Science and Religion

So, I’ve done a bit of responding to other posts on here, and I thought it was about time I made my first post, on a subject I have a lot of personal interest in. A quick search for keywords such as evolution, creationism, and intelligent design shows that there has not been much discussion (actually, any, as far as I can see) of these subjects on this blog. This does not entirely surprise me, because, in my experience, there is very little discussion amongst the Anabaptist Churches in general on issues having to do with the relationship between science and faith. Conservative Anabaptists (just can’t get away from that term!), for their part, often fall in line with other conservative Christians, in being suspicious of evolution (or “evolutionism”) and embracing a literalistic interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis. Either that, or they don’t make an issue about it at all, one way or the other, and prefer not to discuss it. Liberal Anabaptists, for their part, tend to accept the truth of evolution because they have a liberal enough interpretation of Scripture that it presents no exegetical problem for them to do so, and because they associate creationism with ignorant warmongering racist homophobic fundamentalists. The fact that Jerry Falwell endorsed creationism is good enough reason for many progressive Christians to automatically reject it.

Of course, anti-evolutionism has not always had attached to it the social and economic conservatism we associate with it today. Indeed, in economic terms at least, Darwinism lends itself quite well to a conservative worldview—in fact, it was largely the work of economist Thomas Malthus that first inspired Darwin’s idea of natural selection. And, in fact, it was this association of scientific Darwinism with Social Darwinism that many socially progressive Christians of ages past objected to, and so became anti-evolutionist. William Jennings Bryan, three time Democratic presidential candidate, was a socialist and peace advocate who famously opposed evolution because of what he saw as its social implications. In a stump speech that he gave in revival tents around the country, he referred to Darwinism as propagating a “law of hate” that stood in stark contrast to the “law of love” that Christ taught.

What’s my point with all this? It’s certainly not that Bryan was right. Creationism is both bad science and bad theology—the evidence for evolution is strong, and for an old earth even stronger, and a literalistic interpretation of the Bible brings with it a myriad of difficulties itself. (Bryan believed in an old earth, as did most vocal proponents of creationism until the 1960s, and for the most part I can forgive his theology. lacking as the literalism that saturates creationism today. Still, his understanding of science left a lot to be desired.) But Bryan asked interesting questions and made interesting points. How does one deal with the apparent implications of Darwinism in light of the “law of love” we find in the Gospel? Many Christians today have come up with creative ways to reconcile the truth of biology with the truth of Christianity. Some Christians, of course, continue to simply deny the truth of biology. But scientists such as John Polkinghorne and Francis Collins have written about the compatibility between science and religion, and theologians are attempting to figure out how evolution—and other scientific truths—can inform and shape our theology (this is one of the motivations for open theism—if God does not predestine or even foreknow evolutionary changes and processes than can only be described as cruel and unnecessary, then he cannot be held responsible for them). The conversation on this issue—sometimes civil, sometimes not—is alive and active in the Church today.

In the Anabaptist churches, however, I see little of this discussion. Perhaps it’s the lingering suspicion of higher education from our Anabaptist forebears. Perhaps it’s our emphasis on social justice and discipleship at the expense of other matters. But whatever the reason, there just aren’t very many Mennonites or Brethren out there talking about science and religion. I know of one prominent Anabaptist theistic evolutionist—Owen Gingerich. And it might be more accurate to call him a theistic evolutionist who happens to be a Mennonite, at least as far as his scientific beliefs are concerned—because while his science is clearly informed by his Christianity, from what I’ve read of him I see very little that is explicitly “Anabaptist.” In contrast, when I read John Polkinghorne his Anglican faith is incredibly evident. Its influence is quite present in his scientific and theological reflections. The higher churches have always had more of an interest—for better or for worse—in natural theology.

In my experience, the general approach of Anabaptists, at least the ones who accept evolution, to the relationship between science and faith is that of “non-overlapping magisterium,” to use Stephen Jay Gould’s phrase. Basically this says that science and religion have nothing to do with each other, and that scientific discoveries should have no influence on our religious beliefs, which are simply a totally different kind of truth. Having professed this belief, Anabaptists are then free to go on their merry way of never actually thinking about science or its implications for faith.

Now, while I applaud the recognition that science and religion can both be true and that evolution (or whatever else) does not preclude Christian belief, I think that to act as if scientific truths have no bearing on religious truths is ridiculous, and based on a rather schizophrenic view of reality. We need to consider how the truth of evolution should affect our understanding of the nature of God. Personally, I think open theism goes too far in some of its claims, but at least it’s an attempt.

So, here are my questions for you. Firstly, why is this something that is never talked about in the Mennonite Church? Secondly, do you think that it is something that should be talked about? Is it an unimportant issue? Is this just pointless intellectual hair-splitting that is better saved until we’ve actually solved things like hunger, war, and poverty? Finally, if it is something that we should talk about, is there something distinctly “Anabaptist” that we can bring to this issue? Perhaps not—perhaps Anabaptist theology and practice has nothing constructive to add to this conversation. Perhaps we Anabaptists simply need to start discussing this issue more, but our discussion will be the same as with any other Christians, because there’s nothing our specific tradition can bring to this issue. Or maybe there is something Anabaptism has to say about all this. What do you think?

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15 Responses to “Science and Religion”

  1. j alan meyer Says:

    Nevin,

    I can’t quite figure out what you’re trying to say, or even how you’re trying to represent some of the arguments. What are the “apparent implications of Darwinism” that should supposedly make me care about this?

    I disagree with your interpretation of current Anabaptist approaches to this subject. There’s an annual “Science and Religion” conference at Goshen College, which is often focused specifically on recognizing the intersections between the two fields. There’s also a strong emphasis in the Science departments on seeing God in the sciences. I think this is true for many pro-evolution (as opposed to pro-choice?) Anabaptists.

    (Hmm. If I’m pro-choice, does that mean I get to choose whether I want to evolve or not?)

  2. steve martin Says:

    You probably want to add Nancey Murphy to the list of prominent anabaptist theistic evolutionists. And I think her anabaptist worldview certainly is prominent in her writings. Her lectures from the annual Goshen “Science & Religion” conference were excellent. See:

    Murphy, Nancey C., and Helrich, Carl S. 2002. Religion and science : God, evolution and the soul by Nancey Murphy : proceedings of the Goshen Conference on Religion and Science. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press.

  3. DevanD Says:

    J Alan,

    I think Nevin is mostly trying to spark discussion, though I do see what you are saying; it is a bit tough to follow the viewpoints Nevin is describing. Nonetheless Nevin, thanks for your first post and for opening up discussion!

    “Now, while I applaud the recognition that science and religion can both be true and that evolution (or whatever else) does not preclude Christian belief, I think that to act as if scientific truths have no bearing on religious truths is ridiculous, and based on a rather schizophrenic view of reality.”

    I think this is the closest to how I feel on the subject, but you have made it seem as though the debate between religious and scientific truths is totally polarized, which I don’t think it is. I think they have bearing on one another, but they cannot be held to the same standards and as such science cannot invalidate religion or vice versa.

    Where we run into trouble is within the nature of truth. Science, though operating under pretenses of objectivity, is necessarily a subjective truth - it puts certain parameters on itself and certain laws within itself. It is a discourse. Walter Bruegemann in the introduction to Theology of the Old Testament does a good survey on how the Enlightenment and positivism and, consequently, scientific method, influenced our reading of the bible. As western intellectuals have moved into post-liberal, post-critical thinking, we have found that it is a bit ridiculous to hold science and religion to the same set of standards. Religion has its own laws and parameters.

    Creationism is a perfect example of how the Bible has been read within an Enlightenment worldview; it throws out the window the actual historicity of the text (and how it has been slapped together through oral history and is never meant to be literal) and instead reads into it a history and theology that is entirely outside how the text was formed, based on objective principles of observation within the text. It is an objective, scientific, textual analysis. In that sense, Creationism is just another scientific theory, but based on marginally compelling evidence.

    The challenge is to recognize the positives within each tradition (science and religion) and accentuate them, and debate the negatives in each and finds ways to enhance them. In the end, both are in service to God and within God’s plan.

  4. Skylark Says:

    In my experience, Mennonites don’t talk a lot about origens, and when we do, it’s usually those promoting a young-earth-creationist perspective, often in the form of watching a Answers in Genesis video series. In high school youth group, creationism was how it happened, no questions asked. (It might not have been that black-and-white in reality because at that point in my life I had a hard time seeing gray areas.)

    When the young adults began to talk about “unsafe issues” last year, this was one of the first topics to come up. I was relieved to hear I wasn’t the only one thinking, “Does it really matter that much? Ken Ham of AiG makes origins sound like a Super Important Issue, but I don’t see how it impacts how I live my life.”

    Then I spoke briefly with my dad, an environmental chemist, about origins and the Bible. Overall we agreed. I said as best I could tell, the point of the first chapters of Genesis is to establish that God made us, God cares for us and we screwed up. Quibbling over what a “day” means doesn’t change the point the authors were trying to make. On that we disagreed. I remember my dad saying if you throw out what doesn’t completely fit in the overall story (of the Bible), then you run the risk of deciding to simply throw out the story itself. He said he’d run into people like this when he was a student at Mount Union College in the late ’70s. Mind you, MUC is Christian in name only and is not connected with any particular church anymore. I wouldn’t expect great contributions to Anabaptist theological understanding to come from thinkers there.

    So how do we keep a sense of overall story without throwing out the story itself?

  5. lukelm Says:

    I think the implications of Darwinism, and the “schizophrenic view of reality” that come from trying to operate within both scientific and religious paradigms are very real and difficult things to be grappled with. To wit: biology and chemistry assume a completely materialistic view of the world, in which no influences other than those within the material reality (such as the “spiritual”) can be brought to bear. If nothing from outside or above the material can be said to interact with the material, then how is it possible for God to be present in the world? In other words, has science stripped away all possible “locations” for God in God’s relation to the world?

    I’m not sure that the church should be discussing these things in a broad sense because most people simply don’t have the scientific knowledge to engage the issues - but the science and religion conference at Goshen (which I participated in when I was there) is a great example of how those within/around the church who do have specialized scientific knowledge can and should discuss these things.

    “Social darwinism”, of course, was always just the same old prejudicial junk being cloaked in pseudo-scientific language.

    Reality ultimately has to be one and only one, so how can any claims about reality not have bearing on others claims about reality? The two have to unite at some point. Science and western religion are each very distinct ways of getting at the truths, yet I feel Nevin’s pain of the slight madness of being caught between the two judges who don’t speak each other’s languages. (Out of curiosity Nevin, what is your major?) I think that the tension and dysphoria the two create can ultimately point to deeper and more unified truths than either can offer on its own (i.e. that each can point to the incompleteness of the other in ways we wouldn’t see if we only had one.) I’d probably have a hard time putting much of that into words right now, but it would obviously a much longer post meant for another day.

  6. TimN Says:

    Nevin, you ask:

    Is this just pointless intellectual hair-splitting that is better saved until we’ve actually solved things like hunger, war, and poverty?

    For me, the answer is a clear no. I was an anthropology and sociology major in college and I found that studying the evolution of humans and human society was very influential in how I think about my faith and my response to hunger war and poverty.

    Social Darwinism was not the only response to Darwin’s theory of evolution. In 1902 Peter Kropotkin published a much more Anabaptist view of evolution entitled Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (free download here). As the title implies, Kropotkin pointed out that mutual aid was far more important in evolution then “strife” or competition. He drew on examples such as bees, ants and all sorts of pack and herd animals who depend on complex systems of support and even sacrifice for one another in order to survive.

    Likewise early human societies were primarily centered around community and solidarity rather than competition. We have a tendency today to look at the last 10,000 years of human history as the only important parts of human development and forget that humans lived together quite ably for hundreds of thousands of years before that. Many of the foundations of our society and our selves that we take for granted today are really products of this system humans lived with out for much longer than we’ve lived with it.

    While the blood and gore of predation grab all the attention and TV time, the mutual support of animals of all types is far more important to the survival and evolutionary development of all of nature. In this context God’s vision for shalom calls us not to reject our nature, but to rediscover the sacrifice and love for the other that is the quiet but pervasive foundation of creation and the process of evolution itself.

  7. Brian Hamilton Says:

    “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

    “The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

    “Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

    —Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram 1.19.39

  8. DanL Says:

    I think its a pretty fascinating post actually, and questions that are extremely important for Anabaptists to wrestle with. So first off, thanks. Maybe if we were to look at some larger philosophical or ideological things going on here, then we can recognize the important more clearly.

    It seems quite clear to me that Darwinism makes a hell of a lot more sense than any sort of 6 day creationism. I don’t know much of anything about science, but I studied Anthropology- and if we are only working with 10,000 years than my textbooks have a lot of explaining to do. Regardless, what is difficult for me to deal with is the implicit modern mindset in which Evolution stems out of. The Cartesian mindset which believes that we have the ability to understand, prove, and make sense of all life. Implicit in modernism is a colonialism, a dualism of mind and body, individualism, and an unhealthy faith in the ability of humankind and science. And such a mindset has led to 2 World Wars, the Holocaust, Colonialism, the slave trade, environmental destruction, Capitalism, and globalization. Yes I actually do think that. And so, no I have no issue at all with any sort of evolution, but I do have some discomfort with the idea that we can understand all of life through a microscope. (Not very well said, but I’m working on a glass of brandy and I’m tired).

    And so what do Anabaptists have to offer to this conversation. Well I think we can offer discipleship or praxis oriented science. Not sure what on earth that looks like- but it could be something that seeks to bridge the spiritual and the material. We have a responsibility to 1. refuse to spiritualize the teachings of Jesus 2. refuse to give humans the power to play God. What does this look like in this conversation….well probably theistic evolution. Better yet- it looks like Thomas Merton with a telescope.

  9. Skylark Says:

    “Implicit in modernism is a colonialism, a dualism of mind and body, individualism, and an unhealthy faith in the ability of humankind and science. And such a mindset has led to 2 World Wars, the Holocaust, Colonialism, the slave trade, environmental destruction, Capitalism, and globalization. Yes I actually do think that.”

    What is your solution to modernism? Is modernism itself a problem, or only the negative results?

    Slavery has been around far longer than the concept of evolution, so I don’t really know where you get the idea slavery is the result.

  10. Uncle Menno Says:

    I suspect the reason that Anabaptists/Mennos don’t have much that’s distinctive to say about the interplay between science and faith is because systematics and philosophical theology have never been of particular interest or importance to Anabaptists/Mennos.

  11. DanL Says:

    Skylark,

    I think we already see a movement beyond Modernism. Post-modernity is looking at embracing the reality of the narrative, of community. It places very little faith in what humankind can know, figure out, solve, etc…It embraces a new ethic that is, ideally, found in understanding new narratives. It’s got plenty of problems I’m sure…but I think its much better than what modernity gave us. I think modernism is the problem. When I talk about modernism, I’m talking about the historical philosophical movement of people like Rene Descartes and the industrial revolution.

    As for slavery. Sure the currents of slavery existed long prior to modernism. But the technological advances of modernity, made slavery a global phenomenon. Quinine allowed europeans to enter africa, transportation advances enabled europeans to colonize the Americas- and all of this culminated in making africans the commodities of europeans at a global scale.

    So what is my solution to modernism? Well for the world to start acting in light of the kingdom of God, which transcends all philosophical schools. Its for the world to embrace the alternative reality that all people are equal, that instead of fighting our enemies we love them, and instead of competing with our neighbors we love them. It’s the kingdom that places all individuals inside of community, that understands that we all experience the same pain, and that the only hope we have for the world is to end the cycles of violence and oppression, and embrace a new ethic that recognizes and celebrates the dignity of all people - white, latino, african american, lgbtq, and what have you.

  12. steve martin Says:

    On your question:

    ” is there something distinctly “Anabaptist” that we can bring to this issue?”

    I think there is. Here is the relevant point from my post at: http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2007/07/anabaptists-mennonites-and-evolution.html

    I believe there indeed are some “distinctly Anabaptist” ideas that can be brought to the table in the science / faith discussion. Nancey Murphy, an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren, has done a good job of articulating this perspective. For example, her view on “God’s Nonviolent Direct Action” (see chapter 2 of Religion and Science: God, Evolution, and the Soul) should be required reading for anyone trying to understand divine action in the light of evolution. In my opinion, this Anabaptist-ethic model is very helpful to those of us trying to avoid the “Cosmic Tyrant God” of ID on one hand, and the “Non-existent God” of Richard Dawkins and other metaphysical materialists on the other. In fact, this view of God’s action is the only one, for me, that begins to address the issue of theodicy.

  13. Nevin Says:

    Good thoughts by all. Apologies for not responding again to this thread until now; I’ve found myself rather busy in the past couple weeks.

    J Alan: Devan is right that I was mostly just trying to spark discussion, and you’re both probably right that my post is rather difficult to follow. There isn’t really a central argument or any of that sort; I was more wondering what other people’s thoughts on this issue were.

    What are the “apparent implications of Darwinism” that should supposedly make me care about this?

    Well, for example, depending on one’s view of divine foreknowledge and predestination, one might now have to deal with the problem of God bringing about human beings through a slow, inefficient, and cruel process in which the stronger living beings survive at the expense of the weak. This hardly sounds like the kind of God revealed to us through Jesus.

    (Of course, there is a danger in overstating this problem. The problem of evil existed long before evolutionary theory, and it would be foolish of us to simply toss out traditional theism because the problem has been exacerbated somewhat. Nevertheless, the problem has been exacerbated, I think, and I do not think it is inaccurate to say that evolutionary theory at least forces us to think more seriously about theodicy and about the divine role in the cruel processes of this world.)

    Another, rather different, issue is how the fact that human beings evolved from other life forms affects our view of the “soul” and our notions of human life being in some way different and/or superior to animal (and other) life. This is not necessarily a “problem” for Christianity itself, but it is, I think, a problem for traditional notions of human beings as unique life forms that are in some way better than other kinds of life. At any rate, it’s something that merits more discussion in the Christian Church.

    Thank you, J Alan, for making me aware of that conference at Goshen. It may well be that this is something which is discussed at Anabaptist colleges and universities, if not so much at the lay level. For instance, it was a professor at my own college, Messiah College, that sparked my interested in this subject, and that same professor directs a conference that sounds similar to the one at Goshen.

    Steve: Thanks for mentioning Murphy’s name. Her thoughts sound very interesting; I’d definitely like to check out that chapter you mentioned.

    I think this is the closest to how I feel on the subject, but you have made it seem as though the debate between religious and scientific truths is totally polarized, which I don’t think it is. I think they have bearing on one another, but they cannot be held to the same standards and as such science cannot invalidate religion or vice versa.

    Where we run into trouble is within the nature of truth. Science, though operating under pretenses of objectivity, is necessarily a subjective truth - it puts certain parameters on itself and certain laws within itself. It is a discourse. Walter Bruegemann in the introduction to Theology of the Old Testament does a good survey on how the Enlightenment and positivism and, consequently, scientific method, influenced our reading of the bible. As western intellectuals have moved into post-liberal, post-critical thinking, we have found that it is a bit ridiculous to hold science and religion to the same set of standards. Religion has its own laws and parameters.

    Devan: You are definitely right that they are fundamentally different fields of inquiry, and I did not mean to imply otherwise. You are also right that science is not as objective as it sometimes claims. As Polkinghorne observes, physicists frequently make hypotheses based not on some objective standard of truth but rather on the beauty or elegance of the hypothesis.

    Still, that being said, I have difficulties with postmodern views which would try to “deconstruct” science, for example. Really, there’s a problem with both sides, I think. Today there is a huge gap between science and the humanities, with the former being largely positivist and the latter largely postmodern, and both believing they can explain the other. (This is a general observation, not directly related to Anabaptism or even Christianity.) I think we need to somehow avoid both of those extremes, as well as the view that science and religion have nothing to do with each other. There is, I am convinced, one truth, but different aspects of that truth, and different ways of understanding that truth. Those aspects overlap and affect each other to an extent, but they are still different ways of understanding that truth. Science should affect our faith, and vice-versa. Indeed, scientific beliefs already affect our faith–and vice-versa–so we might as well acknowledge that and try to work it out in some coherent way.

    Creationism is a perfect example of how the Bible has been read within an Enlightenment worldview; it throws out the window the actual historicity of the text (and how it has been slapped together through oral history and is never meant to be literal) and instead reads into it a history and theology that is entirely outside how the text was formed, based on objective principles of observation within the text. It is an objective, scientific, textual analysis. In that sense, Creationism is just another scientific theory, but based on marginally compelling evidence.

    Indeed, creationism could be called a scientific theory, just a very bad one. This, in my view, differentiates it from Intelligent Design, which offers no real alternative (bad or otherwise) to evolution.

    The challenge is to recognize the positives within each tradition (science and religion) and accentuate them, and debate the negatives in each and finds ways to enhance them. In the end, both are in service to God and within God’s plan.

    Well put.

    Reality ultimately has to be one and only one, so how can any claims about reality not have bearing on others claims about reality? The two have to unite at some point. Science and western religion are each very distinct ways of getting at the truths, yet I feel Nevin’s pain of the slight madness of being caught between the two judges who don’t speak each other’s languages. (Out of curiosity Nevin, what is your major?) I think that the tension and dysphoria the two create can ultimately point to deeper and more unified truths than either can offer on its own (i.e. that each can point to the incompleteness of the other in ways we wouldn’t see if we only had one.) I’d probably have a hard time putting much of that into words right now, but it would obviously a much longer post meant for another day.

    Very similar to some of my thinking, Luke. As Einstein famously said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” You make a good point earlier on, though, that we shouldn’t necessarily be making too much of these issues in the broader Church because most people don’t know enough about the science involved. Of course, that really gets at a larger difficulty, which is, how much theology do you make a part of regular church services and the like, and how much do you leave to reclusive scholars in the hallowed halls of academia? I phrase that question jokingly to get at the difficulty therein: while on the one hand we don’t want to clutter up the basic message of the gospel with theological and philosophy pondering, no matter how important we may think it to be, on the other hand if we really do think said pondering to be important, should we not find some way to make it a part of the wider Church in general?

    In response to your parenthetical question, I have a double major: Peace & Conflict Studies, and Humanities with a concentration in Philosophy. It is, naturally, the part of me that is drawn to Philosophy that makes me interested in issues such as this one.

  14. Nevin Says:

    TimN: Although it hadn’t been something I’d discussed in my post, I think you’re absolutely right that our understanding of evolution plays a crucial role in our understanding of human relations, which clearly is of the utmost importance in issues like hunger, war, and poverty. Kropotkin’s writing looks quite interesting (I barely glanced at the book, but I think I’ll have to give it at least a more thorough skimming at some point)—you’re definitely right to observe that there are responses to Darwin’s theory other than Social Darwinism. I think Darwin himself suggested that cooperation and altruism could have evolved in early human societies in a way similar to what it seems Kropotkin is suggesting in his book. I’m not convinced that this eliminates the difficulties that evolutionary thinking poses on issues of ethics, but it definitely serves a reminder that it’s not all as bad as we sometimes think.

    Implicit in modernism is a colonialism, a dualism of mind and body, individualism, and an unhealthy faith in the ability of humankind and science. And such a mindset has led to 2 World Wars, the Holocaust, Colonialism, the slave trade, environmental destruction, Capitalism, and globalization. Yes I actually do think that. And so, no I have no issue at all with any sort of evolution, but I do have some discomfort with the idea that we can understand all of life through a microscope.

    I’m not sure I entirely agree with your analysis here, Dan. Yes, new science and technology may have made new horrors possible, but I don’t know that the modernist mindset can be entirely blamed for causing these horrors. After all, the Crusades arguably came about because of a premodern mindset which allowed rulers to use religion to manipulate the people. I think that in large part violence and destruction finds its justification in whatever the philosophical and/or religious language of the time is. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have all been used to support terrible acts. But so have evolution, secularism, the “common good,” reason, progress, and almost any other abstract concept you can think of. Although I was a bit skeptical when I first read it, the more I think about it the more attracted I am to John Howard Yoder’s philosophy of history presented in the last chapter of his The Politics of Jesus, in which he essentially says that as followers of Christ we have given up “compulsiveness of purpose,” have renounced the right to govern history towards our own ends, whatever those may be.
    But now I am getting off topic. I do think you are right that there is much that is harmful in the modernist worldview (just as there is much that there is harmful in the postmodern worldview, and probably in almost any other worldview you can find). I also think that, for all the good of modern science, we have become much too reliant on it. I recently read an excellent article on the BBC in which the author, talking about climate change, argues that when we focus on trying to come up with different technology that can provide us with better sources of energy we are missing the point—it is not that our technology is not good enough yet, it is that our lives are unsustainable. Coming with cleaner sources of energy is a great thing to do, to be sure, but what really needs to happen is a fundamental change in the way people live their lives.

    And so what do Anabaptists have to offer to this conversation. Well I think we can offer discipleship or praxis oriented science. Not sure what on earth that looks like- but it could be something that seeks to bridge the spiritual and the material. We have a responsibility to 1. refuse to spiritualize the teachings of Jesus 2. refuse to give humans the power to play God.

    Very interesting! A common emphasis in Anabaptist theology is that being Christian isn’t just about right beliefs, i.e., orthodoxy, but also about right practice, i.e., orthopraxy. I quite like the idea of “praxis oriented science.” It certainly raises interesting questions about we do science in the first place. While I definitely don’t think there’s anything wrong with science for the sake of science, I am quite disturbed by the voluminous amount of scientific ability we, the human race, have accumulated when compared with the disturbing lack of moral ability that we have. We live in a world in which we have made incredible scientific and technological advancements, but still can’t figure out how to keep from killing each other (or the planet we live on). Modern science and technology is a wonderful thing, but in the hands of human beings it often does more harm than good. And your second point, refusing to give humans the power to play God, is exactly what I think Yoder was getting at in his conclusion to The Politics of Jesus.

    I suspect the reason that Anabaptists/Mennos don’t have much that’s distinctive to say about the interplay between science and faith is because systematics and philosophical theology have never been of particular interest or importance to Anabaptists/Mennos.

    If that is the case, then I think it’s quite unfortunate. While I am admittedly biased, I think that Christians in general give far too little serious thought to philosophy and theology. I’m not convinced that this is true of Anabaptists today, although I think it was perhaps more true historically—after all, there is a multitude of work by contemporary Anabaptist scholars on (for instance) the atonement, especially inasmuch as our perception of it relates to our understanding of violence and nonviolence. And thanks to a few posts here, I am becoming more aware of Anabaptist scholarship in science and religion. And, as should be clear from my posts, I don’t think this (or many other philosophical issues) to be mere “intellectual hair-splitting.” While philosophers and theologians can sometimes get so caught up in philosophizing and theologizing that they forget that there’s a real world out there that Jesus commanded us to go forth into to live out his message of peace and reconciliation, social justice advocates often forget that there’s a real God up there and a real, if intangible, relationship between him and our world, and if we want to call ourselves his followers we ought to at least try to come up with some idea of what that relationship is, and what, exactly, God is, and who Jesus was, and what his life and death meant, and… you get the point. You can’t have orthopraxy without orthodoxy, and you can’t have orthodoxy without orthopraxy (as Steve says in the blog post which he linked to).

  15. Uncle Menno Says:

    Well, for example, depending on one’s view of divine foreknowledge and predestination, one might now have to deal with the problem of God bringing about human beings through a slow, inefficient, and cruel process in which the stronger living beings survive at the expense of the weak.

    I’m not sure that evolutionary theory suggests that the evolutionary process is a zero sum game, i.e., that for the strong to survive, the weak must die, or, as you phrase it, “…the stronger living beings survive at the expense of the weak…”

    There is a sense in which “survival of the fittest” is something of a tautology: those that survive are deemed the fittest simply from the fact of having survived without regard to whether there was competition from others in roughly the same ecological niche.

    That being said, the biggest problem that the empirical sciences have thrown at Christian orthodoxy is the attack on intentionality, i.e., that the world and all that is in it is the result of a supervenient (and inevitably anthropomorphized) intentionality. Whether the deity is violent or non-violent begs the question of there indeed being a deity capable of formulating intentions and carrying them out. I don’t know that there’s a uniquely Anabaptist contribution to this latter question.

    Whereas Anabaptism can easily affirm with Martin Luther, as he did when standing before the Diet, that we/he have/had no argument with any article of the Nicene formulation, which starts “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth….”

    In a funny way, Anabaptists are sort of like Socrates, who believed the world of the Good could not be described by weights and measures and was therefore of little assistance in his search to know the Good and himself in relation to it.

    Thus, the Anabaptists, who believe that the core of the living faith was/is the _imitatio Christi_ based on the Sermon on the Mount, rather than, say, the Summa Theologica based on Aristotle.

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