Archive for October, 2011

Bioethics Expert Call ~ Jennie McLaurin

Jennie McLaurin explores several cutting-edge bioethical issues, and also considers the need for a faithful framework in which we as Christians engage such complex issues. Download Audio

Science vs. Faith? Try this third alternative-by Richard Dahlstrom

In anticipation of an upcoming teaching series I’m doing on Genesis 1, I posted the first in a series of considerations on the relationship of faith and science.  You can read the initial post here.  A great discussion ensued in the comment section, and there was one significant comment that’s should be pondered in some depth.

Regarding the importance of our beginning assumptions they wrote:  Do they start with God’s word, or do they start with man’s ideas? Everyone has a bias (only some are willing to admit it), everyone has to make a starting point assumption a-priori concerning origins because we weren’t there.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this observation, because it is true that assumptions provide the framework through which we look at everything.  The great fissure that has occurred between the science and faith communities has happened precisely because of these assumptions which, on both sides of this debate, seem inadequate to me.

FAITH:  Biblical truth trumps Scientific Discovery.

This is the Galileo problem addressed in the previous post.  There were people who refused to even look through the telescope because the Bible says that from the “rising of the sun to the place where it sets…” at least three times!  In their desire to defend the Bible’s authority, history tells us that people of faith have, over and over again, refused to alter their view of the Bible when the scientific community challenges their views.

With God’s word as the starting point, the brilliant Martin Luther wrote:  There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around the sun….that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must invent something special.  The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down.  However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.

It’s all so simple right?  Read the Bible literally, and you’ll know the truth, and where your literal reading conflicts with scientific discovery, the Bible is right and science is wrong.  I hope the limitations of this view is self-evident.  If not, be careful next time you drive towards the horizon; you might just fall off (see Isaiah 11:12 for a historic justification of a flat earth)

SCIENCE:  If we can’t explain it – it can’t be true.

Stubborn dogma isn’t solely entrenched among the faith community.  At its worst, the scientific community views its paradigms as infallible, as if they’ve achieved full “enlightenment” (pun intended).  Armed with their “complete” understanding of the universe, they’re quick to dismiss any miraculous events recorded in the Bible as evidence that the Bible is nothing more than a book of fables.  In thus “materializing” the universe, they are failing to recognize:

1. that their own world of science is constantly in flux, discarding or refining old theories as new evidence comes to light.

2. that there is much for which they will most likely never have an answer, including the big question of “first cause”

3. that the best science doesn’t pre-emptively dismiss what it can’t explain as “impossible”, but rather recognizes the fact that all is not yet known.

It’s easy to see how either of these starting points contribute to the chasm that often exists between the science and faith communities.  Both positions are flawed by their arrogance and reveal that their dogma resides, not just with their starting point, but with their conclusions.  Bad Science rejects anything that doesn’t reinforce an atheistic, materialist worldview.  Bad Theology rejects anything doesn’t reinforce a literal interpretation of the Bible.  Can you see that both positions are rooted in arrogance, and that this is the real problem? Can you see how the rhetoric and accusation from both sides will only serve to widen the chasm?  As a result, I’d like to propose a third, better starting point:

All truth is God’s truth: Scientist, and Christian, John Lennox, writes: “since God is the author both of his Word the Bible and of the universe, there must ultimately be harmony between correct interpretation of the biblical data and correct interpretation of the scientific data.”   If we can begin here, several very good things happen:

1. We begin to see the science and the Bible are both revelation from God, and as such can ‘co-inform’ each other, in complementary and compatible ways.  This is in keeping with the Bible’s declaration that the created universe declares the glory of God, and as such is worthy of both our study and delight.

2. Specialists both across and within disciplines can learn to listen to each other with humility, allowing their own views to be informed by  the other.

3. Both science and theology will be continually refined and enriched by the other.

So, rather than setting up science and the Bible as adversaries, and asking which you’ll choose, I’ll be teaching Genesis one from the starting point which declares that truth can be discovered through a telescope, a microscope, a math class, and the reading of Genesis.  It’s all good because it’s all about seeking to uncover what God is saying to us, whether through nebula, or Noah.

I welcome your thoughts.


To read more of Richard’s thoughts, check out his blog here.

Creation, science, Genesis: It’s time for a conversation-by Richard Dahlstrom

I was privileged to attend what I affectionately called “Science Camp” this past May, which was actually a gathering of pastors, theologians, and scientists, brought together for the purpose of discussing the intersection and interrelatedness of our various disciplines. It was one of the great weeks of my career as a pastor as fellowship, stunning creation (via Gulf Island beauty), and intellectual stimulation blended together for a life changing experience.

My theology, though, was challenged profoundly. Having grown up in a conservative Christian environment, I was taught that the Bible is authoritative and is to generally be read literally, unless there are clear reasons for viewing a section as poetry, metaphor, or parable. (I still believe that.) Francis Schaeffer (a sort of theological mentor), especially, fought for the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2, arguing that to believe otherwise was a slippery slope. I remember reading a word of his from somewhere (though I can’t site the exact location), where he said, “If Adam and Eve aren’t historical people in a time and space garden – then how can you know Jesus is a historical person dying on a time and place cross?” Check – and mate! With one word, the historicity of Genesis 1-3 was established as historical fact in my mind, a view reinforced by places like Creation Research Institute.

Not only was this stated positively as fact, but with it came a host of negative declarations towards anyone who believed in evolution. It was, I was told, bad science. It was, I was told, the key to atheism. It was, I was told, the greatest deception ever handed down to humanity.

Over the years my views on this subject “evolved” (pun intended) to a sort of theistic agnosticism with respect to Genesis 1, whereby, when teaching Genesis, I’d present evidence for a young earth, old earth, theistic evolution, and the gap theory – ending with “we really don’t know,” but the important thing is that God created it. I continue to believe that the most important thing is God created it.

And then I read The Language of God by Francis Collins. His science, history, and personal testimony has deconstructed my world. As an atheist, scientist, and leader of the human genome project, Collins came to Christ in a remarkable way whereby the avenues of science, moral law, and the beauty of the Cascade mountains conspired to shout a grand invitation to which he responded. He believes thoroughly in the theory of evolution, believes that the earth is terribly old, and believes that science and the Bible can co-inform each other, that science and faith should work together rather than adversarially. He believes that we can worship God by looking through the lens of a telescope or microscope. I’ve always believed that too, but with a bit of suspicion. Collins, and the science camp experience have given me the freedom, even the obligation, to explore the relationship of science and faith, and so I trust and hope that you will join me in the conversation as offer several blog posts in anticipation of the upcoming sermon series. I need your comments in order to help clarify the issues. Here are my assumptions at the beginning:

1. We need to stop offering a false choice for young people between the life of faith and the life of science. Yet this is precisely what we do when, in the face of overwhelming evidence, we cling to weak science out of a fear that the entire faith enterprise will come tumbling down if the earth is older than 6-10 thousand years. Collins (again, a deeply devoted Christ follower, evangelical Christian) writes: By any reasonable standard, Young Earth Creationism has reached a point of intellectual bankruptcy, both in its science and in its theology.

2. We can take the scriptures at their word. This surely must include Psalm 19, which tells us that the heavens are declaring the glory of God. If these heavens are declaring the glory of God, would they actually lead honest enquirers to believe that God has deceived us, by providing overwhelming evidence for a big bang, and incredible nuances and variations in the cosmos that conspire to create the perfect conditions for sentient life on earth and yet teaching us in His book that the earth is young?

3. The idea of an older earth is older than evolution. None other than St. Augustine believed that the creation narrative stood outside our normal 24 hour days. Further, he warned against prematurely developing dogma in interpretive matters about which we will always, necessarily, have limited knowledge. He writes, “In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.” Yet this is precisely what we do when we make young earth a basic dogma of faith. Pity the student who then is persuaded of other possibilities, for she may will then face the very problem Schaeffer feared above. Linking the historicity of Genesis with the historicity of the resurrection, she may well toss both aside – and that would be a needless tragedy.

4. We’ve played this movie before. The church was fully convinced that Galileo was a heretic because he taught that the earth rotated around the sun. He was excommunicated, his writings banned, and he lived out his days under house arrest. Convinced of one interpretation, the church declared war on science. It’s still happening today.

Oh, and yes, the church finally apologized to Galileo. In 1992. I hope it doesn’t take the creation/evolution debate 500 years to come to a close. With that in, please join the conversation and share, respectfully, your thoughts about why science and faith are so often adversaries, and what can be done address the problem.


To read more of Richard’s thoughts, check out his blog here.

Curiosity-by Keith Shields

On Sunday August 7, Discovery Channel premiered a new series: “Curiosity.” The first episode was a show entitled “Did God Create the Universe?” The episode was narrated by Stephen Hawking and presented his own arguments and scientific explanations. The show is available online here.

Stephen Hawking continues to be a man that both amazes me and frustrates me. I have a great deal of respect for him and read his popular works with enthusiasm. He has a very large platform for his ideas. He is highly respected and has become a “rock-star” in the scientific world. He is likely the most famous mathematician who has ever lived and he has received many awards for his work in both mathematics and physics. In more recent years he has become a vocal atheist and philosopher. Although he would say that philosophy is dead there is little doubt that as he speaks of cosmology (the nature of the universe) he often strays into the areas of philosophy and cosmogony (the study of how the universe came to be).

In this episode of “Curiosity” Hawking makes bold statements about how science can explain the universe such that there is now no need for God. He suggests that those who hold to a belief that God did create the universe are simple minded. He compares them to ancient Vikings who screamed at the “wolf god” to prevent it from eating the sun as they experienced a solar eclipse. He apologizes to people of faith and then firmly states that there is no God, no heaven, and no after-life.

Stephen Hawking’s reasoning goes something like this. First, Hawking says that we can mathematically analyze our universe in ways that allow us to “see” the creation of our universe right up to the “Big Bang” from which our universe sprang. So far, so good, Hawking and other physicists have the technical knowledge of math and science that allows them to analyze such things.

Second, he maintains that for
most things in the universe “it takes something to make something.” You can’t make a mountain of dirt without taking dirt from a hole in the ground. However, the universe, he claims, is the ultimate “free lunch.” Quantum physics suggests that subatomic particles can spring into existence out of nothing. I would want to check with physicists to see if they would agree that this is what is happening at the subatomic level. Perhaps others would express it as not knowing the source of such particles. But, for the moment let us concede this point to Professor Hawking. He states that when we consider anti-energy, anti-matter, and other universes, everything sums up to zero. So, as long as the net sum is zero, the universe can come to exist out of nothing (at least nothing in our universe). Okay, that was the hard one to understand. Hang in there for one or two more paragraphs before you give up on this blog.

Third, Hawking says that, at the Big Bang, time came into existence. Therefore, we cannot talk about a time when God existed before the creation of the universe because there was no time prior to the Big Bang and God could not be in a place where there was no time. Plus, we have filled in all of the gaps in our understanding of the universe and there is no need for God. Therefore, God does not exist. That, in simplified terms, is the argument Hawking wishes us to follow and with which he would like us to agree.

Okay, let us analyze this argument for a moment. Just because I don’t see a need for something does not mean that thing does not exist. Hawking might have convinced me of his argument if he had said that “there is an alternative explanation of how the universe came to be and the explanation does not require God.” I might grant him that and we could agree to disagree on which explanation suits our philosophical understanding (since we are now solidly in the realm of philosophy, theology, and cosmogony). But the leap from “we don’t need God to explain the origins of the universe” to “there is no God” is too great for me. Even other atheists have pointed out the weakness of this argument
. As for there being no time before the Big Bang, one can readily see that if God exists, He would surely exist outside of time. Einstein’s theory of relativity readily shows us ways in which God might indeed be able to see all of time at once and stand outside of it. Again, Hawking can say that there is an alternative explanation that does not require God but this is not the same as saying “God cannot exist.”

Curiosity, I am all for it! I think it is appropriate to ask the questions proposed in this television program. We should seek to learn all we can about this amazing universe. We should seek to explain how things came to be in the world in which we find ourselves. We should hear from scientists who wish to explore these topics as well. But science and mathematics are still not the only tools we use for analyzing our world. Philosophy and theology continue to be valid disciplines which add to our understanding of the questions and the answers. I usually appreciate the Discovery Channel programming and the way they challenge us to think, dream, investigate, and experience the world. Unfortunately, this program was more entertaining than it was educational. The questions raised and the answers given were far too simplistic and biased. As I look at this questions I find that they lead me to a greater sense of awe about the God who calls us into relationship with Him.

John Van Sloten’s Church in the News

New Hope Church, pastored by John Van Sloten who was a member of the 2010 Pastoral Science Cohort, was featured in the Calgary Herald last week in an article addressing the intersection of Faith and Science in N. American churches.  Click Here to read the full article.