John's Faith and Science Page
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Cartoon with permission  from "Planet Earth and Beyond" by Relph, Dunlop et al, Newhouse, 1995

An article on Science and Religion by Doug Hayhoe

Science and Faith: a close embrace?

April 2006

Introduction

This article was first prepared for a TSCF conference workshop in July 2000 then adapted and expanded for the August 2000 issue of Stimulus magazine.[1]  I updated it for a presentation to the University of Auckland OCF on October 18th 2002, and again in 2004, 2005 and 2006. This is my main written contribution to the long-running debate about how Christian belief and science should relate,[2] although I feel I really need a couple of decades to work through the topic first. Such a vast and contentious subject calls for humility, careful reasoning and openness to new ideas.

Many of the people I know who are active in the world of science hold an attitude of contempt towards Christianity. My suspicion is that this contempt is aided by the pious introspection that characterises much of church life, and the brash attempts at evangelism and apologetics that typify some Christian groups.

I am convinced that much of the polarisation between science and faith is due to well-publicised groups at two extreme poles who have been active over the last few decades. Young Earth Creationists such as the late Henry Morris and Ken Ham teach that all was created recently by God, with most scientists mistaken about the true facts, while anti-theistic evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins and the late Carl Sagan see God as quite unnecessary, and ourselves as alone in the cosmos to work out our own destiny.

The widespread adoption of such polarised presentations in the Christian and secular media respectively over the last 30 years or so has widened a quite unnecessary division between science and faith. In my view there is no final conflict, though given our imperfect knowledge there will be no immediate solution either. In between the extreme views are many others, including those who see no need for a connection between science and faith, theistic evolutionists who see no conflict between their science and their faith, and old-earth creationists who doubt the efficacy of mutation and selection as a mechanism for change. Two key Christian organisations in this area are Christians In Science (CIS - www.cis.org.uk ) and the American Scientific Affiliation ( ASA - www.asa3.org )

Young Earth Creationists

The fundamentalist position taken by Young Earth Creationists (YEC), that the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 are to be taken literally, is a major cause of ridicule from non-believers, who see that the two accounts differ markedly in the order of events, and possess obvious poetic structure.

Many thoughtful critics of YEC see huge contradictions in the implications of virtually instant creation, e.g. distant galaxies being created in a single day, complete with beams of light, each billions of light years long. The evidence of geology is plain to them – millions of years of slow processes such as continental drift, erosion and seasonal fluctuation, peppered with catastrophic events such as earthquakes, floods volcanoes and meteorite impacts. David Wilkinson makes the point: “a recent survey of teenagers showed that one third of those who rejected Christianity did so because they thought that Christians believed in a seven day creation some 6000 years ago.” [3]

Jonathan Sarfati is a local and able defender of the position that a literal interpretation of Genesis is the only option for Christians. I shall use some of his recently published work in an area I am familiar with to illustrate some of my concerns with Young Earth Creationism.

“The astronomer Hugh N. Ross now seems to be the world's most prominent 'progressive creationist' (PC). While he is insistent about distinguishing himself from 'theistic evolutionists' (TEs), Ross adopts the same basic philosophical approach. That is, he makes uniformitarian (i.e. essentially materialistic, billions of years, etc.) 'science'  his authority over Scripture.”  and  “Ross's heterodox canonisation of nature has been thoroughly rebutted by Van Bebber and Taylor. [4] This book is essential reading for defenders of the biblical world-view, as it answers point-by-point Ross's earlier theological and historical errors.” [5]

My comment: Sarfati is arrogant in assuming he has "the" biblical world-view and wrong in claiming that Ross makes science an authority over scripture. I understand that Hugh Ross is like most astronomers who try to interpret data from the physical universe to further our understanding of what it is actually like. 

Jonathan Sarfati made the following claim:

“Today we realize that sunspots are vortices of gas on the sun’s surface, and appear dark because they are several thousand degrees cooler.” [6]

My comment: Having sunspots several thousand degrees cooler is a bit of a problem when the rest of the visible surface is only 6000 degrees. In fact they are between one and two thousand degrees cooler. (There are regions at higher levels which reach millions of degrees, but these are very rarified.)

Another claim:

“According to God’s Word, the Bible, the sun did not always light the earth. It wasn’t made till Day 4 of Creation Week, while the earth was created on Day 1. This refutes ideas like ‘God used evolution’ and ‘God created over billions of years’, because they all assert that the sun arose before the earth. For the first three days of existence, the earth was lit by the light created on Day 1 (Genesis 1:3), while the day/night cycle was caused by the earth’s rotation relative to this directional light source.” [7]

Comment: Creating some extra earth-illuminating light source for the first three days of creation is not very convincing. Ignoring multiple independent lines of evidence for the age of the Universe because it does not fit one's favoured interpretation of Genesis is most illogical.

“Another reason for the moon is to show the seasons. The moon orbits the earth roughly once a month causing regular phases in a 29 day cycle. …  So calendars could be made, so people could plant their crops at the best time of the year.” [8]

My comment: Calendars based on the moon do not keep good track of years (try fitting 29.5 x 12 or 13 to 365.24). Years are recognised by noting the yearly pattern of sunrise/sunset position or star positions. Twelve months are marked off until the next yearly marker is seen. The monthly calendar is / was adjusted regularly by dfferent cultures to keep in step with the actual seasonal changes. This is a good example of getting only half the story right.

 “An important feature is that the moon always keeps the same face towards the earth. If different parts were visible at different times, the moon’s brightness would depend on which part was pointing towards the earth. Then the 29 day cycle would be far less obvious.” [9]

Comment: The terrain of the Moon is not the major factor in how bright it appears to us. It is the amount of sunlit surface facing the Earth that matters. If the Moon did spin faster we would notice very little change in the lighting, though the changing lunar scenery would be most interesting.

A broader view

Four hundred years ago the much-maligned Galileo quoted the line “The bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go”. Since then a wide range of Christians over the years including Bernard Ramm, C. A. Coulson, Owen Gingerich, Ian Barbour, John Polkinghorne, Charles Hummel, Neil Broome, David Wilkinson, T Torrance, Hugh Ross and Alistair McGrath (to name only a few) have written extensively about the relation of science and Christian faith from a biblical worldview with a much broader interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 than Jonathan Sarfati, Henry Morris or Ken Ham will permit.

In my experience, scientists in general are not intending to either prove or disprove God’s part in a process, but rather to determine the mechanisms involved. Higher questions of purpose and meaning are not generally considered within the realm of scientific investigation, though some, such as Richard Dawkins, have expanded their science into a self-sufficient and Godless world-view, which can be called scientism, or philosophical naturalism. Christian thinkers such as John Polkinghorne have used the term ‘Critical Realism’[10] where the existence of an objective reality is foundational, but our knowledge of reality is limited and thus open to criticism.

In my opinion science and faith operate in different spheres but they are overlapping spheres. If you try and imagine a multi-dimensional Venn diagram with 4 non-equal spheres representing spiritual, mental, emotional and physical aspects of our lives you will get some appreciation of what I mean. [11] It is fascinating to me that astronomers and cosmologists seem much more able to accommodate a range of explanations and faith positions than biologists. Perhaps we get less personally involved with galaxies than genes.

How science works

An example of the way science operates can be seen in the way a topic such as the age of the Universe is approached. Practical problems involved in measuring such a key date ensure that a precise figure still eludes the most careful researchers. However the notoriously elastic nature of cosmic ages and distances is reducing due to phenomenal efforts with the most sophisticated technology available. The recently completed Hipparcos project involved using a dedicated satellite to measure the position of 100 000 stars, many times each, to an accuracy of one millionth of a degree, not to mention the 2.5 million ones measured with slightly less precision. This gave a tenfold increase in the accuracy of distance measurements out to about 500 light years. All subsequent steps depend upon this first rung in the cosmic distance ladder, which now extends to the limit of the visible Universe. As is now common, all the data from this decade long project is available to anyone direct from the Hipparcos website [12], or on CD. The attention to detail, and the independent crosschecks give the astronomical community great confidence in the data. Hundreds of research papers based on this work continue to be published and debated.  This is typical of how science works. The patterns that become clear from data such as this form the basis for our view of the physical structure of the Universe.

Religious involvement in science

For what purpose do stars and galaxies exist? Such a question cannot be answered within the scope of science. Science simply seeks to elucidate the mechanisms by which the physical universe functions. Religious answers to questions about purpose and meaning can and should amplify the glories of the universe revealed by scientific investigation. As John Polkinghorne says at the end of “Science and Creation”:

“Einstein once said ‘Religion without science is blind, Science without religion is lame.’ … I would say ‘Religion without science is confined; it fails to be completely open to reality. Science without religion is incomplete; it fails to obtain the deepest possible understanding.’ The remarkable insights that science affords us into the intelligible workings of the world cry out for an explanation more profound than that which it itself can provide. Religion, if it is to take seriously its claim that the world is the creation of God, must be humble enough to learn from science what the world is actually like.” [13]

 Personal involvement in science

Michael Polyani [14] claimed that all knowledge was personal, as all knowledge involves personal commitment. This undermines the claim to objectivity made by many in science.

Christopher Downs in his essay “Hostile Science” [15] calls for Christians working in science to quit the silence about their personal belief and integrate the personal and professional sides of their lives.

My most vivid memory in this area of personal-professional seperation is a conversation I had with a school counsellor who had been an executive member of an evangelical union at university, but now felt she should ‘keep her faith separate from her work’. I grieved for the children she worked with, many of whom would have welcomed a spiritual dimension in working through their problems.

In another personal incident during the first ‘Aids Awareness Week’ in New Zealand I was roundly criticised by my Head of Department for daring to bring religion into my science classroom. My crime was to put on my high school classroom blackboard the message “Stop AIDS – save sex for marriage”. I still consider it was not primarily a religious statement I made, but it certainly highlighted the difference in world-views held by the two of us.

These experiences made me vow that I would not ‘hide my light under a bushel’, nor would I be cowed by those who insist on the separation of personal and professional aspects of life. One of my cherished memories from my teaching career was the day I was asked to pray during the regular school assembly at a time when two members of the school community had died.

Over the years I have come to see that the more integrated all aspects of my life are, the more whole I am. For me science is a fascinating search for truth – always looking for evidence of how things truly are – yet never achieving perfect knowledge. I guess this makes me a ‘Critical Realist’.

In my job at the Stardome[16] I was primarily a populariser of astronomy – standing as a link between the scientists and the ordinary people who want to know more about how the Universe ticks. I needed to fairly represent what I read and heard from those near the cutting edge of knowledge over a wide range of areas.

As a science teacher in a Christian school I made some efforts to help reduce the suspicion towards science felt by many in the Christian community.

A great sadness to me is that many in the church are so inward looking. They are involved with the search for personal piety while those around them, often living in the same street or working in the same building, are unaware of those in their midst who are children of the almighty Creator. Surely if our faith is real we should translate this higher knowledge we have to those around us who want more meaning in life. We stand between God and the people around us. We can be barriers to belief by our silence or our poor witness at work and home. Conversely we can be channels of blessing to all those around us. I suspect that is why God does not whisk us straight off to heaven once saved. Of course in order to be good channels we need good knowledge; of the one we represent, of those we talk to, and of the creation we live in. This knowledge I speak of is not so-called facts, it is more akin to wisdom. 

Christian philosopher Howard J. Van Till says:

“I have a dream that some day the forgotten doctrine of Creation's functional integrity will be recovered; that it will once and for all displace all variants of the God-of-the-gaps perspective; that the empirically derived confidence in the concept of genealogical continuity will no longer give apologetic advantage to the proponents of anti-theistic naturalism; and that the whole enterprise of scientific theory evaluation will no longer be distorted by counterproductive entanglement with the authentically religious debate between theism and atheism. When that happens, the declarations of atheistic purposelessness offered by Jacques Monod, William Provine, or Richard Dawkins and company will have to be defended on their religious merit alone. They will have lost the services of science, once held hostage by strident preachers of materialism, and once held in distrustful suspicion by a misguided portion of the Christian community.”
[17]

In “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” [18] C. S. Lewis manages a beautifully succinct correction of the materialist Eustace:

‘In our world,’ said Eustace, ‘a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.’

‘Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.’

An annotated reading list

I would now like to highlight a range of books, websites, and articles I have found helpful in thinking about this topic.

NZ websites

 www.stalbans.org.nz from St Albans Presbyterian Church in Palmerston North contains a range of articles, including essays on science and faith by Christopher Downs.

www.christianity.org.nz carries articles by Dick Tripp on Christianity

The Christian Faith and Action Trust (http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~faithact) was formed in 1995 with the aim of providing activities and materials that promote the consistent application of Christian faith and action in all aspects of our lives. Their purpose is to develop an integral perspective on the whole of life that is rooted in the Scriptures. Chris Gousmett is one spokesman.

The DeepSight Trust (www.deepsight.org) is the New Zealand wing of the wider Gospel & Culture movement. Its primary focus is on Christian critique of national culture. Harold Turner was a key spokesman.

A pair of NZ sites is due to skeptic Vicki Hyde. The now archived “NZ Science Monthly” magazine, (http://nzsm.spis.co.nz/) featured no nonsense reporting and debate for a decade 1990 -2000, and carried a range of comment and counter comment on science-faith matters. The NZ Skeptics society http://skeptics.org.nz ) links to a range of sites, publishes a leaflet arguing against YEC. Its August 2000 conference in Dunedin was titled “Creationism – a battle for the mind in our schools.”

Sites around the world

The British ‘Christians in Science’ (CIS) group (www.cis.org.uk) is a solid evangelical organisation, whose members have written a lot that is not on the web – some of the books they list there are essential reading for serious students of this field. Authors aligned with this group include Arthur Peacocke and John Polkinghorne, a Cambridge Professor of Physics turned priest writer and philosopher. David Wilkinson and R J Berry, wrote ‘Real science, real faith’ which contains the testimonies of 16 professional scientists who discuss their science and their personal faith. The CIS letter to the British Prime Minister on “’Young Earth Creationism’ in Schools” in May 2002 summarises many Christian scientist's misgivings about YEC.

The American Scientific Affiliation (http://asa.calvin.edu/ASA/) is a large organisation of scientists who see no major conflict between mainstream science and Christian faith, unlike the young earth creationists. They publish many interesting articles here. It is loosely affiliated with CIS. I attended their annual conference in Denver in 2003 and enjoyed great fellowship with stimulating debate.

The evangelical American “Reasons to Believe” organisation ( www.reasons.org ) was founded in 1986 to remove the doubts of skeptics, strengthen the faith of believers and demonstrate that science and the Bible complement one another. Hugh Ross is its leading light.

Christian Leadership Ministries, the faculty outreach and training arm of Campus Crusade for Christ International sponsors www.origins.org . The site contains many interesting articles eg “The Church of Darwin” by Phillip E Johnson, and various debates.

Access Research Network (http://www.arn.org/) contains many intelligent design articles by writers such as Michael Behe, William Dembski, David K. DeWolf , Mark Hartwig, Phillip Johnson, Stephen Meyer, Paul Nelson, Robert C. Newman, Nancy Pearcey, Charles Thaxton and Jonathan Wells.

www.discovery.org is an American pro-creation site whose sponsors are not very obvious.

The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) (www.icr.org) is the home of Young Earth Creationism. It was founded by Henry Morris. Members hold to a literal 7-day recent creation, with Noah’s Flood as the cause of most geological features. Their books, videos and radio presentations are widely distributed through NZ churches. Their teachings are now widely disparaged both by Christians such as Hugh Ross, and all evolutionists. I find their work disturbing, in that they do not engage in open discussion with others of opposing opinions, they seem to ignore well-established observations and they require a literal reading of Genesis 1.

www.answersingenesis.org is organised by Ken Ham, and has Australian, US and UK links. It is closely affiliated with ICR.

Three sites by scientists interested in creation/evolution are valuable for their independent critiques and their wide range of links to all sides of the discussion – a feature absent from most of the Christian sites.

Don Lindsay writes http://www.don-lindsay-archive.org  . “After 17 years around universities, and 17 years in the computer industry, I am both a scientist and an engineer. My major computer science interests are computer architecture, operating systems, compilers, and technology forecasting. As you can guess from my publications, I've been paid to do all of these. I'm currently part of the open-source world, writing compilers in Silicon Valley. I have been writing for years, so this archive now has 240 web pages and over 100 images. My long-time Web hobbies are debating Creation/Evolution, Scientology and UFO / psychic stuff.” He is critical of intelligent design writers such as Behe. I liked his 89 Fallacious Arguments .

A similar site is maintained by Gert Korthof at  http://home.wxs.nl/~gkorthof/index.htm . His introduction links to a detailed review and comments by others about a range of works from across the spectrum, including Fred Hoyle, Philip Johnson, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Lee Spetner, Michael Denton, Stuart Kaufman, John Maynard Smith and Richard Dawkins, to mention a few.

In the same tradition are zoologist Wesley R. Elsberry’s pages at http://www.antievolution.org . He describes himself as a creationist evolutionist. His classification of views, his inclusion of a wide range of leading figures from different positions, and his extensive links to articles from many points of view make this site refreshingly educational.

Books By NZ Christians

Neil Broom’s “How Blind is the Watchmaker”[19] is an answer to the claim of Richard Dawkins in “The Blind Watchmaker”[20] that Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. Neil is a biomechanics researcher at Auckland University.

John Morton was Professor of Biology, University of Auckland, Lay Canon of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland and Fellow of St. John's Theological College, Auckland. He wrote “Man, Science and God” [21] in 1972.

Harold Turner’s “The Roots of Science” [22] makes a good case for theology and science to work in partnership. He decries the dualism (matter – spirit split, with spirit more important) of Greek thinking, and the Unitive view of tribal religion (Divine, human animal and Earth all together – reborn in the Gaia movement). He argues that the Hebrew duality (Divine personal creator – appreciated creation) where the two are distinguished but not separated is a better way.

The three New Zealanders above all contributed to a “Science and Christianity” Festschrift in honour of John Morton and Harold Turner [23] held under the auspices of the University of Auckland Centre for Continuing Education in April 2001. This one-day seminar featured presentations from several local evangelical scientists and theologians.

In 2004 Telos Books, P.O. Box 56 167 Dominion Rd, Auckland, New Zealand,  published 4 booklets:

A Seamless Web: Science and Faith, Ed Graeme Findlay,  
A booklet from NZ and Australian Christian scientists, one in a series of four. The writers continue a long tradition of scientists, theologians, historians and others who have sought to demonstrate in their lives and in their work and writing, the fact that faith and science go together. The following NZ and Australian scientists shared their personal positions in this booklet:
    John Stenhouse, Otago University Senior History lecturer and Templeton prize-winner - “Science, Religion and History”
    Jeffrey Tallon, Industrial Research Ltd and Victoria University, also superconductivity pioneer - “Scientific and Religious Truth”
    Geoffrey Stedman, University of Canterbury - “Orthodox science and orthodox Christianity: a physicist’s perspective”
    Jonathan Clarke, Geoscience Australia - “The Earth as Sign and Wonder, as Gift and Responsibility”
    Graeme Findlay, University of Auckland, pathology lecturer - “Just Glorified Apes?”
    Andrew Shelling, lecturer, University of Auckland - “The New Genetics and Christianity
    David Given, Curator, Christchurch Botanic Gardens - “The Greenness in Christianity”
    Ian Hore-Lacey, General Manager, Uranium Information Centre, Australia - “The Role of Science in the Stewardship of God’s Creation”
    Gareth Jones, University of Otago, Professor of Anatomy, bio-ethicist - “ When did our lives as Human Beings Begin?”
    John McClure, Associate Professor of Psychology, Victoria University - “Science, Psychology and Christianity”
    Nicola Hoggard-Creegan, Lecturer, Bible College of New Zealand -  “Theology is Enhanced
                by an Evolutionary Understanding of the World”
    Stephen Pattemore, United Bible Society Translation Consultant - “Language, Communication  and the Bible”

God Created The Heavens and The Earth, Donald Nield, Telos Books, Auckland, 2004.

God’s Books Genetics and Genesis, Graeme Findlay, Telos Books, Auckland, 2004.
Convincing evidence of genetic continuity across species.

Evolving Creation, Graeme Findlay, Telos Books, Auckland, 2004. 

I liked them so much I bought extra copies to give away.

Dick Tripp’s “ The Complementary Nature of Christianity and Science” [24] is one in a series of booklets about Christian faith; Dick makes a well-reasoned, easily readable case that Christianity and science need each other. He sketches the historical development of scientific and Christian thought in non-technical language.

Christopher Downs “Essays on Science and Christianity” [25] are similarly readable. He is a team leader at a Crown Research Institute

Bill Peddie did his PhD thesis on the effect of creationism in NZ, University of Auckland, around 1995.

Bill was featured in a Listener magazine article on April 22, 2000, entitled “God’s classroom – How religion is challenging science in New Zealand Schools.”  Young Earth Creationist Lew Meyer, biologist John Morton, and a range of science educators were also quoted. The article was generally dismissive of creationists and shocked at the thought that religion was creeping into science classrooms, but finished seemingly approving of John Morton’s theistic evolution.

A few books from the rest of the world

Ian G Barbour’s “Religion in an Age of Science” [26] is an in-depth treatment of the topic.

“Science and Religion, an Introduction” [37] by Alistair E McGrath is a thorough and careful history of the interaction between science and Christianity. In it he outlines the ideas of key players including Aristotle, Barbour, Calvin, Darwin, Dawkins and Davies. McGrath avoids pronouncing judgement in most cases, preferring to simply outline the development of thought. The blurb touts it as the ideal text for science and religion courses, and rightly so in my opinion.

In 2005 Alistair McGrath published "Dawkin's god - genes, memes and the meaning of life" (Blackwell, Oxford). In it he courteously and effectively counters Dawkins arguments. 

Francis Schaeffer wrote both “Genesis in Space and Time” [28] and “No Final Conflict” several decades ago as an evangelical treatment of the problem of how to interpret Genesis.

John Polkinghorne’s “Science and Creation” [29] is a widely quoted and even-handed treatment on how the scientific and theological worldviews relate to each other.

Hugh Ross’s “The Creator and the Cosmos” [30] is a very readable book showing how the evidence of science, and astronomy in particular points to a creator. See also his www.reasons.org site.

He has often been attacked by Young Earth Creationists, and has recently (2004) written "A Question of Days" to answer these folk's arguments, show the harmony between the Bible and science, and plead for less attacks by Christians on other Christians.

Rev Robert Evans is perhaps the most famous supernova discoverer in the world. He achieved this by spare time observing while a practising minister in Australia. His unpublished 147 p treatise – “An Evangelical World-view Philosophy” [31]  has several chapters that deal with the relationship between science and Christianity.

Being A Christian in Science, Walter R. Hearn, IVP, Illinois, 1997
I had an interesting conversation with the author at the 2003 ASA conference in
Denver. He is a radical Christian from Berkley who mentors younger Christians in their science careers.

Telling Lies for God - Reason vs Creationism, Ian Plimer, Random House, Australia, 1994
Aussie geology professor attacks young earth creationists mercilessly. Much of his concern seems well based, though some of his assertions may be unfounded.  

Christianity and the Age of the Earth, Davis A Young, Zondervan, Michigan, 1982,
Davis Young is from Calvin College, Michigan, a highly respected reformed college. I had the privilege of staying with Larry Molnar, the astronomy professor there in 2003. I did not meet
Davis Young. Young’s book helped convince me that these (Young Earth Creationist) scientific arguments for a young earth are not valid, and that their continuing propagation is harmful to the Christian cause.

The Christian View of Science and Scripture, Bernard Ramm, Eerdmans, Michigan, 1954.
This is a classic and repays reading despite its age!

“Science Held Hostage – What’s Wrong with Creation Science and Evolutionism” [32] by Howard Van Till, Davis Young and Clarence Menninga, is just what its title implies. They hold that the object of science is the entire observable physical universe, and its domain is restricted to its inherent intelligibility. They examine and finds wanting through failure to consider all the evidence, creationist positions on dust depth on the moon, changing speed of light, the shrinking Sun, salt level in the sea and missing rock in the Grand Canyon. Isaac Asimov is criticised for implying that God is not needed in the Universe. The book posits two competing folk sciences – evolutionary naturalism and scientific creationism, and critiques both severely. Folk science uses knowledge about the material world to confirm a world-view. Authentic natural science seeks simply to gain knowledge about the universe. Sagan’s “Cosmos” is seen as an example of folk science. Some tests are suggested to determine an author’s position and the solidity of their argument:

      What categories of questions are of principal concern - the inherent intelligibility of the physical universe or the requirement of no divine action in the world?

      Is the distinction between origin and formation made clear? – Science cannot investigate ultimate origins.

      Is the distinction between behaviour and governance made clear?

Theists see the behaviour of the universe as the result of God’s governance whereas philosophical naturalism or materialism sees matter as self-governing.  For example in the folk science of evolutionary naturalism the processes of cosmic formation are described as either natural processes or consequences of divine action but not both.

Michael J. Behe’s book “Darwin’s Black Box” [33] is a key work in the modern movement to question Darwinism

“ if you search the scientific literature on evolution, and if you focus your search on the question of how molecular machines – the basis of life – developed, you find an eerie and complete silence. The complexity of life’s foundation has paralyzed science’s attempt to account for it; molecular machines raise an as-yet-inpenetrable barrier to Darwinism’s universal reach. To find out why, in this book I will examine several fascinating molecular machines, then ask whether they can ever be explained by random mutation/natural selection.”

He goes on to describe the complexity of molecular machines such as eyes and cilia and the complexities of cellular chemistry. He concludes that they cannot be developed in small steps from simple precursors. Chapter 11, titled ‘Science Philosophy, Religion’, is a must-read. It describes the reluctance of scientists to consider intelligent design and the unfortunate history of clashes between science and religion. He concludes that there is no good reason for science to reject intelligent design, but every reason to reject the Darwinist idea that living things developed by chance mutations and selections.

Phillip E. Johnson is a lawyer who examines the arguments between creationism and evolutionists. His “Darwin on Trial” [34] shook a few assumptions when it appeared in 1991. It carries descriptions of the debates in both the US and UK involving the British Museum, American Scientific Affiliation, and many others. It is characterised by careful treatment of both sides in each case study.  He wrote “Defeating Darwinism” [35] in 1997 as a guide to Christians on how to differentiate between science and the materialist philosophy of some influential scientists.

“Intelligent Design - the bridge between science and philosophy” [36] is by William A. Dembski, and lays out rigorous criteria for recognising intelligent design.

“Methodological Naturalism” [38] is an article by Alvin Plantinga, from the Department of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He examines the presupposition that science should proceed by methodological naturalism, unhindered by religious claims. Plantinga has written several important works on theology and science. (Note that methodological naturalism - basically the examination of natural mechanisms only, is not the same as philosophical  naturalism, which is akin to secular humanism)

 

Anti-theistic books

In his influential work “The Blind Watchmaker” [39] Richard Dawkins attacks the notion that anything apart from evolution is needed for life to develop, and rubbishes the idea of God being involved. (see also book-length chistian rebuttals by Alistair McGrath - "Dawkin's god" and Neil Broom - "How Blind is the Watchmaker")

Carl Sagan was an eloquent writer and powerful speaker, who like Dawkins popularised the view that we are alone in the cosmos. In the beautiful work “Pale Blue Dot” [40] he expounded the theme that the human race should seek its destiny in exploring other worlds. In “The Demon-Haunted World“ [41] he depicted science as rising above superstition and religion.

“Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism” [42] by Robert T. Pennock is a critique of the Intelligent Design movement. See the links on Korthof’s site for Behe’s and others responses.

Douglas Futuyma wrote “Science on Trial. The Case for Evolution” [43] in 1982 and revised it in 1995 as a defence of evolution against creationist attacks. He is the author of a widely used college textbook on evolution and has been editor of a leading international journal of evolutionary research.

Concluding remarks

I urge you to read and discuss a wide cross-section of these works. There is a huge debate in progress, especially in the USA, over what can be taught as part of science in schools.  The wider debate about the proper place of science and religion in our personal lives and in society as a whole is more significant. We should not just read works by our friends if we are to grow in understanding. If God is truly by our side then we should not fear the truth, or shrink from the hard work of understanding the issues involved.

A book I have found helpful in outlining the issues and suggesting practical responses is “How Now Shall We Live” [44] by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, It is also available as a video based seminar.

I am heartened by the re-emerging middle ground among scientists and believers. Don't be put off by that teacher or friend for whom evolution explains everything, and don't be convinced by the rigid rules of the young-earth creationists. There is an amazing Universe out there waiting to be explored, and the more thoughtful Christians doing it the better. There are also a lot of folk out there who would welcome dialogue with a rational and courteous believer.

You can contact me at fourtyres at hotmail.com or check my CV here


Stimulus is a New Zealand journal of Christian thought and practice, published quarterly by Douglas Maclachlan, PO Box 306, Masterton, New Zealand Email: dgnz@xtraconz

[2] I did pen some suggestions as to how faith and science might relate in the textbook by Relph, Walker, Vallender and Dunlop; “Planet Earth and Beyond”, New House, 1994.

[3] David Wilkinson, God, The Big Bang and Stephen Hawking, Monarch, 1993

[4] Mark Van Bebber and Paul S Taylor, Creation and Time: A report on the Progressive Creationist Book by Hugh Ross, Eden Communications, 2000

[5] Jonathan Sarfati, Expose of NavPress’s new Hugh Ross book: The Genesis Question, found at wwwanswersingenesisorg/docs/4128asp 22/7/00

[6] Jonathan Sarfati, The Sun our special star, First published in: Creation Ex Nihilo 22(1):27–30 December 1999 – February 2000 and found at http://wwwanswersingenesisorg/docs/4180asp on 22/7/00

[7] ibid

[8] Jonathan Sarfati, The Moon: The light that rules the night, First published in: Creation Ex Nihilo 20(4):36–39, September–November 1998 and found at http://wwwanswersingenesisorg/docs/3747asp on 22/7/00

[9] ibid

[10] John Polkinghorne, Science and Theology, an introduction, SPCK, 1998

[11] Wesley Elsberry has an interesting Venn diagram to illustrate overlapping circles of thought at  http://www.antievolution.org/people/wre/essays/ea.html

[13] John Polkinghorne, Science and Creation, SPCK, 1988

[14] Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, Harper and Row, 1964

[15] In Christopher Downs, Essays on Science and Christianity, available from St Albans Presbyterian Church, Palmerston North, or at www.stalbans.org.nz  , 1999

[16] Auckland’s StarDome Observatory and Planetarium on One Tree Hill. www.stardome.org.nz  Ph 09 624 1246

[17] God and Evolution: An Exchange  First Things 34 (June/July 1993): 32-41 Found at http://www.firstthings.com  on 22/7/00

[18] C S Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Puffin, 1965

[19] Neil Broom, How Blind is the Watchmaker, Ashgate, 1998

[20] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, Penguin, 1988

[21] John Morton, Man, Science and God, Collins, 1972

[22] Harold Turner, The Roots of Science, Deepsight Trust, 1998

[23] L.R.B. Mann ed. Science and Christianity” - Festschrift in honour of Harold Turner and John Morton. Papers and discussion from a symposium held in Auckland April 21 2001, University of Auckland Centre for Continuing Education, 2001

[24] Dick Tripp, The Complementary Nature of Christianity and Science, (c 1995, self-published) available from the author: Still Point, 42 Zephyr Tce, Governors Bay, RD 1, Lyttleton

[25] Christopher Downs, Essays on Science and Christianity, self published (1995), St Albans Presbyterian Church, Palmerston North or at www.stalbans.org.nz

[26] Ian G Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science, SCM, 1990

[27] Alistair McGrath, Science and Religion – an introduction, Blackwell, 1999

[28]  Francis Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, IVP, 1975

[29] John Polkinghorne, Science and Creation, SPCK, 1988

[30] Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, Navpress, 1995

[31] Rev Robert Evans, An Evangelical World-view Philosophy, unpublished, 1994

[32] Howard Van Till, Davis Young, Clarence Menninga, Science Held Hostage – What’s Wrong with Creation Science and Evolutionism, IVP, 1988

[33] Michael J Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, Touchstone, 1996 

[34] Phillip E Johnson, Darwin on Trial, IVP, 1991

[35] Phillip E Johnson, Defeating Darwinism, IVP, 1997

[36] William A Dembski, Intelligent Design - the bridge between science and philosophy, IVP, 1999

[37] Alistair E McGrath, Science and Religion, an Introduction, Blackwell, 1999

[38] Alvin Plantinga, Methodological Naturalism, article from 
  http://id-wwwucsbedu/fscf/library/plantinga/mn/homehtml   22/7/00

[39] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, Penguin, 1988

[40] Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, Headline, 1995

[41] Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World, Random House, 1995

[42] Robert T Pennock, Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism, MIT Press, 1999

[43] Douglas Futuyma, Science on Trial - the Case for Evolution, Sinauer, 1982, 1995

[44] “How Now Shall We Live” by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, Tyndale, 1999

 

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