Monday, December 28, 2009

Adventures In The Spirit: Ch.1

The first chapter of Philip Clayton's new book "Adventures In the Spirit" sets out in a very clear manner to show how science and theology can work together as related, complimentary, yet distinct fields. Theology today must be willing to change according to the best results of the sciences, and while this is uncomfortable, it is absolutely necessary for the ongoing life of the Christian faith.

We are not relativists, those of us who advocate this reformation. We are not willing to hold to absolute certainty - doubt and questioning are vital to faith. Certainty leads to fundamentalism and anti-intellectualism...ultimately irrelevance. We hope for what we believe to be true without knowing for sure that it is. We are committed to humble but intelligent and active dialogue to defend and explore theological convictions. Clayton describes the appropriate response as "hope-plus-faith, that is, a stance of sincere hope for a particular outcome, combine with the sort of religious life that acts as if that hope were a certainty." Clayton believes this response is possible even in the absence of certainty that our beliefs are superior to other religious beliefs. Like the best scientists, we hope that we are moving towards a final goal, even as we maintain a healthy skepticism about our results. In a quote of Charles Sanders Pierce: "Undoubtedly, we hope that this, or something apporximating to this, is so, or we should not trouble ourselves to make such inquiry. But we do not necessarily have much confidence that it is so."

Clayton endorses the theology more in line with the reformation's concept of semper reformata, "revisions are a constant requriement for any tradition that wishes to speak to its contemporary intellectual and social context. While costly, they are also necessary." Today's context of the successfully persuasive sciences and increasing awareness of religious pluralism, where there are truly other viable options for spiritual seekers, requires robust engagement with other religious traditions (not just dialogue, but openness to correction and learning actual truth) and similarly robust engagement with the sciences. To refuse to engage in the pursuit of truth with other religions and science is profoundly arrogant and extremely ignorant. We must avoid the temptation to use science to prove the existence of God - intelligent design is profoundly confused. Any move beyond the scientific method's engagement with the empirical world is inherently metaphysical, and therefore philosophical - and while philosophy is good, it is NOT science. Philosophy is of course more aligned with theology.

But should we take the risk of seriously engaging theology with science? To do so is to risk forming bad theology in conjunction with bad science - as was done in the past at times. Clayton believes that the alternative is worse: " put forward and embrace theologies that are based on outdated scientific cosmologies and empirically false claims about the world, rather than basing theological reflection on the best available knowledge we have about the universe. Surely the scriptures of one's religious tradition should not function as a dike that serves to protect one against advances in human knowledge. Therein lie the Dark Ages indeed!...It is far better to accept the risks of aligning oneself with the best human efforts at knowledge, and then when necessary to admit mistakes and move on, than to remain 'suckled on a creed outworn.'" Theologians should hold firmly that all means of discerning truth are valid. Theologians should engage the sciences because we recognize that knowledge moves along an unbroken line from empirical/scientific results to philosophical/metaphysical results. The two inform each other and need each other: "Empirical results raise urgent metaphysical questions, and metaphysical positions frame empirical research."

A great start to an exciting book of fresh theological inquiry. More to come...

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