Friday, February 20, 2009


Awhile back I was invited to contribute to ACU Press's The Transforming Word, a one-volume commentary on the Bible. My essay is in the background knowledge section, on the topic of religion and science as it relates to biblical interpretation. It's a brief general essay aimed at making one very simple point: there's no good reason to assume that Christianity is or should be anti-science.
from the essay: "Dialogue permits exchange in a way that acknowledges the integrity of science and religion as distinct sources of knowledge while insisting that they cannot remain strictly independent. This type of relationship strikes a balance between the necessary autonomy of individual disciplines and the holistic nature of the human search for understanding. In dialogue, science and religion are equal partners investigating areas of common interest: the natural world, human nature, and the question of how God acts in the world.

But it is a little misleading to suggest that a single dialogue exists. In reality, there are dialogues between particular sciences and particular religions and theologies on particular topics. Conversations about human nature, for example, may engage biology, psychology, and anthropology, while conversations about nature may partner with physics and chemistry. The conclusions reached in these specific conversations may differ from each other, or there may be no conclusions reached at all. But this should be no surprise to theologians and Christians in general, who, after all, ought perhaps to be more sensitive to the limitations of human rationality than anyone else. Human reason is fallible, so all conclusions must be open to continued examination.

Finally, unpredictability in the dialogue between religion and science is a fact to be accepted, if the conversation is really to be genuine...We cannot afford to ignore that dialogue brings with it the possibility of disagreement, if it is in fact an honest conversation. Yet there is a positive side to this as well: dissonance often opens the door for renewed investigation and creativity. It is only when conflict is assumed to be a permanent and inevitable condition that it becomes detrimental to dialogue, because the motivation to find resolution disappears.

You can check out the list of contributors, etc., here. If you're looking for one great big giant book all about the Bible, this might be the one for you...:)


Steve said...

You wrote a fascinating article. I'm interested in the book. However $70 is a lot. How did you get interested in the intersection of science and religion?

JTB said...

I wrote an MA thesis at ACU on chaos theory and the problem of evil, which led me to the theology & science literature. So it was kindof back door--but once I was there I realized this could be enough for fun for a whole, say, career. From there I applied to PTS to work with Dr. van Huyssteen...and now I'm all about cyborgs. ;) That's nobody's fault but mine, however.

As a friend pointed out the other day, the CofC is a very rational tradition, inheriting as it does Campbell's Baconian-influenced hermeneutical principles and the general principle of logical doctrinal consistency. So it's surprising to me that--despite the heritage left by a founder who not only respected scientific knowledge and technological achievement but actually relied to a significant degree on scientific method--there are people in the CofC who seem to be anti-science. I suppose that's best explained by CofC populism...but still, one of those places where we as a tradition are characterized by unresolved internal contradiction...

Steve said...

I would like to claim to be a recovering rationalist who now values some aspects of the postmodern. I'm a CofC preacher's son raised in that unique niche that held a high view of both reason as well as scripture and by accident of birth a nerd. I considered the ministry and even did some mission work during the summers at Harding. But perceived myself as not enough of a people person and stayed in science. I did a PhD in Engineering Physics at the U. of Va. Wow, its hard to believe that will be 30 years this coming May. I've always thought our tribe would come around to more up to date views (which would more closely correlate with my views). It is frustrating when teachers at my church diss evolution and lament the lack of respect for Intelligent Design. In the CofC, congregations of which I'm aware, there seems to be no interest in scholarship. I see a movement away from any interest in Campbell and our Stone Campbell heritage. There is a melting into the general pot of the conservative side evangelicalism.

Cyborgs eh? Would like to know more about that.

jonmower said...

I've observed an explicit bias against scholarship. I remember my dad explaining to me that professors and the like have to come up with something new and stray from the truth in doing so. I was thinking of the evolution/ID controversy too. When complete dismissal of an entire field science (evolution) as an absurd hoax is so foundational to your world view, it's not too surprising that you might rather easily take the same posture towards other subjects (e.g. climate change) and scholarship in general.

As late as freshman year in high school I was planning to be some sort of minister (probably a missionary) but by the time I graduated HS I was heading a different direction. Ended up doing science-y stuff at Lipscomb and then a PhD in chemical engineering.