My Recent Participation in the Science-Faith Dialogue

I recently participated in two separate events of science-faith dialogue. Both were sponsored by evangelical organizations with Trinity in the name. And both had a significant BioLogos presence.

EVENT #1: The Dabar Conference on “Affirming the Doctrine of Creation in an Age of Science” (June 14–17, 2017)

Two weeks ago I participated in the Dabar conference of the Henry Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, near Chicago (Dabar is Hebrew for “word”).

This was the second Dabar conference that I attended. These conferences are part of a three-year research project on creation that I’ve been involved in. The Creation Project aims to help the evangelical church develop a robust creation theology that can interact fruitfully with contemporary scientific understandings of the world.

Last year (2016) the topic was interpreting Genesis; this year (2017) the focus has been on the doctrine of creation; and next year (2018) it will be on what it means to be human.

The Dabar conference is held each June as the highlight of the year’s theme, and is attended by about 80100 theologians, biblical scholars, philosophers, scientists, and pastors.

The keynote papers weren’t read at this year’s conference, but were circulated to the participants in advance and we were expected to have read them all and to come with our questions.

The author of each keynote paper gave a five minute summary of their paper, which was followed by two short response papers, then by the author’s reply. After that it was open to the audience for Q&A. To see the list of speakers and topics, click here.

Each afternoon, we met in small groups to discuss the ideas raised in the papers and to see what the range of our opinion was on matters of creation theology and the science of origins.

There was a lot of very engaging discussion.

This year two of the main speakers (Deb Haarsma and Jeff Schloss) and two the respondents (Jim Stump and myself) were associated with BioLogos. Deb Haarsma is president of BioLogos, and Jim Stump is senior editor at BioLogos. Jeff Schloss and I are part of BioLogos Voices (the BioLogos speakers bureau).

There were lots of other BioLogos folks at the conference, who often raised excellent questions in the discussions.

This is the second year that I presented a response to one of the keynote papers.

My response this year was to philosopher William (Billy) Abraham‘s paper on “God as an Agent.” I was able to draw on my background in philosophy and my expertise in Old Testament to address the topic of how the Bible speaks of God.

For those interested, you can read my response to Billy Abraham here.

EVENT #2: An Evening Conversation on “Genes, Self, and Soul” (June 26, 2017)

Just a few days ago I was one of two speakers at an evening event in Washington, DC on science and faith, sponsored by the Trinity Forum.

The Trinity Forum was founded by Os Guinness (who had been an associate of Francis Schaeffer), along with others interested in fostering significant dialogue between Christianity and major intellectual issues of our time.

By a strange coincidence, I actually quoted Os Guinness (from his first book, The Dust of Death) in my response paper at the Dabar conference.

The June 26 event, on the topic of “Genes, Self, and Soul,” was the second in a series of four Evening Conversations on “Discovery and Doxology” that the Trinity Forum is currently co-sponsoring with BioLogos.

According to the Trinity Forum website, this series “features renowned scientists, philosophers, and theologians in conversation on the ways that scientific discovery and spiritual knowledge are complementary and together contribute to a greater sense of wonder and worship.”

Both speakers on June 26 (geneticist Praveen Sethupathy and myself) were members of BioLogos Voices.

Praveen, who is is also on the Board of Directors for BioLogos, is associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Cornell University. For his presentation he drew on his perspective as a Christian who does genome research, to suggest what science can and can’t tell us about what makes us human.

Then it was my turn, as a biblical scholar, to explore how the Bible might contribute to an understanding of our biological nature, which we share with other animals, and to our distinctive human calling or vocation to image God .

Given the topic for the evening (“Genes, Self, and Soul”), both Praveen and I made the same distinction between 1) our biological composition (which includes our genetic makeup) and 2) our human calling as the image of God (which distinguishes us from other creatures). This distinction between biology and the image of God was an attempt to address the words  “genes” and “self” in the title of the event.

But what about “soul”?

While “soul” is often a synonym for “self” in modern discussions, I suggested that what the Bible means by “soul” (Hebrew nephesh; Greek psyche) has to do with what we have in common with other animals, rather than anything distinctive to human beings. Here I drew on the use of “soul” in the early chapters of Genesis and how the apostle Paul uses the term.

I told the audience that if they expected the Bible to mean by what we mean by “soul” they should “get used to disappointment.”

For those in the know, I was quoting the Man in Black (Westley a.k.a the dread pirate Roberts) in The Princess Bride.

As is often the case, here the Bible challenges our received wisdom.

The entire Evening Conversation can be viewed by clicking on this link.  The video includes a brief introduction by Deb Haarsma (the president of BioLogos) and then by Cherie Harder (the president of The Trinity Forum), followed by the presentations by Praveen and myself, and the discussion afterwards.

Event #3: Possible Joint-Lecture at Brown University by Sethupathy and Middleton (Fall 2017)

Praveen and I may be speaking together again in the Fall on the topic of evolution and Christian faith at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Our joint- talk, sponsored by a campus ministry organization called Christian Union, would explore evolution from the points of view of a scientist and a theologian; it would be geared to interested students and faculty, both Christian and secular.

Although the details still have to be worked out (including the date), I am looking forward to this possibility since I have a lot of respect both for Praveen and for the Christian Union; I got to know this campus ministry organization when I gave a talk five years ago for them at Columbia University (in NYC) on what it means to be made in the image of God.

 

 

 

Biblical Faith and Evolution at Cambridge

This is the seventh installment about my speaking tour in the UK.

In between my two visits to Oxford I spent the day in Cambridge.

I gave a lunchtime lecture at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at the University of Cambridge (housed in St. Edmund’s College), as part of their bi-weekly series of Research Seminars on various topics relating to science and Christian faith.

Most of my other lectures in the UK were presented to divinity students and faculty at various universities and in a few cases to wider audiences that included non-academics.

Those lectures were all related to my teaching and research on the Bible, deriving either from my published writings (A New Heaven and a New Earth) or from material I am currently working on for publication (the lament psalms, Genesis 22, and Job).

My lecture at the Faraday Institute was a bit different; my assigned topic of how the early chapters of Genesis might relate to an evolutionary account of human origins (“Human Distinctiveness and the Origin of Evil in Biblical and Evolutionary Perspective”) was quite new to me; I’ve only begun thinking about this issue in the last few years.

The audience for the lecture was also different, being composed of scientists, theologians, and students, including people of different religious faiths, and even some skeptics.

This was the largest group I spoke to on my entire UK trip. Whereas some of the academic audiences I addressed were as small as 15 or 20, the Faraday organizers told me they counted 99 people in the audience, the largest turnout they had in recent memory for one of their seminars.

You can read a brief summary of part 1 of the talk (on human distinctiveness in the Bible) or listen to (and watch) the full talk (on human distinctiveness and the origin of evil) on Faraday’s Science and Belief website.

In the Faraday lecture I was representing BioLogos, an organization in the US that tries to help Christians see the harmony between science and faith, especially focusing on how we might understand evolution as the way that God has worked in the created order.

I became a BioLogos theology fellow in 2016, tasked with writing a number of blog posts on issues relating to biblical interpretation and evolution. I was also asked to become a member of BioLogos Voices, which is their Speaker’s Bureau (I am one four speakers listed under Bible and Theology).

My approach in the Faraday lecture (which has also been my approach in my BioLogos blogs) was to use my expertise as an Old Testament scholar to help the audience notice what the relevant Scriptures were saying about the topic at hand, and then speculate (tentatively) on how this might connect with what we know about human evolution.

I had very diverse questions from people of different faith stances; I can only hope that my exposition of Scripture helped those in the audience (Christian or otherwise) realize the rich resources of the Bible, when it is taken seriously and read carefully.

Some Interesting People That I Met

Keith Fox is Associate Director of The Faraday Institute and Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Southampton. He was my initial contact with Faraday and the person who decided on the topic of my lecture (from the options that I suggested).

Jennifer Wiseman works for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as the Senior Project Scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope (having previously headed the Goddard’s Laboratory for Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics); I had previously met her at a BioLogos conference in the US. She was at the University of Cambridge to work on a short-term research project in astrophysics and was the next speaker for the Faraday Research Seminars, two weeks after my lecture.

Hilary Marlow, Lecturer in the Faculty of Divinity at University of Cambridge, is an Old Testament scholar well-known for her work on ecology in the prophetic literature. She is one of the editors of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Bible and Ecology, for which I wrote an essay on “The Image of God in Ecological Perspective.” I met Hilary last November when she gave the keynote address on ecology and justice at the 2016 meeting of the Ecological Ethics and Biblical Studies research group of the Institute for Biblical Research (I will be giving the keynote address on ecology and hope at the 2017 meeting).

Fox, Middleton, Weisman, and Marlow

Ruth Bancewicz, a biologist, is a Senior Research Associate at The Faraday Institute, who also writes for BioLogos. After my lecture Ruth interviewed me for the Science and Belief blog, which she is in charge of. The interview (both print and audio) can be accessed on the Science and Belief website. Ruth told me that the interview had been requested by the editor of The War Cry, a Christian newspaper in the UK published by the Salvation Army (since 1879). Unlike many Christian organizations in North America, it looks like the Salvation Army in the UK isn’t afraid of evolution!

Daniel Weiss is Polonsky-Coexist Lecturer in Jewish Studies, in the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. After my Faraday lecture, Daniel took me aside and chatted enthusiastically about his work on biblical interpretation and the Jewish intellectual tradition. I was pleasantly surprised when he affirmed that my analysis of humanity as the image of God (in The Liberating Image) was helpful for his own work.

The Work of Michael Faraday

And now a word about Michael Faraday, the nineteenth-century English Christian (1791-1867) for whom The Faraday Institute is named. Although he had almost no formal schooling, Michael Faraday became fascinated with science in his teenage years and became an important experimental scientist as a young man. He was the first to demonstrate the relationship of electricity to magnetism, and he developed the first electric motor. Later on he demonstrated the connection of electromagnetism to light. In 1825 Faraday instituted a series of Christmas lectures on science for the public that continue to this day.

In the plane on the way home, I happened to watch a special episode of Cosmos (the science TV series) on Michael Faraday; it was quite inspiring.

After my time in Cambridge and Oxford I traveled to Cheltenham to speak at the University of Glouchestershire, which is the topic of my next post.

 

Evolution and the Historical Fall—What Does Genesis 3 Tell Us about the Origin of Evil?

Last year I was appointed a BioLogos theology fellow, commissioned to write a series of six blog posts on Christian faith and evolution. My mandate was specifically to bring my own expertise in biblical studies (particularly the Old Testament) to bear on the question of evolution.

My own personal slant has been to explore questions at the intersection of faith and evolutionary science, both respecting the science and remaining steadfast as an orthodox, evangelical Christian (this, of course, challenges the truncated understanding of “evangelical” that the media often promulgates).

My fourth Biologos blog has just been published on the BioLogos website. It addresses the question of a historical Fall (the origin of sin) and how this might be compatible with the evolution of Homo sapiens. You can read it here.

This blog is based on the much longer chapter I wrote for the book Evolution and the Fall (Eerdmans, 2017), edited by James K. A. Smith and William Cavanaugh. You can see an interview with the editors about the book on the publisher’s blog site.

My previous BioLogos blogs addressed:

My final two BioLogos blogs will address:

  • The providence of God in a world of death and randomness (often thought by Christians to be consequences of the Fall).
  • How cosmic evolution might relate to the biblical promise of a new heaven and a new earth.

You can find all my BioLogos blogs in one place (including upcoming posts); just scroll to the bottom of the page.

BioLogos was founded by Francis Collins, the scientist in charge of the human genome project, which cracked the human genetic code; he is also an evangelical Christian. He founded BioLogos to encourage all people to see the hand of God in the evolutionary processes of nature.

The current BioLogos purpose statement reads:

“BioLogos invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.”

Please join me as I explore these fascinating questions at the intersection of evolutionary science and Christian faith.

I welcome responses to my post on the BioLogos website.

You can also post responses to the blog about my post at the Jesus Creed website, hosted by Scot McKnight (the blog is by an excellent science and faith blogger who goes by RJS).