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Books attempt to defuse conflict between faith and science


Is there a war between science and faith?
Some claim that atheism is the only position consistent with the success of modern science. Meanwhile, many Christians feel that the only way to defend their faith is to reject science.
Three recent books try to defuse this conflict in different ways.
The first is “The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science.” Edited by William A. Dembski and Bruce L. Gordon, both stalwarts of the Intelligent Design movement, this book was a decade in the making.
It is essentially the papers from the famous/infamous “Nature of Nature” conference examining the philosophical doctrine known as Naturalism. Naturalism says that God is not needed in science because purely natural processes are sufficient to explain everything. This conference was hosted in 2000 by the short-lived Michael Polanyi Center of Baylor University.
The publication of the papers from the conference was delayed by Baylor’s controversial decision to close the center that same year.
Nevertheless, the book has finally come to press, and it is impressive. There are representative contributions from stars of the Intelligent Design movement such as William Dembski, Michael Behe, David Berlinski and Stephen Meyer as well as some by well-known Christian scholars who aren’t considered part of the ID movement, such as Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Nancey Murphy and Dallas Willard. Many of these have updated their work for this publication.
What sets this collection apart, however, are the scholars writing to defend Naturalism, including Francis Crick, Stephen Weinberg, Alan Guth, John Searle and Michael Ruse.
While opponents of Naturalism outnumber defenders in this volume, readers will find that these and others offer creative and spirited defenses of the doctrine. I’ve listed only some of the best-known of the contributors on both sides.
Be warned. These are papers by academics for other academics. The quality and clarity of writing varies somewhat, and most demand some level of expertise from readers. But I suspect many who follow these issues will want “The Nature of Nature” as a reference, since it collects the thinking of significant scholars who are deeply involved in the ongoing controversies concerning Naturalism and Intelligent Design
The second book is Conor Cunningham’s “Darwin’s Pious Idea: Why the Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists Both Get It Wrong.”
Cunningham is the assistant director of the Centre of Theology and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham in England. Some readers may know him from the 2009 BBC documentary “Did Darwin Kill God?” which he wrote and presented.
Cunningham’s dominant theme is that both sides in the science and religion debate are guilty of the same mistake. Both sides see God as an extra cause, intervening in the laws of nature from outside. Characteristically, believers look for evidence of God only where there are gaps in our scientific explanations. Atheists, on the other hand, argue that we don’t need God because there are no gaps that won’t one day be filled by science.
Against these twin mistakes, Cunningham wants to champion an older view of God, in which God is clearly seen by means of the rational order of nature discovered by science. God is not an occasional visitor who only shows up to cover the gaps in our knowledge. He is the one who makes knowledge possible. He is the creator and sustainer of the universe on whom both science and the rational order of nature depend.
Cunningham covers a range of topics, but his execution is quite uneven. He has a keen eye for the quotable quote, and readers will find an abundance of witty and insightful source materials referenced in his pages. Unfortunately, he seems to have found himself unable to edit any of the precious nuggets he uncovered, and again and again we are treated to ten quotations when one would have served.
Nevertheless, he includes helpful discussions of some of the disputes within the Darwinian community, such as whether natural selection is a sufficient engine to drive evolution and if it is, whether it operates on the genome, the individual, or the species.
I was particularly glad that he included a section on the ways in which reductive evolutionism tends to undermine our confidence in evolution, in science and, indeed, in human rationality itself. While I doubt that many will find that he has provided rigorous answers on these topics, he certainly offers a stimulating peek at the literature concerning them.
The third book is Richard F. Carlson and Tremper Longman III’s “Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins.” Longman is the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif. Carlson is research professor of physics at the University of Redlands in California.
The authors affirm the inerrancy of Scripture throughout, but want to offer a way out of the perceived conflict between the Genesis creation accounts and scientific findings about the age of the earth and the evolution of life.
Their primary method is to suggest that the Genesis chapters 1 and 2 creation accounts can be understood by modern people as true but non-literal writing. Their idea is that some truths can best be communicated non-literally and that some can only be received that way. They believe that some of the most significant truths treated in the Genesis creation accounts fall into this category.
Their treatment of this complex topic is less than satisfactory, in my opinion, but the book could serve as a useful discussion starter in a Bible class, if the teacher is well-informed through other sources.
JIM BAIRD is professor of Bible and philosophy at Oklahoma Christian University and pulpit minister for the Wilshire Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.

Filed under: Reviews Staff Reports

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