The Bible and Human Origins – 2

The Faraday Institute at Cambridge have finished editing the second lecture I gave at their summer course (July 2016), which Ruth Bancewizc has already blogged about (see previous post). Here is a link to the talk – “The Bible and Human Origins.”

http://upload.sms.csx.cam.ac.uk/media/2319392

(Pleae forgive my slip of the tongue about 12 minutes in, where I say that “the man” (i.e. Adam) created “the woman” (i.e. Eve). Of course, I meant that God created her, but was thinking too far ahead…)

Here’s a potted summary –
  • I focus on two of the most famous texts in the Bible – the creations stories of Genesis in ch.1 (the six days of creation, followed by God’s day of rest), and chaps. 2-3 (Adam and Eve). Both of these stories have achieved a degree of notoriety because of debates around creationism, and the question of whether we should take modern science into account when we read them.
  • I look particulary at the “image of God” phrase in Gen.1, and then the whole complex of scientific and theological debates that surround the idea of “the Fall” in Gen.3.
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‘How I fell into Science and Religion’ – interview with Mark Harris


I am often asked how I fell into Science and Religion. Sam Ford, who produces Manna, the magazine of the Diocese of Bath and Wells, interviewed me about just this subject. His article, with the interview, follows here. 

LHC

The Large Hadron Collider at the CERN lab in Switzerland (Copyright Image Editor and licensed under Creative Commons, flickr.com)


Mark Harris has just returned from a conference at CERN, the world’s leading particle physics laboratory where the so-called ‘God particle’ has been discovered. He was there talking with physicists, philosophers, theologians and representatives from major world religions, exploring the relevance of the Big Bang theory for religious belief, and vice versa. As the author of a book on what the Bible has to say to science about the world, he stands confidently in the middle of a heated debate that has been characterised at times by fervent, even aggressive, stances on both sides.
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Catastrophists and Uniformitarians

I am just beginning my first sabbatical since launching our MSc in Science and Religion, and am enjoying getting into some research that I’ve had on hold for a long time. Those of you who have skimmed over this blog in the past will have realised that one of my abiding interests is in the fraught relationship between natural scientists and biblical scholars over how the Bible should be interpreted. A couple of years ago it occurred to me that the debate between them is exactly parallel to the old argument between ‘catastrophists and uniformitarians’ in nineteenth century geology. This argument is little-known today beyond geology, but it was truly foundational, in that much of what we know as modern science today stems from what was being argued about back then, not least Darwin’s theory of evolution. Continue reading

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Science and Religion through Poetry

It is hoped by some within the Science and Religion field that literature–both verse and prose–can enrich the dialogue between science and religion. Literature (and poetry, more specifically) allows for an intermingling of thought and affect. It is this affect component of the Science and Religion dialogue that is easily minimized. When engaging this field in academic circles it is easy to forget the practitioners of sciences and religions–people who may be less concerned with specific nuances and more concerned with the question: How then shall I live?

My research is within this literature sub-field of Science and Religion. I am interested in the ways literature can provide a more neutral medium of interaction for scientific and religious ideas, how literature utilizes (and perhaps alters) the language of sciences and religions, and how literature brings science and religion topics to a popular audience. Along with studying the writings of others, I am attempting to add my own voice to the field; the following poem, “Hermeneutics,” is one of my own.

The Science and Religion field is less about learning the right answers and more about asking the right questions. Or perhaps, taking a step back, it is about giving oneself permission to ask questions–especially questions of perceived authority, whether that be deities, religious leaders/writings, governments, scientists, philosophers, etc. To question authority can be disorienting, unsettling, isolating, and even dangerous. The speaker in this poem is asking questions about creation from the Judeo-Christian perspective. The speaker acknowledges the many voices of biblical scholarship, cosmology, quantum physics, theology, and practical religion. Three main questions drive the speaker: What happened? To whom do I listen? and What is important? It is this final question (found within the last stanza of the poem) that correlates to the question “How then shall I live?” A question that will hopefully remain at the core of the Science and Religion field.

“Hermeneutics”

בראשית
In the beginning.
ראשית
noun, feminine; beginning; also, chief.
From ראש
noun, masculine; head.
Common Semitic word; see also:
Arabic, Sabean, Ethiopic,
Amharic, Assyrian, Aramaic,
Palmyrene, Phoenician, Punic.

In the beginning
before there was time
before the big bang
before creatio ex nihilo

There was a singularity—
or perhaps there wasn’t—
we need a quantum theory of gravity;
Higgs boson wasn’t enough.

In the beginning—
at less than Planck time—
general relativity cannot be guaranteed.
Instead of singularity—infinite curvature?

In the beginning
our universe began
or was infinite
or was merely one oscillation of
big bang then big crunch
or was the birth of our tiny little corner
of the multi-dimensional
or variable multiverse.

In the beginning
God created the heavens and the earth.
Or did he merely create order
from his dark materials:
infinite night and chaos?

In the beginning,
who knows what God(s) did?
Did Moses or the Elohist,
the Hebrews or the Jews?
Did Peter, James, John, or Paul?
Did Jerome, Augustine, or Luther,
or the 47 scholars of King Henry VIII?

Do I listen to
Claus Westermann
Steven Hawking
Jorge Mario Bergoglio
Leonard Susskind
Walter Breuggemann
Jonathan Henry Sacks
the priest at the cathedral
the Anglican vicar down the road
the Baptist preacher Sunday morning
or the still small voice
that some say is the witness
of יהוה, Himself?

In the beginning—
What is the Good News?

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Research Seminar on ‘natural praise’ at the Faraday Institute, Cambridge

I recently had the pleasure of being invited to Cambridge to give a research seminar at the Faraday Institute. Since I have been thinking quite a lot about the topic of ‘natural praise’ recently (ever since giving a talk on the subject at the Knowing Creation conference in St Andrews in August 2014), I decided to re-visit this topic in the Faraday seminar, which means that (due to a lack of imagination on my part), I even ended up using the same title: “The Trees of the Field shall Clap their Hands” (Isaiah 55:12): What Does it Mean to Say that Creation Praises the Creator?

The audience appeared to be as intrigued by the subject as I am, and they gave me a number of useful things to think about to develop this further before I finally commit it to paper. Just as usefully, they also filmed the talk, and have made it available online. You can see it here –

 

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What Are We Defending? Territorial Claims Upon the Imago Dei

If you have not read the previous post on this blog, “The Assumptions We Bring to the Table,” perhaps you should pause here and read that first—then come back and read this post, for I am aware that I am bringing, if not assumptions to the table, at least a particular perspective to the table. I am relatively new to the Science and Religion discourse; my own background is in Bible and Christian Ministries, so I will not pretend to be an expert in Science or even in the broader field of Religion.

Yesterday, in class, we discussed humanity and the imago Dei (image of God). The most commonly referenced verse for the imago Dei is Genesis 1:26-27 “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (English Standard Version). This verse, along with a few others (Ps. 8.3-6; Gen. 5.1-2; Gen. 3.22; Rom. 8.29; 2 Cor. 4.4; Col. 1.15), has led to myriad speculations as to just what is the imago Dei that has been passed onto humanity, as well as led to the claim that human beings must be “uniquely unique” among the rest of creation.

However, if one is to espouse Darwinian evolution (as most biological scientists do—including those who claim “theistic evolution” or “intelligent design”), then one must concede that humans are no more naturally unique than any other unique species that has ever existed. Furthermore, any trait or function or relational ability that humans exhibit, would have come from evolutionary processes, rather than being independently conferred upon them by a Creator.

Not long into the class discussion, tensions began to rise. If one were not to look more closely, it would have appeared that those who bring a Christian perspective to the table were eager to maintain humanity’s uniqueness based upon the imago Dei, and that others—who were less eager to defend a particular theological position—found it easier to dispose of, or at least redefine, what it means to be “uniquely” human.

Now, I want to point out that it is not merely Christians who believe human uniqueness; many people live as if they—as humans—are unique even if they don’t state such a stance. As simple examples, notice the difference in support between “human rights” and “animal rights”—the former is punishable by international law while the latter is usually only supported by activist groups, or consider scientific experiments which use non-human animals as test subjects before using human subjects. The idea of human uniqueness is not isolated to Christianity or other religions. However, it does appear the Christians are keen to actively defend such a position based upon the imago Dei passages within the Bible.

My question—especially to Christians—is this: What are we defending? Are we defending God? Or the imago Dei itself? Are we defending the belief that Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully human? Or are we defending the truthfulness of Scripture? Maybe we are defending human culpability for sin and repentance? Or humanity’s dominion? Or perhaps merely our own sense of importance?

Here are some other questions. Is it possible that the Bible seems (and, arguably, is) anthropocentric merely because it is God’s revelation to and for humans? Is it possible that God relates with each creature in its own way—each according to its kind, and such that even the rocks can cry out to Him? Is it possible that God chose to be incarnated within a human being arbitrarily, and that he could have chosen to come to earth in another creature? Is it possible that the imago Dei is in every creation—perhaps a different aspect of the overall image, but an image all the same?

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“The trees of the field shall clap their hands”

Scientists in Congregations Scotland have recently posted up a lecture I gave on the controversial biblical theme of what it means to say that creatures (inanimate as well as animate) might be able to praise God. I had a lot of fun preparing and giving this talk, and the audience became very engaged in the discussion at the end. I learned a lot from them.

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The Creationist Debate

Arthur McCalla, The Creationist Debate. The Encounter between the Bible and the Historical Mind, (Bloomsbury, 2013), £19.99, pp viii – 327,ISBN:978-1-62356-852-8

The first edition of McCalla’s book was already well-known to me when I received this new edition for review. The first edition is an excellent critical study of the historical growth of creationism, an area surprisingly neglected by historical scholarship given the prominence of creationism in the pews of North America. This second edition is better still, thoroughly deserving a place alongside Ronald Numbers’ magisterial The Creationists as one of the few definitive historical studies of the phenomenon.

Beginning with the medieval metaphor of ‘the two books’, McCalla charts the historical development of scriptural exegesis and its relation to science (the earth sciences in particular) in the early modern period, setting the scene for a discussion of the great Darwin debates of the nineteenth century, the development of inerrancy and fundamentalism, and then ‘creation science’ in the twentieth century. Key moments like the Scopes trial feature prominently, along with Whitcomb and Morris’s epochal creationist text, The Genesis Flood, grounding the debate in the political and social milieu of American religious conservatism.

Noticeably more polemical in tone than Numbers, McCalla’s aim is to demonstrate that debating with creationists over the interpretation of scientific evidence misses the point. Their real agenda is to exalt the status of the Bible above all historical contingencies as a transcendent reality of its own. This is why creationism must defend its inerrantist reading of the Bible from all historical studies that threaten it, evolution for sure, but biblical criticism perhaps even more so. And this provides an explanation as to why creationism is persistently able to evade all attacks on its view of science, since science is only a secondary issue compared with the exalted creationist view of the Bible.

First published in 2006, McCalla’s new edition of 2013 expands the original treatment in several ways. There are small changes to the earlier chapters, but most notably, the treatment of intelligent design towards the end of the book is expanded considerably from the first edition, bringing the treatment up to date by covering the first decade of the twenty-first century. More material on Islamic and Vedic creationism also helps to extend the remit beyond that of the United States (but apart from this McCalla’s discussion of creationism is largely restricted to the American situation). Another new chapter presents a penetrating overview of attempts within more moderate Christianity (compared to creationism) to harmonise science and religion, making useful points of contrast and contact with the creationist situation. This chapter makes McCalla’s case all the stronger, since it brings the issues closer to home for those of us who might be tempted to take an ‘us and them’ attitude towards creationism.

This is an excellent book, and is highly recommended.

 

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Creation in the Bible and Science

Feeling rather guilty because I’ve posted so little on the blog this summer. In my defence, I’ve been working flat out on various publications, and have given quite a number of talks on science, the Bible, and creation, and especially on my new book, The Nature of CreationOne particularly enjoyable visit was to the Faraday Institute’s summer school in Cambridge, where I gave a talk entitled “Creation in the Bible and Science”. You can see the whole talk here.

It was also good to spend some time with the BioLogos conferences in Oxford, especially the Configuring Adam and Eve meeting on human origins. This was an excellent opportunity to engage the latest scientific findings on human evolution with the age-old theological problems of evil, sin, and the Fall. I first set out some thoughts on this in The Nature of Creation, but now look forward to developing them further through this project.

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The comings and goings of the Son of Man

I recently had an article published in the journal Biblical Interpretation, on an idea I’ve been working and re-working for a long time, which attempts to make sense of the very difficult Son of Man material in Matthew’s Gospel concerning the theme of ‘second coming’. This paper was a long time in the coming, and so I was particularly pleased when it finally made it into print. It seemed to me that Matthew doesn’t so much portray a second coming of Jesus in the indefinite future, so much as a motif of perpetual presence in the present. Not only did this make sense of some of Matthew’s more difficult apparent contradictions, it also exploited something the great G. B. Caird once wrote (all too briefly) about how the coming of Jesus is also a going. I called this paper ‘The comings and goings of the Son of Man’, a title I was rather proud of.

The full reference is this – ‘The Comings and Goings of the Son of Man: Is Matthew’s risen Jesus “present” or “absent”? A Narrative-Critical Response’ Biblical Interpretation 22:51-70 (2014), and I’ve included the first few paragraphs here. You can also see the full article on my Academia page (https://edinburgh.academia.edu/MarkHarris).

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