Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Questions on science and faith

Amidst all the silly emails and comments pitying me or telling me I'm wrong, I've actually started getting some thoughtful feedback from my series on faith and science. I like thoughtful feedback, so I'm going to answer a few questions here. The first comes from a "secular/atheist" and former Christian fundamentalist:
with your acknowledgement of the evidence for evolution, what keeps you from just taking a Stephen Gould, "two realms" position?
That's easy. Gould's non-overlapping magesteria model (that science deals in fact and religion in morality) is wrong. Religion is not merely about morality and living a good life. Pretty much all religions make claims about reality. Some are metaphysical claims ("all have sinned"), while others are grounded in a kind of empirical claim, like Joshua making the sun stand still. Such claims might not be subject to empirical validation today, but presumably if you'd been there, you would have seen Joshua make the sun stand still. These historical claims are either true or not, and some claims cut to the heart of a religion's doctrine. Despite the opinions of some liberal theologians, I think that Christianity without the true, historical resurrection of Christ is just a waste of time. Or to put it in other words, Christian doctrine stands or falls on the truth of Christ's bodily resurrection. I think trying to dismiss religion, especially Christianity, as just a moral system is patronizing and condescending.

From the same reader:
On the other hand it would be interesting to hear what you have to say about other biblical events that seem to be at odds with science or reason (i.e. miracles). For example do you draw a line that accepts a real 6 days of creation and a real resurrection, but considers certain other miracles described in the bible as untrue or allegorical? If so, what is the nature of the line; are there universal principles involved, such as how central a given miracle is to Christian theology? Or is it a simply a personal matter illuminated by faith?
I tend to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt. Some of my critics out there are going on about my "interpretation" of the Bible, as if I were being foolish to "dogmatically" insist that MY interpretation is the only correct one. Part of my stance on Scripture stems from my understanding of inspiration (verbal & plenary), which I admit to be a faith stance, but I am open to considering alternative interpretations of lots of passages. For example, what in the world are the Nephilim of Genesis 6? That's something I'm quite willing to discuss. Shoot, even the identity of the serpent is something I'm not so sure about anymore. On the other hand, the basic outline of history in Genesis 1-11 appears to be just that: an outline of history. As Doug Kennard has told me many times, we should be as dogmatic as the Scripture is dogmatic and as ambiguous as the Scripture is ambiguous. That seems like good advice to me.

A Christian reader writes:
Is there a role for apologetics?
Wow, great question! Some people might get the impression that I'm anti-apologetics, which is not entirely true. I do believe that we scholars have a responsibility to help other Christians better understand their culture and faith. I do not believe that apologetics should be used to "build faith," since that's dangerously close to idolizing apologetics. If however people have legitimate questions about geology or biology, then we Christian scholars ought to give them good answers (which necessitates that we have good answers to give them, but more about that later).

I also don't think proper apologetics should be used as a license to endlessly bicker with scoffers about all the piddly minutiae of science or logic (I'm looking at you, nearly everyone on the internet). Problems with that approach: 1. You can't "reason" someone to heaven. 2. Scoffers do not have "legitimate questions." 3. Endless debates inevitably degrade to arrogant name-calling, which is unbecoming of a Christian.

Another Christian reader writes:
What about Romans 1? How can creation be so clearly understood that everyone is without excuse if evolution is such a "compelling" explanation?
I'm not sure what the problem is exactly. There are all sorts of things in this life that are compelling but wrong. Let's face it, if sin wasn't fun and compelling, no one would sin. So what if evolution is compelling? Geocentrism was petty compelling too.

Your question also assumes that evolution is merely an anti-creation explanation of the origin of species. As if creation vs. evolution were the only options, and if you accept evolution you must necessarily reject creation. I'm forced to agree with my theistic evolutionist (or "evolutionary creationist") brothers and sisters who are fond of pointing out that evolution does not automatically necessitate an atheistic universe. In other words, evolution could be compatible with a kind of theism. And even if this evolutionary god is not the God that I personally know from the Bible, other Christians disagree and find evolution to be compatible with Christian theology. I want to make it clear that I don't agree with that approach and that I think the God of the Bible is not a god who would use billions of years of evolution to create. But I'm also unwilling to make a false creation/evolution dichotomy, when the categories don't seem to be mutually exclusive.

Furthermore, looking into the history of evolution, it's pretty clear that Darwin did not intend his theory of evolution to be anti-theistic. He merely stressed that appealing to a creator in science can become ad hoc and nonexplanatory. I'll talk more about that next week. So evolution was not intended to be anti-God nor is it today exclusively anti-God. Therefore, even if you accept evolution, that does not preclude belief in Christian theology and you're still without excuse.

If anyone else has other interesting questions or would like to give me feedback, contact me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail.com.