Yes to Science; No to Scientism

There is a lot of confusion in the debate between science and religion (I use the term “religion” here as it relates to Christianity).

Science is a wonderful, glorious thing.  But scientism is the troll under the bridge that just loves to prance around when it can.  Science is way of knowing the physical and natural world – observe, measure, hypothesise, experiment, drawing conclusions and verification of the conclusions – and has enormously enriched and refined our knowledge of the world.  As Spandau Ballet so memorably sang in True, “I know, I know, I know this much is true.”  And this is the point – science is a search; a search for what is true; it is a search for Truth itself.  In this sense, it is, as G. K. Chesterton noted, “[Physical science] is either infallible or it is false.”  He adds with his usual razor wit, to mix these up is to confuse the role of a medical doctor who tells us that this or that food will kill us; but it is for the philosopher to say whether I ought to be killed.

Scientism is the reduction of all knowledge to the scientific form of knowledge, and this can take the forms of a strong or weak scientism.  The “strong scientism” is seen no more clearly seen than in the current debates around religion and science, especially from the fiercest critics of religion – the “New Atheists” (of whom there is nothing new at all), and which Alistair McGrath reminds us, that scientism is not only alive and well, but has “become the official ideology of the movement.”  John Crosby writes, “Scientism takes the paradigm for knowledge and truth to be the knowledge and truth gained by the natural sciences.  To the extent that philosophy or literature or religion is not amenable to the methods of natural science, it is treated as a sub-standard form of knowledge” (A. J. Ayer and his ‘Vienna Circle’ pals in the 20’s and 30’s and their logical positivism are foundational to the present situation).  It is quite perverse though how this has happened!  It creates a false distinction, as though one has to choose between science and nonsense, which is nonsense!  Scientism is a shame and a sham!  Nothing but an epistemological reductionism masquerading as an enlightened, open-minded, free-thinking and progressive world-view.

This was exemplified in a 2019 science and religion debate between John Lennox and  Peter Atkins over at Unbelievable?  These two are extremely clever men, but one is a Christian (Lennox) and the other an atheist.  The problem is that despite Lennox being a Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, Atkins, with quite staggering arrogance, still dismisses Lennox’s Christian faith as immature, telling him and all other Christian/religious people  to “grow up!” It is this kind of allegiance to a scientific-only worldview (i.e. scientism) that even makes Richard Dawkins look sluggish.  Atkins made some good and interesting points, but overall, he only served to prove one thing: that he is so deeply locked into an epistemological method of scientism, with its great reduction and dismissal of any other form of knowing, that he does, in fact, look silly.  He betrays the almost universal consensus that there are non-scientific ways to knowing, as the famous atheist Bertrand Russell once admitted, in acknowledging that mathematics (of which Lennox is a professor!), is a doorway to religion and mysticism.

I do wish Atkins could argue properly with Lennox, rather like the early 20th century debates between Christian G. K. Chesterton and atheist George Bernard Shaw, who could properly argue but still hold a meaningful friendship.  Atkins despises Lennox and all other Christians, and it is at this point the meaningfulness of debate breaks down.  Once, when preparing for a debate, a rotund Chesterton said to a skinny Shaw, “To look at you, anyone would think there was a famine in England!”  Shaw replied, “And to look at you, anyone would think you caused it!”  Sadly, this kind of banter born out of mature relating and friendship is lost to many who hold to scientism.

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Book Review ‘Be Afraid’ exploring Horror, Culture and Theology

Below is my review of ‘Be Afraid – How Horror and Faith Can Change the World’ by my friend and fellow Baptist pastor Joe Haward, which was recently published in the Baptist Times.  Given a very limited word count, it was not possible to dig deeper into my comments about the theological method which relies heavily on the work of Rene Girard.  This brings an interpretive framework that can draw out different conclusions than one might expect, but is a conversation/debate that is well worth having, as it could stretch the reader beyond their theological comfort zone, which is never a bad thing in and of itself but a reference point worth remembering.  My commendation for the back cover has been edited, but here is my full version: 

IMG_0386“The bold plan in this book is to bring together the horror genre of popular culture and Christian theology, in such a way as to draw out an insightful conversation between the two. We live in a complex, violent and confused world that swings between extremes of multiple and competing ideologies, and thus continues to make the same mistakes. Using a wide range of contemporary film, writers, thinkers and ancient texts, Haward interprets “horror” theologically and shows therefore, how this genre is indeed rich pickings for discovering theological insight to “see beyond” the cultural impasse. The irony is that the “alternative vision” is a very, very old vision located in the peaceable Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The book is well worth a read, here’s the review:

“Rare is a conversation with horror, which is why I welcome this book. Joe Haward helps Christians to make the links with theology and the horror genre of popular culture. He draws out key characteristics and then makes one direct comparison after another with biblical themes as they relate to zombies (resurrection), vampires that eat flesh and drink blood (Eucharist), violence and sacrifice (atonement), and so on.

Be Afraid Joseph Haward

It is interesting for a reader like me, because I don’t like the horror genre; but even so, many in our churches do, which means there is a preaching opportunity to be had here.

Haward’s theological method draws on the work of Rene Girard. As such, he regularly alludes to the scapegoating mechanism and mimetic rivalry, and shows how these ideas are put forth in horror and ancient religions. Sometimes this method can be at odds with biblical reception-history, yet the insights offered can prove fruitful. Reading his interpretive conclusions alongside two or three good commentaries on the subject will be a great way to interact with Girardian theory.

Haward is good at interpreting contemporary Western culture, and he is relentless in exposing consumerism, violence, trafficking, the worst excesses of social media and the human obsession with an utterly godless dystopian future. Throughout, he shines the light on the Person and work of Jesus Christ, who He is, what He has done and what it all means. If anything else, this is a master-class in helping anyone interested in the art of interpreting film through a Gospel lens.”

Festschrift honour for John Colwell

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Rhythms of Faithfulness being presented to John Colwell by the Editors Paul and Andy Goodliff

Last Wednesday I paid my first ever visit to Spurgeon’s Baptist College in London (I went to Bristol #happydays).  It was a secret that many fellow minister’s and tutors held as we sprung a surprise on Rev. Dr. John Colwell, for his lifetime of service to the Church and University, although he confessed to increasing suspicion as the minutes rolled by.  John is a wonderful man, and it was a real treat for me to get to know him as my mentor when I moved to South Devon and first met him.  He has preached several times at my church, and is a most excellent preacher at that!  I interviewed him a few years ago which received more hits in the first month than any other blog post I wrote (he doesn’t know that)! What follows below is the account of that day from the Baptist Times online paper here.

 

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Note Taking on Julian of Norwich pt6

This session covered aspects of Julian’s positive and pastoral theology.

“I saw Everlasting certainty powerfully sustained without any fear… at peace and rest… then my mind turned and I was disgusted with myself.  I could go on in faith, hope and charity, but feel them so little.”

“God keeps us safe in sorrow and joy. . . and sin is not always the cause . . . but both came from one love.”

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Apologetic Resources

Here are just some of the great resources I’ve found over the years, and here they are in no particular order (compiling this short list here does not necessarily mean I wholly subscribe to all the associated groups or persons’ theology, just that they have some very important things to say that are nevertheless, worthwhile and valuable):

mdaxresdefault (1)John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, is an internationally renowned speaker on the interface of science, philosophy and religion. He regularly teaches at many academic institutions including the Said Business School, Wycliffe Hall and the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, as well as also being a Senior Fellow with the Trinity Forum. He has written a series of books exploring the relationship between science and Christianity and he has also participated in a number of televised debates with some of the world?s leading atheist thinkers.

 

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