Guest Post: The Great Divide? Science, faith, and the humanities

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Over the last few years, I’ve become interested in the Great Divide (which I don’t believe in) between science and religion, and I have tried to do my bit as a bishop in building some better bridges in the churches for which I’ve had responsibility. The Faraday Institute in Cambridge and the Equipping Christian Leaders in an Age of Science based at Durham have both been really helpful partners in the task, and this blog gives me the chance to say hooray and thank you to them both – and mention a great hero of mine.

Speaking at a recent Faraday event for local church leaders, I was struck though by another Divide. When I asked for a show of hands, I found that nearly half the participants had a further degree in science, and a those who had stopped studying science after GC(S)E’s like me were much in the minority. On reflection, the activists in both the Cambridge and Durham groups tend to be scientists too.

So where are all the humanities folk like me? Were they like me expected to “drop” science after their GC(S)Es? Have they been warned off by all the popular rhetoric of conflict? Do they lack confidence in the face of often technical subjects? Or is it easier just to leave science in its box and get on with life in ours? Continue reading

Book Preview – Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective

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Teaching at a Christian college, we find that many of our undergraduate students arrive on campus as freshmen having previously accepted the unfortunate dualism of choosing between science and faith, between “creation and evolution,” … Many are skeptical of scientific claims for cosmic and Earth history (and the history of life) that conflict with their literal, concordist, recent-creation view. A course or self-study program, perhaps one that would use this textbook (!), gives the opportunity for students to dig deeper into all of the interesting yet challenging aspects of biblical understanding and scientific knowledge that fuel the science-theology dialogue. We believe that familiarity with a comprehensive doctrine of creation, derived from the full breadth of Scripture, relieves that dualistic tension, honors the authority of God’s Word, and supports a sympathetic view of the scientific enterprise (with its theories of origins). The focus shifts from details about “how” and “how long ago” to deeper meanings that transform lives. Continue reading

The Incarnation: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

© Alan Handyside, Wellcome Images

My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place,

when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body;

all the days ordained for me were written in your book

before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139:15-16

You began life as a single cell – a fertilised egg with mother and father’s DNA mingled together in a unique combination. This miniscule blob was all of you for a few hours, until it began to divide: 2 cells, 4, 8, 16, a ball, a hollow ball, and then something more complex. You were still tiny, but developing a nervous system, a head, a body, arms and legs. By that point your mother would be only too aware she was expecting a baby – the physical symptoms would have been hard to ignore. Continue reading

Book preview: Creation or Evolution – Do we have to choose?

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© Aureliy Movila, Freeimages.com

All Christians are, by definition, creationists. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament expresses this very clearly when he writes:

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:2)

We cannot come to know God personally by faith without also believing that he is Creator of all that exists. The Apostles’ Creed affirms: ‘I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth’, a declaration central to the beliefs of all mainstream denominations. So Christians are by definition those who believe in a creator God; they are creationists. Now of course there is the slight problem that in common usage the term ‘creationist’ is attached to a particular set of beliefs held by some Christians, as well as by some Muslims and Jews, and these beliefs relate to the particular way in which it is thought that God has created. For example, some creationists believe that the earth is 10,000 years old or less. Other creationists believe that the earth is very old, but that God has intervened in a miraculous way at various stages of creation, for example to bring about new species. Since words are defined by their usage, we have to accept that this is the kind of belief to which the word ‘creationist’ refers. But this should not mask the fact that in reality all Christians are creationists in a more basic sense – it is just that they vary in their views as to how God created. Continue reading

Guest Post: Entropy, Life and the Kingdom of God

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The Crab Nebula, a stellar explosion, a little hard to put back into an ordered state. Photo: Robert Sullivan/ Hubble – creative commons @flickr.com

That brilliant and entertaining atheist Steven Pinker has defined ‘the ultimate purpose of life, mind, and human striving: to deploy energy and information to fight back the tide of entropy and carve out refuges of beneficial order.’

That might need a bit of explaining, not least to me. Entropy is, crudely, the measure of disorder in the universe. A low-entropy state is an ordered state; high entropy is a  disordered one. Because disorder is much more likely than order, disorder (high entropy) tends to be what everything leads to. Continue reading

Book preview – John Polkinghorne: Can a Scientist Believe?

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When I left the full-time practice of science and turned my collar round to become a clergyman, my life changed in all sorts of ways. One important thing did not change, however, for, in both my careers, I have been concerned with the search for truth.

Religion is not just a technique for keeping our spirits up, a pious anaesthetic to dull some of the pain of real life. The central religious question is the question of truth. Of course, religion can sustain us in life, or at the approach of death, but it can only do so if it is about the way things really are. Some of the people I know who seem to me to be the most clear-eyed and unflinching in their engagement with reality are monks and nuns, people following the religious life of prayerful awareness. Continue reading

Book Preview: Calling out the Good in Technology

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At some level we fear technology and its power over us. But the church can’t be content to merely offer warnings—we also need to call out the good in technology… we need to remember that technology, in the sense of it being something useful created through the application of science, has been part of humankind for quite a while. It finds its way into the Scripture early when Tubal-Cain “forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron” (Genesis 4:22) and continues throughout its pages. In fact, the church and technology have enjoyed a long and often positive history… Continue reading