I found this video intriguing. I think he misses one option though: could there be “ruts” in evolution that inevitably lead biological beings to a brain that is hardwired for spirituality and God? Perhaps that is part of God’s plan in creation.Share on Facebook
Big Bang Faith – The Faith and Medicine Algorithm
Sycamore Creek Church
May 6, 2012
I am naturally a skeptic. When it comes to the supernatural and miraculous, I tend to have a lot of questions. I’ve never seen a miraculous healing, even though I hear claims about them all the time. When I was in elementary school, I had a bad skateboarding accident and seriously cut up my knee. When I walked the mile to get home with blood streaming down my leg, I found an empty house. My mom was gone. I got into bed and prayed that if God stopped the bleeding, I’d read the Bible from front to back. I picked up the Bible and began reading Genesis. Well, the bleeding did eventually stop, but it didn’t appear to be anything more than natural processes at work. I did eventually read my entire Bible, but not for several years.
While reading for this sermon, I was at a café and put my book on the counter to pay. One of the employees picked it up and asked what I was reading. It was a book titled Miracles. I told her it was a book about miracles and then asked her if she had ever experienced any miracles. She thought for a moment and then went on to tell me how every day life is a miracle. She is a gardener and finds the beauty of flowers to be a miracle. I agree, but that’s not really what I mean when I talk about a miracle. I’m talking about something that doesn’t happen every day. Something unexpected.
While researching for this message, I came across a show called Miracles for Sale by a famous British illusionist named Darren Brown. The U.K.’s version of David Copperfield. Brown studied the “tricks” that faith healers use, a mixture of illusion and psychological suggestion, then secretly auditioned actors to play the part of a faith healer and taught that person how to use illusions and psychological suggestion to “heal” people. They traveled to Texas and put on a faith healing service, and “healed” people. Their attack was not against faith or the church, but against manipulative, fraudulent faith healers who sell miracles. I found the whole show very compelling, but while certain faith healers who closely tie together money and healing may be charlatans, I’m not sure that healings are always just illusions.
The closest I’ve come to something miraculous are two stories my mom tells about encountering angels. One happened while I was in elementary school and riding in the car with her. She had left her wallet on the top of the car when she filled the gas tank up. She was a single mom at the time, and when she realized what she had done, she became very anxious. She had a car full of kids and was on a busy road, so she prayed for God to send her someone to help her find her wallet. She locked the doors, told us to stay put, and went looking for her wallet. At some point she looked up and a man was walking toward her. He had her wallet. She was extremely grateful and thanked him profusely. When she turned around to walk back to the car, she decided she ought to give him some cash from her wallet as a gift for helping her. She turned back around to give him some money, and he was gone! Vanished! Nowhere to be seen. She believes God sent her an angel.
I think that many of us have this one basic question when it comes to faith and healing: do miraculous healings happen?
David Hume, one key Enlightenment era philosopher, had this to say about miracles:
There is not to be found, in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good sense, education, and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves.
I think that a lot of us have that same sentiment. Hume’s statement also has a subtle prejudice in it that comes out more strongly elsewhere when he says:
It forms a strong presumption against all spiritual and miraculous relations, that they are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous people.
Basically, Hume is saying that if you’re not a white educated western man, your thoughts on this topic aren’t very reliable. And if we’re honest, I think most of us hold at least some version of this same prejudice. Those cultures in “third world” countries are naturally more superstitious and too easily believe in the supernatural.
In his book The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis tells the story of an elder demon mentoring a younger demon. In the preface to this book, Lewis says,
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.
Perhaps those of us in the west are too prone to disbelieve in the supernatural and those in the majority of the world are too prone to believe in the supernatural. While it may be inappropriate to fall in the extremes when it comes to faith and healing, there is no doubt that healing is part of the story of Jesus as told by the Bible.
At the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and teaching, he stands up in a synagogue and reads from the book of Isaiah. Here is what he reads and says:
Luke 4:14-21 NLT
Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Soon he became well known throughout the surrounding country. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll containing the messages of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him, and he unrolled the scroll to the place where it says:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. Everyone in the synagogue stared at him intently. Then he said, “This Scripture has come true today before your very eyes!”
Jesus claims that in him the prophesy of Isaiah that justice will come and people will be healed has come true. And then as you read the first four books of the New Testament, you see this coming true. Jesus heals the blind, lame, deaf, paraplegic, demon possessed, epileptic, and more. Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, Bible scholars at the University of Heidelberg, say that “nowhere else are so many miracles reported of a single person as they are in the Gospels of Jesus.” Another scholar points out that “31 percent of the verses in Mark’s Gospel involve miracles in some way, or some 40 percent of his narrative!” (Keener, pg 66).
But aren’t these healing stories just an example of the big fish story? It was so big that by the time it got away and the story has been told over and over, it was the size of a whale! Aren’t these miracle stories just legendary mythical additions to the text over time? Craig Keener points out that “contrary to assumptions that miracle stories would always grow in time, other Gospels’ use of Mark shows that abbreviation was as common as development” (Keener, pg 31). John Meier, a New Testament scholar at Notre Dame adds that “the early dating of the literary testimony to Jesus’ miracles, the closeness of the dates of the written ‘docs’ to the alleged miracles of Jesus’ life, is almost unparalleled for the period” (Keener, pg 71).
It turns out that these miracle stories, while they can’t be proved, are not so spurious as some have thought. But assuming that Jesus did really heal people back in the day, will Jesus heal me?
Pray for Healing and Make Healthy Choices
Sometimes I think that we treat God like a genie in a bottle. Got a problem? Rub the bottle and out pops God to give us three wishes. But God is even more generous than the genie, because every time we have a problem and rub the bottle, we get three more wishes!
My own observation, which I think is pretty obvious, is that while God can and does heal, God does not always heal when and how you want. God’s usual way of working in the world is to allow actions to have natural consequences. Do you expect God to overturn the natural consequences of poor choices? Do you not study for a test and then pray to pass? Do you sit on your duff all day long without ever exercising and pray for your heart blockage to be healed? Do you smoke a pack a day and then pray for God to heal your lung cancer? God’s usual way of working in the world is to work through natural means. So seek out doctors, physical therapists, trainers, coaches, dieticians, and the like. God is less like a genie and more like a surgeon. He is less likely to give you your three wishes and more likely to cut the cancer out of your bad habits.
Now there is a perception out there that being a Christian is somehow a kind of an unhealthy mental illness. If you’re a believer, you must be unhealthy. You can see this in one of the new atheists, Richard Dawkins’ book titled: The God Delusion. The implication is clear: Faith = mental illness.
Research actually shows the opposite. The Duke University Center for the Study of Religion and Spirituality has been studying the effects of faith and faith practices on health for many years now. The truth is that if you participate in faith practices, you are likely to be more healthy. Here is a list of some of their findings:
- People who regularly attend church, pray individually, and read the Bible have significantly lower diastolic blood pressure than the less religious. Those with the lowest blood pressure both attend church and pray or study the Bible often.
- People who attend church regularly are hospitalized much less often than people who never or rarely participate in religious services.
- People with strong religious faith are less likely to suffer depression from stressful life events, and if they do, they are more likely to recover from depression than those who are less religious.
- People with strong faith who suffer from physical illness have significantly better health outcomes than less religious people.
- People who attend religious services regularly have stronger immune systems than their less religious counterparts.
- Religious people live longer.
(Taken from The Healing Power of Faith by Harold Koenig, M.D.)
So pray for healing and expect to be healed, but don’t forget to make healthy choices too. And one of those healthy choices is choosing to pray!
The Purpose of Healing
So is disease always about the poor choices you made? Are you sick because you sinned? Jesus is asked a question like this:
“Teacher,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it a result of his own sins or those of his parents?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “He was born blind so the power of God could be seen in him.”
John 9:2-4 NLT
Jesus points out that this blindness has nothing to do with personal sin. No one sinned in such a way that the man was born blind. Since the man was born blind, I guess the people asking Jesus this question thought that someone could sin before birth! Jesus points out that they’re asking the wrong question. The ultimate purpose of healing is to bring God glory.
Imagine with me for a moment what kind of glory we would bring God if SCC became known as oasis of health and healing amidst a broken and diseased culture. What if we became known as a hospital for the sick? We should attract the sick, but if we are faithfully teaching how to practice the faith, they should experience healing here too.
Actually, I already see it happening. There’s a small group of women who, concerned about their health, are meeting to run and/or walk in preparation for an upcoming 5K. They call it a Run for God small group. Exercising in a group is always easier than exercising alone. There’s an accountability in the process of being active with friends.
I see people in our church losing weight. I myself have lost some weight lately. All the men in my family are overweight and suffering from some kind of diabetes. I have a covenant with my pants that I will never leave them nor forsake them. Back in November my pants were getting a little tight as I was hitting the upper end of my healthy weight limit. Instead of waiting until I was overweight, I decided to lose some weight. I bought into Weight Watchers online and have lost fifteen pounds since November, and now I’m in the middle of my healthy weight range. But I also know some among us who have lost thirty or forty pounds and have regained significant health in the process.
I have seen people in our church quit smoking or give up drugs or alcohol. They’ve done so after being convicted by God’s Spirit at work in their heart or mind. Some who are struggling with emotional or relational issues have found support and help for coping in our support group that meets twice a month. I see people rebuilding broken relationships, forgiving past harm, and renewing their marriages. God is at work healing in our church. So does God heal, and can God heal you? Yes, but not always how or when we want. God is God, not your personal genie.Share on Facebook
Big Bang Faith – The Reverse Projection Theory
Sycamore Creek Church
April 22, 2012
Today we continue our series on faith and science by looking at the science of psychology. Christianity and psychology have had a somewhat tumultuous relationship ever since the founding father of psychology, Sigmund Freud, wrote:
To begin with, we know that God is a father-substitute; or, more correctly, that he is an exalted father; or, yet again, that he is a copy of a father as he is seen and experienced in childhood – by individuals in their own childhood and by mankind in its prehistory as the father of the primitive and primal horde.
According to Freud, God is simply a projection of our fathers, both current and primal, upon the heavens. We want a good and powerful father, and we don’t have one, so we imagine one in the sky.
I don’t doubt that too often we project our desires for who we want God to be upon God. Too often we make God in our own image or in the image of whatever it is that we desire God to be. But just because we have a tendency to project our image upon God doesn’t rule out that we were first made in the image of God ourselves. That’s what the Bible claims:
So God created people in his own image;
God patterned them after himself;
male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27 NLT
While Freud makes a powerful argument, I wonder if the opposite argument can’t be made. Do we at times project upon the heavens our own desire for there not to be a God? Freud himself said:
Religious ideas…are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind.
Is this not true to some extent of all our ideas? Religious or atheist? C.S. Lewis, a contemporary of Freud’s often wrote in response to the new psychology. When it comes to this idea of religion being wish fulfillment he says:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
So is God just a projection of our wishes upon the sky? Could be. But the opposite could be true too.
All Truth Is God’s Truth
It seems that Freud wanted to put a lot of distance between faith and science. But is there no overlap? How do the science of psychology and faith work together? The wisdom of the Proverbs says:
God delights in concealing things;
scientists delight in discovering things.
Proverbs 25:2 The Message
In other words, God didn’t write a text book that explained exactly how everything works. No quantum theory text book there. It is God’s delight to hold back his cards when it comes to some things, and let people discover them. But when it comes to psychology, there is a little more overlap between faith and science. According to David Myers, a psychologist at Hope College, there are four ways that psychology and faith converge.
2. We are awesome but flawed
When it comes to our brains, we are the most complex organism the world has ever seen. And yet our brains in all their complexity are prone to judgment errors. This sounds a lot like the Bible teaching that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139) in the image of God, and yet all have fallen short of the glory of God and have sinned (Romans 3). Psychology and faith converge in agreement upon this point.
2. Self-serving bias
This second place of convergence between psychology and faith grows out of the first. We tend to act in self-serving ways. We ignore the needs of others around us to secure our own needs. Christianity teaches that not only do we sin, but we have a bent toward sin called original sin. We are unable not to sin. Psychology and faith converge in agreement upon this point.
3. Attitudes affect action and action affects attitudes
Psychological research has found that there is a reciprocal relationship between our attitudes and our actions. They affect one another. It’s not a one way street. Likewise, Christianity has taught that faith and works go hand in hand. Faith, our attitude toward God, affects how we live, but also what we do either grows our faith or diminishes it.
4. People and situations influence each other
The fourth place of convergence is an expansion of the third from the personal to the communal: our environment shapes us and we shape our environment. Who you spend time with and where you spend time are important decisions for the kind of person you will become. Christianity teaches that God has created a community to help us become who God has created us to become.
Critiques/Limitations of Psychology
While there are at least four if not more points of overlap between faith and psychology, there are some limitations of the science of psychology. Let’s talk about three.
1. Scientific Method vs. Psychological Method
Psychology has adopted the scientific method which is based upon the observable phenomena of objects moving and interacting with one another. But how does one observe a mental process? Using the scientific method to study phenomena that are not easily observable has some limits.
2. Not Value Neutral
More so than the physical sciences, psychology must deal with values and values are not neutral. Take for example the question, “What is healthy?” Can data answer this question? Theory has to answer this question. Theory provides a framework for interpreting data. Values of health that psychologists hold influence psychology in significant ways. You can see this in one simple way: psychologists don’t all agree on what “healthy” is.
3. Doesn’t Answer Ultimate Questions
Lastly, while psychology can shed considerable light on our lives, it cannot answer the ultimate questions. Leo Tolstoy posed these three ultimate questions: “Why should I live? Why should I do anything? Is there in life any purpose?” Psychology cannot answer these three questions, but faith does. Just to give you an example, the first question of the Westminster catechism is: what is the purpose of man? The answer is: to glorify God and enjoy him always.
So what exactly is the value of psychology? First, I’ve found my own personal experience with psychology to be very helpful. I have sought out counselors several times in my life around two basic issues: relationships and emotions. When my relationship with my family has been strained, I have sought out a counselor for help. Likewise I have struggled with two emotions, anger and anxiety, that have sent me looking for some help. In all of these instances, I have found talking to a counselor helpful in giving me guidance for restoring relationships and managing emotions.
Second, the question arises for a person of faith whether to go to a counselor who is also a person of faith or someone else. My own sense is that I have always begun by seeking out a person who shares my faith, but this has not always been available to me. So I have seen both Christian and non-Christian counselors. Both were helpful, but I found meeting with Christian counselors to be more helpful. Some of this may simply be that I feel like I have less to explain and more in common. But even with Christian counselors, there are good and bad counselors. Wisdom can be found both in Christians and non-Christians, and I would seek out wisdom wherever it is to be found.
Lastly, Christianity is psychology and ministry is counseling. What we do here at SCC is itself a kind of psychology and counseling. Psychological research has shown that the more kind of social supports you have around you, the more robust you will be in dealing with psychological challenges. It turns out that going to church and being involved helps you psychologically. Practices like being in a small group provide people to talk to who may not be trained psychologists, but are people who will listen and reflect on life together. Contrary to what Freud suggests, faith isn’t a disease, “the universal obsessional neurosis,” but faith practices make you more healthy!
While the father of psychology had a bone to pick with religion, time has shown that psychology and faith are much more compatible than Freud was able to see. The church itself even turns out to be helpful to people’s psychological health. So how involved are you? How many opportunities are you taking to build social supports through worship and small groups? Not only will these practices help your psychological health, they’ll also help answer the ultimate questions of life:
Why should I live?
Why should I do anything?
Is there in life any purpose?
Big Bang Faith – The Who Banged It Theory
Sycamore Creek Church
April 15, 2012
Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.
Religion and science are incompatible, incongruent, and irreconcilable.
So say the new atheists. Science and faith just don’t go together. Science is about truth. Faith is about something else. But is this really true? Are science and faith so incongruent after all? Or do we need to divorce the two and get on with our lives?
I’d like to suggest to you over the next four weeks that science and faith are not in contradiction to one another. Sometimes they overlap more than other times, but all in all, science and faith can not only coexist but thrive together.
Perhaps a quick analogy is in order. Science asks the question How? Science tells us that a kettle boils because gas combusts with oxygen and releases energy in the form of heat. But is this all that can be said about what’s going on here? What about the Why? A kettle boils so friends can sit down for a cup of tea. Or in the case of one group of friends, a men’s tea party! Can science answer the question of why a men’s tea party?
Literal or Something Else?
Ok, let’s back up a bit. Let’s go back to the very beginnings of the clash between science and faith. Who do we go back to here? Galileo. Right? The big controversy of the day was between Galileo’s teaching that the earth moved around the sun and the church’s teaching that the earth was the center and everything else moved around it. Who was right? Galileo. OK, Galileo, the church was wrong. We’re sorry. Please forgive us.
Actually, in apologizing to Galileo we’re making an apology within the Christian community because Galileo was a Catholic and remained one (on house arrest). He even saw that what he was doing was part of fulfilling God’s purposes for his life. So when we, the church, apologize to Galileo, let’s remember that we’re apologizing to one of our own. Just in case he missed it the first time: Galileo, we’re sorry. We were wrong. You were right. Please forgive us.
Now let’s look at some of the scriptures that the church used to argue against Galileo:
The world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken.
Psalm 93:1 NLT
The sun rises at one end of the heavens and follows its course to the other end.|
Psalm 19:6 NLT
Does any Christian of any stripe or flavor today believe that these verses (and others like them) require us to believe that the Earth doesn’t move and that everything else (sun, stars, galaxies, etc.) revolves around the Earth? No. I have never met even the most ardent fundamentalist who wants to hold that because these two verses are in the Bible that Christians must believe in an Earth-centered universe. We have noticed since the time of Galileo that these verses are poetic in nature. They are in the Psalms, a book of poetry!
So let’s look at another more contentious (by today’s standards) verse:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1 NLT
If we continue reading this we all know that the way the story goes, God created everything in six days and rested on the seventh. The question before us then is this: is this story at the beginning of Genesis more like the poetry of the Psalms or is it more like the history of some other books of the Bible?
You may think that this is a question that has only arisen in modern times by modern Christians wrestling with science. You would be wrong. This is a live question throughout almost all of Christian history. Just to give you a taste of Christians who wrestled with this in much earlier times, here are two:
Now what man of intelligence will believe that the first, the second and the third day, and the evening and morning existed without the sun, moon, and stars?
Origin (2nd-3rd Century)
We do not read in the Gospel that the Lord said that I send to you the Paraclete [Holy Spirit] who will teach you about the course of the sun and the moon, for he wanted to make Christians and not mathematicians.
Augustine (4th-5th Century)
Did you catch that? As early as the second century, Christians were thinking that Genesis chapter one is perhaps not to be taken literally. So if not literally, then how are we to take Genesis’ creation story? Here’s my educated guess at this point in my understanding of what is going on in Genesis’ creation story.
Genesis chapter one is a poetic account of God creating his very own temple. The creation of this temple runs parallel to the creation of the tabernacle as it is told later in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. When someone creates a temple, what is the last thing that gets put in the temple? The idol. Right? Interestingly enough, the word that is translated “idol” in other places in the Old Testament is translated “image” in Genesis. Now who or what bears God’s image in creation? Human beings are made in the image of God. Creation is God’s temple, and we are God’s images, God’s idols, if you will. Why is this important? Because there is a political undertone, a subversive message in a story that says that all humanity (men and women) are made in God’s image. Remember who was considered God’s image in ancient times? The kings. So if a story about creation suggests that the king isn’t the only one made in God’s image, whose power is that story undermining? The king’s power! So Genesis is a poetic story of God creating God’s temple and creating all of us as God’s image so that we wouldn’t forget that it’s not just the kings who matter to God. Genesis’ creation story is less a science book and more a political manifesto.
The Big Bang Theory
Christians have often considered there to be two books by which we learn about God. The first book is of course the Bible. We’ve been looking at that book so far. But there’s another book: the book of creation. Science is the study of this book. Science does its best to answer the question of How? when it comes to describing the book of creation. It should be obvious but let me say it anyway, all truth is God’s truth no matter where you find it. When you find truth in science, it is God’s truth. When you find truth in people who aren’t Christians, it is God’s truth. When you find truth in the Bible, it is God’s truth. All truth is God’s truth. Science is an exploration of the truth about creation.
Science tells the story of the beginning of creation in a different way than the book of Genesis tells it. The title of Science’s story is often called the big bang theory. In a nutshell, science has shown mathematically how the universe is expanding. If you take those trajectories and run them backwards, you end up with what science calls a singularity: the moment when all matter is condensed into a single point. It all had a beginning.
Did you know that the first person to prove this idea mathematically was a Belgian Catholic priest named Georges Lemaître? Yes, it was a Christian who first proved the Big Bang! Lemaître even went head to head with Einstein on this. Einstein said, “Your math is right, but your physics are abhorrent.” In the end Lemaître won that argument.
Not only did Lemaître win that argument with Einstein, but he also took his information to Pope Pius XI. This was so compelling to Pope Pius that he proclaimed the big bang theory as compatible with Christian faith. Pope Pius was more confident than Lemaître about this. Lemaître was concerned that should his math or physics be proven wrong, then the faith would be disgraced by the Pope’s public proclamation. Well, in the end neither Lemaître nor the Pope proved to be wrong and the vast majority of physicists believe that the big bang theory is a correct way to describe the beginnings of the universe.
One very interesting piece of science that goes along with the big bang theory is what some physicists call the anthropic principle. “Anthropic” means human-centered. Here’s how it works: There are six fundamental constants of matter that allow human life to exist because they are exceptionally fine-tuned.
Let’s look at one of those constants called Lambda or sometimes “dark matter.” Lambda is the parameter which controls the long-range acceleration of the expansion of the universe in relativity. Did you catch that? Neither did I. But basically it has to do with how fast the universe expands from that moment of singularity in the big bang. The value of lambda is a factor of 10-120. That’s a one with a hundred and twenty zeros following it. If lambda were a shade off one way or another, human life could not exist.
So how improbable is it that lambda and these other five universal constants are so finely tuned? Just to have one of them so finely tuned would be would be equal to “getting the mix of flour and sugar right to within one grain of sugar in a cake ten times the mass of the sun” (Tony Hewish as quoted by Polkinghorne). Or consider making a hole-in-one on the golf course. The current record is 448 yards. The fine-tuning of one of these constants would be like hitting a hole in one teeing off from Pluto times thirteen! Put all these together, and I’ve heard it described this way: It’s like a tornado blowing through a junk yard and creating a fully functioning 747. The probability of these things happening as they have is beyond minute. The universe is exceptionally fine-tuned to support human life. Did it just happen that way? Or were the dice loaded?
A Strange World
The world is stranger than we all thought. In some ways it’s stranger than we could have ever imagined. Quantum theory has shed a strange light on what we know about the way the universe works. Classical physics, the brain-child of Isaac Newton (who was a Christian), attempted to describe mathematically the way that objects move, but as we began to be able to see ever smaller and smaller objects (protons, electrons, quarks, and now bosons, nick-named “the God particle”), physicists noticed that they didn’t move the way that classical physics said they should. Things are weird at the subatomic level. Matter and energy act like both waves and particles. Werner Heisenberg developed his famous Heisenberg uncertainty principle: you can know where something is going or where it is but not both at the same time! In fact if you shoot an electron at a wall with two openings on it and record where it goes, you’ll notice something strange: it appears to have gone through both openings! String theorists think that the electron going from point A to point B takes every possible path to get there. This means that every possibility is possible. And this has led some physicists, like Stephen Hawking, to believe in a multiverse: multiple universes where every possibility plays out at least once.
Faith Seeking Understanding
The world is definitely even stranger than you can imagine. And yet when I read about these developments, I am inclined to simply be more and more in awe of God. I don’t see the progression of scientific knowledge as antithetical to my faith. I see it as informing my faith in a very interesting and dynamic conversation. And I’m not the only one. One scientist I have learned a lot from is John Polkinghorne. Polkinghorne was professor of Mathematical physics at the University of Cambridge from 1968 to 1979 before he left his endowed chair to become a priest. Now he spends his time lecturing and writing about the intersection of faith and science. I listened to his introductory textbook , A Short Introduction to Quantum Theory, while preparing for this series. It’s not a book about faith or God. In fact God never comes up in the book. It is a basic text book for upper-level physics classes, or perhaps physics for non-physicists.
Polkinghorne is a theoretical physicist scientist through and through, and yet in his book he told the story of researchers finding the positron. The positron is a subatomic particle the size of an electron (much smaller than a proton) but positively charged. No one even looked for this particle until a new radical theory suggested it should be there. So researchers went about looking for it and found it. They even went back to old experiments and noticed that it could be seen there too. Polkinghorne comments that “researchers tend not to notice things they aren’t looking for.”
Several hundreds of years earlier, Augustine said basically the same thing: “Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that thou mayest understand.” We tend to think that you have to understand before you can believe, but as the search for the positron shows, sometimes you have to believe before you can see or understand it. Anselm, a Christian scholar writing in the eleventh century wrote a book called, Faith Seeking Understanding. In it he suggests that Christians should seek understanding about God and our world from a foundation of faith. There is a kind of humility in both Augustine and Anselm. It is a humility that recognizes that we don’t know everything. Our knowledge is and always will be finite.
Christians can learn from science and science can learn from Christians. Science seeks to answer the question of How? And faith seeks to answer the question of Why? Why is there something rather than nothing? And that brings us back full circle to that men’s tea party. I’m not so interested in how this exists, but why does it exist?
For Further Exploration
John Polkinghorne – Questions of Truth
John Lennox – Seven Days that Define the World
Science and faith are contradictory. Are they? God is just a psychological crutch. Sure about that? Evolution proves God isn’t necessary. Does it? Miracles don’t really happen. Never? Join us for a four week exploration of modern science and faith. Along the way we’ll meet scientists who are also people of faith. In the end you’ll have a better understanding of how faith and science complement one another. Or do they?
April 15 – The Who Banged It Theory (Faith and the Beginning of the Universe)
April 22 – The Reverse Projection Theory (Freud and Faith)
April 29 –The Evolution of Faith and Evolution (Darwin and God)
May 6 – The Faith and Medicine Algorithm (Healing and Faith)
May 6 – Special Film Screening: Test of Faith (Details TBA)
Meeting at Lansing Christian School
3405 Belle Chase Way
Lansing, MI 48911
Sunday Worship & Nursery – 9:30 AM & 11:15 AM
Kid’s Creek and StuREV – 11:15AM”
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I am always amazed and deeply in wonder of our world. This little video by Dr. Kaku, the co-founder of string-theory and the Henry Semat Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City University of New York (CUNY), does a great job of explaining some pretty complex ideas. If he’s right and there are multiple universes, a somewhat mind-blowing idea, why can’t we also believe that God became a baby at Christmas, a mind-blowing idea?Share on Facebook
Francis Collins makes you feel good to be a thoughtful Christian. If you’re not already familiar with Collins, you probably are at least somewhat familiar with the Human Genome Project, which in 2003 completed its task to identify the 20,000-25,000 genes in human DNA. Collins was the director of this project, and since 2009 he has been serving as the director of the National Institute for Health. Collins is a groundbreaking scientist through and through. He is also a Christian.
Collins was not always a Christian nor did he grow up in a Christian home. He grew up an atheist but later in life and in large part through the influence of C.S. Lewis and Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, came to believe that God existed and to follow Jesus as God’s son. He briefly shares this story at the beginning of the book so that his more skeptical readers might not assume that Collins is slavishly following the religion of his childhood and youth. Collins then quickly moves on to the meat of the book: the relationship between science and faith.
Collins does not believe that science and faith are at odds with one another. Rather he sees extreme perspectives on each side of the debate doing more harm than good. Collins has written this book as a moderating voice amidst those extremes, and most people will resonate with this centrist position.
Collins does an excellent job of tackling especially the question of evolution and faith. I learned quite a bit about how these two things can work together in harmony. Collins also helped me understand more fully and in simple language many of the debates raging these days around creationism (Collins implores Christians to let this position go), Intelligent Design (Collins does not hold this position although he does not see it as intellectually problematic as literal six-day creationism), irreducible complexity (a la Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box, which Collins also does not hold to due to recent scientific discoveries), micro vs. macro evolution (I have held to this position myself, but Collins worries that this approach is a God of the gaps argument and the gap is ever shrinking; he convinced me that it is time to let it go), and many bioethics issues in an appendix which covers everything from the beginning of life (conception or later?), stem cell research (fetal and adult), and cloning (animal and human). By the end of the book I felt like I had a better grasp on the current state of scientific knowledge and debate, and I also felt even better about being a Christian in the midst of it all! This is no small feat. Thank you Francis Collins.
One perspective I would have liked Collins to engage with is postmodernism. Collins is a modernist through and through. The subtitle of the book is: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Sounds very similar to Josh McDowell’s book for the previous generation, Evidence that Demands a Verdict. All of these approaches to Christianity assume that reason is an objective arbitrator of whether Christianity or belief is, well, reasonable. Postmodernism has cast significant skepticism on the objectiveness of reason and asked hard questions about how our context and culture predetermines what is and is not reasonable. Reason it turns out isn’t quite as objective as the Enlightenment has taught us to believe. How do we take this into account when evaluating a presentation of “evidence”?
In the end, I have personally found that there is no amount of evidence that removes all uncertainty. Collins is very humble in his approach to the evidence he presents (he reads the audio book himself and you can hear the humility in his voice), and I would have appreciated a humble assessment of postmodernity’s critiques of modernity and science. I guess every book can’t cover every question one has of it. Collins has set up an organization called The Biologos Forum, to explore further the continuing issues raised between science and faith. I have not fully explored this website, so perhaps Collins and his associates interact with postmodernity more fully through The Biologos Forum.
Overall, those who are looking for a respectable and rigorous but easy to understand and relatively brief discussion of the current state of science and its compatibility with faith will find this book exceedingly helpful and inspiring. On some things it may even change your mind. It did mine.
Generation to Generation by Edwin H. Friedman
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Phillip Pullman
Love Wins by Rob Bell
Exponential by Dave and Jon Ferguson
The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking
The Organic Lawn Care Manual by Paul Boardway Tukey
I found this video interview with Michio Kaku–Professor of Theoretical Physics, City College of New York–fascinating. It connects physics, philosophy, and theology all in one. Nice.Share on Facebook
Marilynne Robinson, the very talented author of the Pulitzer prize winning novel Gilead, also happens to be a very thoughtful and articulate Christian. She came to Duke while I was there and spoke. She’s not the greatest speaker (thankfully her vocation is a writer), but she does an excellent job when recently interviewed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show about her new book, Absence of Mind, in which she covers the topics of science, religion, and consciousness. I have not yet read the book, but I am intrigued after watching this interview.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|