Monday 30 November 2009

Reflections on science and faith (surrounding the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's "Origin of the Species")

Australia has a fascination with Charles Darwin and his legacy. Earlier this year, as a precursor to the 150th anniversary of the publishing of his famous "Origin of Species" Carole Anne and I went through a special exhibition at the National Museum here in Canberra - a stop on a tour this exhibition was taking around the world. It visually documented the personal development, life experiences, and adventures that influenced Darwin, his ideas and how his theory developed. It explained why he "sat" on publishing his theory for about 20 years - until someone else came along who was about to publish similar findings. Darwin understood how controversial the implications of his work might be - and they still are, obviously!

A very popular Sunday evening TV programme here is ABC's (Australian Broadcasting Company) "Compass." The November 22nd edition entitled “Did Darwin Kill God?" was well-crafted and is now available online here:
I highly recommend you take the time to watch it - after reading the next few paragraphs.

During this segment, British philosopher and theologian Dr. Conor Cunningham argues it’s very possible to be a good Christian (or Jew) and embrace the theory of evolution -- how there actually is no conflict at all between Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and the book of Genesis.

Cunningham says when Darwin’s theory was first published in Britain it was welcomed by both the Anglican and Catholic Churches. He claims the conflict between Darwin and God was manufactured by American literal creationists in the 20th century for their own political and moral reasons! Finally, he talks to some of the world’s eminent evolutionary biologists, geneticists and philosophers to examine whether the latest advances in evolutionary theory do in fact kill God.

So his verdict is no, no-one “killed God”. In fact, Darwin’s theory actually expanded upon and enhanced the (necessary at that time) metaphorical explanation of Genesis.

I had another nice email exchange last week with my biologist friend, Dr. Doug Swartzentruber, a faculty research associate at Pepperdine University and Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Colorado (he's also an Anabaptist, theologically speaking) regarding his friendship and connection with Dr. Edward Larson - the author of this next article. Both of them attended the Darwin Conference held at Pepperdine recently, and Doug plans to send me a follow-up link on that and a paper he wrote. Larson recently authored and published this article (now posted online) entitled:
“I Had No Intention to Write Atheistically”: Darwin, God, and the 2500-Year History of the Debate

In case you don't get to the end of the article to see this, Edward J. Larson is the author of six books and over forty articles relating to the history of the theory of evolution and its cultural impact including Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory (Modern Library, 2004) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion (Basic Books, 2006). He teaches history and law at Pepperdine and lives in Georgia and California.

How is all this relevant to my life as a hospital chaplain?

Well, for one, I have some more "good stuff" to refer to in ongoing conversations with a colleague here in Canberra who functions as the main chaplain to the Humanists, whom I've experienced as being a very moral, socially progressive bunch, though atheistic or agnostic. He makes his living counseling people as a psychologist - and as a licensed Celebrant (weddings, funerals, and special ceremonies.) We like to talk and catch up with each other from time to time surrounding his patient visits or meetings we might be having at the hospital - and even read what each other has written sometimes. I'm very interested in how he might respond to all this - because he's very open to talking about my own questions that I discuss with him sometimes regarding the basis of his agnosticism.

For others interested in the intersections of science and faith, here are some other good resources I've picked up on from those posting their online responses to the programs and articles I've watched and read during this significant Darwin anniversary. I wonder, has anyone else here delved into any of these?

I find it very interesting that
Dr. Francis Collins, the former director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute and current Director of the National Institutes of Health (see his book the “Language of God - a Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief”) is a former atheist. He now says that he can see there is a rational basis for a creator and that scientific discoveries actually bring one “closer to God" - and considers himself to be a theistic evolutionist with a belief system he calls BioLogos. A few months ago the BioLogos Foundation initiated this website.

Prof. John Polkinghorne, Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge, who is distinguished in the field of elementary particle physics, has produced four significant works:

-The Quantum World [Princeton University Press]; Reason and Reality: The Relationship Between Science and Theology.Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1991

-Quarks, Chaos and Christianity: Questions to Science and Religion. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996;

-The Quantum World. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985

-The Faith of a Physicist: Reflections of a Bottom-Up Thinker. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996.

That last one is apparently a great introduction to Polkinghorne's thought on classical Christian doctrines. As always, it looks like I've got some more good reading to do!


Friday 13 November 2009

On Getting American & Other Foreign Troops OUT of Afghanistan

I am impressed by a statement the Michiana Peace and Justice Coalition (peace and justice loving people in northern Indiana and south-western Michigan from all sorts of theological persuasions, including some agnostics and political anarchists) has been drafting to circulate among its members and community organizations. What follows below is a second draft, waiting for more comments before it becomes the official "policy" of MPJC.

In America and Australia and other countries with democratic governments, policy change usually comes from a groundswell of citizen opinion, powerful statements from church and community leaders, op-ed pieces in newspapers, and other local organizations to push their political leaders to do the right thing. It seems that it always takes a process like this to withdraw from involvements in the war-quagmires our nations get sucked into. (Click here for some clear-headed current analysis regarding the one in Afghanistan.)

So, how about it, if you think a statement like this is appropriate, then would you be willing to get some people together to draft something similar to publish in your local newspaper, distribute to community organizations, and send to your politicians? At least, create some healthy community discussion?

If you are without conviction - staying silent and trying not to "make waves" - then you are part of the problem instead of being a part of the solution. I don't think there is much middle ground on this issue - at least not from Jesus' point of view as I understand it.

So, if you claim to be a Jesus-follower, a good place to start is to ask yourself the next time you are with your fellow believers: if he were in your midst (and he is, isn't he?) what do you think Jesus would have to say about the increasingly obvious results of America's (and Australia's and .....) involvement in Afghanistan?

Philippians 2:5 "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus..."

-Clair Hochstetler in Canberra


MPJC position on withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan

The United States attacked Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11/2001 attack on the twin towers, after the Taliban refused or was unable to turn over the al Qaida leadership to the UN, and now the U.S. has a moral obligation to repair the damage it caused. MPJC believed in 2001 that the correct policy was to use police forces to bring the leaders of Al Qaida to justice, not start a war of revenge on an entire country. Coalition members still believe that the United States must set an early deadline (a few months) to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Civilians who would be in imminent danger of death should be evacuated as well.

In all likelihood there will be dangers to Afghanis when the United States pulls out. The Taliban is likely to regain control of the country and reinstitute severe social practices. The situation for women which has improved marginally since 2001 would likely deteriorate. MPJC is deeply concerned about the suffering of Afghanis both now and after the withdrawal, but believes that it is the responsibility of Afghan citizens, not the U.S. or the world community, to bring about changes in their government and way of life nonviolently.

The following quote has been taken from the National Priorities Project website page -- The Cost of War in Afghanistan ( The legitimacy of the Afghan government per the October 2009 elections is more open to question than ever before.

"Today the Kabul government is losing support among the Afghan people. The Taliban and other insurgent groups are gaining recruits because there is neither basic security nor jobs. Corruption and an unwillingness to address human rights abuses have undermined support for the government. The behavior of foreign troops has often violated cultural norms and created fear and humiliation. Practices like night raids, use of drones and aerial bombardments tend to increase support for insurgents. As the conflict widens, meager education and health services become even more limited. People in Afghanistan have consistently called for basic services, food, civilian rule of law and healthy institutions that can be trusted. As one of the poorest countries on earth, Afghanistan will continue to need aid and outside investment for years to come."

After eight years of war, the United States has a moral obligation to restore the homes and infrastructure that have been destroyed, but the rebuilding can only begin after the foreign troops have departed and their bases have been dismantled. We acknowledge that the Taliban is unlikely to be receptive to any aid for rebuilding from the U.S., but believe that continued presence of coalition troops is steadily drawing more support for the Taliban, making it more likely that the Afghanis will welcome the Taliban when the inevitable withdrawal occurs. The first step is to get the troops out.

Michiana Peace and Justice Coalition website:

Feedback and comments can be sent to:

Peter Smith
Professor Emeritus of Math and CS, Saint Mary's College:
Facilitator, Michiana Peace and Justice Coalition:
Webmaster, National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee:
Author, Editor, and Treasurer, Academy of Process Educators:
Publicity Director, Association of Small Computer Users in Education: