Watering down the dialogue

Sometimes getting to the root of the issue is a challenge in religion and science. It is often left at science explains the “how” and religion explains the “why.” While this is the approach taken by many in the public square, it seems that the real discussion often gets lost.

Not helping is some of the current talk that has been broadly disseminated via the Huffington Post and other media outlets as of late. Much of this approach has dipped into the juicy center of religion and science, but then gracefully bows out when the stakes get to big for religion. Then just when things were getting one-sided from the New Atheists perspective, you have the guru of self-promotion and marketing throwing his hat in the ring — Deepak Chopra.

Deepak gives us one of his classic lists in looking at science and religion. He talks about a new creation story that has yet to be born based on a metaphysic that unveils a proto-consciousness. He says that “the raw ingredients of mind may be inherent in Nature at the quantum level.” I for one am not sure what that means, but another of his seven statements is purely pantheistic in that a deity may exist in every atom and molecule as the tendency to evolve.

Then in summarizing his thoughts he makes another confusing statement. Namely that any “new creation” story will need to not contradict quantum mechanics, while at the same time saying the quantum theory has reached its limit and physicists refuse to admit it. Maybe the back and forth ping pong match is an intentional way of gearing up for a new book in what is becoming a growing area of interest among the public as they try to see themselves as more than DNA and more than a cousin to the chimpanzee.

To be sure, Chopra has a large fan base along with a fair number of critics, as most personalities in the self-help realm can attest. At the same time, he shows how important it is for Christian theologians and other religions to make their own internal dialogues about science public. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has done just this with the work going into its statement on genetics.

While I do agree with Chopra that saying that the human consciousness was a random accident is going to be a hard thing for a scientist to defend, I don’t think we should expect a scientist to search for the fingerprint of God on every last inch of creation.

The point is that God is there throughout creation and is a positive force for improvement in creation, but not the creation itself. The details of that relationship maybe are not important, but in keeping that idea of God at the center of creation many scientists of faith are able to have a greater appreciation of their own work. At the same time, the faithful can be drawn into the awe of it all without compromising their own beliefs.

What will people say?

Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.

— Luther at the Diet of Worms

While these words of reformer Martin Luther may be the stuff of myth, it is known that he felt conflicted and was definitely plagued with doubt over leaving his monastic life behind and envisioning the way forward for Christianity.

According to a well known biography of Luther the problems he wrestled with were such that he sunk into a depression. The issues he was grappling with were not imaginary; they were implicit in the religion on which he was reared. This is a very similar place to where we find ourselves as we consider complex social ills of the day, the uncertainty of economic collapse and a growing faith in technology and science to fix what ails us — all with a sense of wonder of where our faith fits in.

These questions have haunted us deeply and have challenged Christianity to its core over the last century. But let’s not forget that scientists have had their own doubts in recent memory and have also struggled with illogical outcomes. Illogic in what should be a logical world such as comprehending infinity in mathematics and physics or even understanding the evolution of consciousness in biology.

There seems to be a breaking point. Things that cannot be logically explained must be left alone as some scientists would say for nothing new or valuable can be discovered. At the same time for those caught in the middle of potentially radical new ideas related to these illogical notions, there must be a soft whisper filled with doubt, “What will people say?”

In religion and science, this feeling of doubt can easily be a stepping off point for further discussion. For in science, a concept that cannot be explained or proven in a lab is simply not valid. In religion, if a belief counters traditional practices or somehow threatens our interpretation of God it is heretical.

The world that we live in, when it comes to bringing faith and science together, is a much more open system, however. But in putting the religion and science together something a little more interesting is born. Change can happen, faith can be renewed and awe in nature’s splendor and mechanics can be reawakened.

Instead of thinking about what people will say, modern reformers should ask: ”What should people think, pray or meditate on if (blank) is true, happens or is false?” But sometimes asking people to think, pray or meditate is out of the realm of discussion when relating faith to science and society to technology.

For Luther, whatever aided in the understanding of God and God’s word needed to be encouraged. Although God’s word seems to say nothing about biology, physics, mathematics or other areas of science, it really comes down to a new realization of God, from God. According to Luther, God fills the world, but God is not contained by the world.

This idea may be a logician’s personal nightmare, but ultimately what should lead our thoughts is awe for creation as well as a curiosity about its inner workings. This is a combination that leads to some of the most fascinating scientific discoveries that in turn may lead to greater interest on the part of faith communities in the workings of science.

Contemplating which line of thinking has the capacity to heal creation and give hope to a broken world is ultimately the endeavor of a lifetime, combining the labors of theologians, scientists, laymen as well as scientists who are also Christians. Essentially these are the people who are taking a stand, just as Luther did, in creating the future of the church.

An introduction to religion-and-science

Co-va-lence (n): A chemical bond formed by the sharing of one or more electrons, especially pairs of electrons, between atoms.

If the name is any indication, this is not your typical magazine on the web or otherwise. As the definition suggests, the theme of this effort is a bond — the bond missed by most between religious faith and scientific theory. This bond is perhaps the perfect image for the concept of what a number of theologians and scientists involved in the religion and science dialogue have classified as a unique area of study called “religion-and-science.”

The chemistry behind the bond between religion and science and the hyphenation can be found in key questions: Who are we as humans? What is our role in the universe? How will we shape our future? Why did we evolve to become such curious creatures to begin with?

So the unique formation of this bond can be found in our studying of our origins, the origins of the universe, medical ethics and the need for the general public to be educated about scientific research and its impact on their lives.

Recent efforts to put religion-and-science in the forefront have swung a wide pendulum including organizations of scientists and theologians active in academia to county school boards embroiled in public debate on evolution. From the university quad to the global media frenzy surrounding intelligent design and the proclamations of atheists such as Richard Dawkins, there has been little effort to promote a combined focus called “religion-and-science.”

This is where Covalence comes in. Covalence shares more than just a few viewpoints with both scientists and theologians. The aim is to show how religion-and-science is defined in both academic terms and how it plays out in the public sphere. The plan is to tell stories of scientists with an interest in theology as well with theologians with some scientific views.

The hope is that ultimately people of faith can know that knowledge and faith are not mutually exclusive, and just like religion and science are mutually dependent on one another in impacting society’s actions and forming beliefs of one’s self and one’s world.

This all encompassing religion-and-science worldview holds within it a large amount of irony, according to Philip Hefner, a Lutheran theologian and long time editor of Zygon, an academic journal dedicated to religion and science. “Irony is less graspable, less subject to rational analysis and more threatening,” he wrote. “This is understandable when we considered just what is involved when we juxtapose incommensurate realities: We dare to go beyond scientific knowledge and invest uncertain beliefs with existential certainty.”

Within the covalent bonds of religion-and-science there is uncertainty, but also the building blocks of a  dialogue that is so rich in history, controversy and ultimately promise.

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