Book Review: Science and Religion: 5 Questions

A 2014 compilation of essays shows the need for new approaches to the science/faith conversation.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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How would you answer the 5 questions? Dan is available to interact in the comments section.

Indeed…I’m available!

@jstump @dwilkinson
These are my answers to the 5 questions:

  1. My early education (K - 8th) in parochial school fit nicely with what I was taught at home about how to live a moral, purposeful life, but, beginning in high school, I saw that the evidence from geology supported a very old earth and biology supported an evolutionary history for the origin on humankind, rather than the de novo instantaneous creation as suggested in Genesis. So I began looking for a rational explanation of Adam & Eve, of the appearance of Sin, the acquisition of an immortal soul, and the meaning of Christ as our Savior.
  2. I believe science and religion are compatible, and I commend the efforts of Pope John Paul II in publicly announcing the scientific studies that supports this conclusion. However, so long as the dogma of Original Sin and the Fall from God’s grace remains entrenched, then full compatibility will never be achieved.
  3. I do NOT agree with Gould’s proposal of NOMA. I can provide quotes from both Gould and Pope J.P. II that insist on overlap.
  4. I believe it is important to define humanity by behavior not by genetics. The evidence that Homo sapiens evolved from earlier primates by some evolutionary process (similar to that proposed by neo-Darwinism) is overwhelming, but true humanity appeared some 150,000 years later in a Great Leap Forward when the brains (perhaps of just a few) were “programmed” to become Minds capable of inventing symbolic language and entering into a covenant with their Creator. This programming could be transmitted, orally, not genetically, to other Homo sapiens living at the time. Thus the final step to humanity was through a type of Lamarkian rather than Darwinian evolution.
  5. The challenge for Christians is to re-think Christ’s role as Savior–savior from what? For 2,000 years we have believed Christ saved us from the wrath of his Father. Can we look at it from another perspective? If Christ was truly human, then he had the Homo sapiens genes we all have. Yet he lived a life that was a true image of our Creator. Was His role to show us the way that Spirit can overcome the selfish nature of our genes–our genetic heritage–to become truly co-creators with God as our Father? Was the Great Leap Forward really an Original Blessing and not Original Sin? Even if true, it is not likely that Christianity will accept this anytime in the near future.
    Al Leo

Thanks for that very thoughtful response!
If I may offer a bit of theological pushback: Christians haven’t believed for 2,000 years that Christ died to save us from the Father’s wrath. For the first 1,000 years or so of Christian history, the dominant view of the Atonement was Christus Victor, in which Christ achieves a victory over sin. I do, however, completely agree that we need to continue to pursue understandings of the Atonement that move beyond mere satisfaction of God’s wrath.

Hi Dan

It may well be that thoughtful theologians have taught that atonement was not merely the satisfaction of God’s wrath, but I do believe that preachers and priests conveyed that idea to the majority of “people in the pews”. I am in a small minority who would rather believe that God saw His creation as “good”, even though it proceeded through the action of genes that often acted “selfishly”. I believe that Christus Victor was Jesus showing us the way to become co-creators to build a more perfect earthly Kingdom by overcoming selfish genes.
Al Leo

Dan, thanks for the review, which has sort of convinced me not to put the book on the top of my “to read” list (which has at least 5 books vying for top spot). One reason for that is that I have no interest in reading the arguments of atheists, who have not managed to come up with anything new to say for quite some time. They seem to have ensconced themselves into a firm position, buttressed by a standard line of arguments (most of which are not terrible profound or accurate). While I do admire Dennet’s intelligence, I doubt I will learn much from his contribution here. I also take seriously your comment regarding people talking past each other. That sounds like a critical flaw in the way the book was put together. I would love to read McGrath or Polkinghorne responding to Krauss for example. I suppose that kind of book would not be easy to produce.

Thanks Sy, to be fair, I didn’t encounter anything new in this book from theists, either. For the most part they espoused the same general lines of argumentation that you regularly see from that side.

I don’t know if the contributors talking past each other is a “critical” flaw with the way the book was put together … it’s just the nature of this sort of anthology. It’s not about interaction, debate, and dialogue, it’s about offering an overview of the positions of some of the leading luminaries in science and religion. I could see some of the essays functioning very well as material in a course about science and religion. That said, most of the essays are too short to really wrestle with the issues in a comprehensive way, and so I’d agree with you that it probably shouldn’t be on the top of your “to-read” list.

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