Sunday, October 2, 2016

Science & Religion: Papers from the 2016 Symposium on the Theological Reading of Scripture at North Park (Part 1)

Gerald Cleaver, Prof. of Physics at Baylor University (right) with respondent
Stephen Ray, Asst. Prof. of Physics at North Park (left) responding to
questions moderated by Hauna Ondrey, Asst. Prof. of Church History (center)
This past Thursday evening through Saturday afternoon (Sept 29-Oct 1, 2016), North Park hosted its annual Symposium on the Theological Reading of Scripture. Each year the seminary invites scholars across the nation and abroad to present papers on how Scripture speaks to a particular theological or contextualized theme. The conference is interdisciplinary, and so we attempt to invite biblical scholars, theologians, ethicists, pastoral care practitioners, and especially for this year, scientists in fields ranging from cognitive development to theoretical physics. 
    The papers from this symposium and their responses are eventually published in the journal Ex Auditu. We live-streamed the paper sessions and their video is available below. Since these videos are unedited, be sure to look where to scroll for each video (time in red print) so you don't have to wonder where to begin.  
    Session 1 featured a paper by Paul Allen, Associate Professor of Theological Studies at Concordia University, Canada entitled: Evolutionary Psychology and Romans 5-7: The 'Slavery to Sin' in Human Nature.  The response was given by Chris Lilley, a doctoral candidate in theology and philosophy at Marquette University.
     Dr. Allen began his lecture quoting Habermas that secular modernity has lost the langugage to describe the phenomena of sin. We have translated sin into concepts of guilt, suffering and offense with the result that the need for forgiveness has been replaced with a non-sentimental desire to undo suffering. In an attempt to bring the Christian concept of sin into secular discourse, Dr. Allen points to the findings of evolutionary psychology and its description of addiction. He finds analogues between clinical addiction with Paul's discussion of sin, the flesh, and the "I" of Romans 5-7. The most provocative comparison was how addiction as a complex of disease and human agency creates a genetic pre-disposition toward destructive practice which does not suspend human responsiblity for addictive behavior. (Jump to 2:35 for the start of the paper)

    Session 2 featured the paper entitled Multiverse: Philosophical and Theological Perspectives by Gerald Cleaver, Professor and Graduate Program Director for the Department of Physics and Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics, and Engineering Research at Baylor University. The response was given by Stephen Ray, Assistant Professor of Physics and Engineering at North Park University. 
    Anyone with teenage sons or daughters (I have the former) knows that there is a popular version of the multiverse embedded in the screenplays of DC television shows (think: The Flash) and Marvel movies (think: the upcoming films Dr. Strange and Infinity Wars). So, even just as a parent, I'm grateful to able to separate science from science fiction by hearing Dr. Cleaver explain in such clear terms what the multiverse is and why it is theologically relevant for our understanding of human freedom and the activity of God as Creator. 
    The most intriguing possibility that I gleaned from the lecture is hearing how before the "Big Bang" there was what theoretical physicists called a kind of "space soup" which in the process of expansion/inflation produces multiple universes (Level 2), each bound by their own set of physical laws (Level 1). Physicists readily think that the multiverse is a true description of reality and we likely have an infinitesimal number of them (but this is not the kind of multiverses found in Dr. Who or other science fiction; these are called Everett multiverses or Level 3). 
    However, if (and this is a big if) there is only one universe, it requires the kind of fine-tuning of the "space soup" likened to turning up the heat on a stove in such a precise way that only one bubble (= equivalent of one universe) is produced instead of many bubbles (multiple universes) from the soup. While Dr. Cleaver prefers to posit the existence of multi-universes, it is possible also to think theologically that God as Creator did fine tune the multiverse into just our one universe. As of this lecture, there is still no phenomenalogical evidence for the multiverse. Astrophysicists are still using radio telescopes to search for phenomena. Everything still remains in the theoretical stages, but even if multiverses turn out to be true, theologically it does not take anything away from the truth claims of Scripture on the origins of time and space. (Jump to 1:42 for the start of the paper)

     Session 3 featured the paper entitled Forming Identities in Grace: Imitatio and Habitus as Contemporary Categories for the Sciences of Mindfulness and Virtue by Michael Spezio, Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Scripps College. The response was given by Kirk Wegter-McNelly,  the John and Jane Wold Visiting Professor of Theology at Union College. 
    Dr. Spezio explored the connections between 2nd person neural science and its description of cognitive imitation with the concept of imitatio Christi in Christian contemplative traditions. It was interesting to see how parts of Dr. Spezio's paper connected with the content of Susan Eastman's Lund lectures on how imitation is a form participation in the life of God and the communion between the Holy Spirit and the members of the church body. (No need to scroll; paper begins at 0:05)

    Session 4 featured the paper entitled On Bringing Home the Bacons: Reflections on Science, Faith and Scripture by Iain Provan, Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College and this year's OT Lund lecturerThe response was given by John Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. Here Dr. Provan gave a history of how the church in the past from Augustine, through the Reformation, as far as the Enlightenment and modernity engaged with the new discoveries of science. He challenged all of us that science and faith need not be at odds, and that was certainly not how the Reformers engaged scientific discovery. Learning from the educational principles of Roger Bacon (Franciscan monk of the 13th century) and Francis Bacon (16th century philosopher), Provan argued that when new scientific findings might potentially challenge the theological claims of Scripture, the church should see this as an opportunity to wrestle afresh with the data from science as an invitation to read Scripture more closely, deeply and faithfully. (No need to scroll; paper begins right away at 0:01)

This concludes my reflections, summaries, and links to the first four sessions of the Symposium. I'll post the same for the latter four sessions 5-8 some time in the evening. Enjoy! MJL

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