the blue print of life. The Bible does that.

  • http://www.virtuphill.blospot.com phil_style

    Triston #14 , both normbv and AHH make good points.

    The “image of god” metaphor is not reliant on not-evolving from other species any more than it is reliant on being created from dust particles – which are after all simply crushed rocks and decomposing bio-matter.

    The metaphor is theological, not biological.

    Whilst a rather long blogpost, I would draw your attention to Elizabeth Johnsons discussion on the “humanity” in light of serious mental disability. http://witheology.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/follow-up-intellectual-disability-and-my-own-two-cents/ Elizabeth (or the subject of Elizabeth’s review), in a slightly round-about-way for our purposes here, makes the interesting observation that perhaps the “image of god” (and our reliance on that for the allocation of human value) is rooted in the idea that God choses to relate to said creatures. The metaphor, as applied here, is theologically relational.

  • http://witheology.wordpress.com Bridget

    Hi — wanted to offer a correction here. I’m one of the writers for the WIT blog Phil linked to, and while one of our writers IS named Elizabeth, and DID write about intellectual disability, she is not Elizabeth Johnson. Her post is well worth reading, though, and thanks for the link.

  • http://witheology.wordpress.com Sonja

    Phil_Style,

    The Elizabeth who writes for Women In Theology is not Elizabeth Johnson; she is a doctoral student at Notre Dame. Elizabeth Johnson is a theology professor at Fordham.

  • http://virtuphill.blogspot.com/ phil_style

    sonja, thanks for clarifying.

  • http://witheology.wordpress.com Elizabeth

    I wish I were Elizabeth Johnson.

  • http://tgconnection.org Cathy

    @rjs science includes more than evolution,etc. The same type of anti-scientific reaction comes to us from the religious community when we are attempting to introduce rigorous scientific research and study regarding the subject of Love. The scientific community in turn has been hesitant to tip-toe into this subject matter having relegated it to the side of religion, but there have been some, such as Peirce and Sorokin who did pioneering work. “The Technology of Love” attempts to open the doors and speak to both communities. With your scientific/religious viewpoint, if you would be interested in taking a look at the book I’d be happy to provide a copy. Link to info through my name. Thank you.

  • Bungy

    Interesting discussion – thanks, all.

    The anti-scientific reaction is also seen in the ‘natural/alternative therapies’ community and other back-to-nature groups, who baulk at scientific rigour and even testing of their remedies, believing that this can not reproduce results for complex individuals. This is very sad, in my mind, as some testing has given some results that can’t be ignored by medicine and has given relief to many who wouldn’t access complementary therapies for themselves.

    I personally don’t find science and faith hard to marry – I see the universe, the biosphere and the genome as fascinating windows into the orderly but infinitely complex mind of God; the more I learn, the more I realise that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”.

  • Triston Dyer

    I appreciate all the thoughtful comments. I still, however, have trouble with the method Christians who believe in evolution use to mesh science and faith. For instance, do any of you who accept evolution believe “Adam” was a real person, our first parent, from whom we all decend?? If not, than I see a real problem because 1. Jesus’ ancestory is traced back to Adam in one of the Gospels. 2. Jesus himself aludes to Adam when he says “in the beginning they were created male and female. 3. Paul certainly believed Adam was a real person in Romans 5 — as real as Christ. 4. The doctrine of original sin, and Paul’s main argument in Romans 5 are lost if we accept not that Adam is a real person. 6. Many would say it is heresy to deny any of scriptures three imputations (a. the imputation of Adam’s sin to us. b. the imputation of our sin to Christ. c. the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us.). In fact, they would say the Gospel is at stake on this issue. A literal Adam is essential, which I tend to agree with. 7. The whole Bible unfolds as a plan of redemption based on the Adam and Eve story. Serious issues are at stake if this story is called a myth. So I guess my question is can you believe in a literal Adam whom we all decended from and still believe in evolution. If not, I find it virtually impossible not to reject evolution. Thanks again for all the thoughtful comments. -Triston

  • Triston Dyer

    Sorry for all the mistakes in my quickly posted comment above.


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