Introducing ASK the BEASTS

Ask the Beasts cover

ASK THE BEASTS: Darwin and the God of Love

This series of discussions encourages a fruitful dialogue between science and faith, discussing themes presented by Elizabeth Johnson in her newest work, ASK THE BEASTS.  Dr. Johnson outlines Darwin’s theory of evolution in a way that non-scientists can understand, and then builds a theological foundation for a Christianity that can work with – not against – science.  For a taste of Johnson’s book, read the Preface, below:

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Caring for Creation

Thoughts for our discussion: January 15

Darwin entangled bankFirst published in 1859, Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species argued against the prevailing theory of creation, the ‘argument from design’. Darwin concludes his book with with the following paragraph:

It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us…

Stop reading for a moment to visualize your own ‘entangled bank’ –
a favorite place in nature, or
a corner of your own backyard.
Take time to contemplate its beauty, mystery, and meaning.

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The Argument Begins

Thoughts for our discussion – January 22

In her opening chapter Elizabeth Johnson writes,

“As a work of theology this book explores the Christian tradition, seeking to illuminate the religious meaning of the ecological world of species. It charts one way to see that – far from being simply ‘nature’ in a neutral sense, and far from being made only for human use – these living species have an intrinsic value in their own right. Once one understands that the evolving community of life on Earth is God’s beloved creation and its ruination an unspeakable sin, then deep affection shown in action on behalf of eco-justice becomes an indivisible part of one’s life. (Ask the Beasts, p. xiv)

[But ] …. “over the centuries…theology narrowed its interest to focus on human beings almost exclusively. Our special identity, capacities, roles, sinfulness, and need for salvation became the all consuming interest. …. Even the theology of creation… receded to become a backdrop for the human drama. The natural world was simply there as something God created for human use. Theology lost touch with the universe.” (Ask the Beasts, p. 2-3)

And so Johnson asks,
How can theology today recognize the central importance of the natural world?
A blunter way to ask this question is the familiar,
Can science and religion be reconciled?”

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Religion and Science: Integration

Thanks to Carol McPhee for her brief summary of Process Theology. 

In dialogue, science and religion share insights from each field which can enrich or correct the other. Ian Barbour’s Integration takes dialogue a step further, by seeking to create a synthesis of scientific ideas with religious belief.

As examples of integration, Elizabeth Johnson refers to Teilhard de Chardin and Process Theology (see ‘Ask the Beasts’, pages 10-12).

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Faith in Dialogue with Reason

Notes from our discussion – January 29

I’ve been thinking about Barbour’s types of dialogue between science and religion (as presented here and in our discussion last week), and also about the people who have joined in this discussion.

Types of dialogue and types of people:

Conflict – I don’t think we have anyone in this group who isn’t open to scientific discoveries; nor anyone who isn’t open to hearing other people talking about faith…

Independence – I don’t think we have anyone in this group who is trying to keep ‘science’ and ‘facts’ in one part of their brain, and ‘faith’ and ‘God’ in another part of their brain. But many of us may find it difficult to see how to integrate them….

Dialogue – Most of us are hoping to learn more about science and evolution – and at the same time we’re hoping for new religious insights that may come from scientific concepts and information…

Integration – And there are many – perhaps all of us – who are looking for some way to integrate science and religion, some way to use both faith and reason as we seek to understand the world we live in. Yes, perhaps we experience science and religion as always in tension (in our culture and in our own minds) – and yet, as we work to integrate what we’re learning, we try to keep faith and reason in conversation with each other.

A question about Charles Darwin himself:

As he moved through his life, did Darwin find it harder and harder to integrate the information he was collecting – and the theories he was building – with the conventional Christian faith he had received from his family, church and culture?

A question for you: 

As you read the next chapter of Ask the Beasts (chapter 3, “Endless forms most beautiful”), how can you keep your own faith in conversation with science?  (You may find that as you ‘stretch’ your mind to comprehend the science, you will also have to ‘stretch’ your faith for an idea of God ‘big enough’ to make sense.)

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Reading Origin of Species – 1

Darwin’s Origin of Species is a sustained argument – almost 500 pages long – which aims to demonstrate that over millions of years all species of plants and animals have descended from original parents, along the way diversifying and/or going extinct, due to the process of natural selection.

(1) Starting with farm and garden (pages 45-49)

(2) Two key elements: variation and struggle (pages 49-55)

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