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    Science and Religion. A Choice, or No?

    In recent weeks, I have been discussing contemporary challenges to religious belief with college students. Specifically, we have been making a case for Christianity, and our most recent discussion centered on the relationship between faith and science.

    Among the handful of students present, I discovered that the most common science-based objections pertain to cosmology, human origin, and how one understands the Genesis 1 and 2 creation accounts. Less common was an objection based on miracles. I also found that the students I spoke with were either hesitant to voice the specific arguments against religion based on science, or they were not knowledgeable concerning the inner dynamics of those arguments. The problem was accepted as evident.

    They also relayed that they understood scientific challenges to religious belief were serious indeed, and a source of doubt among others they knew, and even for themselves.

    One point of conversation last Wednesday evening was the various models for the relationship between science and religion: conflict, dialogue, integration, or independence. Most students understood that the most commonly accepted approach is that of conflict. This is most evident in how the relationship between science and religion is publically conceived: as a debate.

    But Alister McGrath, a skilled theologian who was trained in the natural sciences at Oxford, has proposed a different avenue, perhaps one that falls within either the integration or dialogue models mentioned above.

    McGrath argues that both science and theology can mutually enrich one another, if the disciplines of both science and theology are properly defined and undertaken.

    Here is McGrath's proposal: 

    I therefore propose that we should challenge the dominant narrative of our time - the outdated "conflict narrative", sustained more by uncritical repetition than by historical evidence - and replace it with a narrative of enrichment. This narrative recognizes that, as human beings, we can be studied and understood at multiple levels - physical, biochemical, psychological and sociological. Yet none of these is adequate in itself, to give us a full understanding of who we are, and what we must do if we are to achieve fulfilment.

    Christian theology offers an enrichment of a scientific account of the world. It is able to engage the four critical issues identified by the social psychologist Roy Baumeister as central to the human quest for meaning: identity, value, purpose and agency.

    Read the entire presentation here. I have long found McGrath helpful, and you will likely encounter a challenge or two in this lengthy, but illuminating piece.

    It is my perception that the conversation on the streets about science and religion remains stuck in the old framework, despite claims by McGrath and others that arguments in the disciplines of both the philosophy of science and philosophy of religion recognize that the old, Enlightenment models for science and religion are crumbling.

    A partial way forward for all Christians to demand a new model, a new way of thinking about these things, that is both historically rooted and intellectually rigorous. McGrath gives us a start.


    Scot McKnight's One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow is $2.99 on Kindle

    PSA: Scot McKight's little book One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow is $2.99 on Kindle.

    When this book released I read it quickly, and proceeded to hand it off to high school seniors and college students as a nice, challenging book for those seeking to take a next step in their life with Christ.

    Not bad for adult Christians, either.


    Sermon Audio :: Whose Authority? Which Lord? : The Gracious Commands

    Ten Commandments, St. John's College, Cambridge

    On October 12, I preached a sermon on authority, the Lordship of Christ, and our response. We began with the Ten Commandments.

    Click here to read our primary text: Exodus 20:1-17.

    Download or listen to the sermon here.

    Or, visit the UBC website and stream online.

    Bonus links: God and Moses by Simon Rich and Moses and the Ten Commandments in History of the World, Part I.


    Sermon Audio :: Whose Authority? Which Lord? : The Rightful King

    Photo by James Gordon (Flickr!)

    On Sunday, I preached a sermon on authority, the Lordship of Christ, and our response.

    Click here to read our primary text: Matthew 21:23-32.

    Download or listen to the sermon here.

    Or, visit the UBC website and stream online.


    Book Review: Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

    Several years ago I took a trip from Lawrence, Kansas to Dallas, Texas by bus. It was a grueling ride. But it was enlightening. I encountered a side of America very different from my everyday experience.

    Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 is a book about class differences. Just as my bus ride was an immersion in another dimension of American life, Coming Apart is an excursion through two different Americas. Murray's argues that the rift separating upper and lower classes is more pronounced and markedly different than ever before. Whereas America once may have been divided primarily among racial or economic lines, today there is a vast difference in cultural experience, outlook, values, and behavior. While Murray's presentation relies heavily on data, his message is communicated clearly through narrative illustrations rooted in the histories of two communities: Belmont and Fishtown. In Belmont, a strong majority is college educated. Fishtown, by contrast, is populated by highly skilled blue collar workers like plumbers and machinists, and low-skilled laborers, like security guards, delivery truck drivers, and people who work on the dock.

    In Part II of this book, Murray moves beyond a robust definition of the new upper and lower classes and offers an analysis of specific virtues: Marriage, Industriousness, Honesty, and Religiosity. Murray selects these for a historical reason. In 1825, a German academic named Francis Grund observed that America's form of government and a public adherence to common morals was the strength of the American experiment, and that the two were both interrelated and indivisible. In Grund's opinion, "no government could be established on the same principle as that of the United States, with a different code of morals." Murray believes "Grund's observation about the United States at the end of its first century would not have surprised the founders." Murray argues that marriage, industriousness, honesty, and religiosity are best referred to as "the founding virtues." These virtues permeated early American society, and thus constituted a firm social fabric.

    Reading Murray's definition of these virtues and his application to Belmont and Fishtown is a strong example of social science that illumines, and the conclusions are of great concern. Through careful analysis of zip codes fitting the profiles of Belmont and Fishtown, Murray demonstrates how marriage, first, is in decline. A higher percentage of people in both Belmont and Fishtown have never married, but more disturbing is the gap between those in the upper and lower classes. Whereas in the 1960s, between 4% and 5% of those in Fishtown and approximately 8% in those in Belmont remained single (a difference of 4%), in 2010, 8% of those in Fishtown and nearly 24% of those in Belmost have never married, yielding a gap of 16%. Murray also analyzes relative happiness in marriage, birth rate, divorce rate, and family stability. The news isn't good. Applying similar analysis to the other Founding Virtues, Murray demonstrates that the growing divide in American culture and society should not only be a concern for those sympathetic to the political left, but should be of great concern for social conservatives.

    Lastly, in his conclusion, Murray explains what difference the current social divide makes, arguing that American community is collapsing in places like Fishtown, evidenced, for example, by significant decreases in level of participation in public life (voting, decreased interest in children's public education, political involvement and knowledge of government, friendships with neighbors). He also argues that a decrease in the founding virtues correlates with an overall decrease in reported happiness, and concludes that the American project, as a whole, is in jeopardy.

    As a pastor and a cultural observer, I found that Murray's analysis matched my own anecdotal experiences of interacting with the public. Religious institutions, in some pockets, have served as excellent places for those with different vocations, socio-economic backgrounds, and political affiliations to share in common worship and work together towards common objectives, for the common good. But in the communities I have served, I have seen increased polarization and fragmentation, at the same time. This means many things for public life, and poses a challenge for churches and other religious groups to transcend this divide, offering a common vocabulary for virtue and morality, the strengthening of marriage and the family, and cooperation across natural affinities arising from education and class.

    I recommend this book. It is compelling social science, and the conclusions are deeply challenging. Thoughtful people should read what is here, and carefully consider both what Murray's argument means for public life, and also for daily personal and familial disciplines that might reverse, or at least stem, these disturbing trends.

    Note: I received a copy of Coming Apart in exchange for a review.