Just back from a great weekend in the smoke-free air of the republic, hanging out with friends in Maynooth. Saturday was the Christians in Science Ireland day conference with a couple of heavyweight scientists/theologians in the guise of Alistair McGrath and Denis Alexander. It was an incredibly stimulating day thinking through Dawkins challenge to faith, and theistic evolution.
The talks are online here.
Now I think its vital that Christians be committed to rigorous thinking about how faith interacts with every area of life, and a comment from an Oxford professor lingers in my mind – “we have to be very careful in these areas that we don’t damage the integrity of our witness”.
Some of these debates always stir up quite a lot of emotion, and I want to plead for humility and grace to be the guiding principles in these discussions. It would be ridiculous for me to tell a neurosurgeon they don’t know what they are talking about and have got it all wrong, and sometimes Christians blunder into these debates, without understanding science to tell scientists they are wrong. A great deal of patience, understanding ad humility is required. That humility was evident among the speakers on Saturday. One of the key themes that came through was that scientific theories does not tell us that there is or isn’t a God, and we often have to recognise that theories are often hijacked by ideological systems (people such as Dawkins) and used to say or mean things they don’t. Science and religion are not mutually exclusive.
Christians, although they may differ in their understanding of how, do all believe that God is the creator and sustainer of all things (despite what some may have you think), and we need to recognise that as a starting point. It worries me when people who take one position on this are quick to label those who don’t disagree with them heretics. Its not just in science, I encountered it in the area of the Holy Spirit with people at a training conference for my job in England. This is a serious charge and too often is done in an arrogant manner that says ‘I’m right and if you don’t agree with me you’re not a proper Christian’. Its an attitude that often seems more interested in writing people off than building others up, and engaging thoughtfully with humility recognising we all have much to learn. Grace and love I seem to remember are things Jesus modelled and the biblical writers appear to think are pretty important. Often it seems to ignore that people have thought deeply and wrestled with the issue in hand.
Our approach to the bible also needs considered in this area. The bible is God’s revelation to us – it is not supposed to be a piece of scientific literature (the genre of which is fairly recent). The early chapters of Genesis are not eyewitness narrative in the way Acts is. In the Hebrew they are tightly structured in ways our English translations don’t pick up. When we come to the bible we always need to recognise it is a collection of different sorts of literature, we don’t interpret some of the apocalyptic writings in Daniel or Revelation the way we interpret Mark. Interpretation can often be hard work, and if we are humble enough to recognise that some passages can be legitimately interpreted differently then we should be gracious enough to recognise that there are things we will disagree on, and be gracious in that. Always making sure that we’re not adding to the gospel, have a read at Galatians 1 to see what the apostle Paul thought about people who added on categories for believing in and following Jesus. Our purpose is to point people to the life that Jesus offers, not make them agree with us in all the secondary issues.