Theology Talk with Brett and David: On Science (Part 1)

[The following is an actual (slightly dramatized) email conversation between the Corner Boothers David and Brett]

Our scene opens with our hosts comfortably settled in plush high-backed leather chairs, casually sipping bourbon and smoking pipes. A roaring fire crackles on the far wall which is lined with shelves filled with many leather-bound volumes.

David: Good evening, dear readers and welcome to Theology Talk. I’m your host Lord David Fortuitous of Fort Worthington and this is my co-host Sir Brettworth of Deaton Abbey.

Brett: Greetings, friends! I wish a pleasant evening to you all. And to you as well good sir. Are you ready to begin our conversation?

David: Indeed I am Sir Brett! Tonight we will be discussing theology and the complex dynamic between faith in God and science. Brett is currently an astrophysicist student. Would you kindly begin by telling us about yourself and your work?

Brett: Certainly! I’m currently studying gamma ray bursts (GRBs). These are super luminous flashes of light from very, very far away. On average, astronomers see one a day, and we don’t know what’s causing them. I’m studying one idea: a neutron star gets shredded into a massive, hot accretion disk swirling around a black hole, and then it gets sucked down the drain. Here’s a simulation. This all happens in less than a second–which is just about how long these flashes of light last. But this may not be the cause of these events. A lot of things have to happen just right for a neutron star shred to lead to a bright flash of gamma rays. For example, if the black hole is too large or if it’s spinning too slowly, the star gets sucked down whole and never forms a hot accretion disk. There are a number of other fine-tunings that have to occur having to do with subatomic particles and magnetic fields. The particle interactions are specifically what I’m studying. By ‘studying’ I mean I’m writing code and running simulations.

David: Quite fascinating good sir! How glorious it must be to witness the incredible goings-on of the deep parts of the universe! Although I must admit, ol’ chap, that my main point of interest from your introduction is how long into this study it will take for you to become a real-life gamma-radiated Hulk! Astrophysicist smash!

Brett: Astrophysicist smash indeed!

The two gentlemen then share an uproarious manly chuckle.

Brett: And how about your, good sir. Tell us how your many talents will be contributing to our discourse.

David: I am a crisis counselor by day and I merely moonlight as an amateur armchair theologian from time to time. I have recently been quite consumed by the relationship between science and Christianity and how they conflict and can (hopefully) work together. There’s the evolution vs. creationism debate as well as the slow rise of seemingly militant atheism and a general sense of skepticism towards religion in favor of science. I have many thoughts about God and evolution, but I realize that I really know little about evolutionary theory and the scientific view of our beginnings. You certainly have more insight into the science side of things than I do. Where do you stand, sir?

Brett: Let me begin with a clarification: My knowledge of evolutionary biology is pretty close to yours. I know the fundamentals, and I think it’s beautiful. But I can’t speak knowledgeably beyond those fundamentals. I can speak more easily about the scientific worldview and the practice of science. I think about those things a lot. I will admit that there’s some dissonance between my view of humanity’s origin and the central idea of imago dei in Genesis. I tell you this because I don’t want to start this discussion with you thinking I’m an authority, and because I want you to know that I’m not settled on some of these issues.

But alas, here is where I am coming from. I believe God created the universe, and that he’s still creating and sustaining, that without his loving presence here, everything would die. I also believe macro evolution will eventually provide a full natural explanation for how all life came about. Clearly, those conflicting statements need some explaining. Although I do admit, my good friend, that I could be wrong about all of that.

David: Quite right my good man. We shall indeed be stumbling along together.

Brett: And what are some of your foundational views on this issue, good sir?

David: Where I stand right now is that God created all of the universe and maintains full presence and control over what he has created. I believe that God personally created the Earth and everything in it. He created humanity to be unique in that only humanity reflects His image. I believe in some form of evolution and I do believe that science is important and can lead to the truth. I do not believe that evolution, science, and God necessarily have to be in conflict. I believe that any evolutionary or scientific stance that seeks to disprove or ignore God tends to be intellectually dishonest or logically inaccurate.

I believe that some parts of evolutionary science are helpful and true, but some parts overstep their bounds to make assertions about our existence that are not valid (typical for the “militant atheist” camp, for example). The evolution that I believe in is more like adaptation, i.e. one flower can “evolve” to be a different kind of flower. However, I don’t hold to the idea that a complex creature like humanity came from something simple like an amoeba in an ocean. I don’t care how many millions of years you throw in the middle, it just doesn’t seem plausible. Besides, that would violate the Biblical view that man is intentionally created in the image of God. So, I can buy microevolution, but not macro evolution. That’s where I’m starting from but I’m certainly hoping to be challenged.

Brett: Good, it sounds like we disagree on some things, which will make for a fruitful discussion.

David: And a fruitful discussion it shall be indeed! With our introduction concluded, we will adjourn for now, dear reader. We hope to hear your reactions and further observations in the comments, and you can expect part 2 very soon.

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6 thoughts on “Theology Talk with Brett and David: On Science (Part 1)

  1. Interesting. Thanks, guys.

    David, why do you think macroevolution has to go against the idea in Genesis that God created the world and is sovereign over it? I think it’s pretty possible that God put all of the cake ingredients in a mixing bowl and then kind of stepped away to let it bake via evolution. Also, what is this “militant athiest” idea that you mention? I’m not familiar with it.

    Brett, why do you think a natural explanation and God are apparently conflicting?

    David, your phrase, “stumbling along together” is a good one. I think that’s what we’re all kind of doing on this planet.

  2. Part of the reason I take issue with macroevolution is that it seems to suggest that all the species we have now came from one or a few species that branched out and adapted in different ways over millions of years. The Biblical account, however, seems to suggest that God hand crafted each animal as we know them, just as he hand crafted Adam from dust. Perhaps this is a more romantic view because I suppose I see God as an artist, using the entirety of his creative capabilities on each individual creature.

    However, you raise a very good point that makes me question the above view. I also see God as a genius programmer, using our genetic code as his medium. So indeed I could see God programing our genetic make-up at an earlier point, mixing the cake ingredients as you said, and then letting the program run it’s course, or letting the cake rise in the oven…..I’m afraid I’ve made a knot of our metaphors….

    As for militant atheists, that’s perhaps wasn’t the best term. I was referring to those who ardently believe that science is ultimate and religious belief is ignorant folklore, then quickly dismiss any kind of spiritual ideas. A better, more common term might be “angry atheist.” Examples are Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Adam Savage, and Billy Nye. Disagreeing with Christian creationsim is fine, but some scientists, prominent ones at that, handle the opposition with a fair amount of animosity.

    Thanks for your questions, it made me think about things even more.

  3. Joey-
    I guess the conflict for me arises from a specific natural explanation ‘the laws of Darwinian evolution decide how the living world comes about’ and a religious explanation: ‘God is creating the world’. The conflict isn’t settled for me if I say that God creates the laws, that creating the laws is his sole act of creation. I feel like that’s not the God I read about in the scriptures, or that I talk about in traditional Christian language. Significantly, it’s not the God I experience and love.
    I was thinking of this example, of this moment I had in the Grand Canyon. Once I was way back in a side canyon, and it was summer, the most perfect temperature, and this huge amount of weirdly blue water was rushing by and dropping over a 100ft fall, and the red rocks had lines in them and lovely curves, and I remember, I can’t even describe it, I just remember feeling thankful, specifically thankful to God for making that. I imagine everyone’s experienced something like that. And then the conflict arose. But did he make it? Did he chose that place for the fall, and those lines for the rocks? Or did he mix the laws of hydrodynamics and geology in a bowl and let the cake bake.
    How do you guys deal with the Grand Canyon?

    David & Joey-
    I don’t like the cake analogy. I mean I like it because it brings the conflict into focus. But I don’t like it as an answer. I need to think about this. I’ll get back to you.

    David-
    I think ‘militant atheist’ is appropriate, myself. They appear to be on the attack. (Maybe because we’re so often on the attack.) Some of the names you mentioned use rhetoric that’s really quite aggressive, arrogant, cynical. But they need a big hug. I’d hug Richard if I had the chance.

    Love,
    -Brett

  4. David – I don’t see the “cake-maker” as any less of an artist than a sculptor. I still enjoy the idea of God setting things in motion and letting them unfold.

    Brett, regarding the Grand Canyon, Sipi Falls, Loch Ness, Port Meadow, Abilene sunsets, I’m comfortable with the truth that God created the heavens and the earth. In all honesty I don’t think very much about whether he did it with a big bang or by hand or constant intervention or both. Maybe we’re all just figments of his imagination. I don’t know.

  5. I would read “Richard Dawkins needs a hug” or “Thoughts on the Big Baker” or “Armchair Thoughts by Brett and David, who are suddenly and charmingly British”.

    Sorry I’m so late to the party, guys, I’ve been intended to read these posts for weeks now and I just slacked, no other word for it. It’s encouraging and wonderful to read though. Keep writing, keep thinking, keep asking.

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