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.

On the Models between Science and Theology

Last week’s post was about a conversation I had several years ago with my pastor. Various comments served as a clue to me that I should post about the other models; so here is a short summary of four models illustrating the interchange between science and theology.

#1: Conflict
Science and theology are in opposition in the Conflict Model as one field sees the other as an invader of their knowledge domain. This model of hostility and conflict signifies the science-or-God decision, although the two are not comparable terms.

This model not also describes creationism, but also the scientists who proclaim that science so accurately describes the natural world, science explains everything – thus there is no need for religion – although science cannot confirm or deny God’s existence.  As each side within this model tosses bombs at one another, this model drives public perception about the interaction between science and theology – probably because of media coverage of this fight.

#2:  Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA)
NOMA has science and theology respectfully operating as watertight-independent disciplines without overlap and without conflict. Although each has its own expertise, the interaction between them occurs within an individual as they process science and theology. Interestingly, evolutionary writer Dr. Stephen J. Gould came up with the name – and he was either an atheist or agnostic. In last week’s post, this was my point in the conversation with my pastor.

#3: Complementary
The Complementary Model has science and theology working together from different perspectives, which was my pastor’s position. Although each works within their own processes, the overlap represents one field using information for the other.

Whereas Galileo explained that theology is about how to go to heaven, but not how the heavens go (thus the NOMA model), the Complementary Model can produce greater insight toward our quest for understanding of our world and life. Viewing these content rings from the side shows a space between science and theology – the creative tension of respecting their own space. Let us not forget that the degree of overlap is another question.

#4: Fusion
The Fusion Model has science and theology working together and influencing each other. There is no question in my mind that this is the most complex model because it requires a deeper level of understanding about the science-theology interchange than most people possess.

Interestingly, many people (and probably, in my opinion, most) are only aware of the Conflict Model. However, several comments last week unknowingly indicated the NOMA model.

What do you think?