We recommend a lot of resources throughout the year, and the summer may be a great opportunity for you to catch up a on a few. As we’ve done in past years, here are our 2022 recommendations for books and other resources that we hope you’ll have extra bandwidth to dive into this summer.
Heather: On Fire
When Everything’s on Fire isn’t directly about science, but it is science-adjacent. Author Brian Zahnd approaches the challenge of a secular age from the perspective of a life-long pastor. To understand that challenge, it’s helpful to have in view philosopher Charles Taylor’s critical question from A Secular Age: “Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say 1500, in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy but even inescapable?”
Zahnd draws on philosophy, theology, and literature to answer the question of whether it is possible to hold on to Christian faith in an age of unbelief. He specifically engages the validity of different ways of knowing. “If from the outset you insist that God doesn’t show up in the telescope like Alpha Centauri or in the microscope like a DNA molecule, then God doesn’t exist, well, guess what, you’re going to ‘prove’ that God doesn’t exist. … If you begin with the empiricist assumption, atheism is a foregone conclusion. It’s a rigged game.” Reflecting on Blaise Pascal’s experience of God that led him to write: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing,” Zahnd says, “Empiricism is fine until it becomes haughty and claims it can know everything that can be known. As an organ for experiencing and interpreting reality, the heart is not inferior to reason.”
Zahnd’s considerations of how it is we know God brought to mind the annual conversations our team has as we approach Easter. What will we say in this newsletter that connects science and the resurrection? We can say a little bit. But once that bit has been said, we’re bumping up against mystery and transcendence; empirical analogies won’t ever be able to hold the experience of encountering the risen Christ. In a secular age, that’s good news.
Greg: Two Quite Different Directions
A new book that grabbed my attention—and changed the way I think about science and faith—is Randy S. Woodley’s Indigenous Theology and the Western Worldview. Woodley, a Cherokee Christian theologian, demonstrates how much of our theology is invested in Enlightenment values and European “modern scientific” thinking. This slim book helped me ponder that an alternative worldview might actually fit better with Jesus’s proclamations. Woodley’s book also leads us to rethink the nature of science and our relationship with the natural world.
Steve Paulson’s 2010 book, Atoms and Eden: Conversations on Religion and Science, which I recently picked up again, includes fascinating interviews with a wide spectrum of voices on science and religion. Paulson, a skilled journalist and interviewer from weekly public-radio program, “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” presents excellent introductions to each of the conversations. He also draws out the best from Francis Collins, Jane Goodall, Nidhal Guessoum, Alan Wallace and, in a combined interview, Rebecca Goldstein, and Stephen Pinker, to name a few. Framed within a question-and-answer format, it’s a perfect book for summer—you can read it in snippets while sipping iced tea or nibbling on s’mores by a lake or a campfire.
Drew: What Does God Do When We Pray
For two weeks now, Uvalde, TX, has been the epicenter of prayer in America. From those earliest moments when the shooter arrived at Robb Elementary School, God has been receiving cries for help. Those cries include fear, terrible sadness, anger, calls for justice, and wondering what is next. We continue to ask what the first responders were doing in those early horrifying minutes and many of us have also asked what God was doing.
Uvalde is an atrocious example of a question every Christian I know has asked at one point or another, “When I pray what does God do?” That is the title of David Wilkinson’s 2015 book, in which he considers personal experience, science, Scripture, and theology to help us be both critical and humble in our praying. This physicist-turned-theologian addresses the notion that prayer is a simple transaction between us and God while at the same time challenging the modern sensibility that God is powerless to respond to the world described by science.
Wilkinson is writing for believers and skeptics alike. In this 80-minute Unbelievable podcast, hear him discuss prayer with Ed Atkinson, who became an unbeliever in part because of unanswered prayer.
Edgardo: A Focus on Sir John Polkinghorne
A recent online debate among members of my theological tradition reminded me of how entrenched the belief is that science and theology are mutually exclusive. In his book Science and Theology: An Introduction, Sir John Polkinghorne takes us on a journey of historical discovery to reveal the nexus (i.e., the convergence) of theological and scientific knowledge.
Polkinghorne explains that the “physical world is full of surprises.” Therefore, our experiences can only be seen as partial guides because there is no universal epistemology. Moreover, Polkinghorne suggests that faith is strengthened by science’s intellectual search in the common quest for knowledge. After all, “epistemology models ontology.” Finally, Polkinghorne provides us with a comprehensive presentation of the nature of science and theology, quantum theory, cosmology, the anthropic principle, the nature of God, the domain of divine action, the person of Christ, and the diversity of faith to conclude that science and theology are “but a part of that single search for unified understanding” of God and his creation.
Also, for your listening pleasure, I recommend Tripp Fuller’s Homebrewed Christianity podcast episode “On John Polkinghorne: Creation, Prayer, Miracles, and Time.” In this episode, Thomas Jay Oord (SftC friend and collaborator) and Tripp Fuller talk about how Polkinghorne’s writings, teachings, and ministry can serve as a foundation to affirm both science and theology. This episode is about two hours long, so be ready to be challenged and y disfrutemos a la sombra (let us enjoy under the shadow) of the late Sir John Polkinghorne. Lastly, if you still have time, I invite you to listen to Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable podcast episode “Alister McGrath on John Polkinghorne.”
And here’s to a great summer!
Heather, Greg, Drew, and Ed