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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Rant: Can we move on please?

So today I decided to entertain myself by dropping into a Christian bookshop (an expensive mistake). So I'm wandering around looking for something interesting (I used to love everything in a Christian bookshop, but after studying some theology at university I suppose my standards have changed. Does anyone else feel like they've just walked into a giant self-help bookstore in most Christian shops these days? I don't really need theology-lite thanks. Plus I can't even look at most of the non-book products in there because of some of the fights I know the majors have had in the past over the idea of switching to Fairtrade and ethical products... in a Christian store! But anyway.... I'm getting off topic), when I spy a section titled 'Science'. Now being me (I have an undergrad in Science and I love Eco-theology), that makes my heart start beating faster and I dash over to see what is on offer.

Hmmm, ok, well I can get 'Discrediting Darwin' or 'Creation vs Evolution' or 'Science vs Religion' or 'Why Darwin was wrong' or 'Christian Science' etc etc. you get the gist. There is not a single book in the whole section that does not talk about something to do with the Creationism vs Evolution debate or how evil Darwin is. Now, as important as the thinking around reconciling modern science with religious tradition is, and I think it is very important, this frustrates me immensely for a range of reasons:

Firstly, just because Darwin is famous for the initial ideas around the theories of natural selection and evolution   (and he was not even the very first to publish these, he just expressed it better in the Origin of Species) doesn't mean it is fair to turn him into some kind of Antichrist. Even if you completely disagree with Darwin's theories, demonizing him is unproductive, unfair and unchristian. Keep in mind that this is someone who had thought about joining the clergy. I doubt he was setting out to 'kill God' or 'destroy religion' (and he hasn't, has he?), and even if he was, he is still made in the image of God and deserves our respect.

Secondly, the moment you frame the debate as 'Science vs Religion' you have already restricted yourself to one of two predetermined answers to the discussion and have ignored any possibly of a fruitful dialogue between the two. You can blindly choose Science and toss faith out the window or you can blindly believe religion and toss out every scientific discovery ever made. And really, are you going to do that? No medicine, no iPhone, no wastewater treatment or water purification? Clearly accepting the findings of science (note I'm not saying 'believing' in science because it is not a question of belief. Belief relates to value systems like religion, not observational and experimental methodologies like science. Scientists may hold belief systems that lie behind the work they do, but these are separate from the science and may well be Christian. Perhaps a familiar metaphor is text vs interpretation. We all know a single verse of the Bible can be interpreted many ways. In the same way, scientific results are just data, how you interpret them can differ) doesn't have to threaten our faith, and putting our heads in the sand as Christians is not the answer. I could go on for a long time about the very interesting discussions going on about how faith can learn from science and vice-versa, but I have covered that in other places and I don't think it would be beneficial. I will just say that please, can we not make it 'Science vs Religion', but rather 'finding partnerships between Science and Religion'?

And finally, I find this obsession with a single debate disappointing because as someone with a deep interest in Eco-theology and Creation Care I am aware that it is stealing all the attention away from so many other interesting discussions about the environment, ecology, and what we can learn from science. One of the books I bought today agrees with me, saying:
"The Christian doctrine of creation has too often been highjacked by controversies of creationism, deistic tendencies and a concentration on Genesis 1 to the detriment of the richness of other biblical passages on creation. As a result the discussion of science and religion in the popular arena features Richard Dawkins attacking six-day creationism and the design argument for the existence of God, while many Christians see God the Creator simply as the one who lights the blue touch paper of the Big Bang. Deism, the tendency to see God interacting with the universe only at its very beginning and then going off to watch it from a distance, has been allowed to flourish by separating the doctrine of creation from its foundational scriptures....
Recapturing a Christian doctrine of creation from Scripture allows us to move beyond the controversies of creationism and encounter a fruitful dialogue with science. Perhaps more importantly it also leads to an emphasis that the most important insight into creation is the Creator God who is to [be] worshipped, enjoyed and trusted." David Wilkinson in Darwin, Creation and the Fall: Theological Challenges, Edited by R.J. Berry and T.A. Noble, Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press), Nottingham, 2009.

There are hundreds of books and thousands of words said on this deliberately divisive and falsely dichotomous topic already. Now can we please move on to the many more interesting aspects of creation, science and religion and their connections and positive interplay?

PS. On a more positive note, I found some really great serious Eco-theology books today, and some guides for living a greener life as a Christian and even an ecclesiology book with a section on the Church and Ecology. This is a great sign for the church greening movement worldwide and in Australia and makes me really happy. A few years ago I would have been lucky to find a single book on these topics in a Christian bookstore in Australia.

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Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+