Greg Cootsona: "Mere Science" and Adam's Empty Chair


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #22

This hits on one of our core concerns. To protect the neutrality of science, we need to give it autonomy. To protect theology, also, it has legitimate autonomy too. I’ve been starting to write about this more, using the metaphor of dialogue. Good dialogue requires constructive resistance. What is legitimate constructive resistance though? How can science press on theology? How can theology press on science?

There are two things I see.

  1. Autonomy of language. Science and theology both have legitimate autonomy to use words in different ways, in ways that are internally consistent even they come into conflict with each other.

  2. Legitimacy of questions. Science and theology both have autonomy to question each other. Such question should be taken seriously, even though they arise from an external source.

From that starting point. There seems to be an opportunity for real understanding to grow. We should, however, grant that theology and science are not expected to speak univocally. They will say different things. This is as much a multicultural conversation as it is multilingual.

Taking this as a starting point. I notice your explication is about intellectual integration, and this is in line with the overarching themes of the area. Conversations on science and theology focus on intellectual integration. I’m concerned about this framing, for two reasons.

First, it does not give good grounding for paradox, and for apparent contradictions to legitimately stand.

Second, and much more importantly, the focus on intellectual integration is usually to the exclusion of an incarnational integration, the integration of ones life as follower of Jesus in science and theology. In the end, we have a lot of intellectual arguments, but not many confessing scientists. With so many Christians privately doing scientific work, we see so few scientists in the Church and Christians in science. This, it seems, is the incarnational vocation that is lost in a focus on intellectual integration.

So yes, I agree that independence between science and theology is important. Though I wonder if there is a bigger opportunity here. Did you address this at any point in your book @Cootsona?


(Greg Cootsona) #24

Josh,
I’d begin again here with my need to listen. I think the theology of Adam does have a preponderance of white Christians, but as long as it’s set within most theology and science domains, that’ll be the case in any number of topics.

Nevertheless, the doctrine of creation, and particularly that we are all made in God’s image, is the basis for the dignity and inherent worth of all human beings. Acts 17:26 says that we are all from “one” (“blood” was added in later manuscripts), and that could mean of one kind, but it has been the theological basis for the repugnance of racism. I enjoyed what we discussed in our conversations about this at ASA. I would also add that it’s our eschatological hope that all the kings from all the racial-ethic “tribes” (or ethne) bringing their tribe in the new heavens and new earth (Rev 21) that also demonstrates our unity in Christ.

I believe MLK’s words are powerful and ones we forget at our peril, but as to whether he was quoted on his birthday, I wouldn’t make too much of that. We have far better evidences of ignoring racism in the United States!


(Greg Cootsona) #25

I’ll start with a brief answer straight from the book. Two excerpts, the first of which I set out as a general rule:

Seek integration when possible. Address conflict when required. Allow for independence when necessary

Second, although we seek integration, we also need to interpret Scripture with a sufficient dose of independence between science and faith when necessary. Galileo may not have been entirely right with his quip, “I would say here something that was heard from an ecclesiastic of the most eminent degree: ‘That the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes.’” But he was on to something. In addition, when Psalms 8 and 19 lead us to consider the heavens and the glory of humankind, it doesn’t tell us how to use a telescope, or the take on the mathematics of physics, or give us comparative anatomy. These are all human endeavors complementary to the study of Scripture. If good science leads us to an earth that’s 4.5 billion years old and human beings who have evolved, then we need to follow it. As Harold Nebelsick commented so poignantly, “… to ignore the discussion of today’s science is simply to discuss theology in terms that are related to the science of the by-gone era.” And that means we believe, but lose our minds in the process.

At its core, independence recognizes and respects the difference between science and theology. The more I’ve interacted with scientists over the years, I’ve realized that science rightly can go its way and seeking to take a Christian approach to science can sound like a “Christian approach to dry cleaning.” Of course, because Jesus is Lord of all, we can’t stay with independence only–“separate but equal,” as it were–but we ought to let it have a place.


(Jordan Mantha) #26

@Cootsona, first thanks so much for your willingness to participate both here and at the ASA workshop (I was an attendee).

I would love to know a little bit more about “Creative Mutual Integration”. I am very interested in models for the interaction between science and theology.

I am also curious, as a science professor at a small Christian university, if you can give some “best practices” or at least some thoughts on how scientist/educators can most effectively translate the work of scholars to something emerging adults can work with and integrate into their own thinking.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #27

I agree. That sounds really interesting.


(Greg Cootsona) #28

All right, I’ll work on this one and plan to submit an answer tonight or early tomorrow morning. Essentially, it means that the science and theology conversation is truly a dialogue, a two-way street, and the model is drawn from Robert John Rusell’s work, especially Time in Eternity:

(Russell’s work on time in special relativity theory and in theology is truly cutting edge.)

Besides that, Jordan, I’m glad you were at the ASA workshop!

I have a chapter 8 as a PDF: Strategies for integration with emerging adults MereScience, final chapter](https://www.dropbox.com/s/xw71wzpdq0ow0fi/Final%20Chapter%20MereScienceAndChristianFaith_3814.pdf?dl=0).


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #29

@jordan, can you offer some thoughts and observations about what took place there for those that could not be there? I’m sure @AJRoberts would want to know.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #31

I really like this as a principle. It seems to be another way of stating neutrality in science. Is that the right way to think about this, at least in part?


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #32

@fuglega, I’ve been thinking about this exchange, and want to juxtapose a few linked concepts regarding your position.

I emphasize there is no evidence against the de novo creation of Adam. In fact, it is 100% consistent with the common descent of man. At the same time, I also emphasize that the Church is defined by our confession of Jesus, not of a historical Adam, or de novo creation. That is a two part message, challenging to both sides of the debate.

Let’s examine TGC/Keller’s statement that the “essentials of creation” doctrine include the de novo creation of Adam (Keller on Adam and Eve). Is this a problem? It depends. They certainly can assert that it is personally essential for them. A problem might arise if they exclude you @fuglega as an equal member of the Church. That, according to the juxtaposed message I’m giving, is missing something important. This a real ecclesial risk, that I imagine you are concerned about. The right response to that valid concern, however, is not to falsely suggest that TGC/Keller are rejecting science:

That is just not true. They are not in conflict with science. However, depending on how they apply this essential, they might be in conflict with the intended ecclesiology of the Church.

At the core is this fact: affirming the de novo creation of Adam and Eve does not necessarily imply rejection of science. To say that is to make a scientific error. Even if we disagree with de novo Adam, it is not warranted to use science as a weapon like that. This is merely a call to honesty in science. You don’t to agree with a historical Adam or a de novo Adam to be honest about what science does and does not allow.

So the question for you, I wonder, is “Will you lay down arms?


On the theological side, I really interested to see the contrast between you words and @Cootsona’s. You say:

I understand how @fuglega is making that distinction, but reading from Paul rather than Genesis. Though there is a better way to make sense of this, the history that @Cootsona lays out…

That is the historical legacy that we all inherit. Even though it was 150 years ago, we are shaped by that declaration that the de novo Adam conflicts with science. One way theologians reworked Adam from the traditional view is to take your position, that Adam was not de novo created, but perhaps chosen. Correct me if I am wrong @Cootsona, but the primary (only?) reason this deviation from the traditional reading was put forward was because de novo creation was in conflict with science.

As we have demonstrated, however, that declaration was in error. Evolution and a de novo Adam are not in conflict. Despite what we have heard, these two things are not in any conflict. This calls into question the entire project of reworking the traditional reading in the first place.

Which is partially why, perhaps, you need to assert things like this.

That conflict is the background assumption and starting point of your position, it seems. However, that conflict is an illusion. This puts a new burden on your position, and creates a new opportunity. The burden: do you really have good reason to deviate from tradition? Perhaps not. The opportunity: perhaps you can find a more coherent position, which is no longer susceptible to the “arbitrariness” critique put forward by @Cootsona against you.

I’m not sure what the right answer is. Though this is a major correction. We have to reexamine many of the theological and hermeneutical tradeoffs that have been made over the last 150 years. Many things that had been taken away by science, are being given back. The calculation is different this time around, and traditional views on Adam might not have even been wrong in the first place.

In fact, those taking @Cootsona’s independence model might be vindicated. Some continued to affirm traditional views on Adam alongside evolution, even though they did not know how it fit together. They have new coherence to their position.

Once again, I’m not sure the answer, but we do have to be honest about science. The theological questions rising right now, also, are profound. Don’t miss the opportunity to be part of this.


(Jordan Mantha) #33

I wish I had taken better notes, I am new to the whole genealogical Adam discussion so I took a bit to get up to speed. The room was packed with something like 75 attendees. Jeff Schloss did a good job of moderating and it was very nice to split it into a science panel and then a theology panel.

The science panel was very broad. I knew Steve Schaffner (@glipsnort) previously, but I learned a bit about @swamidass and @Agauger. I wish RTB could have been there, as Josh talked about work with @AJRoberts. Not being a biologist, I can only say I was impressed with the tone of discussion and the level of engagement. A great model for future work.

The theology panel was also very good. In particular, I thought John Hilber and @Cootsona were helpful in understanding some of the nuances. Most of us Christians in science are only amateur theologians at best.

I think these kinds of panels are incredibly useful. It wasn’t an echo chamber, it wasn’t just smile-and-nod niceties, it was honest discussion. I’m not yet certain if we need more Polkinhorne’s (one person with dual hats) or interdisciplinary panels like this ( talking with each other, not just at each other). Maybe the answer is both.

Lastly, I wrote my notes (and starred) something that @swamidass said:

It’s not enough to be right, you have to be trustworthy

That’s so important as we work these issues out. We can yell at each other all we want, but until we build trust we’re not going to make much of a difference.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #34

Another question here for @Cootsona . Why did you write this book? Who should read it?


(Daniel Deen) #36

This certainly is a deep shift in the ontology of sin. Without looking into the literature, I imagine that theologians holding a view in this ballpark have dealt with various philosophical objections that come to mind in terms of understanding consciousness. If sin is dependent on the emergence of consciousness plus actual human choices (is that a fair representation?), what is the threshold of consciousness that is required to “consciously follow God or not?”

I can follow your consistent narrative/hypothesis (and I realize there is more than likely much more nuance in the book) to infer a non-historical Adam/Eve, but I remain skeptical that the narrative/hypothesis actually saves the phenomena of people sinning in the world. Another way to think about it is that a non-historical Adam might do violence to understanding how sin operates in the world. I might call this the Practical Objection.

For instance, Rom 3:23 would need to be read something akin to “for all (who have reached a certain conscious maturity) have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” A whole lot of people may be incapable of sinning, which sounds really odd to my ears. Am I way off base here? I also realize that this is why you should never invite a philosopher to the party! :laughing:

This is something that I’ve always wondered about. What Josh seems to be driving at is how do we recognize a genuine conflict between science and religion? Or have we properly described the data to warrant a genuine conflict. The insanely messy fact/value calibration on both ends of scientific and theological theorizing seem to require us to constantly rethink whether our conflicts are genuine conflicts, and, I think related to the justice point, whose conflict.

@Cootsona why did you choose to follow science and rework genesis versus allowing genesis to rework (perhaps inform/influence is a better word) the science? In what ways has the ministry setting of “emerging adults” influenced your approach? Does the practical context of ministry even matter to the more theoretical work that you engage in?


(Greg Cootsona) #37

Mere Science and Christian Faith is designed for emerging adults and especially for those who lead Christian ministries that serve emerging adults . Science and technology are key components of out contemporary culture we need to take them in as Christian leaders. In addition, science offers a vast array of insights that can inform us. We need to read the two books God has authored—the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature. Personally, the topic of emerging adults and the Gospel’s interaction with culture means a great deal to me because I became a Christian at 18, having grown up in a secular household in the Silicon Valley. I read C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and thought, “Here’s someone that’s not afraid to engage culture and its ideas and to believe that the Gospel is true.” I was hooked.

One other way to describe my motivation is through a brief excerpt:

This book is aimed primarily at those pastors and emerging adult ministry leaders, as well as those 18-30 year olds, who take science and Scripture seriously. It should serve as both a manifesto and a field guild. As manifesto, I intend to convince you that the church must embrace mainstream science for its future. My hope is that you’ll do something as a result of reading the pages that follow, that you’ll write some new, true narratives that integrate all we know from Scripture and science and that will speak to emerging adults. Some of those narratives will be the 18-30 year olds’ lives you’ll influence. As a field guide, I intend to offer what it looks like to pursue this work—the challenging mountains, the gorgeous vistas, the dangerous sinkholes, and the peaceful meadows. Most of all, I hope your find a true Companion on that journey, perhaps similar to the disciples who trekked to Emmaus and found that Jesus had been walking with them as an unknown traveler (Luke 24:13-32).

I close with one final experience.I’ve taught about faith and science in churches for the past two decades, always with an eye to what it means for college and post-college emerging adults. In a research project I headed up, Science for Students and Emerging, Young Adults (or SEYA) our team looked at 18-30 year olds’ attitudes on faith and science, how they form and change. With target groups in New York City, Menlo Park, and my current homestead of Chico, CA, one of the many key findings from our surveys is that even if many emerging adults perceive that the teachings of science and religion conflict, when someone they trust discusses the topic and demonstrates integration—a pastor, college group leader or friend—they want to hear more. Sarah, a grad student who drove 100 miles from UC Davis where she was doing graduate study in a science-related field, and arrive at a workshop at my church in Chico on integrating Genesis 1 and 2 with the Big Bang, quantum cosmology, and evolutionary science. I finished the talk with the conclusions of Tim Keller, Lewis, and John Stott, all of which led me to a somewhat triumphant close, “So you can see—that’s why a robust commitment to Scripture can be brought together with the best of modern science. It’s exciting!” Sara immediately came up afterward with similar enthusiasm, “I loved this stuff! Why don’t we hear more about this in church?”


(Greg Cootsona) #38

I’ll put here with some brief examples of CMI or Creative Mutual Integration where theology and science speak to one another.

First of all, Robert J. Russell’s key image is the Golden Gate Bridge as it spans between Marin County and the Presido— traffic goes both ways.

This means that when Einstein put in the cosmological constant to adjust his general theory of relativity and to keep a steady state model, he did this in order to satisfy his commitment to Spinoza’s philosophy/theology. Einstein notably named this is “greatest mistake.” And it some ways, it was, but Russell would emphasize that it’s also that he put forward a falsifiable claim based on his theology or philosophical ideas. And that’s one key form of CMI… because theology and science interact.

Josh posed this question, which is creative tension with CMI:

I mentioned Robert J. Russell on Creative Mutual Interaction, and though he has formulated that theory, he also is convinced that we have to be careful about taking too much from a current scientific theory. What if science changes? “Married today; widowed tomorrow.” You can see how he does this with creation ex nibilo and big bang cosmology:

In sum, big bang cosmology does not equal the doctrine of creation out of nothing, but does speak to it. I hope that gives some additional contours to CMI and Russell’s thought.


(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #39

No, no, no, not true. Einstein put in the cosmological constant to save HIS theory of general relativity. After publication, it became apparent to everyone who studied Einstein’s equations for gravity, that a universe based on GR would be unstable. The universe would either be collapsing or expanding. Einstein added a constant to allow it to be steady state (trying to save his theory). This constant was soon not needed after Hubble showed that the universe was indeed expanding making Einstein’s equations of gravity an excellent fit to the data. Fast forwarding to 1997 when it was found that the expansion was accelerating, physicist put a constant back into GR to explain the acceleration. Today Planck Satelite measurements of the value of w = -1.042 ±.0042 is highly percise and accurate. Philosophy played no role in all of this.


(Greg Cootsona) #40

Patrick,
You’re stating this with great confidence, but you’re not quite on the money.
First of all, I was paraphrasing Bob, who has a PhD in physics and has studied Einstein’s philosophy and physics extensively, and so my succinct version of his ideas may have squashed out subtleties.

Nevertheless, yes—Spinoza’s philosophy guided Einstein’s work, as well as his science (that subtlety was missing). The cosmological constant wasn’t purely about making GR work or being saved. Similarly, Fred Hoyle, brilliant as he was, resisted an expanding universe and proposed a steady state specifically because of his science and his philosophy. (Let me know you if you need the quote, but I take this to be well known.) Hoyle believed that “something from nothing” in the big bang was untenable for Lucretius and Hoyle’s atheism.

More importantly, I think you’re missing the main point—philosophy/theology and science intermingle, and we need to make both falsifiable.


(Greg Cootsona) #41

That was one reason. But as biblical scholarship arose in the late 19thcentury, many exegetes began to see how much the Bible wasn’t some heavenly book with no earthly elements. It sounded a lot like other books from the ANE (Ancient Near East). And so they began to compare the narrative in Genesis with the Enuma Elish, for example, and realize that the writer (who wasn’t seen to be Moses, by the way) wasn’t conveying bare history. And in fact, bare history isn’t very helpful. By itself, that there was a first human pair as sole progenitors—even if we can accept that—has no particular spiritual significance for us without the wider revelation we read like the imago dei , etc.


(Greg Cootsona) #42

I think we have to read both of God’s books: Scripture and the book of nature. God is sole author, and they tell us different things. And so Scripture, which isn’t directly concerned with science can be informed by the book of nature. So just as we needed to move from a sun-centered universe and a flat earth (both of which are intuitive by the way—we still talk of the sun “rising” and “setting”), we can learn from quantum physics and evolutionary theory. We do well to listen to how God has actually made human beings through time. His creation is through the intelligently designed process of evolution, paraphrasing Francis Collin’s recent talk at ASA

So I look to both science and Scripture in this, but I always lean on Scripture to tell us about salvation.

As for emerging adults, they are saturated with science and technology (among other culture forces), and so it’s also about speaking their language. It’s a kind of translation, which is something I blogged about today:

(as I commented on Andy Walsh’s new science-faith book).


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #43

A post was merged into an existing topic: Side Comments on Greg Cootsona


(Greg Cootsona) #44

P.S. Bob (or Robert) Russell just sent me this chart for CMI, which I’ll link. It’s very helpful.