Translating the Language

When I was asked to comment on Karl Giberson and Francis Collins new book, The Language of Science and Faith, one of the questions posed to me was whether or not this book brings something new to the science and faith conversation.  After reading the book, I’ve realized that it does and doesn’t bring something different to the table.  On one side, I fully think that Collins’ name has the capability to bring the ideas put forward in this book to a much broader range of people than have yet seen them.  When his last book came out, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people, especially folks in churches, were interested in his ideas.  Even in Berkeley, CA, Collins drew crowds so big that classrooms had to be set up to show a live video feed for the overflow from the auditorium.  With his appeal, I fully believe that there are going to be more people familiar with, for example, how one could address the topic of Adam and Eve in light of evolution.

On the other hand, little of what Giberson and Collins present in this book is new.  Ideas like “theistic evolution” (or what the authors refer to as the BioLogos view) and “fine-tuning of the universe” have been around for years.  Much of what Collins and Giberson present is on par with what I experienced in an Intro to Science and Theology course that I took in seminary 5 years ago.  This is in not an inherently bad thing (we need more good introductory texts to the topic!), but The Language of Science and Faith probably won’t do much to advance the academic discussions.  The authors do acknowledge the fact that others have discussed much of what is in the book(p. 222) , but it is important to note that while it might be new to some folks, the arguments and ideas presented fall very much in line with what has come before in the science and theology conversation.

Related to this, the one key flaw I see with Collins and Giberson’s approach is a flaw that prevails throughout the field of science and theology: a lack of relationality.  While this is in no way restricted to this conversation, the rhetoric involved in the science and religion debate is often very combative and almost trumps what we find around the abortion issue.  The way that various groups, like the New Atheists or Creation Scientists, and their viewpoints are portrayed by their opponents seems borderline dehumanizing.  With everything they have written and said, I’ll admit that the idea of sharing a meal with someone like Richard Dawkins or Ken Ham flat out frightens me at times.  Could I assume that they would be civil to me, a person who takes both science and Christianity seriously, when I often get lumped in with heretics or liars in their eyes?  Even Giberson and Collins, while not being malicious, have a tendency to brush aside the arguments of both the creationists and the atheists.  Even if the authors are right in their assessment of the value of those arguments, if I were in either of those camps, I’d probably feel belittled and possibly even become more entrenched in my view point.

All of this makes me wonder: What would it look like to approach this topic in the same way that folks approach relational evangelism?  What if instead of focusing solely on creating the best arguments for our side, we sought out the other and worked with them as our brothers and sisters?  I’ll be the first to admit the difficulty of this.  Instead of using my trusty powerpoints and worksheets to convince folks, I would have to take time to get to know them, to see where they are coming from and why they are holding the positions that they do. This may mean spending months, if not years, with people as we form relationships strong enough that would allow for trust needed to make those big changes in worldviews.  It would mean, for instance, partnering with a group of pastors or laity as they work through a book like this, rather than giving a talk and hoping for the best.  Honestly, this way of discussing science questions in the relational model is a terribly time-consuming thing to do and it would certainly take me out of my comfort zone. However, I am becoming more convinced that that is the only way that any real progress is going to be made in this area.

To their credit, Giberson and Collins have offered us a good starting point for the forging of these relationships.  In the last chapter of their book, “The Grand Narrative of Creation,” the authors provide us with fresh telling of the Christian Creation story in light of the advances of modern sciences.  More so than the most astute theological arguments for theistic evolution, this narrative gives us something that we can plug into and, just as importantly, invite others to join us in.  Much like the Gospel message is more about the relationship with Christ than merely a series of carefully crafted propositions, a real breakthrough in the science and faith discussion will need a message rooted in God’s desire for us to truly love one another as ourselves.

God’s language is love.  The real language of Science and Faith needs to be the same.

Blake Horridge currently serves as the Director of the Science in the Sanctuary Project.  An ordained American Baptist minister, he helps churches and pastors look at various issues of science and faith.   Horridge received his Master of Divinity degree from the American Baptist Seminary of the West in 2008 and a B.S. in Chemistry and Forensic Science from the George Washington University. In addition, he has served as a Research Assistant with the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences and has presented at American Scientific Affiliation’s annual meeting.  He will begin his PhD in Religion at Claremont Graduate University in Fall 2011.

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