Christians, Science, and Politics -Discussion

This last week has been a record breaker for hits at Speaking of Grace.  I had more people visit in the last week than had ever visited in a month.  Last Monday alone over 200 people visited, while Google does not need to be afraid, I may have found a way to meet a need.  We will see how things progress this week, but hopefully I have interested enough of you to keep coming back to our study of When Christian’s Get It Wrong by Adam Hamilton.  I still have a few copies of the book, if you are in the Davenport area stop by the church.  Please comment and join in the discussion, the only rules I have are that your comments are not vulgar or insulting, and you do not call people names.

As I mentioned in an earlier post I am really looking forward to this chapter and its conversations.  I am a person that is probably considered very well-educated.  I have a wide variety of interests and science is an area that has intrigued me for many years.  I am a person that sees God at work in this world and I find science a way that expands my understanding of God.  For me it was very freeing to see Hamilton write on page 31 “Christians get it wrong when they science as a threat to faith, or when they try to make the Bible a scientific text book.” 

I am a “Big Idea” person, by that I mean I want to understand the important things, I want to “take away” the main idea or theme from things.  I believe that many of us get too wrapped up in the details of the creation accounts in Genesis.  I do not know whether God created it all in six days, nor do I think that is the important thing to remember here.  I do believe that God created everything, and did so from nothing.  What that looked like and whether I understand it to have occurred as you do is not the “big idea,” the take away is that God did it.

Evolution is a trigger word, it is a word that instantly fires people up.  Hamilton wrote that God is not afraid of science or evolution.  He believes, and so do I, that problem with evolution occurs when “the theory is misused and applied to ethics, or until someone uses it to suggest that there is no purpose or order to creation.”  I understand this to mean that call it what you want, God did it.  There is plenty of room in science for God.

The more I learn about physics, biology, astronomy and other sciences the more I am awed by our creator God.  I believe that in the beginning God created everything.  When I learn about the inner workings of a cell or atom; when I read about the vastness of space; when I see how intricate the simplest life forms are I am amazed even more by our God.  Creation continues and so does our understanding of the world around us.  I look forward to your comments.  I went a slightly different direction today hoping to create some interest and excite people at the ame time.




20 thoughts on “Christians, Science, and Politics -Discussion

  1. Mike

    The intersection of faith and science has intrigued me for a long time, so I read this chapter with great anticipation. I found it a refreshing read. I completely agree with Pastor Hamilton’s viewpoints on science and religion. We too often take the viewpoint that in order for “me” to be right, “you” have to be wrong. This collision is very evident in the intersection of faith, science, and politics. If “we” would only realize that the truth (literally and figuratively) is somewhere in the middle, then we would likely have less conflict.

    I do have to raise one additional scientific point – one thing I’ve thought about for a long time that I think points to God is the notion of entropy. Entropy (in general) is the idea that the physical universe has a tendency to seek a lower energy state. This in turn, generally results in simpler forms. Yet, the more science explores, the more there is evidence that things are more and more complex than we understand. Whether it is probing the nuances of DNA and how it works, the inner workings of atoms, or the enormous scope of the physical universe, we see that complexity abounds. I ask myself, if entropy were left to take its course over millions of years, would there be stars and planets, would there be life, would there be order? As science probes further, it finds nothing but order and organization. Perhaps, even a rythm to the universe. Without God would that even be possible? I sure don’t think so!

  2. Mike,

    Scientists would say from their angle– which, one must remember, has to exclude the possibility or probability of any “interventions” by something like a divine being– yes, it’s very possible.

    Why? Because the levels of energy involved in whatever model is used to describe the beginning of the universe (whether big bang, or inflation, or the collision of two M-branes) was so incredibly enormous that what we see now in terms of energy states in the universe– assuming one also factors in something like “dark energy”– is consistent with the workings of entropy.

    Entropy does not mean things don’t become more complex. It only means things tend to move from higher to lower energy states.

    Just trying to be fair to the science– and calling us to think more clearly, perhaps, about how we blend scientific and religious claims.

    1. Mike

      Taylor, I fully admit that I’m using a “watered down” example of entropy here – primarily because I didn’t indend this to become a physics discussion, more a thought experiment than anything else. I know enough about physics, chemistry, and thermodynamics to understand the concepts and what they mean, but when you start referencing string theory, you lose me quick!

      I also know that entropy doesn’t preclude more complex structures from being formed. However, my experience shows that (in general) it takes energy to form more complex structures (I know that isn’t always true, but in general…) Therefore, in my estimation, to be compliant with the notion of entropy, an external influence has to be in play.

      I would disagree slightly with your interpretation that science has to exclude the possibility of any type of intervention. Rather, a scientist would record any unexplained interactions or influences and leave them for futher study. That’s how we’ve arrived at where we are. Science is simply “peeling the onion.” We understand much more now than we did 50 or 100 years ago, and it intrigues me to think what we may know 100 years from now. BUT, we have yet to reach the center of the onion, and we don’t know what is there. In many ways, that’s where “dark energy” and “dark matter” come from. There is unquantifiable mass and energy in the universe that we can’t detect or understand, and science has given it a label. Given a certain amount of time, will we be able to understand the workings of these “dark” notions? Perhaps. Is it also possible that dark matter is simply a remnant of God’s influence? That could be as well. It will be up to the particle physicists to form their hypotheses and test them, but the “null hypothesis” isn’t always the only one!

      It is discussions like these that intrigue me about the intersection of science and faith. We don’t know the answers, but it can be interesting to speculate!

      1. Angie

        Glad I was helpful to you, Jen! We all come from different backgrounds, which is what makes this is interesting.

      2. Angie

        Once again, I put this in the wrong place. Maybe I shouldn’t try and post while trying to keep my kids away from the computer! Anyway, this goes with your other post!

  3. Carol, Jen and Mike:

    It’s fine to acknowledge you’re lost in a conversation like this– provided that you then take some steps to be “found.”

    Cosmologists, physicists and biologists have little reason to take our theological formulations seriously on their own terms if we are not only ready but actually put in the effort to take their scientific formulations seriously on their terms. While it’s true that many early scientists (Newton et al) allowed for the unknown to be equated with God in some way, no scientist can try to do that now (or for the past century) and have any chance of being either published or respected in the field. That’s considered a violation of scientific method these days. You can’t add in an Intervener and call it science. Unknown quantities for which you try to work out a description later, yes– divine beings we can’t actually investigate scientifically, no.

    The moment we on the religious side shift the argument from “Why” to “How” is the moment we’ve entered turf that is no longer ours, if it ever properly was. The same is true on the other side. The moment a scientist moves from describing how phenomena occur to trying to provide an account of why they occur is the moment that scientist has “left the science building.”

    Science and theology really have diverged into two very different languages, each one developing substantially more or less without much reference to the other for the past several hundred years, and especially during the past century. So at this point we’ve all got to become “bi-lingual” if we’re going to have any serious conversation about the possible common insights of science and theology at all.

    If we think we’ve had enough of scientific jargon, I can assure you that many, many scientists– and actually all of the ones I know– are just as impatient with our theological jargon. And if we find ourselves concerned when they seem to misrepresent theology, let me assure you they are just as fed up with us when we misuse or refuse to understand scientific theory.

    This conversation demands intellectual rigor on all sides. I think that’s a point Adam is making as well.

    President Truman’s infamous quote… if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen… needn’t apply here. Better– if you can’t stand the heat right now, get whatever you need to be able to do so. We all need to be in this kitchen!

    1. The studious geeky side of me has had a great time reading this conversation between a man who I consider friend and a very good engineer, and another who I believe is helping the United Methodist Church find itself again and providing true leadership to our denomination. In fact when Mike posted the other day I smiled knowing the value that he could and would bring to any conversation. I almost did a back flip (okay those of you who know me know that can not happen, but I was very happy) when I discovered that Taylor was following along. Carol and Jen you are right these are two very bright men.

      This adds to the positives of this format. Smart people bring value to a group and from the responses I have been getting many people are paying attention. All who are reading this book, these posts and the conversations that are happening are being enriched by this process. The key for everyone is to remember that we all have value to bring to this and any discussion. By admitting that things were over her head Carol allowed Taylor to clarify and bring us back to this book and our collective desire to learn more.

      I want to continue to encourage everyone to comment and to question. Some areas will speak to your intrest and some areas will not. That is the beauty of this format. Each of us has an incredible opportunity to learn from the various voices that are raised here. Thank you all for participating and please continue to join us. -ron

    2. Angie

      I have been following along as well, and like Carol and Jen, got a little glazed over during the conversation, although I followed most of it.

      I am a scientist by training (specifically in the area of Microbiology), but a theologian at heart. So here is the area I find intriguing. “The moment we on the religious side shift the argument from “Why” to “How” is the moment we’ve entered turf that is no longer ours, if it ever properly was. The same is true on the other side. The moment a scientist moves from describing how phenomena occur to trying to provide an account of why they occur is the moment that scientist has “left the science building.”” I understand your point, Taylor, and even agree, that in either of these areas, to cross that line in the public arena would not garner you any respect. However, in my personal life, I find those lines do mesh. As a scientific person who is interested in the “how”s of biology, religion allows me a chance to see why things happen the way they do. As a religious person, science allows me a glimpse of how they happen. I think the two can, and do, complement each other.

      Take for example the arguments of evolution. (I know, I’m stepping into dangerous waters here!) I have studied evolution from a scientific point of view since high school. I can describe the theories, the time lines, etc. I have also studied the creation account of Genesis, both on my own and in seminary. I can quote time lines here as well. To me, they are both beautiful accounts of the beginning of our universe. Are either complete? Are either correct? You have to answer those questions for yourself. My answer? No, and yes. Do I know if God used the Big Bang to create the universe? No. Could He have done so? Yes. Do I know if God uses evolution to create new species? No. Could He do so? Yes.

      What I find disheartening is that the two sides can’t play nicely in the sandbox. Why does it have to be one OR the other? Why can’t scientists be religious, or theologians scientific, at least in their own lives? I believe that in faith, you have to be true to who God made you as a person, and to who He is calling you to be. For me, and others, that requires examining Christianity from a scientific perspective. To say the two don’t have any place together is to say that a person like me does not belong in Christianity. I cannot simply shut science out – that is how I am wired.

      (I am writing this after reading all of the comments; however, I must admit I have not read the chapter – shame, shame. I simply have not had time! I am enjoying the discussion and will read it soon – I promise!)

      1. Angie

        Obviously, that was not all intended to be in italics. Someone (uh, hem – me) forgot to put in the end tag. Oops!

      2. Jen


        At least what Angie posted makes sense. After reading all the comments this morning I sat out in the cool breeze of nature and re read the chapter, still no understanding…
        Read what Angie posted and it was posted so I do not need a degree to understand it.

        Again, Thank you Angie for taking the time to think or us who may not understand.

  4. Trent

    Going to a Jesuit University, this Chapter really allowed me to blend what happened in the classroom to somewhere else in life. This chapter also sparked a lot of interest in me as I am also a geeky type. I find it the beauty and complexity of the Earth and Nature to be absolutely fascinating. The one thing that I have often tried to do is apply both scientific discoveries and what the Bible says and draw the whole picture.

    My theology teacher told us that it is necessary to study both (science and theology) at the same time as they go hand in hand with one another. They are not meant to knock each other down but to work complementary with each other. As I was reading “The Unlikely Disciple” they discussed the idea of young earth creationism, this idea totally excludes science from the discussion and stresses that things happened exactly as the bible says they did. While, I am not doubting that God is the creator and we are all made from God, I do believe that in order to form an accurate opinion and idea, we also have to consult and study what science has shown us.

    As Christians we should be open to study both science and theology. This can allow us to be more educated and help to bridge the gap between the two.

  5. @Angie,

    The distinction you raise between public arena and personal reflection– or how we put these things together in our minds and lives– is a significant one.

    We can certainly hold both “how” explanations and “why” explanations at once, so long as one holds them, as you suggested, alongside each other in a complementary way so long as we do that– hold them alongside each other rather than confusing one for the other. So, yes, it remains both possible and plausible for one to be both a scientist and religious and have integrity in each. (Dawkins is an example of a scientist who breaches the line unhelpfully from his side– claiming for science an omniscience or at least a right to sole claim about all questions, how AND why, that the scientific method does not and cannot properly claim for itself).

    Part of what makes the conversation between scientists and theologians (or religious persons) challenging, though, is that each often claims to hold THE truth (that is, all the truth worth knowing). A far more fruitful conversation happens when each of us can say “here’s what I can offer from the field of my investigation,” rather than “here’s the way it IS, deal with it!” That means if I’m speaking as a theologian, I’m not going to tell a scientist their findings are wrong because what I find may differ somewhat. Instead I would listen, seek to understand what the scientist (or the science) is saying where I don’t understand it, the offer what I can from Christian theology and trust the scientist to return the favor about what she or he does not understand. We may in the dialog– whether in person or through reading– discover ways in which the thinking of the other illumines our own ways of thinking or investigation. We may also discover points on which we have to agree we hold what appear to be incompatible conclusions for now– leaving open the possibility of resolution down the line.

    What I find happening more of the time, however, is that we do not talk with each other at all, but instead do actually subsume and misuse each other’s language and conclusions to advance our own positions. In some cases, this may be a product of intellectual laziness (it does demand a lot of careful work to engage such conversations with integrity– it’s generally easier to confirm your own biases). For most, though, I think it’s more a matter of not knowing what a category mistake is (something you might have learned in a course on logic or philosophy or critical thinking, if you took one) and how to avoid that. Offering anyone, including yourself, “how” answers to “why” questions, or vice versa, is one example of a category mistake.

    1. Angie

      Exactly right. Once again it comes back to a point that someone (I believe it was John) made on the last chapter. He pondered if the majority is the problem or if the minority is just loud, making them the issue. The two topics coincide nicely here. It all comes back to how we treat each other, and do we listen rather than push our opinions on each other. Debate between science and religion can be extremely stimulating and thought provoking if done with mutual respect for the other side. I took part in a wonderful small group while in college at Iowa State, where we did just that – brought together science and faith in a class to simply dialogue and enjoy each other and our varying thoughts. It opens your mind and expands your faith in ways you can’t do without other people.

  6. John McDowell

    Well I am no scientist, but I think the Bible is there for us to use as a guide to live our lives by and I certainly don’t think it is ALL (meaning some does seem to spell things out)to be taken literrally. I also agree with Hamilton that some things have changed in the Bible.
    I can also offer that my best friend is a scientist of sorts and his father and grandfather are Baptist ministers and he does not seem to have trouble reconciling science and his faith.

    1. John McDowell

      I should have said some rules have changed, such as what we can eat and some people have no trouble not taking some passages literally as in the televangelists wife wearing jewelry, etc.

  7. Mike

    Very intriguing conversation! I would like to elevate a point that Angie makes, and that is of science and religion being a debate. That goes back to a point I raised in my first post of “you” having to lose so “I” can win. Science is, by nature, very cold and calculating. This is a point that Taylor has raised a number of times, and does a great job of reasoning through. The scientific method looks at faith and of “God Interactions” as nothing more than magic. Something to be scorned, for sure! On the other hand, there are many in the religious community that treat scientists (of any era) as heretics simply because every discovery removes some of the “mystery” of God from our collective knowledge. If these viewpoints aren’t polar opposites, they aren’t far off! So what should we do?

    I believe it is a responsibility of ours to understand all we can about the world around us. Not everyone is going to be able to understand the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (Google it, it’s a cool notion!), but we all possess some rudimentary knowledge of science. Even my 19 month old son is beginning to understand the concept of gravity (though slowly some days)! If we (as open-minded Christians) can accept that science is simply describing the tools that God used to build this awesome universe, and the form that it has taken, then we will be in a better position to soften our collective stance against science. Rather than science removing the “mystery” of God from our society, it is instead converting the mystery to awe.

    Over time (and with enough folks willing to take this stance) perhaps we can change the tone from the debate that Angie mentions into a more constructive dialogue. Working together, faith and science can continue to unlock the secrets of the physical universe, AND give purpose to each and every discovery!

  8. One small quibble with one statement.”The scientific method looks at faith and of “God Interactions” as nothing more than magic. Something to be scorned, for sure!”

    The scientific method itself actually doesn’t look at faith or God at all. It’s not that it scorns such perspectives per se (though some scientists do). It’s that it does not (because it generally cannot) take such things into account. It cannot take these things into account because they are generally not testable, verifiable or falsifiable. That, and what scientific method is trying to get at is a description of how things normally work on their own, as it were, without resort to an Intervenor.

    So again– not scorn– just intentional omission.

    Peace in Christ,

    Taylor Burton-Edwards

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