Sunday, March 18, 2018

Taking Science Public: Some Notes

My goal is to have a post every Monday, and since I’ve been traveling this weekend to talk about the book (look right), I figured I’d do a progressive post: Start now and build as the week unfolds.

About a week ago, I was at the DC offices of the largest scientific organization in the world, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, specifically participating in an advisory board for “Engaging Scientists” as part of the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion or DoSER. The project seeks to assist scientists in communicating beyond the scientific community, and I was specifically there to offer ideas about how science in communities of faith.

A couple of brief observations…
  • In the meeting, I definitely saw interest in engaging science with faith communities because scientists realize how important religious communities are. (Which makes me happy...)
  • Something like 89% of Americans have confidence in scientific community in general and yet on some specific topics, there is marked resistance.
  • There were anecdotes of resistance to science that was sometimes shocking. I heard about the head of a national science society, “I’m a deacon in the church, and I don’t want to talk about evolution”
Made me realize once again that this "bringing science to church" work is necessary and not entirely self-evident.

Monday, March 12, 2018

How Technology Threatens Spiritual Life

One more excerpt from Mere Science and Christian Faithnow available. 

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(To state what is perhaps obvious, this is ironic)
A drop in religious affiliation and a rise in Internet use seem to be correlated. Why might this be the case? Philosopher Daniel Dennett has surmised that the Internet disrupts religion’s hegemony over the information its adherents receive. 
“Religious institutions, since their founding millennia ago, have managed to keep secrets and to control what their flocks knew about the world, about other religions and about the inner workings of their own religion with relative ease. Today it is next to impossible.” Daniel Dennett (behind paywall)
But that strikes me as somewhat simplistic. Studies also find a strong correlation between empathy and religious belief—that is, believers tend to show higher levels of empathy. Can God make himself known to people despite their technological distractions and decreased empathy? Naturally. At the same time, some studies suggest that the use of technology reduces empathy, and since emerging adults are digital natives and use technology throughout the day, this is a particularly pertinent issue. I’ve been persuaded that we grow in the virtues through practice, and the virtue of empathy is something we must cultivate. Conversely, interacting virtually and not in real relationships numbs our empathy. One can note the division at Facebook specifically created to mitigate against cyberbullying by its one billion plus users. I can affirm that the comments to my blogs can be highly negative—and almost never informed by what I wrote—to a degree that never happens in my public speaking.

In other words, if using technology decreases our empathy, and empathy is correlated with faith, maybe technology decreases our capacity for spiritual life. We need more studies on this, but I can report anecdotally that the college students I teach and the emerging adults that have been part of my ministries seem increasingly anxious, even twitchy. They’re less present to one another and therefore diminished in their ability to care. There seem to be correlations between screens and these behaviors, and while I certainly have my intuitions, more scientific data would be helpful. There’s also the simple issue of how we steward our time: If we play hours of Grand Theft Auto, there’s less time to go to worship services, undertake Bible studies, and take part in service projects.

Monday, March 05, 2018

The New Book is Out and that Elicited Some Reflections

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These are a few first meditations on the process of writing and publishing.

A week or so ago, Mere Science and Christian Faith arrive at my house. Holding a book that’s published in my own hands is uniquely moving. As I re-read the book through for the first time, I thought, “Those are some hard fought words.” I remember many weeks through last summer, aching over the right synonym, wondering about the construction of my argument on the historical Adam and Eve.

Me, talking about the book... 
What did I do differently in this book?
Because I knew I’d be engaging an evangelical audience, I worked to integrate Scripture throughout the manuscript. I also kept thinking of those who care about the Gospel and how powerfully it can speak to our contemporary world, which is saturated in science and technology. I wanted to connect with thoughtful evangelicals—like those at the seminary on which I’m adjunct faculty, Fuller. I wanted, as clearly as possible, to create points of connection between the contemporary world and the Bible.

In the process—and in the ensuring years since C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian, I’ve been reflecting on style, and in the process a smaller, stylistic point for Mere Science was that I spent enormous effect on transitions. Why? Because frankly my style tends to be jumpy—i.e., I jump from one insight to the next. I know what’s in my head, but does the reader?  

As the expert writer C. S. Lewis put so well:
“The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean. If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him. I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or the right the reader will most certainly go into it.”
I’ll leave it there for now. More to come (I hope)….