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Testing but still believing

by
04 November 2016

Adam Ford on faith, sometimes hard-won, among the scientists

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals reflect on faith and science

Kathryn Applegate and J. B. Stump, editors

Lion £10.99

(978-0-85721-787-5)

Church Times Bookshop £9.90

 

Reason and Wonder: Why science and faith need each other

Eric Priest, editor

SPCK £12.99

(978-0-281-07524-9)

Church Times Bookshop £11.70

 

CONSERVATIVE Evangelicals have had a tough time of it over the past couple of hundred years. Con­fronted by all the evidence for deep time and an evolving world of life-forms, they have had to defend a young-earth interpretation of Genesis claiming that creation began less than 10,000 years ago.

They have had to contend with fraudulent claims, made by their own camp, that fossilised human footprints have been discovered alongside those of dinosaurs in Texas; they have struggled to ex­­plain how the sloth found its way to South America from Noah’s ark on Ararat; they have been encouraged to argue that ancient fossils were buried by Satan to lead evolutionary scientists astray; and they fervently deny the evidence of carbon dating on earth, and the awe-inspiring discoveries of an ancient universe by astro­physicists.

It would be easy, and smug, to mock the elaborate mental con­tor­tions that conservative funda­ment­al­ists have had to make to defend their literal reading of Genesis — but that would be neither loving nor helpful. How I Changed My Mind About Evolution, a pro­duct of the BioLogos Founda­tion, is, therefore, a welcome contribution to the grow­ing corpus of books on science and faith.

Twenty-five memoirs reveal how a diverse collection of Evangelical academics made their own journeys from a state of cognitive dissonance which pitted the Bible against evo­lution to the discovery of wonder and worship through science in a vast and evolving universe.

Fear of the erosion of their bib­lical faith makes their various pilgrimages hard going. But, as they emerge, faith intact, from the con­straints of their fundamentalist back­­grounds, the relief and delight that they experience is clearly ap­­parent. For many, the discovery is that scientific research can be a Christian vocation — and the ability to admit sometimes that “I don’t know” comes as a welcome alter­native to certainty.

For some, the way forward to a more nuanced reading of scripture has been helped by encountering the works of C. S. Lewis. For others, it has been a careful study of the genetics of the fruit-fly which has led to their enlightenment. An astronomer acknowledges that she cannot answer all the questions about God raised by accepting, as fact, that the universe is more than 13 billion years old. Her excellent advice to Evangelical church groups who plan to debate the role of science is that they should start with praise for the God of creation.

The contributors to the volume Reason and Wonder (most of them with professorial posts) come with the highest possible credentials in philosophy, paediatrics, biology, astronomy, mathematics, psych­ology, and theology. The aim in their various essays is to explore the broad field of science and religion, in an integrated approach, whether they are marvelling at the heavens, questioning miracles, or contem­plating evolution and evil. Theology and science need each other.

It is not possible in a short review to delve into all the fascinating realms that the writers survey, or consider the many probing ques­tions that accompany every chapter. The essay by John Wyatt, for ex­­ample, with its question “What does it mean to be a person?” deserves a review to itself. Conservative Evan­gelicals agonised about, then denied, the implica­tions of evo­lu­tionary theory that humans are con­nected by descent to non-human an­­­cestors. In the post-fundamentalist era of faith, the question has become greatly more interest­ing.

Wyatt’s fruitful suggestion is that reality cannot be defined merely in terms of matter and energy, but that the personal is a basic category of reality. Without this theological reflection, scientific accounts of the evolving universe are sterile.

 

The Revd Adam Ford is a former Chaplain of St Paul’s School for Girls.

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