Time to fire up the blog for a few posts on the latest entry in my Now Reading box, The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions (2011, InterVarsity Press). The authors are Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins, accomplished scientists (a physicist and a geneticist, respectively) who have each previously authored their own excellent faith and science books. This one is written in a question and answer format and appears to be aimed at the basic Evangelical or conservative Christian believer who has not previously given much thought to faith and science issues but is now trying to reconcile conservative or even fundamentalist doctrines with modern science. As such, it is very well suited to most LDS readers, especially bright seminary or college students who have followed the CES curriculum but find that it leads them to a dead end. There are few LDS resources to recommend (LDS religion teachers and leaders generally can't even admit there is a faith and science problem), which is why I read and review helpful books by non-LDS authors.
The easiest way to cover some of the material in the book is simply to reproduce a few of their questions with a paragraph of their response, along with a comment or two of my own. Here are a few questions from the first three chapters, along with part of the authors' response as a quotation and my own additional comments.
Is there proof of macroevolution?
The evidence for macroevolution that has emerged in the past few years is now overwhelming. Virtually all geneticists consider that the evidence proves common ancestry with a level of certainty comparable to the evidence that the earth revolves around the sun. Some critics, however, still argue that DNA similarities do not prove common ancestry. (p. 49.)The microevolution versus macroevolution distinction is popular among Evangelicals, but I don't see the terms used in LDS discussion: LDS scientists don't see it as a helpful or even valid distinction and LDS religion teachers (as far as I can tell) either avoid the topic or reject evolution in any form. Those who embrace the distinction seem to do so in the belief that they can't reject evolution outright (so they accept microevolution) but that accepting the full theory is inconsistent with Christian belief. It is the second assumption which is flawed; the balance of the book attempts to illustrate that point.
Doesn't the Bible teach that the Earth is young?
Adherents to YEC [Young Earth Creationism] are sincere in their beliefs that this view must be held by Christians. But [the authors] respectfully propose that YEC has taken an unnecessarily narrow view of Scripture. In the first place, we do not believe that YEC's interpretation of Genesis is correct. They make assumptions about the nature of the text at odds with what many contemporary evangelical biblical scholars, like John Walton of Wheaton College, say are legitimate. Their view is even at odds with that of St. Augustine in the fourth century, who couldn't imagine why God would use a human work week to accomplish the creation. Many biblical scholars who have studied the biblical languages and cultures insist that the YEC interpretation of Genesis is now even close to what the text is saying. (p. 69.)This is a terribly helpful point for LDS readers: the problem with LDS versions of YEC is not that such a belief is in conflict with science, it is that it is in conflict with the scriptures. The cure for LDS YEC is to read the scriptures more carefully and to seek spiritual enlightenment from God instead of from conservative evangelical commentators or from LDS teachers who have adopted conservative evangelical teachings. I have addressed the problem with LDS YEC in a prior post Cafeteria Correlation and the CES approach to YEC, which is more balanced than I would have guessed, in Creationism and LDS Seminary.
How do we relate religion and science?
Let me first summarize how the authors approach this question. The authors note that Christian thinkers of the past such as Paul, Augustine, and Aquinas sought to expound and explain Christian belief in light of the contemporary understanding of the natural world available to them. Science as a separate discipline did not emerge until the early modern era. The authors note that there is surprisingly little overlap and conflict between science and religion: most science has little or no relevance for religion. But the modern media, which thrives on conflict or perceived conflict, retains the now-refuted conflict thesis popularized by White and Draper in the late 19th century, and most people accept that misleading storyline at face value. The authors adopt Stephen Jay Gould's NOMA [non-overlapping magisteria] model [see here] as a starting point for discussion, then move on to discuss ways in which religion has contributed to science and science has informed religion. Here is a paragraph that sums up the authors' approach:
Although science and religion certainly overlap in some cases, neither is an exhaustive source of truth capable of swallowing up the other. There are still questions that only science can address, and religion should simply concede on those points. And science cannot answer questions about life's purpose or the existence of God. Scientists in the public square should refrain from pontificating on those topics as if suddenly science has become a religion. (p. 90.)
A short review that gives a good overview of the book is posted over at Patheos.