Saturday, January 21, 2006

Christianity and Science

I am currently slogging my way through Chappell and Cook's book, Not Just Science: Questions Where Christian Faith and Natural Science Intersect. It's not a pleasant experience, for a variety of reasons that will become clear, but it does reveal a lot about the mindset of evangelical Christians.

Not Just Science is a collection of short essays written by a variety of Christian authors, mostly professors at Wheaton and Calvin Colleges. The topics include cosmology, philosophy, geology, mathematics, and computer science. The essays are in a sort of catechism format, arranged around a series of questions and answers.

There are some things right about the book. The authors take a generally skeptical line about intelligent design, which is refreshing. They are not as dogmatic or intolerant as some, and they seem generally willing to cite books and papers that argue from a non-theistic or atheistic perspective. Many authors appear somewhat informed about the topics they write on (in contrast to others working on the Christianity-science turf, such as the appallingly ignorant Denyse O'Leary). That much is welcome.

On the other hand, there are many things wrong: the utter vacuity of some of the essays, the juvenile tone of others, the poor editing that leaves some sentences hanging in thin air, and the lack of an index. The main problem, however, is that the authors don't really confront the hard problems that science poses for religious belief. For example, did the alleged miracle of the Resurrection violate physical law? More generally, how should we understand the relationship between our current model of the universe and Christian miracles? Why is it that the miracles of 2000 years ago seem so rare today? Was Jesus haploid or diploid? If the Christian god is outside the universe, how precisely does he intervene inside it? Was Jesus a miracle worker or a clever conjurer? Does archaeology suggest the Bible is not inerrant? Are religious claims subject to scientific scrutiny? Why does the account in Genesis differ so much from what we know about cosmology? None of these questions is really addressed.

In the next few weeks, as time permits, I'll be addressing individual essays in this book. The first will be about computer science, my own field. Stick around for the fun.


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Please don't laugh.

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