On a Spiritual Spectrum

In the previous post (On a Beach Walk: No. 12), I presented a continuum. No matter the topic, a continuum tries to categorize in order to show relationships. Positions are difficult because overlap exists between adjacent groups and each group can be subdivided into more specific smaller groups.

The continuum below is an attempt to show relationship around the topic of science and theology regarding evolution. It’s not perfect, but it illustrates different positions people hold, so it also stimulates thinking and serves as a point of discussion.

Defining each group is another important aspect. Although each definition below is far from complete, they provide a sense for each group’s position. On the other hand, representing all positions would be difficult.

Strong atheist: Lack the belief in any god and are fervently against religion.

Passive atheist: Lack the belief in any god, but are less antagonistic to religion – possibly tolerant.

Agnostic: A broad group including (but not limited to)

  • Those who don’t believe in any god because we cannot prove a deity’s existence or non-existence.
  • Those who simply don’t know about any god or don’t care to know.

Spiritual naturalist: A broad group including (but not limited to) two broad groups: religious naturalists and humanists – neither believing in a god or gods.

  • Religious naturalists see the meaning of life through the beauty and complexity of the natural world.
  • Humanists embrace reason and logic in order to emphasize a moral and ethical code for doing good in human society.

Spiritual non-theist: Religions that are spiritual, but without believing in a god or gods; such as Buddhists, Hindus, and others

Deist: God who is not linked to any religion is the creator, but does not intervene and is not personal because God has left the world. There are different types of Deists.

Theistic evolutionist: God is the creator. Scripture and nature in a collective relationship. A range of theistic evolutionist exist.

Progressive Creationists: God is the creator and the earth is very old. Two groups include

  • God created many species from which others evolved through mutation and selection
  • Intelligent Design: God creatively intervenes over time when necessary.

Young-Earth creationist: God is the creator, Earth is young, and a literal Genesis in today’s language explains creation.

On a Beach Walk: No. 12

Embed from Getty Images

I like walking the beach as it is good for the body, mind, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

I think about a continuum of thought – one that I’ve encountered countless times over 8 years of personal study and reflections. A continuum containing a diversity of ideas, including the antagonistic polar opposites who only see their way – a way of being one of us or one of them – a shallow continuum of two.

I know where I lie on this continuum of thought, but not at either polarized end. Not only do I know my position between the continuum’s poles, I also know that there are others like me here. Interestingly those at the ends can’t justify our existence.

I see the antagonistic groups as the Blackhearts and the Righteous. Each acting as hooligans as they shout at each other and intimidate others. I see many others who wander as if they are lost because they don’t know. I invite them to have a seat to listen, but polar opposites are preying on the wanderers by saying they have to make a choice, which is really a forced choice. I try to provide a different perspective, but either the hooligans are too loud or the wanderers are either confused or won’t listen.

Some may be thinking I’m referencing Democrats and Republicans, but I am not because that’s too painful – perhaps another day. Today my thoughts are about the interchange of science and religion – an arena where the antagonistic foes force choices upon others – especially the vulnerable and the unknowing.

I am not vulnerable. I am not unknowing. I have a place and I can respectfully and confidently take while understanding the others. I also take my place knowing the difference between right/wrong and agree/disagree.

Finally I get someone to listen. They ask questions as if they don’t hear the shouting because they want to know where they belong. They want confirmation of something they wondered, but never heard.

The continuum is a lot to ponder as I walk – but I like to walk the beach for it is food for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

On Letters to a Skeptic

The father grew up with church being part of his life. Over time, he withdrew, so the son grew up without church. While attending during college, church become part of the son’s life. In time, he became a pastor and a professor.

As one would expect, father and son would have religious discussions, and many went nowhere. Eventually, the son invited his father into an honest dialogue through written letters – and the father agree. Their format was simple – the father asks a question, then the son answers. As with any meaningful dialogue, answer lead to more questions.

Letters to a Skeptic (Gregory Boyd and Edward Boyd) is the collection of letters of such a journey. The father (Ed) asks good questions, and provides thoughts around his questions. Ed’s responses to his son Leters2aSkepticCover(Greg) are also direct, poignant, and relevant. Greg’s replies are respectful and (generally) easy for a layman to understand. However, the responses are also debatable within the Christian community because one size does not fit all.

The father’s questions are good, such as;

  • Why has Christianity done so much harm?
  • Why is the world so full of suffering?
  • Does God know the future?
  • Is you God all-powerful?
  • Why does God create earthquakes and famines?
  • Are the Gospels full of contradictions?
  • Isn’t the Bible full of myths and God’s vengeance?
  • Do all non-Christians go to Hell?

Given the content and the situation/circumstances of the characters involved, one would think this is a book for any atheist or agnostic – or even as a toolbox for Christians when discussing religion with atheists and agnostics. Although this may be applicable to somebody in some circumstances, I see Letters to a Skeptic as an excellent read for Christians – especially in a discussion format. (Note: I read this book this book and participated in a discussion group. The book also provides discussion questions to consider.)

The discussion between father and son is sincere, respectful, and thought-provoking. Every Christian won’t agree with every point made by the son or the father – let alone by others in a discussion group. After all, theological disagreements exist with Christianity.

This book enhanced my Christian perspective, it also caused me to question the thoughts said by others – yes, the others in my own church – and that’s OK. In the end, reading and discussing Letters to a Skeptic was worthwhile – therefore, I recommend this book for those who might be interested in learning more.

On a Chasm

Bill Nye (The Science Guy) is not only a media personality – he is also an advocate of good science education. Interestingly, Bill Nye will be coming to the Cincinnati area for an event at the Creation Museum. The president of the organization that runs the museum (Answers in Genesis) invited Bill to debate him about evolution. No – I don’t plan to attend the event.

Because the interchange between science and religion continues to stimulate my neurological pathways, I’ve been thinking about the opposite ends of the spectrum – the places where one end has nothing to do with the other. Consider these quotes.

From Ken Ham, President of Answers in Genesis

Certainly, we should celebrate when a person understands the gospel and is saved. But we should also pray for those fellow believers who have not only left biblical authority behind when it comes to origins, but who also have influence and are using it to spread evolution and millions of years in the church. I believe such people are leading many away from the Christian faith, including this current generation of young people—something they will have to answer to God for one day. Yes, God will judge—and He will have the last word!

From Sam Harris, cofounder and CEO of Project Reason

I am hopeful that the necessary transformation in our thinking will come about as our scientific understanding of ourselves matures. When we find reliable ways to make human beings more loving, less fearful, and genuinely enraptured by the fact of our appearance in the cosmos, we will have no need for divisive religious myths. Only then will the practice of raising our children to believe that they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu be broadly recognized as the ludicrous obscenity that it is. And only then will we stand a chance of healing the deepest and most dangerous fractures in our world.

Although neither Ken Ham nor Sam Harris speaks for the majority of humanity, these two individuals are important spokespersons for many. Interestingly, both are so set in their opposition to others who believe differently.

Let’s move on to Dr. Francis Collins, a highly respected scientist who happens to be the Director of National Institute of Health, and the former director of the Human Genome Project. Dr. Collins stated the following:

I would not want to look forward to a culture where science lost and religious faith became the dominating force for truth. I would not want to live in a culture where faith lost and science, with all of its reductionism and its materialism became the sole source of truth. I think we need both kinds of truth. I think we need both kinds of worldviews to the extent that scientists can help with that realization of a dual ways of finding answers to the appropriate kinds of questions that each worldview can ask, then I think that would be a good thing.

Lord Acton (1834-1902) stated, Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Does this apply to any to Ken Ham, Sam Harris, or Francis Collins?

On Oracles of Science

Oracle – A person giving wise or authoritative opinions (Merriam-Webster)

Many would consider scientists Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Steven Weinberg, and Edward O. Wilson are oracles. After all, they are respected voices in their field and many look upon as eloquent public intellectuals.

Besides being accomplished scientists, each is a successful writer. The group has achieved countless awards, including a Nobel Prize and two Pulitzer Prizes. Each of them have shaped the public’s perception of science and its relationship with other fields. Yes, these six people are oracles of science.

OraclesKarl Giberson and Mariano Artigas wrote Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists versus God and Religion to examine each of these luminaries and their views regarding the interchange between science and religion. The group’s belief system ranges from atheist to agnostic to humanist. Some respect religion while others are openly antagonistic. Meanwhile, the authors (both physicists) are Christians – with Artigas also being a Roman Catholic priest.

Each oracle has his own chapter, thus readers can engage the oracles in any order. Not only does each chapter focus on the oracle’s own words, the authors respectfully engage with the oracle with their own ideas and reactions.

Whereas the opening chapter sets the stage for what is to come, the final chapter examines similarities and differences while offering conclusions.

Regardless of one’s religious preference – Protestant or Catholic; evangelical or fundamentalist; evolutionist or creationist; religious, atheist, agnostic, deist, humanist, materialist, or naturalist – this is a good book for those who enjoy thinking.

Because of the nature of the topic, the stature of each oracle, and the counterpoints by the authors, I can guarantee that readers will disagree something. The question is can one agree or disagree with the same integrity and respect that the authors demonstrate? After all, that is one thing missing in many conversations about this topic.

On a Coin Analogy

Image from Microsoft Office

Image from Microsoft Office

A coin is an interesting analogy. On one side is a group of Christians who say one cannot believe in evolution and God. In their own mind, this group believes they speak for all Christians.

On the coin’s other side are some agnostics and atheists who profess that all Christians obviously believe in the literal interpretation of the Genesis creation. Others even proclaim science and Christianity as incompatible, thus Christians must reject science.

Interestingly, these two sides of the coin are the polar opposites who publicly launch diatribes at the other while dominating the news on this topic. However, both sides also fail to realize or accept that there is much more to the coin than opposing surfaces – therefore, more to this story.

As the conservative Christians embrace a literal Genesis, I continuously wonder why they give God so little credit. Besides, they are in the minority of Christian thought and don’t realize it. On the other hand, the agnostics and atheists who pigeon-hole all Christians as disciples of a literal Genesis are failing to realize how many (and yes, the majority) Christians appreciate and embrace the role of science in our world, including evolution – therefore missing the connection to our common opponent.

I have encountered literal Christian and the agnostics and atheists who pigeon-hole all Christians. My personal and independent journey of studying the science-theology interchange not only deepened my Christian believes, I also developed a greater understanding and appreciation of the thoughts from agnostics and atheists. For the sake of this post, I categorize this group into three subgroups: the atheists, the worshipping agnostics, and the uninvolved agnostics.

The atheists can be a difficult bunch. Two prominent science writers, Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, use scientific reasoning to justify their anti-Christian crusade. While both these passionate scientists are strong voices for evolution, their rational regarding the non-existence of God lies outside of the boundaries of science. (Past post about boundaries) Besides, religion is about faith – a love relationship that involves trust – thus not a belief system grounded in the scientific method. (Past post about faith)

I admit having a difficult time giving these anti-religion crusaders any credence on this issue, which is partially due to their tone of choice. However, I realize not all atheists are as dogmatic as these two scientists are because not all nonbelievers are antagonist to Christians – thus, I find it easier to accept and respect the nonantagonistic atheists and agnostics.

The agnostics are a broad group. Some have never been exposed to theology, thus do not know. Others do not care to know. Others encountered events involving human behaviors as acts of evil and injustice causing them to move away from their prior belief system. Yet, in many cases (if not most) these agnostics are not antagonist to those who are religious.

Carl Sagan is a wonderful example. Although there were times in his life when he challenged religion, he gave religion space during most of his life. There is no question that Sagan marveled the universe. However created, Sagan proudly stood in awe of the universe. Although he did not worship it, he understood the majestic nature of the universe and the role of our Pale Blue Dot. Simply put, his words are an inspiration to anyone with wonder!

Agnostics as Ursula Goodenough and Paul Davies have a different belief system from Sagan. Although not believing in a heavenly god, they see the glories in nature as indicators of the presence of a god in nature – thus the term religious naturalism. Their awe and inspiration are similar to Sagan’s, but they differ from Sagan in their application of god – not a god as a creator, not the God of Abraham, but a god who is present within the complexity, patterns, and mysteries of nature. Like Sagan, their words also inspire.

Prominent writers Michael Ruse and the late Stephen J Gould are examples of another group of agnostics – nonbelievers acknowledging space for theological thought as long as theology does not conflict with the way science works. In his NOMA model, Gould (a self-proclaimed no believer and agnostic) explains religion and science as non-interfering subjects – a similar approach proclaimed by Christians as Augustine, Galileo, Sir Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, and many more.

In the end, because of writers as Sagan, Gould, Goodenough, Davies, and others, I have a greater understanding, appreciation, and respect for agnostics and atheists, along with their view of the natural world. Yet, in the end, I hope those on the opposite side of the fence as I not only become more tolerant to the theological who embrace science, but also understand we share a common view against Biblical literalists. After all, the science-theology conflict is between religions – not one between science and theology.