An Interesting Book on Science and Religion
These last few days have, as any regular reader of Dating God has noticed, brought a number of subjects and issues to the fore that I felt required some response. The matter of the USCCB’s report on Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, PhD’s book, Quest for the Living God has now reached a point where many have contributed to a rich conversation. I anticipate that conversation continuing for some time.
I have indeed been humbled by the overwhelmingly positive reaction to my two posts (so far) on the subject and encourage others to continue to join the conversation: check out the book, consider the USCCB report yourself and share your view. One of the things that I can’t imagine the report’s authors to have imagined is the speed at which theologians and other students of theology, well versed in the subjects at hand, could analyze and share information. I have yet to hear any substantial support for the quality of the analysis in the report. Those who have, by way of the internet or in-person, indicated to me that they think the report is well-deserved have, as it turns out, not read Johnson’s book. Makes you wonder about the motivations behind that sort of attitude.
Anyway, speaking of books… before the latest issue surrounding books emerged, I happened upon a very interesting book that I would like to point out and recommend. Atoms & Eden: Conversations on Religion & Science (Oxford University Press, 2010), edited by Steve Paulson is a delightful book!
While published by one of the leading academic presses in the world (OUP), the text itself is far from traditionally “academic.” Instead, the reader is treated to the transcripts of interviews that range from Sam Harris (perhaps the most hostile of anti-religious atheists) to John Haught (perhaps the biggest champion of the engagement of science and religion), and everyone in-between.
Paulson sets out to ask each of his interviewees (who were originally recorded for public radio) the “big questions” of life. Some of these questions include: How did our universe come into existence? What are the roots of religious belief? Do we need a God to experience transcendence in our world?
Regular readers who have acquired a sense of my opinion will know that I, in general, have very little patience for someone like Sam Harris. I find his approach to religion distasteful and often times disrespectful. At the same time, I can appreciate where he is coming from. Many of his concerns are concerns shared by believers. Perhaps he would be better received if he was better behaved (wow, that sounds more condescending than I intend, but it’s what I mean to say). That said, his interview in Paulson’s book is one of my favorites. He is able to explain his own challenge of balancing meditation with his expressed beliefs in a way that is interesting to the reader. Harris’s response to the transcendence question might surprise some readers.
Perhaps my favorite section in the whole book (and there are many!) comes from Jack Haught, who says:
These are not new ideas. But there were atheists in the past who were much more theologically educated than these [‘new atheists’]. My chief objection to the new atheists is that they are almost completely ignorant of what’s going on in the world of theology. They talk about the most fundamentalist and extremist versions of faith, and they hold these up as though they’re the normative, central core of faith. And they miss so many things. For example, they miss the moral core of Judaism and Christianity — the theme of social justice, which takes those whoa re marginalized and brings them to the center of society. They give us an extreme caricature of faith and religion.
Rock on, Jack! I think he’s absolutely correct and I’ve said something similar on a number of occasions, including when Stephen Hawking (for whom I have the greatest respect) dismissed philosophers — and, in effect, theologians — as having “not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics” (The Grand Design, 5). That is patently untrue, and John Haught is just one example to the contrary. There are many others, I think of myself as striving to stay up on the latest physics (just finished Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality earlier this month).
There are many, many more pages to explore that include deeply revealing insight into the minds and hearts of these scientists and theologians. I’ll just add one more thing, something that I found particularly edifying. In the introduction and then again in a more substantial way in the conclusion, Paulson talks about St. Francis of Assisi. What he admits, as a self-described “lapsed Christian,” is very moving. A pilgrimage to Assisi and the place of Francis in his heart is indeed powerful. I will certainly have to write about that in more detail down the road.
In the meantime, check this book out!