Religion and Science with Philip Clayton

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Five Recurring Themes in Religion and Science Discussions: 1- Divine Action: Scientists often speak of ”the causal closure of the physical”–physical effects are only caused, or rather, quite easily completely explained by physical processes. How can we have a robust conception of divine action in a world that scientists often argue is causally closed? Yes the complexity of levels…

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Five Recurring Themes in Religion and Science Discussions:

1- Divine Action: Scientists often speak of ”the causal closure of the physical”–physical effects are only caused, or rather, quite easily completely explained by physical processes.

  • How can we have a robust conception of divine action in a world that scientists often argue is causally closed?
  • Yes the complexity of levels change, perhaps new emergent causes develop, but doesn’t this challenge the idea of miracles at least on some level, or God acting in any way beyond perhaps the most fundamental levels of quantum physics?
  • Is a God that can only set in motion (act on) slight variations through what scientists call quantum indeterminacy enough of a God, or one enough like the biblical one (for the Christian religion) to be likened to the narrative of the Judeo-Christian tradition?

2- Can Science be Postmodern?: Few progressive evangelicals (even fewer progressives) are still wary of letting science have any say or import into theological or hermeneutical questions related in theology or religion. Yes, the bible has its own outmoded scientific world that we can accept as right to be done away with, but these scientists seem to be way less postmodern and humble in their hermeneutic than we are!

  • Is there a way to let science in, for lack of a better phrase, without giving it the de facto upper hand in all matters as if it’s the new queen of the disciplines? This relates to the previous divine action question but in generalized form.
  • Can science be postmodern too?
  • And can it be a conversation partner without being foisted upon us as the arbiter of what stays and goes in religion?

3- The Question of the Soul: I recently went to present a paper at a conference at Oxford University in the UK where the whole conference (a three-day affair) was devoted to the question of the soul in conversation with contemporary philosophy, theology, and science. It’s a hugely hot topic. There’s five conferences worth of questions that this raises, but here are a few:

  • Are human beings composed of souls and bodies, mysteriously intertwined, or merely physical bodies–truly dust to dust? Can what appears to be a cold world of chemical and micro-physical determinations explain all the amazing features of consciousness and our dynamic experiential lives?
  • If we’re just bodies, how do we persist (continue to exist) before the fervently testified to bodily resurrection in the NT? What do we do with the bevy of distinctions between body, soul, and spirit in the bible and other religious texts?
  • Are these becoming passé terms suitable for Plato and the ancients but not us?

4- Moral Responsibility and Freedom: Science seems to be doing a pretty good job (at least they claim) at explaining a lot of actions and experiences we used to ascribe to “the mind” or “the soul” in terms of automatic actions in the body or chemical transactions between the brain and our nervous systems. Some of these have even been shown to predate our conscious decisions to act in this or that way.

  • If the world is really governed by this kind of physical determinism, how can we rightly ascribe to ourselves freedom and moral responsibility?
  • Heck, can we even say we did this or that action or actually chose to act in the normal way we talk about our feelings, reasons, etc. guiding our actions?
  • Ugh, are reformed people right to a degree that they wouldn’t even want to be (i.e. severe determinism)?

5- The Image of God: Given the theory of evolution and its evidence for our deep and close kinship with the rest of the animal kingdom:

  • In what sense should this effect our understanding of the image of God humankind is said to bear according to the Judeo-Christian tradition?
  • If our rationality, perhaps the most oft-invoked locus of the image of God, is a slowly developing evolutionary quality that our close ancestors have to a lesser degree as well, is the image of God something we can still claim exclusively as human beings? Homo sapiens but not Homo erectus or other hominins have it?
  • How can we really take the human being to be so utterly distinct (and supremely important?) with a strong thorough going evolution? The Bible seems to make humans too distinct in this regard.
  • What would a non-anthropocentric gospel look like?