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Friday, May 04, 2007

Dialog on Science-Religion issues

My title does not mean to imply that science and Christianity are opposed. I don't believe that they should be. God is the author of truth, whether perceived through experiment, in the Bible, or as revealed to individuals by the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, we are fallen, and don't always perceive such truth as God meant it, through whatever means we are looking for it.

The American Scientific Affiliation is an organization of Christian, most of whom are also scientists. Some of them are quite prominent, like Francis Collins, head of the human genome project. Most aren't. The organization publishes a quarterly journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. Articles are released to the Internet roughly two years after original publication. The Affiliation takes no position on issues of origins, other than that there is a God who is creator. Perspectives deals with other matters, such as stewardship of nature and medical ethics, as well as issues related to origins.

I recently received the March, 2007, issue of Perspectives. I found it excellent, mostly because of two dialogues. In both cases, the editor had persuaded authors with differing views to react to each other.

One such dialog concerned Intelligent Design (ID). Loren Haarsma ("Is Intelligent Design 'Scientific'?" Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 59:55-62, March 2007) pointed out, I believe correctly, that ID is partly scientific, partly philosophical, and partly theological, and that it is easy to concentrate on only one of these aspects, missing the others. (Unfortunately, in some court cases about teaching science in the public schools, ID advocates have seemed to claim that ID is only scientific.) Haarsma considers all three aspects in some detail, challenging ID to be good science, good philosophy, and good theology. He also says that ID's claims about origins should be restrained to something like "I believe that current knowledge does not fully explain how certain biological phenomena arose, and doubt if there will ever be a naturalistic explanation" rather than claiming that science has ruled out a naturalistic origin for them. On the other hand, he also says that anti-creation advocates should show similar restraint, as the evidence for anything else is scant, or non-existent, and should say something like "I believe that the evidence points to an evolutionary origin of certain biological phenomena, and that eventually, it will be possible to explain its origin naturalistically."

Michael J. Behe, perhaps the most important ID scientist (author of Darwin's Black Box) responded. He agreed with much of what Haarsma wrote. Here is a quote from Behe:
. . . the message "evolution or design, one or the other," is a flawed choice. To the extent that the public has gotten than impression, it is regrettable. There is nothing in the idea of intelligent design that precludes the design being unfolded over time, and I myself judge that scenario to be the most consistent with all of the data we currently have. What's more, I am mostly happy with [Haarsma's] statement, "suppose the laws of nature are fine-tuned not one for the self-assembly of molecules and stars and planets, but also for the self-assembly of biological life and biological complexity." Michael J. Behe, "The Positive Side of Intelligent Design: A Response to Loren Haarsma," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 59:63, March 2007.

I deeply appreciate the thought of both Haarsma and Behe, and Perspectives for publishing both together.

Another dialog was between Hugh Ross, who is, in this dialog, anyway, labeled a Concordist, that is, one who believes that scientific findings, properly understood, should not contradict scripture, properly understood, and a critic, Paul Seely. Seely was quite critical of Ross, but Ross defended his views rather thoroughly. I don't claim enough expertise to judge between them. The issues are clearly spelled out in this dialog. See the Reasons to Believe website for more about Ross's beliefs. See here and here for some available publications, in previous issues of Perspectives, by Seely on these topics.

Thanks for reading.


Rob Rumfelt said...

Thanks once again for a great link. I had never heard of the ASA before.

Isn't it amazing how origins remains one of the most fascinating subjects? And it's one of the most important, too. Where we think we came from defines, to a large degree, how we see ourselves.

I'm currently reading Jacques Barzun's "Darwin, Marx, Wagner." Ideas have consequences and it's interesting to see how Darwin's ideas affected so much more than just biology.

Thanks again for the brain stimulation!

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. "properly understood" is quite a caveat in reconciling science and religion.

It doesn't seem likely we'll properly understand science or religion well enough to reconcile them.

Given our limitations it may be wise to treat science and religion as non-interfering spheres of life.

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you both.

starving econ grad, I must respectfully disagree on a couple of matters in your comment.

First, there are things in the Bible that have to be "properly understood" to be reconciled, such as Galatians 6, where we are commanded to bear our own burdens, and to bear one another's, a few verses apart. That being the case, I would argue that properly understanding science is a pre-requisite for reconciling it with the Bible. Granted, that's a tall order, and it's hard to know when one has done that, but I think it must be attempted, at least.

Second, Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19 tell us that one of the ways God is revealed is through nature, so I don't see that we need to, or should, treat science and religion as non-overlapping spheres, although some, such as the late Stephen Jay Gould, have done so.