Book Preview – Reason and Wonder: Why science and faith need each other

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© Ruth Bancewicz

‘from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved’

Charles Darwin

…the origins of all species, including our own, are found in natural processes that can be observed and studied scientifically. In other words, evolution demonstrates that our own existence is woven into the very fabric of the natural world. Seen in this light, the human presence is not a mistake of nature or a random accident, but a direct consequence of the characteristics of the universe. What evolution tells us is that we are part of the grand, dynamic and ever-changing fabric of life that covers our planet. To a person of faith, an understanding of the evolutionary process only deepens our appreciation of the scope and wisdom of the Creator’s work.

For Christians today, the scientific successes of evolutionary theory present a genuine opportunity to come to grips with the reality of the natural world that gave rise to us. That science, no question about it, presents genuine challenges to religion, but it also provides religion with an extraordinary opportunity to inform and enlighten the scientific vision of our existence…

Dobzhansky understood science as a way to refine and expand our understanding of the Creator’s power and majesty. This, I would suggest, is a model for the proper relationship between science and faith. A similar understanding was expressed more recently by Guy Consolmagno, an astronomer and Jesuit brother, appointed head of the Vatican Observatory. Interviewed by Astrobiology magazine, Consolmagno stated:

The trouble is that some people think they can use science to prove God. And that puts science ahead of God; that makes science more powerful than God. That’s bad theology. In fact, some philosophers have said that’s what led to atheism in the eighteenth century – the fallacy of the God of the gaps. You say, ‘I have no idea how this could have happened. It must have been God’s design’. And then fifty years later, somebody explains how it did happen, and you say, ‘I don’t need God anymore’. If your faith is based on science, that’s a very shaky kind of faith. My belief in God is not because of something I’ve seen in science. But I can turn it the other way around and say, ‘I believe in science because of my faith in God’. (Consolmagno, 2005)

The historical roots of modern science lie not in a rejection of faith, but rather in the conviction that exploration of the natural world is an act of praise and worship. As Aquinas and other Christian philosophers have emphasized, faith and reason are both gifts from God, and as such they should be complementary. In many ways, I would argue that science itself, regardless of the religious beliefs of its practitioners, is based on two great elements of faith. The first is that a genuine universe exists and can be understood by rational scientific inquiry. The second is that knowledge of that universe, gained through science, is to be preferred to ignorance. Albert Einstein, although not a theist, echoed these sentiments when he wrote:

While it is true that scientific results are entirely independent from religious or moral considerations, those individuals to whom we owe the great creative achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to the rational striving for knowledge. (Einstein, 1954, p. 52)

Ultimately, the religion and science debate continues because of a deep antagonism between extremists on both sides of the issue. The solution is not to split the difference, but to come to a genuine understanding and appreciation of the true depth of scientific and religious thought on the issues at hand. In the specific case of evolution, the sophistication of Christian thinking on natural processes and the divine will is routinely underestimated by those who would use science as a weapon against faith. Conversely, the Christian community often fails to appreciate the self-critical nature of science and the clear recognition of most scientists as to the limitations of scientific inquiry. In the final analysis, both sides may come to realize, as Charles Darwin did, that there is indeed beauty, wonder and even grandeur in the evolutionary view of life.

 

Reason and Wonder.inddThis post was a series of extracts from Ken Miller, ‘Evolution, faith and science’, pages 86-93 of Reason and Wonder: Why science and faith need each other (Templeton Press, 2017) with permission of the publisher.

Guest Post: Evolution and Education – Why Faith Schools Should Teach More Biology

teaching-661748_1920Education has come surprisingly late to the science and religion discussion. However, we are now beginning to see articles emerging about the importance of schooling for people’s views about various aspects of science and religion. One of the most interesting of these articles is one that has just appeared in the prestigious journal Public Understanding of Science, authored by Dr Amy Unsworth at The Faraday Institute in Cambridge and Professor David Voas at University College London.

What Unsworth and Voas did was to cut through a lot of what has been written about the effect of faith schooling on people’s understanding of evolution and views about it by actually collecting some rigorous data. They obtained Continue reading

Guest Post: Purposeful Life – goal-oriented organisms and faith in the Creator

B0010971 Salmonella Typhimurium infection of a human epithelial cell
Salmonella infection of a human epithelial cell (cropped), by David Goulding, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. Wellcome Images, creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0

A horde of salmonella bacteria invades a mouse’s guts. The rodent’s immune system is on the alert, but something unusual happens. A minority of the invaders throw themselves onto the mouse’s colon bugs, even though their attack is too risky and they die. Their comrades take advantage of the breach, yet they are not as aggressive themselves.[i]

The berserk salmonella “are prepared to sacrifice themselves for the greater good”, a researcher explains. “You could compare this act to Kamikaze fighter pilots of the Japanese army.” This scenario raises the question, did they do that on purpose? Of course bacteria do not have conscious intentions, but it is at least possible that in another sense there is genuine purpose in this behaviour. This is also an important point from the perspective of Christian faith, which involves belief in a purposeful divine creation. Continue reading

Guest Post: Signing the Biological Peace Treaty

Alice and REd Queen from aliceinwonderland.net

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” [1]

The crazy world depicted by Lewis Carroll in “Through the Looking-Glass” is such a fast-changing and dynamic place that you need to run and run just so you can stay put. The living world operates in a similar way, with a perhaps surprising outcome. Continue reading

Guest Post: A Hominin By Any Other Name (Would Be Just As Wise)

man-in-the-mountain-1396693-1280x960 Kristin Smith freeimages
by Kristin Smith, freeimages

If you were asked to define the entire human species with one word, what would it be? Think about it. Tricky, isn’t it? When Linnaeus formalised the scientific method of naming species in the 18th-century, he settled on ‘wise’ as our defining characteristic. He called us Homo sapiens, literally meaning ‘wise man’. Was he right to do so? Is that what God created us to be? Continue reading

Why do we do these crazy things? The difference between humans and animals

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Extreme ironing © b1ue5ky, creative commons BY-NC-SA 2.0

Life may be ubiquitous in the universe, forms and structures may crop up independently in very similar forms, but at the moment it seems as if human life is unique on our planet. The Cambridge Palaeobiologist Professor Simon Conway Morris made a name for himself by studying the Burgess shale, which is one of the earliest records of soft-bodied animal forms. From this work, he developed an interest in convergent evolution – the idea that independent evolutionary processes hit on the similar solutions again and again. Now that convergence has blossomed into a field of its own, Simon has turned his attention to human and animal intelligence. At this year’s Faraday Institute summer course he described some of his findings so far, which I will summarise here in my own words. Continue reading

What does the Bible actually say about Adam and Eve?

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Professor J. Richard Middleton feels called to help the church interpret the Bible well (see last week’s podcast). In his seminar at the Faraday Institute last month, he outlined what he thinks the first two chapters of Genesis say about the origin of humankind.

In ancient Hebrew, the words that are often translated into the names Adam and Eve can have more than one meaning. They can be personal names, or they can mean Continue reading