Monday, October 3, 2016

Science and Religion (Part 2): More Papers from the 2016 Symposium on the Theological Reading of Scripture

Johnny Lin, Senior Lecturer & Director of Undergraduate Computing Education
at the Univ of Washington (right) with respondent Linda Eastwood, Affiliate
Faculty at McCormick Theological Seminary (left) with questions moderated
by Jay Phelan, Senior Professor of Theological Studies at North Park (center)
Continuing from my last post on Sessions 1-4 of the 2016 Symposium on the Theological Reading of Scripture, here I introduce and reflect on the remaining Sessions 5-8. 
    Session 5 featured a paper by Joshua Moritz, Lecturer of Philosophical Theology and the Natural Sciences at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif (my old stomping grounds BTW), entitled Made as Mirrors: Biblical and Neuroscientific Reflections on Imaging God. The response was given by Tyler Johnson, pastor at Albert City Covenant Church, Albert City, Iowa and one of our seminary's alumni. 
    This was another paper that made my head spin as I tried to wrap my mind around two concepts that I simply have not thought about it. First, in discussing the image of God, Dr. Moritz argued that homo sapians alone and no other homonids, including Neanderthals with whom we share genetic material, were created in the image of God even though other hominid species possessed the same capacity for complex language, advanced tools types which indicate a high degree of metacognition and symbolic thought, abilities for art and the abstract, and other cognitive functions. So the imago Dei not only distinguishes human beings from other animals but also from other homonids who did not belong to homo sapiens
   Moritz is able to make this claim because secondly, he defines the imago Dei not as innate capacity unique to homo sapiens (e.g., Karl Barth believed that our freedom to act against instinct is what reflected God's image because above all else God is free). Moritz defines God's image in terms of election. Out of all the other homonids, only homo sapiens were elected by God to a particular priestly office. This is a historical election, not classical or Calvinist, because this election forms the starting point and basis for a particular vocation or call to service unique among homo sapiens
   To hear more, follow the video below of the session (jump to 2:50 for the start of the paper)   

    Session 6 featured a paper by Susan Eastman, Associate Research Professor of New Testament at the Duke Divinity School and this year's NT Lund lecturer, entitled Paul and the Person: Perspectives from Cognitive Science and Philosophy. The response was given by A. Andrew Das, Professor of Religious Studies at Elmhurst College. There was some overlap with her Lund lectures on Paul and the body but in many ways the paper was also an advancement from what she shared earlier.
   One of the best parts of her paper was her analysis of what she called Paul's grammar. She noted that Paul's syntax of identity looks something like this: It is no longer I who [verb] but [subject+verb] in me. This grammar occurs in two places for Paul: 1) Romans 7:17 (and again in v.20) where Paul says "It is no longer I doing it, but sin dwelling in me." and 2) Galatians 2:20 where Paul says: "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." Galatians 2 is parallel to Romans 7 as its qualitative opposite.
    Eastman noted that past commentators like J. Louis Martyn and even her own doctoral supervisor Richard Hays were wrong in thinking that somehow the subject of "I" is replaced by another agency: either sin, or Christ. Rather, she argues that "I" still remains the subject. Paul is not talking about a replacing the "I" but a new constitution of the "I" from the ground up where in relationship to sin, I  get damaged and experience death but in relationship to Christ, I live. Paul describes a genuine intersubjectivity with distinct subjects but with sin, it vacuates human agency and destroys the person. But with God the intersubjectivity allows for the "I" to remain intact without entertaining a competition where one is undone by the other. Worth every minute, click below for the full session (jump to 6:58 for the start of the paper) 

    Session 7 featured a paper by Johnny Wei-Bing Lin, Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Computing Education at the University of Washington in Seattle who also serves as an Affliate Professor of Physics at North Park University. The title of his presentation was Knowing in Part: The Demands of Scientific Religious Knowledge in Everyday Decisions. The response was by Linda Eastwood, Affliliate Faculty at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.
    Dr. Lin presents several working models on how science and religion impact everyday decision making where the components of revelation, reason, intuition and feeling all have their contribution to make in each respective model. I was surprised to see how both can potentially work cooperatively with one another quite well and in fact already inform many every day decisions in real life. Click below for the session (and jump to 3:40 for the start of the paper).

   The last session of the symposium, Session 8, featured a paper by Hans Madueme, Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College in Georgia, entitled 'A Rock of Offense': The Problem of Scripture in Science and Theology. The response was given by Matthew Maas, Assistant Professor of Neurology and Anesthesiology at Northwestern University. 
   Dr. Madueme, who completed his medical degree and internship before deciding to pursue a doctorate in theology, reflected on the relationship between science and Scripture. He argued that while conflict between the two bodies of knowledge can act as a catalyst for Christians to make new theological conceptualizations and re-articulate doctrine for a new generation and setting, there are also times when some conflicts between science and theology should not be alleviated by theological revision. To hear more on those instances where doctrinal truth should challenge some scientific theories where the phenomenalogical data has yet to be confirmed, watch the video of the session below (jump to 0:55 for the start of the paper).

That's it. Enjoy and be blessed! MJL

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