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Friday, July 10, 2009

Another Response to Daniel Dennett

Wentzel van Huyssteen, a professor of theology and science at Princeton Theological Seminary, has also read Daniel Dennett's report from the evolution and religion session at the Darwin Festival (in which van Huyssteen took part) and has sent us what he describes as a "brief, gut-level response." (Philip Clayton responded too.)
Here's what van Huyssteen writes:

Too bad that Dan Dennett felt compelled to give such an impossibly one-sided response to what was really said on our session on Monday afternoon. The session was all about showing that there is a vast amount of serious Christians/theologians out there who do not succumb to right-wing biblical fundamentalism or its polar opposite, scientism, but are really working hard to find constructive ways to engage not only with science, but quite specifically also with the thought of Charles Darwin. I do not want to speak for my colleagues, but the four papers in our session tried to show, each in their own way, that there are different ways to do that. I think paleoanthropologists and archaeologists with whom I have worked over the years would be surprised at Dennett's over-reaction against my attempt at interdisciplinary theology. After all, Darwin's theory of natural selection in itself does not compel a choice for a position of faith or for atheism—that to me looks like a profoundly personal choice. And Michael Ruse was right all along: Darwinians can be Christians! What divides Christian Darwinians and atheist Darwinians is not Mr. Darwin, but deep philosophical presuppositions and differences. ...
The ensuing relationship between science and theology is admittedly a-symmetrical: there are big differences between the explanatory/interpretative methods of science and the more philosophically non-empirical explanations/interpretations in philosophical theology. What this means for the interaction between science and theology is that theology should boldly let scientific facts inform its theories and perspectives (and I have tried in my paper to show that paleoanthropological/archaeological data should radically transform the way theological anthropology is done). Theology's contribution to science, however, can never just be a list of new facts for science to consider: On the contrary, theology should identify an overlapping problem with science (in my own case: what does it mean to be human?) and bring to this conversation dimensions of "humanness" like, for instance, vulnerability, moral ambivalence, suffering, the search for meaning, symbolic behavior, forgiveness, etc., which is often beyond the reach of a strictly empirical science and for which the theologian should be able to provide a holistic paradigm of meaning. Of course, for someone uninterested in religious/spiritual meaning this may not make sense!

3 comments:

Alexander said...

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
On the contrary, theology should identify an overlapping problem with science (in my own case: what does it mean to be human?) and bring to this conversation dimensions of "humanness" like, for instance, vulnerability, moral ambivalence, suffering, the search for meaning, symbolic behavior, forgiveness, etc., which is often beyond the reach of a strictly empirical science and for which the theologian should be able to provide a holistic paradigm of meaning. Of course, for someone uninterested in religious/spiritual meaning this may not make sense!
>>>>>
Well, it would make sense to me if someone could explain to me why you need supernatural beings to explain, for example "suffering," unless you are extremely cynical and believe in a god that plays with us like a cat that has cought a mouse. Meaning is something we create for ourselves, we don't need a spaghetti monster to do this for us.

David said...

Alexander, I'm concerned that a rhetorical device like the spaghetti monster might lead you to prematurely dismiss serious issues. The God of monotheism is not like a spaghetti monster, and if you don't know why, you might have some thinking still to do.

Alexander said...

Thanks for implying I'm not thinking. I went to a Catholic high school and had time enough to do a lot of thinking, enough to decide quite early that most what I was told (by people in black dresses who were completely brainwashed, and did *not* think) did not make any sense. So you say that the monotheistic god is not a rhetorical device, then what is it? I just heard on the BBC World service, in a program called "The Forum," a commentator on religion saying that modern theology is not concerned with the existence of a god. So I have to assume that the concept of a god is a metaphor. I prefer philosophy without invoking anthropomorphic metaphors that perhaps made sense 2000 years ago, but not anymore today. Intellectually humanity has progressed a lot over the last 2000 years.