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
Science may have changed the way we read the opening chapters of Genesis, but we still need to respect the historical integrity of the text. This was Mark Harris’s reflection as he opened his lecture on The Bible and Human Origins at the Faraday summer course last month. When it comes to questions of human identity and where we came from, the focus for most Christians is on the first three chapters of Genesis. Harris spent his talk looking at different interpretations of this text – especially the story of the fall – and the questions those interpretations raise for both science and faith. Continue reading
Professor Tom McLeish is an unusual physicist because his academic output at Durham University includes both history and theology as well as lab-based and theoretical physics research. He has been involved in setting up teams of scientists and medieval scholars to look at scientific thinking in 12-14th century texts, and his latest book, Faith and Wisdom in Science, is on the theology of science.
McLeish gave a seminar at the Faraday Institute last week in which he laid out a manifesto for science from his own perspective as a Christian. What he said is relevant for anyone in our society today, regardless of their beliefs. His starting point – a survey of medieval texts – is unusual, but a story demonstrates why the work of these ancient scholars is important.
Anyone who has learned first aid will be familiar with the scenarios that are part of the exam. You walk into a room full of people who are injured in some way, and you have to prioritise who to treat first. The noisy people will probably be alright for a while, but the silent ones – those who for some reason have no voice – need to be given urgent attention. Continue reading
If I could travel back in time to ask Isaac Newton about the relationship between science and religion, he would probably be completely nonplussed by the question. In the late seventeenth century, when Newton was teaching maths at Trinity College, Cambridge, the word ‘science’ was used more broadly to refer to a body of organised knowledge. Theology, maths, classics, astronomy and all the other sciences were integrated into the body of ‘natural philosophy’, which was taught by ‘natural philosophers’. William Whewell, another Cambridge academic and Master of Trinity College, coined the word ‘scientist’ in 1834 to describe someone who carried out experiments to discover things about the natural world, and it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that British natural philosophers actually began to call themselves scientists.
Denis Alexander used this story to illustrate his lecture on the history of the dialogue between science and religion at a recent retreat led by Faraday staff at Launde Abbey. He described the development of science as a relay race where the baton was passed from ancient Greek philosophers to Islamic scholars, and then on to Christians in Europe, including Newton. Obviously the early stages were important, but a number of ideas stemming from Christian theology were absolutely key to the development of what we now know as science. Continue reading
If I’m going to encourage the use of science in worship, I really need to tackle the issue of suffering. You can’t go far in biology without finding insects that eat each other from the inside out, dinosaurs with arthritis, or children dying of horrific diseases. Some Christians believe in a ‘fall’ that affected the very fabric of creation, and some believe that the world was created fit for purpose (rather than perfect) and that the fall affected relationships. Either way God has created a beautiful world and allowed suffering to happen in it, and we have to figure out how to survive – physically, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally.
I will not begin to tackle the question of suffering right now, but I will offer a series of extracts from the first chapter of Annie Dillard’s ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’. I first came across Dillard through Philip Yancey’s book Soul Survivor, and have found that her writing provokes those questions of ‘why?’ in the face of so much beauty and so much suffering. (Though I haven’t finished the book yet, so please don’t spoil it for me by replying with detailed criticisms…)
That it’s rough out there and chancy is no surprise. Every live thing is a survivor on a kind of extended emergency bivouac. But at the same time we were also created.
Pascal uses a nice term to describe the notion of the creator’s, once having called forth the universe, turning his back to it: Deus Absconditus. Is this what we think happened?
It could be that God has not absconded but spread, as our vision and understanding of the universe have spread, to a fabric of spirit and sense so grand and subtle, so powerful in a new way, that we can only feel blindly of its hem.
Unless all ages and races of men have been deluded by the same mass hypnotist (who?), there seems to be such a thing as beauty, a grace wholly gratuitous. About five years ago I saw a mockingbird make a straight vertical descent from the roof gutter of a four-storey building. It was an act as careless and spontaneous as the curl of a stem or the kindling of a star.
We don’t know what’s going on here. If these tremendous events are random combinations of matter run amok, the yield of millions of monkeys at millions of typewriters, then what is it in us, hammered out of those same typewriters, that they ignite? We don’t know. Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of a mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.
Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek, (Canterbury Press 2001 edition, chapter 1, p9-11)