Thursday, March 01, 2007

Whither science? Prosper fundamentalism?

Here is my recent editorial from the ISCAST Bulletin.

It is a common enough theme amongst colleagues: children not following in their parents’ footsteps, not even remotely interested in science. It isn’t a lament so much as a kind of sadness that maybe they haven’t been the best example of how exciting science can be. When the colleague is a Christian, one wonders whether or not there has been a failure to communicate that there is a wonder about science, that rather than unweaving the rainbow, it helps us to understand the wonder of the rainbow all the more, and the God who draws it across the sky.

Most readers would be familiar with the rather regular and lamentable attempts by many Christians in the United States to put Intelligent Design along side neo-Darwinian evolution in the science class room. A movement with little scientific credibility, scientific evidence or strong biblical mandate (unless literalism is your hermeneutic) seeks to push its way onto the masses. The US is a place of enough scientific ignorance; it doesn’t need ID to exacerbate it! It is also interesting to note that Turkish Muslims are turning to the US for ID material. Fundamentalisms have much in common!

People simply don’t understand evolution enough to critique it. Perhaps science itself has, at times, explained it poorly. In talking to an in-law some time ago, the perception was that evolution produces ever more advanced creatures. Yet doesn’t extinction prove this isn’t the case? I was trying to explain that fitness is contextual and that environments change (given the biblical emphasis on divine control of the weather and climate, I’d have thought that this was one of the ideal places for God to operate). It is further lamentable that some have objected to and banned Al Gore’s movie, not just on some perceived political message (and hence the viewer’s own political bias that Christian = Republican), but that because the movie doesn’t mention that the world will be consumed in fire by God, it isn’t fit for believers. Again, inappropriate biblical literalism (the bible speaks about earth shattering events, not events that shatter the Earth) combined with scientific ignorance means death to science.

In addition, it seems that the ambition of most students is to get a degree that ensures a job that ensures a lifestyle that is comfortable in a generation of ‘whatever’. We need to think carefully not only how we approach and present ourselves to today’s Christian youth, but also their mindset. How much do our young consume the ideology of the world around them that ‘the most important person in the world is you’? This is a generation who are not joiners unless there is something in it for them. Yes, we were all young and self-absorbed once, but now selfabsorption
is positively encouraged.

ISCAST represents to me the best of two worlds: solid biblical theology that doesn’t reduce to a consistently literal hermeneutic, and a dedication to the truths (be they Platonic or relative and provisional depending on your epistemology) of science. We think God’s thoughts after him, we read both of his books and try and bring them to bear on each other where appropriate.

I think in the 21st century, it will be a continuing challenge to bring a reasonable, rational approach to many of the debates that plague the church. We need to present science as exciting, as utilitarian, as an act of worship (both with our intellects and with our hearts) and as not contrary to our Sunday faith (what ethicist Gordon Preece refers to as ‘the Sunday-Monday connection’).

How we achieve this is another thing, but reaching school children would be a start. Likewise, the few connections with the university campuses need to be built upon. If you are currently involved in either endeavour, please contact me and let the wider ISCAST community know what you are doing, how you are doing it, and how it is working. Likewise, reaching the people in the pews is important, and we need to get alongside our ministers, priests, pastors, etc and encourage them that science is the study of God’s world. The scientifically trained can become frustrated at the margins when little preaching is directed towards some of their concerns. Again, this is where ISCAST can fill a much needed gap. I hope that all readers are able to find fellowship where these issues can be examined, and you can receive encouragement. Reports and reflections for the Bulletin would also be appreciated.

Let’s continue to wonder at God’s creation as well as his redemptive work in Christ.

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