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.

Thoughts on Discipleship from a Marine Conservationist

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Cara Daneel. Naifaru, Maldives

When I left university, I was a budding conservationist armed with good intentions, theoretical head knowledge, and an enthusiasm to change the world. I then entered a real world where human hearts were not so easy to sway. After firsthand experience in a variety of contexts, I was left wondering how to negotiate that space between understanding facts and inspiring a sacrificial love which is powerful enough to change our ways. It is not a simple step, but our Christian faith can help this conversation, and possibly the whole planet, in a big way.

My introduction to practical marine conservation began in the tropical waters around Madagascar and the Maldives. Here…

Continue reading this article now (free, no signup required) in Christianity Today.

Finding our Place in the World: Belonging, Limits, and Abundance

Picture2 by Lauren Stark Adams of Spokane, Washington
© Lauren Stark Adams of Spokane, Washington

What is our place in the world? In his seminar at the Faraday Institute last month, Dr Jonathan Moo described the current movement towards ecomodernism, which involves a separation from nature. If you want to understand this trend in more depth you can listen to the recording of Jonathan’s talk. In this post I will focus on the last part of the seminar, where Jonathan presented his own ideas about how limits can help us to flourish. Continue reading

Evolved in the image of God?

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by Michelangelo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
How could an evolved species be made ‘in the image of God’? This was just one of the questions tackled by J. Richard Middleton, Professor at Northeastern seminary in New York State, in his Faraday seminar a few weeks ago. I will cover the seminar next week, but for this podcast (abbreviated transcript below) I wanted to get to know him a bit more, and find out what he – as an evangelical biblical scholar – thinks about this particular question. Continue reading

Become Inspired, Leave Empowered #EarthOptimism

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Cropped from BLM 2016 Making a Difference National Volunteer Awards. By Bureau of Land Management. Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Is it sometimes ok to dance in the midst of mourning? Is there time to laugh, or only to weep?[1]

On Earth Day 2017 I joined a worldwide celebration of a concept not usually featured in conservation news: hope. ‘Surely this is no time for celebration?’, you may Continue reading

More Satisfying Answers: Taking the conversation about science & Christianity to a deeper level in New Zealand

new-zealand-lake-mountain-landscape-37650-crop.jpegSometimes science can throw in questions that seem to upend theology completely, but is that a bad thing? In the end, faith can come out of those conversations far stronger and deeper than before. I recently spoke to Dr Nicola Hoggard Creegan, a theologian with a scientific background who is now Continue reading

Real Science: Untimely Deaths, the Necessity of Hope, and Struggles with Tin Openers

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By Evan-Amos (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes, it can be nice to remember that scientists are people too. That author of a cutting-edge paper about multiverse models might currently be crawling around his lounge with his one-year-old, pretending to be a tiger. That professor talking about climate change on the news segment might spend next Saturday stuck in traffic, panicking about Continue reading