Two Books on Science and Religion

I like to learn how other people think.  In the past month I read two books on the relationship between science and religion.  One was from the perspective of Francis Collins, a molecular biologist, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief; and the second, Darwin, Divinity and the Dance of the Cosmos: An Ecological Christianity, was from the perspective of Bruce Sanguin, a theologian,  and United Church minister.

Francis Collins writes a personal story, bringing together his experience of reality as a scientist and as an evangelical Christian. Obviously he has been actively exploring how to keep both disciplines alive in his own life as well as defining the contributions they make to human life on this planet. Early in the book he introduces the idea of a Moral Code which enables human beings to live and work together.  This Code comes back again and again as an argument for God in our life.

Collins addresses many of the criticisms of atheists and gives a good rationale of the need for religion/faith and science to join together to inform us about our world.  His fourth chapter is on the creation of the universe. To him the elegance of creation means it must have had a planner (God).  He holds that God, the designer, had a hand in shaping the universe and is behind the miracles that enabled human beings to appear (evolve) on this planet. Though he criticizes God of the gaps thinking he seems to fall into it himself at this point.

Collins does provide good critiques of creationism and intelligent design as theories of the way life came to be.   He says Creationism is limited by its reliance on a literal interpretation of the Bible for “facts” about creation. I thought that Intelligent Design could be a bridge to evolutionary thinking, but Collins says it is not a viable explanation for the creation of the world because it is based on fundamentalist Christian beliefs which enable them to deny evolution as a theory of how the universe came to be. Intelligent design (selectively) explains the past and how we came to be here, but it does not have any predictability about the future which would establish its validity as a theory.

Collins created a new word to indicate how science and religion work together. He calls it BioLogos, Bios meaning life and Logos meaning Word of God. He writes, “This position will not go out of style or be disproven by future scientific discoveries.  It is intellectually rigorous, it provides answers to many otherwise puzzling questions and it allows science and faith to fortify each other like two unshakable pillars, holding up a building called Truth”.

BioLogos is sort of an Evolutionary Christianity in that God is behind the creation of this universe for sentient beings and God loves this creation.  Collins sees the role of religion as keeping people moral and saving souls to enable human beings to progress, and sees science as the how of evolution.  He struggles hard to make it work but the title of the book says … Presents Evidence for Belief and I think it is more a leap of faith than evidence.  He gets Jesus into the mix by going to the Christian teaching of the fall which says we are just not capable of living morally on our own and need God to intervene on our behalf so we can make it into heaven.  I can understand this as a personal faith statement, but to me it does not support his attempt to be intellectually rigorous in assessing the place and necessity of both science and religion in our lives. He does end by saying science and religion have different realms of expertise: science is the way we investigate the natural world and religion is interested in the realm of human existence and questions of meaning and purpose. If you want to see how an Evangelical Christian Scientist honours the connection between science and religion, this book provides interesting insight into his process.

The second book, Darwin, Divinity and the Dance of the Cosmos: An Ecological Christianity, was written by Bruce Sanguin, a United Church minister who now works as a psychotherapist.  He has written several books on Evolutionary Christianity.  I recently went to his workshop in Calgary and was inspired to read this book, which has been sitting on my bookshelf for the past year.

Sanguin writes from an Evolutionary Christian perspective, but calls it Ecological Christianity. He begins with his own story of discovery, of how the new universe (creation) story provided by science fits very well with the biblical narrative. He writes, “The universe, then, was not the empty, mindless, purposeless void that scientific rationalism had taught me.  I didn’t have to skip over an inert and lifeless universe to get to a God who sat outside of it, on some heavenly throne.  I could know God as the Source and Substance of my own conscious awareness.” (p.24)  He then spends the next three chapters connecting the scientific story with the biblical story and sees both as sacred revelation. “We can tell the story of the universe as dry, scientific prose, or we can tell it as sacred poetry, the mysterious tale of the Holy One entering into the divine dance of creation.”  (p.73)

He goes on to explain how the theory of evolution has evolved, from survival of the fittest to a more complex process of evolution following laws of co-operation, self-organization, and diversity.  This new process is called emergence.

In the second part of the book Sanguin illustrates how the biblical stories can also work in a cosmic context.  He says that science does not negate spirituality; they actually complement and draw each other out.  He continues on to show how Jesus teaches from a green perspective. By this I mean that nature is an essential part of our reality. We can learn from nature and need to have a relationship with nature that respects its gift in support of our life.  Hence, his term Ecological Christianity.  He also introduces the biblical concept of Sophia/Wisdom which reveals the Mystery of Life, and shows how it relates to the teachings of Jesus revealing the sacred purpose of life itself.

If you are interested in reading about how science and religion join together to reveal the sacredness of the universe in which we live, this clear easy to read book is about that.

This entry was posted in Evolutionary Thinking, Science and Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Two Books on Science and Religion

  1. Dawn Heller says:

    Thanks, John. This has always been a favorite topic of mine to ponder. It’s hard to discuss living among all the southern Baptists!

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