November 26, 2020

Creation Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1)


Gas Pillars in the Eagle Nebula (M16): Pillars of Creation in a Star-Forming Region (Hubble image)

Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.

• Proverbs 9:1

Though separated by over two and a half millennia, the authors of ancient Scripture and numerous scientists of today find themselves caught up in a world of abiding astonishment.

• Brown, William P., The Seven Pillars of Creation

• • •

In William P. Brown’s stimulating book, The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder, Brown suggests that good scientists and good theologians and people of faith all explore mysteries that should provoke awe and wonder. But instead of being “lost in wonder,” it seems that many have “lost wonder” and replaced it with a spirit of adversity and contention. This book is William Brown’s attempt to restore a sense of Albert Einstein’s famous maxim back into the discussion: the experience of mystery “stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”

In order to facilitate this, the author suggests the following:

To recapture something of the awe that fostered the spirit of inquiry among the ancients and today ignites the “vital spark of wonder that drives the best science,” I want to embark on my own tour of sorts, not so much a roller-coaster ride as a leisurely excursion. I propose a tour of the biblical contours of creation conducted in conversation with science, an expedition that boldly charts the now uncommon ground of wonder. (p. 5)

The central aim of The Seven Pillars of Creation is to help readers contemplate “the Bible’s own inexhaustible richness, its profound wonder” in its accounts of creation. Notice, I said accounts (plural). One of this book’s contributions to our creation discussions is to remind us that “the creation story” goes far beyond Genesis 1-2 and weaves its way all throughout the Hebrew Bible. In fact, he notes seven creation accounts, seven separate accounts, none of which tells the complete story in and of itself.

1. Genesis 1:1-2:3
2. Genesis 2:4b-3:24
3. Job 38-41
4. Psalm 104
5. Proverbs 8:22-31
6. Ecclesiastes 1:2-11; 12:1-7
7. Isaiah 40-55 (excerpts)


Stellar Spire, Eagle Nebula

Brown operates with a couple of foundational perspectives as he takes us on this tour of creation accounts:

First, the truth of the Incarnation means that Christians cannot separate their views of the biblical world from what we learn from the natural world.

Theologically, there is no other option: faith in such a God calls people of faith to understand and respect the natural order, the world that God deemed “extremely good” (Gen 1:31) and saw fit to inhabit. The God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) has all to do with the world in which we do indeed live and move and have our being. The world subsists in God even as God remains present in the world. It is, admittedly, a mystery. But through science we become more literate in the mysteries of creation and, in turn, more trustworthy “stewards” of those mysteries. (p. 7

Second, “Wisdom” may form the bridge we need between matters of science and faith. He observes that the rabbi’s linked “Wisdom’s seven pillars” (Proverbs 9:1) with the seven days of Creation in Genesis 1.

This insight, regardless of its exegetical validity, has inspired the title of this project. Wisdom’s “edifice complex” is, I submit, an appropriate framework for studying biblical creation in conversation with science. Biblical wisdom was nurtured by a spirit of inquiry. It acknowledges creation’s multifaceted integrity, complexity, and mystery. . . . As biblical Wisdom invites her students to enter her spacious home and partake of her varied fare (Prov 9:2-4), so the reader is invited to enter the Bible’s various perspectives on creation, to wander and to wonder, and from wonder to gain wisdom. (p. 8)

Third, though science and theology represent independent realms of inquiry, cross-disciplinary discussions are meaningful and important to both.

Because both seek truth, because each discipline is driven by an “onto-logical thirst, by the thirst to know reality as it is,” each can learn from the other, especially theology from science. If theology is about relating the world to God but does not take into account the world as known through science, then it fails. And such failure strikes at the very heart of the theological task, for among theology’s anathemas is the stigma of irrelevance or “the lack of cultural competence.” (p. 8)

William P. Brown longs for a day when the world is filled with people who are both contemplators and empiricists, sages and psalmists, stewards of the earth and servants of Christ.

This book invites the non-expert who yearns to know more about engaging biblical faith and science in constructive, as opposed to confrontational, ways. This study also welcomes the scientist who desires to know more about what the ancient Scriptures say about cosmology, nature, and humanity’s place. In short, I want to help readers become more literate in Scripture and science, as I have become in the course of my research. Specifically, I want to bring together two distinct disciplines, biblical theology and modern science, and explore points of conversation in ways that I hope generate more synergy than sparks. My conviction is that one cannot adequately interpret the Bible today, particularly the creation traditions, without engaging science. Otherwise, the Bible’s “strange new world” would become an old irrelevant word. (pp. 6-7)

• • •

The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder
By William P. Brown
Oxford University Press, Inc. (2010)


William P. Brown is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA.


  1. Christiane says

    When I think about faith and science and a human response to the natural world,
    I am drawn to these quotes from Gaudium et Spes, a pastoral letter:
    ” . . . the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God.
    The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.”
    “Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth”.

    But that sense of ‘awe’ in us should not be ignored or played down . . . not if we see it as something resonating within us when we witness the natural world’s wonders . . .
    that sense of ‘awe’ is very much a part of our humanity
    . . . the author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings expressed it this way:
    ““We were bred of earth before we were bred of our mothers. Once born, we can live without mother or father, or any other kin, or any friend, or any human love. We cannot live without the earth or apart from it, and something is shrivelled in a man’s heart when he turns away from it and concerns himself only with the affairs of men.”

  2. First, these shots from Hubble are awesome in the deepest sense of the word…..they fill me will awe and reverence for God’s creation—and continued creating!!

    Second, I just added this book to my Amazon list, waiting for a used copy to show up….As a Christian and a scientist (but not a Christian Scientist!!!) I am inspired and full of joy looking yet again at how His Universe has His divine “Fingerprints” all over it, if you care to look for them. Good thing I have a long weekend coming up and no travel plans…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Maybe that’s the reason for the conflict, especially with the Perfectly Parsed Theology crowd.

      Because Perfectly Parsed Theology is awesome only to those with minds of Perfectly Parsed Intellect; all else is meaningless and worthless, not Awesome. And Perfectly Parsed Theology (or Gospel of Personal Salvation) cannot be permitted to have any competition. Especially competiton more awesome than the Mega-Worship Rock Show.

  3. The discussion between the disciplines of science and theology is a one-way discussion. Science has no need to refer to, or relate itself to, the many different theologies and religious philosophies of humanity in order to conduct its business or justify its procedures and method. It can do what it does as if religion does not exist.

    Religion (and let’s remember that if science wants to dialogue with religion, it will look out at the whole panoply of human religion for dialogue, not just Christianity, and has no reason to privilege Christianity as a conversation partner), on the other hand, increasingly feels the need to justify itself in scientific terms, and approximate scientific methods, to the degree that it’s able, for instance in studying its own primary sources and scriptures and history and religious experiences.

    This means that any conversation between religion and science will be an uneven and one way discussion. And the discussion, whenever it occurs, will be between science and religion, not science and Christianity, since Christianity, even when it is the dialogue partner, will be viewed by science as one among a multitude of possible conversation partners, all with equally valid claims to be in conversation. For science, Christianity is just one species in the genus of religion.

    Let’s not fool ourselves about how much science needs theology to be conversation partners with it; it doesn’t, and any attention it pays to religion in general, or Christian theology in particular, is probably viewed by many scientists as an act of charity.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Science has no need to refer to, or relate itself to, the many different theologies

      I agree. This is because Science is not a wander through a beautiful museum; it is only that for us spectators. Science always asks pointed very specific questions – and pursues them through established methods. Reading the Talmud and reading Scientific Weekly are two very different journeys. What can be more wandering than the Talmud? I mean that in a good way. Any wandering in a scientific journal article is dispensed with by the second paragraph; equations appear shortly there after. It is very important to distinguish between The Spectating Of Science and Science itself.

      If the Scientist needs theology is another question. Some do, some very much appear not to.

      > Christianity… on the other hand, increasingly feels the need to justify itself in scientific terms,

      Agree. A temptation it should not succumb to.

      > This means that any conversation between religion and science will be an uneven
      > and one way discussion

      Science, aside from the Scientist [who is a human being], has little interest in Religion’s questions. And there are no shortage of Scientists who are openly dismissive of Religions questions – no matter how rhetorically proficient they are in their statement of that position. I have listened to many a ‘spiritual’ interview of Scientists… many [Neil deGrasse Tyson is a good example] have a genuinely hostile view of religious people. But it takes a good interviewer to push past the smooth rhetoric.

      I say this as someone who subscribes to scientific journals and loves to read them. I find wonder in Creation, sometimes. I also find mind-numbing crushing scale and horrificly heartless efficiency. Seeing love and majesty in creation requires, IMO, only looking at certain parts of creation, and those parts a certain way.

      The radiation of the beautiful nebular cloud enshrouding a stellar nursery would liquify a human being. Observe from afar, this is not a place meant for you.

      Where is the glory of Creation in the collapse of the vascular system in a person suffering from one of a myriad of hemorrhagic fevers? The enzymes which break down the carefully constructed proteins which form such a vital part of the patient are beautiful? What Creator is this?

      > any attention it pays to religion in general, or Christian theology in particular, is probably
      > viewed by many scientists as an act of charity

      +1 Civility [politeness] is not kinship or friendship. It is important, and it should be appreciated, but only for what it is it.

      I agree with the premise of ” Christians cannot separate their views of the biblical world from what we learn from the natural world”. I am not certain I have the same meaning in that agreement as the author.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

        ”Christians cannot separate their views of the biblical world from what we learn from the natural world”.
        This is almost a truism. The problem I’ve encountered is an attitude among some Christians that they can’t learn or (especially) change, adjust or otherwise tweak their understanding of the faith etc. So while they agree with the previous sentence in theory, they spend all their effort twisting scientific discovery to fit their required ends. Which to me ends up being worse than just denying science as a viable means of knowledge (some kind of mystical epistemology). It sort of comes across like the highschool freshman who questions everything in the canon of electrical engineering while claiming to have “rediscovered” Tesla’s secret for free intercontinental power. In other words, ignorant and arrogant.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          “And if God tweaked the speed of light (“And then a Miracle happened…”) then the Universe LOOKS13.7 billion years old but IS only 6000! SCRIPTURE!”

          There’s a LOT of emotional investment in a 6000-year-old, Earth-and-some-lights-in-the-sky Punyverse.

          Jordan179 on LJ theorizes it’s because “Heaven” (the sky, off-world) is traditionally the Realm of the Spiritual/Supernatural and Man Was Not Meant To Know but stay content on “Earth”, the Realm of the Physical (until you die and your now-unencumbered Spirit goes into the Realm of the Supernatural). Thus the Physical cannot trespass on the Spiritual.

          • ISTM that a problem with an “appearance of age” creationist belief is that such a supposition or belief makes it impossible to disprove that we have an “appearance of memory” about ours and everyone else’s past, etc. Once you accept that the earth is the way it is because it was created with an “appearance of age,” you can no longer prove that you or anyone or anything else actually had an existence prior to this moment or prior to every succeeding moment ad infinitum, and that things are not moment-by-moment created with an appearance of age, instantly-created memories of a past, instantly-created memories and appearance of a past series of events, etc. The movie DARK CITY with God as Mr. Book.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Omphalos. AKA “Last Tuesday-ism”. Didn’t fly when Gosse first proposed it in mid-Victorian times as a resolution between Six Day Creationism and observable physical evidence of much greater age.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            And you know the REAL kicker? Of the three Abrahamic Monotheisms, Christianity is best-equipped to deal with Deep Space and Deep Time scales through the Doctrine of the Incarnation. No matter how Big or how Old the Universe gets, no matter how Big God has to be, God remains on a one-to-one human scale through Incarnation as Christ. So why are Christians so vocal about remaining in a 6000-year-old, Earth-and-some-lights-in-the-sky Punyverse?

      • I agree with what you say about wonder. I am saddened when I consider the mass extinction at the end of the Permian (and other ME events). True they opened the niches to allow new species to arise, but still kind of sad when you think about it (and empathize with species you’ve never seen!)

        Earth has never been a peaceful Eden, but rather a riot of crimson in tooth and claw. Wondrous in its way, but I think I prefer looking at a Monet or Cézanne.

        • The sheer enormity of suffering in the history of our planet is devastatingly depressing to think about. This is the aspect of evolution that makes me doubt the existence of God. So much suffering already, and still no end in sight.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > that makes me doubt the existence of God.

            I don’t feel that way. It makes me feel as though he is something very much unlike myself, that he is something simply indescribable, not a monster, for he is far beyond cruelty. The God I see in nature, without Scripture, makes Toklien’s necromancer seem like a petty tin-pot dictator. This God will hurl one galaxy into another, be damned whatever inhabitants – while crying out – cling to one another as their worlds are shattered beneath their feet.

      • ” I also find mind-numbing crushing scale and horrificly heartless efficiency.”

        Nietzsche would disagree with you there. He would say that nature is profligate, that a million seeds are spread and only a few survive, that ruthless and unrelenting inefficiency is what we see when we look at the natural world around us. Many many many many random mutations occur that are not adaptive, decreasing likelihood of survival, for each random mutation that is adaptive and increases likelihood of survival. The principal of nature of is profligacy, fecundity, wanton multiplication, layer upon layer of redundancy. Nietzsche, I think, was right.

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

          I’m pretty sure I’ve seen software code that fits this description.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          But Nietzsche entirely missed the point. At the scale of natural systems such processes prove extremely efficient. They will beat out and defeat engineering every time.

          Nietzsche was wrong.

          Astronauts verses cockroaches – the cockroaches win.

          • I guess you could call it efficient, if there was teleology involved. But the whole edifice of naturalism, and naturalistic evolution, stands on the assumption that what happens in nature is the result of completely random and purposeless processes. If a process has no purpose, how can it be said to be efficient? Efficiency can only be measured when there is a goal and end result intended.

            Now, of course, as a theist I believe that nature has teleology, and human beings have purpose. But that is a faith based belief that can’t be established by observation and experiment. If Nietzsche was wrong, it was solely because he was an atheist.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            The process has a goal – that the process continues. And so it does. Throwing as much as you can at the wall is the best way to find out what sticks, so there will be another cycle to throw stuff at the wall. Life defines its own teleology – to be there to throw stuff at the wall.

            The scientist and the theologian with terms like “teleology” are irrelevant; every wolf, sea urchin, tapeworm, and sparrow knows this “teleology” They just don’t fret about it.

          • If the process has a goal, that the process continues, the goal is still being deferred to the future. To say that a process has the intention of meeting a goal is to attribute will to the process, something which cannot be scientifically observed. It is, rather, a faith based observation.

            And I would say that the sparrow starving to death in mid-winter does fret about it, though it does not use the term.

    • flatrocker says

      Not sure if this was your implied point, but your comment seems to lead us to “science” in some way holding the upper hand in some epic struggle with “theology.” As insightful as your comment is (and it is that), what needs to considered is how we have allowed the realms of science and theology to cross over into each other’s area of expertise. Where science is deemed to serve best is the “how, where and when” questions, philosophy serves the “why” and theology serves the “who.” It is to our detriment to the discussion and significantly damaging to the conclusions we reach when we shuffle these incredibly important questions to the wrong disciplines of our thinking. It is sloppy science to overreach into the areas of theology/philosophy in our search for scientific validation. It is also sloppy philosophy/theology to not allow scientific examination to enter our discussion on the nature of the physical universe for fear we will rock our Creator’s plan.

      (other than that, my compliments to your comment – excellent)

      • Flatrocker,
        I agree that the realms of theology and science have crossed over into each other’s expertise. Both disciplines need to recognize and respect each other’s methodology at arriving at conclusions Science relies on observations and evidence to come to conclusions. Theology primarily relies on God’s intervention and revelation.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          What happens when you factor in “GOD HATH REVEALED UNTO ME…” Private/Personal Revelations, real or imagined?

          • The first thought that pops into my mind when someone declares, “GOD HATH REVEALED UNTO ME..” is that a heresy is in development. There’s a difference between self-appointed prophets and studying Church Tradition, i.e. studying the Scriptures and Ecumenical Councils to further understand what God has already revealed to His people.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            It’s a guy citing Cosmic-Level Authority to back himself up.
            Wasn’t this the original point of the Third(?) Commandment.

          • No, the Third/Second Commandment is about cussing! Everyone knows that!

      • But how can there not be overlap? If a Deity is there and said Deity intervenes in the lives of people then there should be an observable effect. For instance, a certain miracle event states that on a certain day at a certain time, the sun stood still. If this really happened, physics can predict what the effects should have been and then compare to measurements available at the time.

        Or take the example of free will. A lot of current research is looking into this and discovering that muscles start to fire before the brain has already made its conclusion. Now further research may reveal that the human brain has quick heuristics that start firing the muscles prior to rational thought catching up, but it’s still interesting and may provoke questions about just how much free will organisms have.

        Scientists can’t help but delve into these questions. As well as questions about particle physics and all manner of other things.

        • OldProphet says

          Well spoken. God did say to Job, “were you there when I created the foundations of the heavens and the earth?”. Well, I wasn’t. Sometimes it seems as if both scientists and theologians are so didactic that it seems as if they were. Ultimately, doesn’t it require some measure of faith to be in either camp? Just wonderin?

        • flatrocker says

          Certainly they overlap. But in our post-modern reductionist brains, our strong belief is that everything can be deconstructed through scientific method. And by everything we mean everything – including God. Just look at the line of questioning in your response above. I am not trying to be judgmental, but the thoughts you raise take on a scientific bias. No offense, it’s just how our modern minds process – mine included. My contention however, is that there is a consequence to this bias when it becomes our default position. Science has taken the high road and controls the field of engagement. Theology and Philosophy become mere distractions that will ultimately be deemed irrelevant. The question becomes is there then a compelling theological response to the logical (and scary) conclusion that scientific deconstruction leads us to?

      • Regarding respecting each others areas of expertise: You will never convince science, or good scientists, that any area is not one they should explore. Science does not recognize any demarcation line beyond which it is forbidden to form hypotheses and do experiments with a view toward developing theories that give naturalistic explanations to phenomenon, including the phenomenon of Christianity and all other religion.

        Sociology and psychology both are the incursions of science into areas formerly thought to belong to religion alone. In fact, these two relatively soft sciences have had far greater corrosive effect on traditional, taken-for-granted religious explanations of the world than the hard physical sciences have, because they are science applying its tools to human beings in the attempt to find naturalistic explanations and patterns to all human behavior. If science refuses to observe a limitation of its expertise at the threshold of the human mind and spirit, why do you think it should at theology?

    • Robert, while I agree with much in your comment, let us remember that Brown is an ordained Presbyterian pastor and writing about the unfortunate chasm that has developed primarily in the U.S. between the scientific community and representatives of the church. Having said that, I think he would have no problem expanding the discussion to include a broader religious community.

      I also do not think he is suggesting that either discipline give up its status of independent inquiry, merely that both recognize that they can be talking partners and not adversaries in the exploration of the mysteries of creation.

      • I don’t really think science, or scientists in general, are interested in having religion as a talking partner. Oh, there are exceptions here and there, the odd scientist speaking from a personal interest in religion, or from a vague humanistic motivation, or because religion is a powerful and sometimes fearful force in the world that some would like to understand in order to neutralize. But what science really wants to do is give a naturalistic explanation to all religion. That’s what science is in business to do, give naturalistic explanations to every phenomenon. There can be no mutuality in this very important area, because the inquiry of science follows a relentless and rigorous and merciless method, which nothing in the discipline of theology, or comparative religions, parallels. All religions are experimental territory for science; science means to demystify religion completely. Theology, religion, has no such apparatus with which to approach science.

        • Christiane says

          Robert, I don’t agree with you, probably because my faith teaches that God is also the God of the natural world. The natural laws observed by science are the same mechanisms that the Creator set in motion, so when a scientist reports what he has seen, he has not stepped outside of the reality of the natural law created by God.

          Perhaps I misunderstood what you wrote? If you have time and are inclined to do so, please take a look at my other comment (first one on the comment stream), and see if we have areas of agreement that I didn’t recognize. Thanks, in any case.

          • Christiane, I’m not opposed to science, nor do I believe that theology or Christianity should try to defend themselves against the discoveries of science. That would be pointless. Where science uncovers incontrovertible truths about the creation previously unknown, we must humbly accept and adapt to them as necessary, as well as celebrate whatever wonder we may find in them. We haven’t been very good at doing this, and it would be wise for us to try harder.

            But scientific experimentation is not a morally neutral activity; depending on exactly what is involved in any scientific experiment, it may or may not be ethically acceptable. So scientific method should be subject to the review of truly human and humane ethical standards, standards which theology and Christianity should support, and have something to say about

            We have only to remember the horrific scientific experiments performed by Nazi scientists, or the ones performed here in the US by government commissioned scientists on ethnic minorities and developmentally challenged persons, to have examples of the abuses that science, and scientists, have been involved in, and in the not too distant past, at that. In cases where such abuses are involved, the awe that at times might be involved in scientific discoveries is transformed into horror.

            But aside from these things, the main point I’ve been trying to make is that I just don’t believe that science, or most scientists, are terribly interested in having a dialogue with theology; there is no compelling motivation for entering into such a dialogue, because I don’t believe that most scientists think that theology has anything to say that they want or need to hear.

            And I think that theologians flatter and fool themselves unnecessarily when they think that most scientists consider theology a discipline equal in seriousness to science; I believe that most of the scant attention given by science and scientists to theology or religion (other than as experimental subjects) is the result of charity, in the pejorative sense that the word sometimes carries.

            A final word: science does not have apparatus that can probe into the core of our faith, into the mysteries of the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Crucifixion, because these mysteries come to us through revelation, while the tools of science are only useful in making discoveries. As a result, science is necessarily ignorant of the most awe inspiring realities of all; the scientist can not know these things, except as a mere human being among other mere human beings.

    • Certainly science does not need to partner with theology in order to accomplish its own aims. Theology will not help science discover new vaccines against Ebola. Theology will not help science cure cancer. Theology will not help science launch a manned mission to the surface of Mars.

      But science (which is to say, scientists) is often not constrained by the limitations and boundaries inherent to the discipline. So when science delves into questions of ultimate meaning and significance (or lack, thereof), morality and public policy then dialogue with theology is indeed mutually beneficial.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Theology will not help science discover new vaccines against Ebola.

        Don’t need to. Remember that Nigerian Megachurch Televangelist with his Biblical miracle cures?

        Theology will not help science cure cancer.

        Not even Tatted Todd punching cancer patients in the junk on orders from his pet angel Emma?

    • OldProphet says

      Robert,to add to your excellent post, I think that there is a prevailing myopic view in the circle of evangelicals that I hang with that the current ongoing dispute with scientific discovery is with only Christianity and not with religion as a whole. I think that especially here in the US, with ministries like CRI, Ken Ham, that the Theory of Evolution and the creation of the cosmos only involves only involves the Bible and none of the other creation accounts in older religions or books of antiquity.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Tunnel vision. “I’m So Speshul/Only MY Group is Important” variety.

        You find a similar trope in Christianese fiction, specifically the Near-Future Persecution Dystopias that pass for Christian SF. The Dystopian oppressor is ONLY stomping on Born-Again Bible-Believing Evangelical Christians(TM) to the total indifference of groups which actually might be a bigger threat to the regime. (Like the lunatic fringe-X-treme forms of Islam that get in the news these days.) Even when you get a totally-Atheistopian regime (such as Jerry Jenkins Soon trilogy snarked at Heathen Critique; the snark and comments are a hoot), the ONLY religious group mentioned as oppressed is the BABBECs(TM). Others (which would exist in any decent worldbuilding) may as well not exist. Or are lumped into the Atheism or Anti-Christian

        This also links into the Jack Chick and Left Behind trope of ALL other religions (even non-BABBEC Christians) being lumped with Atheism and Satanism in a catchall of FALSE(TM) Religions. “All that is not TRUE is False (and only WE are True)”. At which point, it’s just more Fanservice of the Target Audience with Merton’s “Moral Theology of the Devil” — “You, Dear Reader, are RIGHT and everyone else is WRONG!”

    • The discussion between the disciplines of science and theology is a one-way discussion.

      As a theologian married to a scientist, I respectfully disagree. While science in and of itself has no need to refer philosophies or faith systems, it certainly can, and often does, lead to a sense of wonder and and faith. In other words, it points to something beyond itself. And the wonder and curiosity that are the impulse for scientific experimentation are not entirely unlike the wonder and curiosity that are the impulse for philosophical or theological discovery.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        While science in and of itself has no need to refer philosophies or faith systems, it certainly can, and often does, lead to a sense of wonder and and faith.

        op cit “Reverend” Carl Sagan in the original Cosmos. It was said of Sagan that science (and the Wonders of the Cosmos) occupied the same ecological niche in his personality that religious faith normally does.

      • Just as atheists have told us they don’t need God to have ethics, neither does science need theology, or religion, to engender a sense of wonder.

    • Natural Science is a branch of philosophy. It begins with philosophical assumptions about the nature of the world, and proceeds from there, along the lines of those assumptions, to explore the substance and mechanisms of the natural world.

      As such, theology does have both a right and and obligation to speak into the nature and the purpose of scientific inquiry.

      I would agree, however, that most scientist have no interest in such a conversation. That is because they do not understand the philosophical underpinnings of their own discipline. A fish swims, but it doesn’t think about the water.

      • It is amazing to me that very often scientists are not great logicians, and therefore very poor philosophers. Nevertheless, their method has garnered successes and results impossible to any of the other disciplines, especially theology and the humanities, and it’s very hard to argue with success without appearing to be resentful and embittered.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          One must not overlook the role of Engineers. Science “succeeds” because there are Engineers to take up what the Science finds. Engineers tends to be good logicians.

          Politicians and privateers are students of the Humanities. They focus the Engineers on certain goals, they purpose the Science. So there is a solid role of the Humanities.

          What I struggle to find a role for is Theology. At least the systematic type of theology I have experienced seems notably unwilling to participate, to talk with Engineers.

          • The epoch of systematic theologies is over. In the words of a monk that the Dalai Lama met on the road in the 1950’s when they were both fleeing the Chinese invasion of Tibet, “From now on, brother, everybody stands on his own two feet.”

  4. Science, for the most part, has done a fair job of answering, ‘what’, ‘where’, and ‘how’…but the two important questions that they will never tackle are ‘who’ and ‘why’. They just cannot go there because those questions are faith questions.

    • Yep, although I’d even throw the “how” into the faith mix. I was watching show on sharks the other night and they began talking about the saw-toothed shark. They said that when the babies are birthed, they have some sort of viscous sheath around their saw-toothed snout so that they don’t rip open the mother and kill her as they’re born. My mind went all over the place when I heard that, wondering HOW in the world that “safety mechanism” was ever developed. It’s kind of a “which came first, the chicken or the egg,” which to me is also a How faith question.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

        Imagine how many mother sharks died before a baby was born with the right mutation…

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        There is no chicken or egg.

        One property did not exist which needed to be adapted to. Both properties could have manifested in bloody concurrence. As the saw of the saw tooth shark became more pronounced a more insulated birthing mechanism was advantageous. No great mystery, this is not a problem at high enough a scale.

    • Here’s an example of how I like to think all the questions are answered, using scientific study and extrapolationg theological truth from it:

      We understand that there is something called “dark matter” in the universe, probably everywhere, in vast quantities. It is “dark” because it’s completely invisible, undetectable except for it’s gravitational effects on the matter we do see.

      There is so much of this dark matter, that the furthest vantage point from which we can “pan out” from the map of the universe, all matter (galaxies, galaxy clusters, and galaxy superclusters) forms into a web of interlocking fibers known as “filaments.” It looks kind of like a sponge. Matter has no reason to form into these filaments, rather than in a random distribution across space, except for necessity of dark matter influencing where the rest of matter clusters.

      “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Heaven is the dwelling place of God, and God’s plan has been from eternity to exercise such influence and dominion over the earth that everything in it worships him.

      Heaven is pulling on earth, even at the gravitational level. Two spheres of creation, distinct but not entirely separate.

      You do the final extrapolation…

      That’s right, the dark matter is Mr. Tumnus!

      (Apologies to any real scientists reading this for my lack of proper scientific knowledge beyond the level of popular documentaries.)

  5. Science and “religion” can NEVER come to agreement because they both are predicated on different philosophies. Religion is based on the philosophy of the unseen being transcendent/spiritual, while science is based on observable conditions AND the belief that ALL IS PHYSICAL.

    Sure, there are a few scientists who attempt to marry the two, but by and large the dispute/disagreement is between physicalism and spiritualism. One requires faith in an unseen, the other requires faith that an answer for the unexplained will shortly be discovered in the physical realm.

    • Oscar-

      First of all, I am not sure how you are defining “faith”. Are you saying it is the absence of evidence, or are you saying it is a trust based on sufficient evidence?

      Also, although there are some who would hold to what you describe (philosophical naturalism), that is not the case for all. As RJS (a scientist) wrote over at the Jesus Creed:
      “Philosophical naturalism, ontological naturalism, secular naturalism, what ever term you use, is a real force in our world, and especially in the academy. This view is counter to the heart and soul of Christian belief and a Christian should have an argument and an answer for this challenge. But we don’t refute this view by denying science. When a Christian approaches science – from evolutionary biology to cosmology – the goal is not to look for evidence against philosophical naturalism, but to understand the “natural” means used to achieve God’s purpose.”

    • OldProphet says

      I long time friend of mine teaches biology at the local JC. We’ve had lots of discussions about many and various things over the years but when it comes to religion it all breaks down. His take is simple. “if I was to acknowledge the existence of God, then I would have to recant as false all of the evolutionary teaching that I have preached for 30 years. I can never do that, nor admit that I could be so wrong

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Ken Ham would be proud.

        • OldProphet says

          Yeah, probably so. Why is everything a HOLY CRUSADE?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Probably we’re in an Age of Extremes, where EVERYTHING is 1000% For or 1000% against, and if you’re not 1000% for US you’re one of THEM. Where (in the words of Merton), “The most important thing is to Be Absolutely Right and to Prove Everyone Else to be Absolutely Wrong.”

            “You Win or You Die,
            Game of Thrones…”

      • One must indeed be very careful about the foundation in which they build their house upon.

      • Seems like a false dichotomy and lie someone put into his head.

        Ironically he’s probably closer to God by refusing to recant…

      • I don’t believe he said that at all. I think you are lying.

    • But this can be a very helpful perspective for people who ARE religious and find themselves drawn to empirical study, or hard sciences. I don’t get the sense that this is about bringing the scientific community into agreement with the religious community. It sounds like it’s more about showing people who are drawn to both that there IS a way to value both in harmony.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

      That’s bologna. You just made that up.

    • I’m not really sure this distinction is helpful. Faith is indeed based on what is visible, and empirically observable. It’s just not observable in the way hard science wants things to be. Jesus really did rise from the dead, in the flesh. You’ll find no “spiritual” vs. “physical” distinction there, and that’s what the entire faith is based on.

      Christianity is definitely not “spiritualism” and I’d probably tell anyone I knew who believes it is that they were flirting with heresy.

      Science needs observable evidence to believe something, and the Christian faith does not present evidence in the way that it demands, here and now. That doesn’t mean physical evidence doesn’t exist, or that it will not one day satisfy the standards of scientific inquiry.

  6. I think it is statistically true….. that a far higher percentage of scientists can accept that there is a spiritual dimension behind/intertwined with this universe…….than people who believe in a spiritual dimension and cannot accept evolution( although I accept these percentages are changing).

    If you read the Wikipedia article on Neo-Scholasticism you will notice in its “key principles” that this is based on the Aristotelean solution to the problem of universals. I quote….”Each substance is in its nature is fixed and determined; nothing is farther from the spirit of Scholasticism than a theory of evolution, which would regard even the essences of things as products of change”.

    If you care to show your young people a beautiful series of seven videos on the relationship between the God of their faith in the Bible and the process of evolution…….go to ……

  7. Faulty O-Ring says

    Not that it should matter, but plenty of space scientists (or scientists in general) approach their field with a sense of “wonder.” Of course this would not necessarily be a religious sentiment, and Christianity is not the only religion on offer.What we are dealing with is an internal discussion / argument among Christians (plus a few outside participants, such as the “new atheists”) about science.

    Some Christians apparently feel a need to confront the authority of science, either by negotiating with it (in their own heads) or decrying it. Unfortunately, their “wonder” wouild not usually extend to non-scientific forms of scholarship, such as history, which do not loom so large in the public consciousness. In the case of biblical studies, including the search for the historical Jesus, Christians are happy to simply select scholars whose views are congenial with their own (hello there, N.T. Wright!), tuning out others, and attempt to dominate the discussion through sheer numbers.

  8. Asinus Spinas Masticans says

    It was briefly touched upon, but there is a corresponding depth in both Creation and the Scriptures that leaves me breathless. For some reason, Finn’s discussion of the “radiation of the beautiful nebular cloud enshrouding a stellar nursery” that” would liquify a human being” reminds me of the casual genocide mentioned in the Old Testament, or Jehovah the Man of War rejoicing over the overthrown chariots of Pharaoh. “Observe from afar,Finn said, “ this is not a place meant for you“. Both can be used to justify an image of God that is more like Cthulhu than the philanthropos theos we worship.

    But why would these fierce energies take such beautiful form? Why isn’t it all pain?

    In addition science, or better yet, scientists, appear to be getting less deterministic in their thinking. The existence of an observer has been necessary in Physics for some time, and now Biology appears to be heading in the same direction. Of course, I desperately want science, or at least epistemology, to head in that direction, so I may be deceiving myself.

    • “In addition science, or better yet, scientists, appear to be getting less deterministic in their thinking. The existence of an observer has been necessary in Physics for some time, and now Biology appears to be heading in the same direction. Of course, I desperately want science, or at least epistemology, to head in that direction, so I may be deceiving myself.”

      “…wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing….” T.S. Eliot

  9. Christians (bossy iPad) and Pattie, thanks for the first 2 posts and the BEST posts today on this topic, IMHO. Others may differ. I have learned to express this on my reading lists or there is a hullabaloo. The pictures were so stunning it made me thank our God for the beauty He gave us. I am stunned by it every day. Also I enjoyed the other posts. There are some smart people here, humble ones too. Over the weekend I checked a blog on which I 7sed to post, rarely, but enjoyed at the time. Unfortunately it has become almost entirely political. A lot of “ain’t it awful” posts about the topics on cable news or talk radio. InternetMonk is so different. Anyway, the head blogger said something incredibly shocking and there were over 650 posts about it. That’s fine, but the posts were so angry, ugly, toxic, I couldn’t’ believe it. What I don’t understand about all this is WHY. Do we think if we just insult each other enough we can convince others that they are wrong? Evidently. Where are the fruits of the Spirit in all this name calling? Depressing at times. Again, thanks InternetMonk, you have created a kind, loving atmosphere in which we can agree or disagree.

  10. I find it interesting that just recently there have been two rather large profile art films, Tree of Life and Noah, which had “creation narratives” set to scientific images.

    Tree of Life’s was a little more subdued / mystic, but they both had the same general thrust, that creation in all its splendor is awe-inspiring for what it is. The view that nature’s laws have produced us, in these moments, is both sublime and humbling.

    It’s not a critique of Ken Ham-isms per se, more of my friends from high school / Campus Crusade days who claimed that using natural processes and not more blatant “miracles” was belittling to God. That somehow, when they thought of God creating the world through nature’s laws, it made God seem smaller and less impressive. Which was strange to me, because I never even considered that. The fact that there was more to discover, more to learn, was always exciting; I felt like I was getting to know God better, not like I was disappointed he wasn’t more impressive.

  11. Science does not need theology, or religion, as a conversation partner about the sense of wonder that its explorations sometimes engender. Scientists are perfectly capable of experiencing a sense of wonder without needing enhancement of their experience by religious reflections, just as non-believers are perfectly capable of experiencing a pleasurable and satisfying sex life without having any belief in the theological dimensions and implications of sexuality.

    • OldProphet says

      Of course they do, because they are discovering something that was created by the Creator. It is God’s especial gift to man that He allows us to see and explore all the wonderful things that he has made for us

  12. Ultimately, I think that the scientific attempt to find naturalistic explanations and causes for all phenomenon is logically impossible. The last act would have to be the scientific Magus offering a self-neutralizing explanation of explaining and Magi and science, and then disappearing in a whiff of smoke without any witnesses or smoke. It all gets very zen-like, and once we are in the terrain of zen, we are definitely safe from the depredations of scientific explanation.

    But theology, and religion, and Christians, are going to have to get used to the fact that science can explain an awful lot about us, and will spend most of its time talking about us rather than to us. We will have to learn to be humble as we are unpacked and deconstructed, confident that whatever it is we really are is irreducible, reflecting the irreducibility of our Divine source. We will have to learn the disciplines of silence and patience in the face of imperialistic science, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing, after all.

    • I retract the word imperialistic in the last sentence of the above comment, and replace it with the word aggressive. I’m not hostile to science, nor do I think that theology should adopt a stance of antagonism to science. That’s a losing position to be in, because science is routinely successful at what it does in a way that theology can never hope to be. Science also produces results, which I’m not sure is even part of the purpose of theology.

      What I was trying to convey by my choice of the word imperialistic in regard to science is that there is a certain real arrogance in science that is the result of its successes, an arrogance that theology, at least when it is thinking clearly and soberly about its track record, can in no way reproduce. Perhaps at some point in the future science will reach a real, demonstrable limit in its attempts to probe phenomenon, and as a result be humbled; if that time ever comes, it would be a shame if theology hasn’t already learned to be humble, to be modest, to be sober, to be human, and to be itself without pretensions.

  13. Thank you, O Father, that in the midst of your creation, so marvelous and frightening, so vast and inextinguishable, you have made yourself present and known in the Incarnation of your Son, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Give us humble hearts to know and accept truth wherever we encounter it, and lead us by your Holy Spirit never to retreat in fear from the newness and surprise that continually spring up from the depth of your work and your world. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.