Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Science, Theology, and the Doctrine of Creation

Before beginning my “Creation and Evolution” series, here is a brief bibliography on related matters.

The best introduction to the entire field of “science and religion” is Ian Barbour, Religion and Science:  Historical and Contemporary Issues. Rev. and Exp. edition of “Religion in an Age of Science (HarperCollins, 1997).  This brilliant work is based on Barbour’s Gifford Lectures, which one can read here.  Barbour has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago and a B.D. from Yale Divinity School.  In 1999, Barbour won the prestigious Templeton Prize for his interdisciplinary work on science and religion and his advocacy of more ethics in the development and use of technology.  This book is written from a “Process Theology” perspective, but even if one does not share that perspective (I am a “free will theist” instead), the book is incredibly valuable for its historical descriptions and its analysis of issues. It is also highly readable.

A very readable journalistic account of the question of God in contemporary physics (especially in cosmology) is Kitty Ferguson, The Fire in the Equations:  Science, Religion, & the Search for God (Eerdmans, 1994) which the eminent Stephen Hawking called “A clear account of the ultimate question.”

I also highly recommend Sir John Polkinghorne’s 1994 book, The Faith of a Physicist (published in the U.K. as Science and Christian Belief). This was based on Polkinghorne’s own Gifford lectures. Polkinghorne is a renowned Cambridge particle physicist who resigned his tenured post (after publishing 5 works in particle physics that are still standards in the field!) to study for the Anglican priesthood.  After a parish ministry, he eventually returned to Cambridge and until 1996 was President of Queen’s College, Cambridge.  He was awarded the 2002 Templeton Prize and knighted in 1997.  He served for years on the medical ethics committee of the Church of England. 

One bold attempt at a “unified field theory” that includes theology and ethics in a heirarchy of sciences (and argues that, despite predation, pacifism fits the moral nature of the cosmos) is On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics by Nancey Murphy and George F. R. Ellis (Fortress Press, 1996).  Nancey Murphy, widow of one of my mentors, the late James Wm. McClendon, Jr. (1924-2000), baptist theologian extraordinare, is an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren and teaches Christian philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. (Fuller is a non-denominational seminary from a progressive evangelical viewpoint–which means that liberal seminaries constantly wonder if it is really fundamentalist and more conservative evangelical seminaries constantly accuse Fuller of liberalism.  I was honored to be a Visiting Professor there in 1998 and 2000.) Murphy has a Ph.D. in philosophy of science from the University of California at Berkeley and a Th.D. in philosophy of religion from the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley. Raised a Roman Catholic, she is an adult convert to the Anabaptist tradition of which the Church of the Brethren is a part.  George F. R. Ellis is Professor Emeritus of Complex Systems in the Department of Applied Mathematics of the University of Capetown, South Africa and has been Visiting Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge and held other visiting professorships around the world.  He is past president of the Royal Society of South Africa, President of the International Society for Science and Religion, has lectured at the Vatican Observatory and is considered one of the world’s leading cosmologists.  He has written numerous scientific books, including co-authoring, The Large-Scale Structure of Space and Time with Stephen Hawking in 1973.  He won the 2004 Templeton Prize.  Ellis is a Quaker activist who was one of the rare white South Africans to be a vigorous part of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and who continues to work on issues of racism, poverty, and the AIDS pandemic.  He has been honored for his social activism by former president Nelson Mandela with the Star of South Africa medal in 1999.  So both authors bring to this book: expertise in both science and theology, deep commitment to Christian faith from pacifist traditions (Anabaptist and Quaker), and an excellent clarity in writing.

Nancey Murphy’s earlier book, Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning (Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion), which advances her perspective of theology as a type of science in a postmodern sense, won both the Templeton Foundation Book Prize and the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence.  It is slightly off our current focus, but is worth reading for a broader picture.   I also recommend her Reconciling Science and Religion: An Anabaptist Perspective (Herald Press, 1999). 

One contemporary theologian who has thoroughly interacted with science throughout his career is Wolfhart Pannenberg.  An excellent introduction and overview to this aspect of Pannenberg’s though is Carol Rausch Albright and Joel Haugen, eds., Beginning with the End: God, Science, and Wolfhart Pannenberg (Open Court Press, 1997).  The book begins with 4 essays by Pannenberg (“Theological Questions to Scientists,” “Laying Theological Claim to Scientific Understandings,” “The Doctrine of the Spirit and the Task of a Theology of Nature,” and “Spirit and Energy in the Phenomenology of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.”) and continues with numerous expositions, critiques, and interactions by both scientists and theologians.  This one is not always for the faint at heart.  I would recommend at least some scientific and theological background before tackling this one.

Now, for help on relating contemporary science and evolution directly to the doctrine of creation, I recommend especially the following:

John David Weaver, In the Beginning, God: Modern Science and the Christian Doctrine of Creation, The Regent’s Study Guides # 3 (published jointly by Regent’s Park College, Oxford and Smyth & Helwys Press, 1994).  Weaver is a British Baptist minister trained as a geologist who was Senior Lecturer in Geology at Derby University from 1971-1978 and, at the time of this publication, was Fellow and Tutor in Pastoral Theology at Regent’s Park College, Oxford.  (Regent’s Park College is one of the most prestigious of all Baptist theological seminaries in the world.  It is a residential and theological college of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and a recognized Permanent Private Hall of Oxford University.  The faculty are also teaching faculty at the University.)

A brilliant, and very readable, guide to the “creation vs. evolution” debate in the U.S. is Del Ratsch, The Battle of the Beginnings:  Why Neither Side is Winning the Creation-Evolution Debate (IVP, 1996).  This book won the Book of the Year Award in 1997 from Christianity Today.  Del Ratsch is no flaming liberal theologian (I wrote that for my friendly critics like Looney!), but teaches philosophy at  Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI–an evangelical college almost as conservative as my alma mater, Palm Beach Atlantic College.  Especially helpful in this book are the chapters on “popular creationist misunderstandings of Darwin,” and “popular evolutionist misunderstandings of creationism.” I learned much in the latter chapter).

An insider’s view of the Arkansas evolution trial of the 1980s is found in the late Langdon Gilkey’s, Creationism on Trial: Evolution and God at Little Rock.  Gilkey, a liberal Baptist theologian at the University of Chicago whose theology combined Niebuhr, Tillich and process thought, had earlier written a brilliant theological exploration of creation called Maker of Heaven and Earth.

Conrad Hyers’ The Meaning of Creation: Genesis and Modern Science (John Knox Press, 1984) is very helpful both in describing contemporary science to laity AND to expositing Genesis 1 & 2 against their historical backgrounds for those with no exposure to historical critical interpretation of the Bible.  I have used diagrams in this book in teaching on this subject in churches.

Similarly helpful are two books by Howard J. Van Till, Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin College. Van Till, an evangelical Christian, member of the Executive Council of the American Scientific Affiliation (which has been relating science to orthodox Christian belief since the 19th C.), member of the editorial board of Science and Christian Belief, has been repeatedly attacked by “Creation Science” people who wanted Calvin College to fire him because of acceptance of evolution.  His two very helpful books for laity are, The Fourth Day: What the Bible and the Heavens are Telling Us About Creation (Eerdmans, 1986) and Portraits of Creation:  Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the World’s Formation (Eerdmans, 1990).

David Livingstone’s, Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders (Eerdmans, 1987) is very helpful for reminding readers that, initially, evangelicals in both Britain and America had little trouble with Darwinian evolution. It was only after the rise of militant fundamentalism in the early 20th C. that Darwinism became widely viewed by evangelicals as “anti-God.”

Similarly helpful are the works of Ronald L. Numbers, a historian of science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Numbers has done much to de-bunk the “warfare of science and religion myth” that has harmed both. (E.g., popular wisdom to the contrary, Galileo was never tortured or threatened with execution by the Inquisition or any other Catholic body. Galileo was only placed under a comfortable house arrest and his run-ins with the pope had far more to do with his lack of diplomacy than with his scientific research.  No scientist in the Western world has ever been tortured or killed for his or her scientific work–certainly not by any church-related body or organization.  About 40% of all working scientists, according to Nature, are traditional religious believers in Christianity, Judaism, or Islam–a percentage that has remained virtually unchanged in 5 decades.) For our work, see especially Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists, originally published by Knopf in 1992 as a history of the rise of “scientific creationism.” In 2006 Harvard University Press published an expanded and updated version that also deals with the “Intelligent Design” movement and demonstrates that it is far more related to “Creationism” than proponents like Michael Behe want to admit.

Well, that’s all for now. Next installment, we begin with the biblical texts!


November 3, 2007 Posted by | science & faith, theology | 11 Comments