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

(Greg Cootsona) #45

Ok, there’s a break in the action. So let me address, when we talk with 18-30 year olds, why we have to include technology with science. Here’s an excerpt from the book, let me know what you think.

When teaching my Science and Religion class, I start by presenting key definitions, move to Ian Barbour’s four-part typology for relating science and religion, examine the critical historical figures (Copernicus, Newton, Galileo, Darwin, Scopes, Collins, Dawkins, and so on), move into scientific and theological methods, and discuss how the Big Bang relates to the teaching about God’s creation of the world. During these lectures the class listens pleasantly and occasionally interacts with me. When I move on to nanobots, Kurzweil’s singularity, Ex Machina and The Matrix , the future of technology, and whether Skynet is possible, the students begin to sit up in their seats. They achieve the highest level of engagement for academic life in California: they “share.” They have much more to say here, or at least they believe they do. Technology fascinates in a way that pure science does not.

Why this shift? For emerging adults, technology is ubiquitous. They are digital natives. And even though I grew up about five miles from where Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs created the prototype of the Apple I on Sunday, June 29, 1975, I’m not a digital native. In fact, here’s a confession: the first time I typed on a computer was in graduate school. (When I offer my students that tidbit, the looks are priceless.) So, since technology has had an enduring presence in the lives of eighteen- to thirty-year-olds, it’s reasonable to conclude that technology and social media have significantly affected their psychological development and human flourishing. Technology and its use has had a massive import on their spiritual lives.

Even more significant, there’s a perception factor: These digital natives gravitate toward discussions of technology because they sense the presence of pressing life issues, whereas they often perceive “science” as heady and abstract. When I say that I study “religion and science,” I often get the response, “Oh that’s not for me. I’m not that brainy.” But it’s different when I ask students to think about whether being “wired in” to a smartphone produces anxiety, how virtual community affects “real” relationships, and so on. My experience is that emerging adults tend toward pragmatism over theoretical speculation over a question such as, “Does quantum physics offer a place for divine action?” It doesn’t resonate.

Purists want to distinguish science from technology. While I’m sensitive to the differences, I don’t believe this strategy works. Simply put, eighteen- to thirty-year-olds have only known a technologically saturated world. Therefore technology must be prominent in any discussion with them involving scientific and theological method, interactions with evolutionary biology, cosmology, and the like.

(Gary Fugle) #46

Sorry for the long delay…

First, as you delineated your approach to peace in earlier comments, I see that we are actually not too far from one another. Still, I’m not sure we’re seeing eye to eye. Conflict is inevitable, and I do mean strong disagreement, but I would still hope that civility is maintained. I’m thinking the posture of humility and sensitivity is crucial, even as we fight hard for particular positions. Perhaps this is quibbling. I suppose the key thing for me is that we are striving toward resolution without letting peace be the primary goal. Would you agree with this?

As for de novo creation of Adam, I don’t believe the comparison to the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus is valid. The latter are key tenets of our faith because they are emphasized aspects of the New Testament. But there is no comparable declaration in Scripture for Adam. To make the connection seems like a very ad hoc proposal to save a special creation Adam. In fact, my contention is that Scripture itself implies that Adam and animals were physically created in the same way.

Genesis 2 says God "formed the man of the dust of the ground" (2:7), but also "out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens" (2:19). I assume we agree that the evolutionary history of animals has been enormously validated. In turn, I interpret Gen 2:19 metaphorically, as an accurate expression for the ancient Israelites, but not one that conflicts with evolutionary science. So, God did not literally form the animals "out of the ground" in a de novo fashion. Consistency calls me to see the wording for Adam in exactly the same way. How can we not use Scripture to interpret Scripture within the same Old Testament passage? (Btw, some try to make something special out of the “breath of life” breathed into Adam’s nostrils, but this “breath of life” is common to all living creatures – Gen 1:30, Gen 6:17, Gen 7:22).

I am actually frustrated by those who insist they are retaining a de novo creation of Adam because they must be faithful to the Genesis “of the dust” revelation. I was saddened when Tim Keller took this approach in his Gospel Coalition video last fall (, especially since he has acknowledged evolutionary history in other regards. This inconsistency reveals to me a very strong resistance to shedding established theological frameworks (e.g., Keller’s current interpretation of Rom 5), rather than biblical faithfulness. I’d rather see Keller and others grapple with theology that does not depend on the special creation of Adam.

Then, there is the biology of humans compared to animals. We unremarkably fit into the evolutionary framework of vertebrates, mammals, primates, great apes, and hominids by all definitions (anatomical, biochemical, genetic). The most striking biological observation is not at all our uniqueness; rather, it is the unity of humans with all living things! (very importantly, I separate the imparting of God’s “image” into humans as the key distinctiveness declared by the Bible that defines us). My point is that God is revealing something here in his natural creation. Without very good reasons to conclude otherwise (i.e., Bible verses that specifically state a miraculous event outside the natural processes that God sustains and directs), then our most faithful interpretation of the combined biblical and natural revelations is that the human form came about by evolutionary processes.

I believe I understand your proposal that Adam and Eve could have been created de novo and then the interbreeding of their descendants with each other and other already existing humans would mask any evidence of the fact that A&E were made from scratch. This would mean that God might have done something that science cannot address.

But the crucial theological question is: why would God do something like this? Why would God create A&E supernaturally, but do it in such a way to hide it from scientists who study his natural creation AND also not tell us clearly in Scripture?

In fact, it’s totally understandable why scientists today conclude that there has been genetic continuity from the distant past to the present and nothing in the data to suggest any “miraculous” or unusual events outside of normal biology. Why would God hide such a spectacular and important event? Even further, if it was important for us to conclude A&E (or all humans) were uniquely created, why wouldn’t God have made us with totally distinctive biology and obvious genetic signs of the fact?

Is it theoretically possible that Adam and Eve were de novo humans? Of course! It is also theoretically possible that my oldest brother (or any of us) came about by a virgin birth without my father’s sperm playing a part in the process, and that God hid the fact from us. But, I don’t think we should keep options on the table that are simply theoretically possible. Most important, I have explained why I believe a de novo Adam is negated by a sweep of scriptural, scientific, and theological arguments. To make the point clearly, I believe that we absolutely DO have evidence against de novo creation of Adam, despite your insistence that we don’t.

So, we do have a major disagreement here. I think it is a hindrance to inform theologians and pastors that science does not eliminate a de novo Adam. As I stated above, I’d rather see Keller and others grapple with theology that does not depend on the special creation of Adam. After all these years in the creation-evolution arena, I am deeply aware that most evangelicals will seek reasons to remain in the theological traditions that they already hold (the obvious extreme example is how a single Answers in Genesis post will hold more impact for a young-earth creationist than a wealth of scientific literature and consensus). I believe Keller and others delineating the “essentials of creation” is a very important exercise in principle (we should all have foundational beliefs about our Creator-God and the implications of his creative actions). But of course I will object if I think any of those “essentials” are problematic. Rather than allowing for a de novo Adam, I’d rather unite in prompting theologians and pastors to consider new, vibrant perspectives.

(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #47

I am familar with Hoyle and his agruments. Hoyle didn’t even back down after Penzias and Wilson discovered the CMBR. Einstein called his cosmological constant his greatest mistake because it didn’t fix GR as GR didn’t need fixing. Hubble results were just a few years after GR was published and shown to be true based on measurements of Mercury. I really question Einstien being guided by any philosophy.

(Greg Cootsona) #48

I’m not sure how fruitful it is to pursue this, and so I’ll add one more thing: it might be worth saying that I teach science and religion at a secular university, I’m a member of AAAS, and I co-chair a committee on Science, Technology, and Religion (which is by no means an entirely pro-religion, or at least uncritically pro-religious), to mention a few ways in which I come to this conclusion. I mention that to give content when I say that, through these conversations and conferences and publications, Einstein’s use of Spinoza is taken as a given. It’s not a slight to his genius and contribution; it’s just that all scientists have a worldview (or a philosophy or theology) that guides them. Jerry Coyne and Francis Collins practice their biology in noticeably different ways, though they agree on a significant amount of scientific conclusions.

If that doesn’t convince you, then perhaps we can let the conversation about Einstein be a point for future research?

(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #49

Jerry Coyne is guided by his cat.

(Greg Cootsona) #50

I’ll add one more excerpt from Mere Science and Christian Faith to highlight why we need to engage technology.
Let me know your thoughts… Greg

MIT professor Sherry Turkle defends the messiness of community. (“Messiness,” by the way, is my word, not hers.) Part of her reasoning is that conversations in real time with real people can’t be manipulated like virtual interactions can be. Turkle describes a manager at HeartTech, a large Silicon Valley software firm, who left engineering for management. “I left my previous job because it was too predictable. I wanted to work with unpredictable systems [i.e., people].” Turkle offers this advice: “Challenge a view of the world as apps”—the idea that some app on our smartphone will lead us to the solution to all problems. “The app way of thinking starts with the idea that actions in the world will work like algorithms: Certain actions will lead to predictable results.” But human relationships are unpredictable, chaotic, and complex—that’s what makes them both frustrating and exultant.

This “app thinking” can affect us relationally and spiritually. We think that we can manage people neatly, and if things go awry, we simply shut down that person’s “app” or “doc.” But when we do this, we treat other human beings impersonally—like they’re simply an extension of our smart phone—and this may also alter the way we approach another personal relationship—namely, with God. To take it up a metaphysical notch, our relationship with God is also messy and unpredictable. The eternal, sovereign God of the Bible cannot be managed. To cite Mrs. Beaver as she describes Aslan the Christ figure in the Chronicles of Narnia, “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion. God is free, untamable, and not manageable by our phone apps.

(Greg Cootsona) #51


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #52

Wow @cootsona, what a feast you’ve brought us here. Let me highlight a few things, and ask some follow up questions.

So @Cootsona and @Patrick I want to translate here a bit between to worlds. It took me a bit to understand what you are saying here, because it sounds at face value to conflict with some strict rules in science to clearly delineate between science and theology. See the The Rules of the Game. It is extremely important for science students and scientists to play by these rules, or there can be serious repercussions.

However, reading closer that concern was alleviate. You are not actually meaning “intermingle” as understand it. Instead, a better way to explain it is an “exchange” or “dialogue,” where both are still kept independent. One can follow the rules of keeping a sharp line between what is and isn’t science vs. theology, Still, in science, we can take questions that arise in theology seriously. That language, of “dialogue” or “exchange”, is clearer than “intermingle.”

The diagram is focused on physics example, which might reduce the controversy a bit by avoiding biology. I think this really made clear what you were getting it, clarifying what you meant. By the way, this is really good. Can we post that here? Is it public or private? Or is it somewhere else in the web?

Yes, I’ve heard of this. I suppose this may come down to how we understand “infallibility” (not inerrancy here). I’m very reticent to challenge traditional doctrine, especially when the conflict is merely perceived, not real. Of course, as a protestant, I’m fairly disconnected from traditional theology, so I mean this as principle not a precise statement of doctrine. Rather, I’m not sure historically important things consistently understood in the church for 1800 years should be altered without being entirely sure it is necessary.

As a person who straddles the two, technology and science, I’d want to press on this. I agree that young adults are immersed in technology, and this is their starting point. Science, however, is not reducible to technology, and at times is a humanizing corrective to technology. To give a few examples (that are certainly simplifications):

  1. Technology tends to be instrumentalized for pragmatic purposes (app like thinking), but science cares about understanding as an end of itself, regardless of whether it is useful or not.

  2. Technology work is often competency driven, but science is primarily taught (at the highest levels) by apprenticeship, in a highly human process.

  3. Technology is driven progress and revision of current norms, but science is surprisingly connected to tradition, connection to community, and a tacit but revered history.

  4. Technology can be about engaging big problems, but science at its best is about engaging grand question.

Of course technology is important and it is symbiotic with science. For the young adults I work with, however, there is a correct in the distinctives of science. At least in my context, as a scientist, I do start from the technologically driven audience, but understand science as a humanizing corrective to technology.

That being said, I think we are all figuring out this specific cultural shift right now. This is, at best, only a part of the puzzle. Perhaps also I’m in a different position as a scientist myself.

Aslan is not safe. He is wild.

I like this excerpt a great deal. Thank you. This is a good book too. I’m going to be encouraging people to read it. I’ve seen this first hand too…

I’ve had similar responses to my work from students. Often campus staff, for example, are reticent to engage their students with science. I wonder if it is partly because the origins debate has become so contentious. How you been able to help other ministry leaders, especially if they do not have training here, to engage in this area?

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #53

3 posts were merged into an existing topic: Side Comments on Greg Cootsona

(Greg Cootsona) #56

Before I respond this morning to any questions or comments, I thought I’d include one more excerpt from the book, which is praise for scientists and what I’ve learned from them.

Through that listening we find praise and wonder and mystery. Scientists have also taught me honesty and a somewhat recalcitrant commitment to avoid easy answers by pondering intricacies we would have never guessed. (This may be why, in fact, some believers resist science—because scientists resist easy answers.) “Consider what God has done,” Ecclesiastes 7:13 says. “Who can straighten what he has made crooked?” Sometimes the works of God in the ways of nature are not as straightforward as we would like, even though science has figured out numerous things ancient thinkers and New Testament writers didn’t know. Nevertheless, through all this beauty, awesome display, and puzzling natural reality, we still somehow discover the “eternal power and divine nature” of our Creator (Romans 1:20). It strikes me that affirming the “eternal power and divine nature” offers both a wide place for scientific discovery and a respectful silence and patience for future answers. I believe that scientists ultimately lead us to admit our limits and declare the majesty of God, echoing what Paul exclaimed ten chapters later: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33).

Is that one contribution that scientists make to the intersection of faith and science? What do you think?

(Greg Cootsona) #57

Gary and Josh,
Without directly addressing your comments, I’m going to take an angular approach and offer my own comments on the historical Adam discussion through the notes I brought to the ASA that Josh put together.

Perhaps this will add some new ideas in the mix or perhaps it’ll add confusion–I’m not sure! GSC

Notes on the Historical Adam and Eve for ASA “Swamidass” Panel
Greg Cootsona, July 2018

My view is that, in order to integrate with mainstream science, we can affirm both an historical and typological Adam and Eve, but that that a non-historical, though clearly typological, Adam is most fitting with scientific evidence.

My deeper conviction is that we have to make room in the church for both position two and three below.

In Mere Science and Christian Faith , I set out a three-part typology that essentially revolves around the question of whether Adam and Eve are solely typological, both typological and historical, and amenable to the insights of mainstream science.

  • Position One: YEC asserts both, but does not take in mainstream science.
  • Position Two: Many (Keller, Swamidass, Fugle) conclude that mainstream science does not disprove an historical Adam and Eve, and they also assert that the two are both typological and historical.
    *Position Three: Others (C.S. Lewis, Collins, Lamoreux) hold that Adam and Eve and typological but not historical.

Some theses

  • I. The center of Christian theology is not Adam, but Christ.
    • a. Thus the question becomes first not, What do we think about Adam? Instead, What do we need to uphold the salvation through the God-man Jesus the Christ?
  • II. Theology is not simple formed on adding up biblical texts.
    • a. E.g., imago dei is significantly less prominent than how to offer animal sacrifices, but that in itself has no bearing on their relative importance.
  • III. The historical Adam and Eve is an issue of biblical hermeneutics.
    • a. E.g., von Rad’s commentary on Genesis (1972) saw no reason to work with an historical Adam, while Kidner’s did (1967).
    • b. Similarly, there would be no good reason for science to assert Adam and Eve as sole progenitors of the humankind. That comes from our biblical traditions.
  • IV. Scientists like Josh Swamidass and Gary Fugle have shown, in different ways, that an historical Adam can fit with modern scientific work in areas such as genetics and anthropology.
    • a. This does not prove that science supports an historical Adam and Eve, but that it is not inconceivable to take mainstream science seriously and affirm their historicity.
    • b. I am taking a minimalist position here that Adam and Eve were two persons that existed in space and time and are, in some way, the first image-bearing humans.
  • V. It strikes me as a position that lacks consistency, and even integrity, to affirm the historical Adam and Eve, but to cast out key biblical affirmations such their special creation by God ( Yahweh Elohim ) in Genesis 2:7 and that this occurs in the ancient near east in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:8, 1-14.

(Greg Cootsona) #58

I understand where you’re going with the distinction between “exchange” and “intermingle,” and I’ll do a Swamidass here and disambiguate our meanings (as I understand it):
Theory/In Principle: We do best first to seek to integrate science and theology and secondly to seek independence when it’s appropriate. (I’d even add conflict here when the two are clearly at odds.)
**In Practice (and this is why I used the word): Einstein, like many scientists (Hoyle, Krauss, Gingrich), let the two interact in a way that isn’t always entirely clean. Worldview (that philosophy/theology) intermingle. And really, how do I know as a theologian what are always the motivations for the way I translate what I’ve learned about science into my theology?

You do straddle the line, and I’d like to learn more from you on this.
I’ll say that, in Mere Science and Christian Faith, I was making broad, popular points, and that to distinguish between science and technology just doesn’t land with emerging adults. In fact, strategically speaking, we can bring the two together with great success. Consider the nature of the soul: When I point out to my students or to a non-specialist audience that the findings of neuroscience challenge an immaterial soul, it’s hard work and their eyes glaze over. When I demonstrate how Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant challenge the uniqueness of human interaction–_and that this is becoming even more challenging–_they suddenly see the problems that science and technology present for our traditional conceptions of the soul. I’m not saying those challenges are decisive, but we have to engage them, and technology, practically speaking, addresses this issue quite effectively. In addition, where do technologies like AI fit? And why do we speak of “genetic technology”? Both sound a great deal like traditional science.

Now as a theoretician in the field of science and religion and technology (I co-chair a national committee for AAR on this, for example, and teach this subject professionally), I take in your four points, and I can also make those and similar distinctions without a wink and a nod.

Science, however, is hardly one thing–in other languages, French, for example, one speaks of “the science of X,” not of one “Science.” So this complicates the distinction as does a singular approach to technology. All in all, I’m asserting that theoretically the categories of “science” and “technology” are breaking down, and that practically for emerging adults, the distinction is very hard to sustain and may not be worth more than theoretical clarity.

(Greg Cootsona) #59

Let me start by saying that, once I finished my PhD in theology and philosophy of religion (with an emphasis on science and theology), I began to teach this engagement of faith and science in the church. That started in 1996. (Actually it goes back to 1992 while I was working on my PhD, but I won’t get bogged down in details.) And this has been the work of my two grant projects, each three years each, SinC ( and STEAM ( I do this with most of my professional life, that is, teach in churches myself, but especially train others. It represents a key priority for me.

I’ve been working a lot with other Christian leaders, and the key question is what is the “felt need” for them in their ministry, and why would they engage science? As I’ve posted here and elsewhere, I think it’s at least about articulating the Gospel to today’s scientifically and technologically savvy world, and it’s about reading the two books because they both give glory to God. What do you think? How can engaging science be connected with discipleship and worship?

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #60

@Cootsona thank you so much for the thoughtful engagement.

What Scientists Teach

I really love how you put this Greg. Science an invitation to the question, not the answers. That is, honestly, how it has reshaped me. We are wired in many ways to find confidence in answers, but science beckons us to questions. That is the great call of science.

Making Room in the Church

I could not agree more. We need to make space for diversity here in the Church, so that you, @fuglega, Keller, and all of us together are welcome. Thank you again for your consistent work towards this.

Exchange or Intermingle

I get what you are saying, but at question here is some very clear lines and rules in science. I think you are just fine with these rules, but the language here unnecessarily seems to challenge them. This is very consequential, as it can inadvertently steer students into science into serious conflict with professional consequences.

Using your language here, I would insist that in all circumstances except ethical concerns, science is independent (i.e. has autonomy from) theological concerns. Intermingling in that threat or questions the autonomy of science is vigorously opposed, rightly so. There can, should and is a conversation and exchange with science and theology. However, that autonomy must be emphasized. Far from placing science in privileged place, I see a similar autonomy for theology too.

Part of this up for debate. Maybe I’m not explaining this correctly. However this is also a fixed geography that must be understood by students so they can navigate the minefields here.

Science and Technology

Why not do both at the same time?

Why not bring them together, and also help students understand their distinctives? I think you are right, by the way, that “technology” is a conversation partner left out of the conversation that we need to bring in a full participant. So yes, we should bring the two into conversation, just as we bring science and theology into conversation. However, I would resist the impression that science and technology are largely the same.

From a consumer view, technology and science can blur together, I agree. However, from a practitioner view, there is wide gap between the “technologist” and the “scientist”. In this sense, carefully making distinctions between the two brings us to questions of identity, values, and character. This becomes deeply compelling to students, and humanizing too.

I said that science can be a humanizing corrective to technology, but the opposite is true too. Technology can be a humanizing corrective to science. Science takes to questions of human origins (where we came from), but technology brings us to questions of trans-humanism (where we are going). Both are grand questions that are different, with one engaging the past and other shaping the future. Both are linked to the grandest of all: What does it mean to be human? For that reason, I do think it is important to bring them together, but also delineate and dignify their distinct contributions.

Helping Others Enter

@Cootsona. In 1992 I entered Junior High, and was a young earth creationist. This is when I first read More than a Carpenter, and found an independent faith in Jesus. This right near the beginning of a long a difficult search for confident faith in a scientific world.

You have been doing this for 26 years. Thank you so much for your dedicated work for all this time. I must say I have learned so much for your posts here. Your book is for a more popular level, but I personally hope to learn more from you in formats like this. You have a wealth of wisdom here. Thank you for sharing it so generously.

Searching for Confidence and Authenticity

I hope you read this link and help me think about it more deeply. In the current model for engagement it appears that the incarnational aspect of our faith is deemphasized, and usually lost. Science becomes an intellectual topic, rather than an invitation to be a scientist that follows Jesus. In this reduction, fundamental features of orthodox faith are very difficult to recover. For me, the notion of “confession” and “presence” are becoming central to my identity, and identity is leading the way in my integration. I am a scientist in the Church and Christian in science, giving a truthful account of what I have seen in service of the Church.

So here is the thing. Authenticity, identity, confidence, these are felt needs in students. This model of incarnational integration speaks directly to them. It is perhaps most salient when scientists tell their story. Please look at this:

What do you see of value here? How can this be recovered in the current patterns?

The Language of God, Mind, and Logos
(Daniel Deen) #61

Yes, I completely agree.

Except, this assumes that science is progressing in a more real or true or good or whatever fashion. I agree with your sentiment and I’m not a social constructivist about scientific rationality. However, I am never quite able to silence the pessimistic meta-induction regarding science. Does science inform my views on scripture, yes, of course it does as current scientific hypothesis and theories that I keep up with are part of my intellectual baggage. Scriptural interpretation is also part of that intellectual baggage. I am simply more cautious in drawing definite lines between the two pieces of luggage.

Yep, I agree with this 100%.

Let me try this thought. Christians typically take a linear view of time: creation, Christ, Eschaton, New Creation. However, the actual Christian story that marks us as sheep rather than goats is Christ’s death and resurrection. Thus, epistemologically and ontologically Christians start in the middle of the story, looking forward to the New Creation and backward to the Creation. This means that a lot of ambiguity is going to arise in relating scripture and science together as we contemplate the past creation and the future new creation.

Regardless, with my epistemic and ontological commitments rooted in the center of the story, I am free to explore various models of relating science and scripture. I think the freedom is important, science does not force me as that would require a certain commitment to stability/finality of scientific knowledge that I do not find warranted.

The freedom to create and explore penultimate frameworks protects from what I sometimes hear from science/religion discussions as a continual retreat or overhaul of theological concepts in light of ever changing science.

Now that’s funny – teaching at a liberal arts college in orange county, CA, I can attest to Greg’s observation!

Which is why I’m so leery to cage him with my scientific theorizing! He gifted us the ability to contemplate and search for HIm in the book of nature, but reveals his true (perhaps final is a better word) intentions toward us in the book of revelation. I suppose we must be careful that we step out of the way of Aslan, not allowing our favored perspectives on nature or scripture to become cages as in the final say on the matter.

We all play our professional games/jobs/vocations, but we live in an unprofessional world. Dialogue is the preferred Barbour category for me, although I’ve never seen anybody elucidate just what dialogue actually entails/means. We can point to good and bad examples of it, e.g., Good = Kepler and the Church, Bad = Galileo and the Church, Good= this forum?, but the actual structure of it is messy as @Cootsona pointed out earlier.

I think these lessons go both ways – I’m more interested in what theologians ever bring to the science/religion table. It seems that theology is what is constantly required to change/amend/update. Do you know of any concrete cases where theologians advanced a science? Why does it seem that the train only ever goes in one direction?

@swamidass do the theologians you are interacting with ever influence what goes on in your lab? I’ll leave that question sufficiently vague to prompt the greatest range of thoughts.

This is related to my last set of comments – I think this is the key to having fruitful dialogue. It is true that we all play in various professional camps that have well-defined rules. To enter the guild, you must master these skills usually via a dissertation. However, we are also members of the public community, teaching undergraduate and graduate students, giving public lectures, having conversations on this forum. This requires us to navigate personal and professional lines in a messy and often frustrating fashion. @swamidass @Cootsona @fuglega seem to have bumped into a methodological wall. The demarcation lines aren’t rigid, but they often seem that way.

Here is a somewhat provocative thought, following what I said earlier about Christianity being odd in that it starts in the middle of the story, do Christians have an advantage in having interdisciplinary conversations due to that external common ground in Christ?

Thanks @Cootsona – I will pop back in later, but I need to prep syllabi for the semester that starts soon! Blessings on you ministry and good luck with the next academic year!


(Jordan Mantha) #62

In sort of a practical analogy, as a scientist at a Christian university, I don’t invite one of the theology faculty over every time I do an experiment, nor do I go to them to say “what does the data I just collected mean?”. What I might do is have lunch with my theologian friends and we naturally start talking about what’s going on in the lab and they books they’ve been working on. Sometimes we realize we’re talking about the same reality from very different perspectives and we have a wonderful time learning from each other. We then go back to our labs and libraries and go about our business again.

Now, in that analogy, I would say that science and theology are working independently, but I would also say they have some impact on each other. I see my conversations with theologians (and philosophers) to influence the way I do and teach science, but it doesn’t influence the particulars of my experimental design, for instance. I think it’s more than just ethical concerns but I can’t draw a clean line.

(Greg Cootsona) #63

I agree with those values. (And I’ve downloaded the essay with the hopes that I’ll read it ASAP, perhaps before the end of the day.) I also think tolerance, although much maligned, is a key value. It’s the way that emerging adults negotiate the amazing pluralism they face. I believe, for example, that there are other 1 trillion websites.

By the way, you’re quite right–once I transitioned to the world of academics, my major work has been in popular, church ministry-related work.

But I’m also moving more into academic work, which brings me to say that, in addition to values, there are topics that emerging adults are emphasizing and that are definitely changing the way we talk about the two. I wrote on article on this topic for Zygon here.

In that light, I’m currently working on a list of topic in my newest book (for Routledge) on the present state and future directions of science and religion in the United States.

  1. Sexuality and science

  2. Climate change

  3. Medicine/end of life (reproductive technologies maybe)

  4. Origins/human uniqueness

  5. Divine action

  6. Limits of science/theology

  7. History of science and Christianity

  8. Relationship between scientific findings and the Bible, ethics

  9. Technology and everyday life

  10. Neuroscience

  11. Psychology

  12. As an example of a science that’s “one discovery away": astrobiology.

  13. Genetics: CRISPR cas9, etc.

  14. Big Data healthcare

  15. AI and Transhumanism

  16. The rationality of faith

  17. The science of race

What would you add? Notice that some of the old standards like cosmology (e.g., big bang and the doctrine of creation) are missing. Should I keep them in there?

(Greg Cootsona) #64

You’re right. I’m much more positive about science and about scientists. Betting against science is just not a good idea, strategically and historically, especially when you’re taking on an overarching grant theory of science like evolution that has been tested by a wide variety of sciences for 160 years. That doesn’t mean there won’t be controversy and major adjustments to the theory, but it’s not been overturned and, as far as I can tell, won’t be. (This contrasts with my reading of what’s happening with the reception of string theory, which doesn’t have wide buy-in yet. I speak under correction, if necessary.) All in all, I simply can’t be pessimistic about science as a whole.

Bob (or Robert) Russell would probably have some good contemporary examples since he’s worked with CMI extensively. He, for example, uses Wolfhart Pannenberg’s theory of time to speak to, and even adjust, some parts of special relativity in Time in Eternity and it’s brilliant.

Historically, it’s been noted by several historians (Whitehead, Butterfield) that modern science arose in the monotheistic, and primarily Christian, west. As a simple historical question, why is this so? It looks like the commitment that the natural world is an ordered cosmos and not a chaos–because it’s created by a rational Creator–is one reason. Why do we have confidence metaphysically that the sun will rise tomorrow at the same time it did last year? That’s based on an ordered set of natural laws that we take as axiomatic, and this confidence make the best sense with a Creator. In addition, the worldview that arises from Christian faith is contingent, not necessary. (The Greeks apparently thought one could think rationally about phusis or physis of things, and derive them without experimentation.) We can’t just think up Planck constant or the boiling point of water. Instead, as western monotheists and especially Christians, we have to study it because it’s contingent on the way God made the world. That would be one way in which theology affect science.

I’ll have to ponder this one. I would affirm, in another way, that our focus is on Jesus (the) Christ (“Christ” is a title, not Jesus last name) and not on the beginning of nature. In the historical Adam and Eve discussion, this gives us freedom to engage freely the science of human origins. Alternatively, Pannenberg used a “proleptic eschatology” where he begins at the end so that we read Revelation 21 and Genesis 1 together, as it were. We keep the end in mind.

Is that any contribution to your question?

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #65

Tolerance yes. That is a good word to describe some of the character of peace I am seeking. That is part of what I am getting at when I talk about diversity.

This gets to…

I’m going to make this a new topic for longer term engagement. My first response is:

  1. The revolution of Ancient DNA (David Reich’s work is a good primer)

  2. Science and Injustice: Tuskegee, Henrietta Lacks, and segregation: Simulating Segregation: The Parable of Polygons.

  3. Profiling and Bias in Black Box AI Programs.

  4. The relationships between ancestry, inheritance, and injustice.

  5. Confession, Honesty, and Confidence. Much the work we do here is oriented around this. Though the Scientific Virtues Project has important correlates.

  6. Models for integration that do not depend on agreement.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #66

I need to clarify this point because it is important. Keep in mind my confidence. I’ve been public and active in my faith for the last five years, as an untenured professor at a secular institution. For the stakes have been high: tenure, which I just recently was granted.

I understand the complexities you are discussing, but I do not have the luxury of taking a squishy or ambiguous position here. When ever I put something out there I know it can (and likely will) be closely scrutinized. The fatal error is to falsely claim the authority of science in support of non-scientific claims. Such abuse of authority is not tolerated. So there are very sharp lines and rules I must keep. Even if these rules do not seem well supported from the outside, I received them as established and immutable. In some important sense, I inherit these rules when I choose to become a scientist. Carefully following them, I’ve been able to live above reproach in my scientific engagement.

The lines and rules are clear. There are consequences for crossing the lines and breaking the rules. I play by those rules: The Rules of the Game.

All of us in the conversation deal with students. I cannot over emphasize the importance of teaching students about this part of scientific culture. Knowing what is and is not allowed can give us confidence by clarifying what we are and are not allowed to do.