‘Let There Be Science’- Publication Day!

lettherebescienceHere it is – the short, broad-readership, story-filled book about why God loves science and why science has always been stimulated, supported and has flourished within a worldview in which people seek to serve God.

Let There Be Science!

Like its background text, Faith and Wisdom in Science (good for further reading by the way), it’s main task is to blow away the myth that science and orthodox Christian faith are in any necessary conflict now, or at any time in history.

On the contrary, we find that throughout the ages, the faith required to do science, that our minds might just be up to the job of perceiving the inner structures of the universe, as well as its cosmic glories, is motivated by the same ‘Faith’ that dares to suppose that those very minds reflect in some way that of their Creator.

Furthermore, we find that the reason to do science is also theologically grounded.  Historically, the great scientists at the start of the early modern period when experimental science got off the ground, had a worked out theological reason for acquiring knowledge of the natural world.  To take just one example, Johannes Kepler, whose calculations following Tycho Brahe’s new observations of the planets identified for the first time the true structure and dynamics of the solar system, said:kepler

Those laws are within the grasp of the human mind. God wanted us to recognize them by creating us after his own image so that we could share in his own thoughts… and if piety allow us to say so, our understanding is in this respect of the same kind as the divine, at least as far as we are able to grasp something of it in our mortal life

Science is hard, sometimes painful – new ideas get stifled if they go against the grain, our confused minds find many false avenues to waste time down, experiments and calculations go wrong.  Yet this very painful ‘harvesting’ of knowledge about nature is strongly resonant with the mandate we understand humankind has from the Bible in Genesis chapter 3:

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

though the command to name the animals and birds – where names stand in for a knowledge of their natures – was not rescinded. We find, as in Faith and Wisdom in Science, God in conversation with humankind about nature once more in the wonderful Book of Job.  Here, the essential ingredient of science – the creative question – is celebrated and explored in the great ‘Lord’s Answer’ to Job in chapters 38-42.  Just read a taste of this agenda-setting text from chapter 38:

The-Lord-Answering-Job-out-of-the-Whirlwind-Blake

The Lord Answering job out of the Whirlwind by William Blake

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?
    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
    or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
    Can you set up God’s  dominion over the earth?

34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
    and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
    Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who gives the ibis wisdom
    or gives the rooster understanding?
37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?

And now here what a great scientist such as Werner Heisenberg says about questions:

heisenberg-werner-large

In the course of coming into contact with the empirical method, physicists have gradually learned how to pose a question properly. Now, proper questioning often means that one is more than half way towards solving the problem

So why do so many people, and especially sadly, so many young people, think that they have to choose between science and Christian (or any) faith?  Sadly the answer is because of misrepresentation and a covering over of truth by all sides:

  • The ‘conflict myth’ was really set off by two books in the late 19th century by Draper and White.  Little read today and historically discredited, their polemic nonetheless lies underneath many peoples’ thinking.
  • Bad history, such as representing the Galileo affair as the clash of science with religion (when it can’t have been – all those involved on both sides were Christians and the arguments were almost entirely scientific ones) serve to bolster the impression of conflict.
  • A recent (20th century), theologically bad, way of interpreting the Bible that assumes that it gives us shortcuts to scientific answers, rather than setting out our task, has had terrible effects.  For example, the pitting of ‘The Bible’ against ‘evolution’ is quire wrong.

Here we have just a taste of the work we need to do, and when we’ve done it, what then?  Perhaps Heisenberg has more advice for us:

The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you!

beer

By all means raise a glass with Dave and me to the wide and healthy readership of Let There Be Science (already in the Amazon top-5000 and top 3 for science and religion after just a day!).

Better still – do come along to Waterstones York (tell them you are coming) at 7pm on Tues February 21st to here Richard Staples of BBC Radio York talk with me and Dave about the book – and have a glass or what have you as well!

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “‘Let There Be Science’- Publication Day!

  1. Pingback: Yet another accommodationist book « Why Evolution Is True

  2. I have not yet had the chance to read the new book cover to cover, but a quick search through confirms a troubling issue that arose at the heart of its predecessor (F&W in Science). I address this not from my usual perspective of an atheist, but this time from within the Christian “bubble” as an attempt to understand how the case put forward – “why God loves Science, and Science needs God” emerges from the Book of Job.

    Pages 56-58 in the new book reiterate the central case from F&W in Science – that the Book of Job is an invitation to undertake scientific enquiry (or natural philosophy). In the Lord’s answer to Job, there is a set of questions, “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea … can you bind the chains of the Pleiades … who has the wisdom to count the clouds …” etc. In each and every case, the clear message is that Job is out of his depth, and any attempt on his part to answer will be futile. Indeed, these questions appear a little like Buddhist koans – counting clouds is as baffling as one hand clapping or counting the raindrops in the ocean. This is no invitation to do meteorological science, as the question put by God is of course scientifically meaningless – the sort of question that can only elicit a wry smile as the irrelevance of the question dawns on the person being asked.

    As the new book states on p57 “It is tempting to see this [God’s questions] as some sort of divine put-down – as God silencing Job by reminding him of how little he knows …” Actually, when you read the Lord’s answer, it comes across as precisely that. This simple message is reinforced by the ending of Job’s tale – when he humbly admits he is out of his depth and stops asking questions, he is richly rewarded for recognising his limitations. Presumably for centuries the simple moral of the tale has been taught on exactly this basis, and indeed the new book recognises this on p57 with “Some writers have said just this”. It raises the question of whether any other scholarly writers support this book’s unusual position on Job (perhaps its “unique selling point” ?) or whether it is completely out on a limb with this interpretation ?

    In the attempt to demonstrate that God loves science, we are told that “An alternative reading, which makes the whole thing hold together with marvellous consistency is this : God is reminding Job of a gift and an invitation.” As with the earlier construction of this key point in F&W in Science, there is no reasoning or textual support in the assertion that “God, wonderfully, is challenging Job to do some science”. The assertion just sits out there on its own. At no point does God suggest ways in which Job could count the clouds, start measuring the landscape, tame the Leviathan or indeed “do science” (or natural philosophy) in any way whatsoever. Moreover, Job is showered with divine good fortune when he remembers his place and desists from further questioning. Treating the Lord’s answer (the ultimate divine put-down) as an invitation to ask more questions appears to be on a par with insisting that the Black Knight’s “None shall pass” on p61, is not what it rather obviously seems, but is really an open invitation to freely cross the bridge.

    I am therefore completely bemused at the book’s counter-intuitive interpretation of Job which conjures the invitation to do science out of thin air. Whatever other references there may be elsewhere in the Bible in support of doing science, Job appears to be the very opposite.

    Back on the case for how “God loves science”, we are also reminded of the Genesis tale of the Tower of Babel, and what happened when humans tried to reach for the heavens (surely a metaphor for acquiring wisdom and with echoes of Icarus). This too was a clear divine warning to back off from scientific / technological activity. But surely the main Biblical message comes down from the act of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden – seeking God’s wisdom was the root of the original sin. How do we deal with the scriptural counter-case for science as simply a continuation of this dangerous path …?

    Consequently, I am left utterly mystified by the case that God loves science. Again and again the message of the Bible is clear – that faith (not testing with evidence or seeking proof by measurement) is the road to salvation, from the Garden of Eden to “Doubting Thomas”. The uncomfortable “truths” revealed by science (if there can be such things in philosophical terms), have been quietly accommodated by the mainstream of Christian thought over centuries to avoid the latter falling out of step with reality. The case for “God loves science” may be an attempt to reunify theology with science to legitimise the former, but the scriptural appeal to Job to support this case remains utterly baffling.

    Like

  3. Thanks so much Rob for the deep and thoughtful engagement with Job, for taking the time to think about the (admittedly unorthodox but not unprecedented)view that I have taken, and for thinking into ‘the bubble’ as you put it. Note that, before we begin, the ‘bubble’ is not, as you have sometimes have claimed from outside, a place of dogmatic rigidity where thinking is replaced by blind acceptance, but rather an open place where debate, learning, reading different opinions, careful thought, interpretation, language, history and all sorts are discussed, and where ideas change as a result. That’s the ‘free thinking’ I was referring to in our earlier doomed discussion.

    So other sources from Job scholars who have something to say on this matter – I have drawn heavily on Norman Habel ‘The Book of Job’ SCM 1985, and David Clines monumental World Biblical Commentary Thomas Nelson 2011 (for the final volume III). There are others like Carol Newsome I would point you to – much of the referential material is in FaWiS.

    So, within Job itself, the reasons that I would principally give that the Lord’s Answer is an invitation to contemplate and increase a knowledge and understanding of nature are:

    1. The context of the book. It is uncontroversial that Job accuses God of being out of control of nature. So Clines in his summary commentary to Chs 40-41 has that God leaves ‘… to Job the task of discerning, beneath the data, the principles that make up the grand divine plan’. There is a real but of understanding that Job has not achieved, concerning the wildness of nature and its importance. He is asked to ‘consider’ the Behemoth – the word is invitational and pedagogic.

    2. Hebrew clues. Note that it requires a fair bit of Hebrew knowledge to unpick some of the signs that the Answer is delivered as between equals in a legal arena, not as a power-play (see note in FaWis on ‘stand up’ at the start of Ch38). There is also an important correction to the NIV mis-translation that Mike quoted in his very short rider to your long piece (the Hebrew in Job is the hardest in the OT, but ‘I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes’ wont do because the verbs have to take the wrong objects to make it say that. Clines has ‘I submit and I accept consolation for my dust and ashes’. This is consonant, importantly, with Yahweh’s declaration that ‘My servant Job spoke what is right’ (42.7). Job withdraws his case, not because he was wrong, but because his knowledge was incomplete. He has learned something, not that he must not learn.

    3. The search for Wisdom. The key chapter is the ‘Hymn to Wisdom’ of Ch28. Here the unique perceptive ability of humans to see beneath the surface of the physical world is explicitly set aside the very Wisdom of God that you claim is uncontroversially barred from us – yet in an invitation to search for it. ‘Get Wisdom’ is the incessant advice of Proverbs as well. This is an absolutely vital context for the Lord’s Answer as I make clear in FaWiS and I am not surprised that you fail to refer to it in your post.

    4. The long timescale and eschatological tone of the book. References early on to the future hope of Job’s reconciliation echo the distant hope also articulated in Isaiah and Hosea for example of a future new creation (this is also the New Testament hope as well of course) language like ‘covenant with the stones’ (Ch 5). There is a much longer context of the whole biblical narrative sweep going on here – creation, fall, election, salvation (‘I know that my redeemer liveth is, of course, a quote from Job), new-creation. The long list of questions- when seen in the light of the special sight already given to humans and the long search for wisdom outlined in Ch28, look naturally to the long timescale in which they might be answered (as some of them indeed have).

    5. The open-ended, divergent, rather than dogmatic an convergent, thrust of the whole book. convergent thinking – returning back to dogma, is uniformly condemned in the book. That is the voice given to Job’s four friends, and they are declared to be in the wrong by Yahweh at the end.

    This could of course be expanded, and it looks as though one day I will. But for your other misunderstandings, and reading-in (in my view) to other Biblical passages:

    Garden of Eden: are we to take this as a prohibition on asking questions and gaining knowledge of nature? That is an enormity of a ‘reading-in’, especially in the light of the invitation in Gen 2 to Adam to ‘name’ the animals (and so reflect and encapsulate their inner nature) and the command to make nature fruitful. On reading Genesis without too many uninformed assumptions I can really recommend both John Goldengay’s Genesis commentary and Ian Provan’s ‘Seriously Dangerous Religion – what the Old Testament says and Why it Matters’ among others. Again the key here I think is to realise that we are at the beginning of a story of growing up not in a timeless statis. The language about the ‘knowledge of good and evil’ is adolescent in character. Beside the obvious point that the idea that God does NOT want us to gain knowledge and wisdom is utterly counter to essentially all of the Bible, the passage here, at Babel, is about timing, and the wrong reasons, rather than the thing itself.

    Doubting Thomas (again!). I do hope that we might nail one day that this is NOT about the wickedness of demanding proof or any such thing. Jesus commends Thomas for his request and calls him ‘blessed’. And the others there also believed on the basis of their visual evidence (not on something that might be called ‘faith’). What Thomas did, and which scientists need to do all the time to push knowledge forward, was to go beyond the data to intuit deeper truth – he was the only one to go beyond ‘My Lord, to ‘My Lord and my God!’. For more on Thomas I think I have referred you to this nice article before, but as this keeps coming up …http://www2.ph.ed.ac.uk/~wckp/SandR/Thomas.pdf

    I do very much hope that you are not quite so ‘utterly mystified’ and ‘utterly baffled’ after those pointers, but I fear the worst as I can do justice in a blog reply to a book-length topic really, and if that latter didn’t work…. but do press on with LTBS – it wont take you long!

    Like

  4. To pick up the thread, it is interesting that you refer to a couple of other commentaries on Job (both very recent) to support your position, while accepting that your reading of Job as “invitational” (to do science) is “admittedly unorthodox”. It appears that after 2,000 years of established Christian interpretation in one direction, you now believe you have evidence to take it in another contrary direction ?

    Again, I return with comments framed within a Christian (rather than atheist) perspective. On the latter, we can debate all day about the incompatibilities between Christianity and science (and probably will on other occasions !). The point here is that I still see your “invitational” perspective as reading between the lines so closely that the big picture is completely overlooked. I may be taking the position of orthodox commentaries on Job (I am not well-read in that area, so my comment is suppositional), but there are nonetheless presumably some very good reasons for that orthodoxy ?

    Anyway, to take your reasons for an “invitational” interpretation in turn :

    1). The context of the book. This goes back to my main point. All the questions in the Lord’s answer are wonderfully rhetorical and can only be replied to by Job (if at all) with a humbled “No !”. The context is revisited in each question when Job is asked to consider aspects of creation which he cannot hope to create, control or even understand. The context is clear – these are matters for God alone. At no point are the questions invitational to man.

    2). Hebrew clues. You have the edge on me here as I have no Hebrew training and I suspect you may have studied it extensively. However, the real point here is a completely different one. A stronger adversary in a legal arena will adopt exactly the stance shown in the relevant verses – it is the oldest power-play in the book to conduct a debate between unequals in this way, by the stronger inviting the weaker out on apparently equal footing into the deep water, where they will drown themselves as they step out of their depth. This is the world of legal argument and debate – the latter I would have thought by now you were thoroughly familiar with ! On the other point in this section, your focus on the NIV “mistranslation” is a little precarious. Firstly, how can the NIV be trusted in any respect if it suffers from such serious mistranslation. Secondly, and as with any ancient text, can you really know it has been mistranslated as opposed to just interpreted differently in a different time and place ? Thirdly, and in any case, I am not sure the mistranslation is anything more than a distraction here ! As you say, Job “withdraws his case not because he was wrong but because his knowledge was incomplete” (we agree here). He has learned that the realm of natural philosophy / scientific “wisdom” is all stuff that is way, way above his pay grade, and belongs to God. Understandably, he abandons his “scientific” line of questioning, recognises his limitations (and what is to remain off-limits) and is subsequently amply rewarded for knowing his place. This is a simple and rather unambiguous reading of the words (in either translation offered) that generations of eager Christian congregations would have understood. Anything else is spirited conjecture.

    3). You say (and we clearly agree) that the Wisdom of God is “uncontroversially barred from us”, and surely this is exactly the point of the Book of Job. There may well be calls to “get wisdom” of a more everyday human sort elsewhere in the OT (you refer to Proverbs), but the stuff of Job is an emphatic reminder that creation is off the scale of human understanding. Nowhere in this book is there anything remotely invitational in respect of natural philosophical or scientific enquiry. It is a warning writ large and simply – keep out of the domain of God’s wisdom.

    4). Reference to the “whole Biblical narrative sweep” of “creation, fall, election, salvation” is all very interesting but doesn’t change the immediate meaning of the text – and I still can’t see anything here that renders the Lord’s answer “invitational”. Each and every question is asked rhetorically to get Job to accept his place in creation and stop asking for human answers to matters of divine knowledge. You have still not provided any specific verse(s) from Job containing words which clearly invite Job to ask questions of creation, natural philosophy or a scientific nature – if you had, we would not still be arguing the point here.

    5). I am struggling to see any relevance in your claim that the book is “open-ended” and “divergent” (whatever that may mean). The whole point is that Job’s friends frame his predicament in terms of their simplistic partial understanding, and their narrow dogmatic positions miss the overarching piece of dogma in Job that God’s wisdom belongs to another plane and is not for human questioning. This seems pretty closed-off to me, and indeed Job seems to accept this at the end. He does not go off to measure mountains, observe light refracting in water, or write early scientific treatises on rainbows. He gets no invitation from God to make such enquiries, and is rewarded for going back to his former life. There are no “hidden meanings” lurking in between the lines to provide a siren’s call to do science. It is scientifically silent – the parrot is well and truly dead !

    You would expect me to disagree with your position to the extent that I come from an atheist perspective. What surprises me is your determination to develop an unorthodox view on Job that seems to go against both traditional interpretation and any common sense reading of the text within a purely Christian perspective. Perhaps in centuries past you would have been tried for heresy for these views – nowadays when it comes to Biblical interpretation I guess pretty much anything goes. As far as I can see, the alleged invitation to do science is simply not there in Job unless it is hidden somewhere in the folds of the Emperor’s new clothes ?

    Like

  5. Pingback: Whewell’s Gazette: Year 3, Vol. #23 | Whewell's Ghost

  6. Should the scientist, who is aware of the natural causes and of the factors determining each step of creation towards perfection, of mankind’s evolution, of the minute accuracy and exactitude that rules every change in the nature that surrounds us, come to believe that these wondrous laws and amazing interactions have somehow fortuitously emerged out of mindless matter?

    Have his discoveries and insights merely brought him to a stage of thought which sees only blind concomitance and chance conjunctures in the exactly interacting phenomena?

    Where is the logic in claiming that belief in God is confined to persons unaware of the processes of creation?

    http://www.al-islam.org/god-and-his-attributes-sayyid-mujtaba-musawi-lari

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s