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!


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