Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults, by Greg Cootsona: Chapter 3- Emerging Adults: Are They None and Done?
We are reviewing the book, Mere Science and Christian Faith, by Greg Cootsona, subtitled Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults. Today we look at Chapter 3- Emerging Adults: Are They None and Done? Cootsona begins this chapter with the de-conversion story of Don Barker, founder of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the organization responsible for the “de-baptismal certificate”. Barker has somewhat of the typical de-conversion story (supposing there is such a thing). Raised in a fundamentalist family and church, his dad having had the “lightning bolt” conversion that caused him to throw out and disassociate from everything “secular”. They had a family “gospel” music team, Barker played and wrote many Christian songs, from which he still receive royalties. He went to a Christian bible college, became a pastor, and led many people to Christ. Gradually, he found he didn’t believe anymore—no specific turning point, and now he takes the “preacher” personality he cultivated and uses it for counter-evangelism.
Cootsona brings up this story because one Barna survey found a third of the emerging adults believe the church does more harm than good, which makes it a huge challenge for that same church to try and bring science and faith together. Cootsona wants to relate emerging adult’s attitudes toward faith and science by looking at the late Ian Barbour’s four part typology. Barbour had been at the forefront of the dialogue between scientists and theologians. Trained as a physicist with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1950), and as a theologian with a B.D. from Yale University (1956), Barbour has drawn on the philosophical insights of both disciplines to try to transcend their boundaries.
First type, conflict, asserts that religion and science will never agree. This is the Richard Dawkin’s perspective as well as the Ken Ham perspective—they are really mirror images of each other. The concept of warfare between science and religion has received an onslaught of scholarly critique, but has remained remarkably tenacious in the general public’s mind.
The second type, independence, concludes that religion and science are two completely different ways to look at the world and their boundaries should be observed. The late Harvard paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould is the most well know proponent of this view with his NOMA, Non-Overlapping Magisterial Authority. Gould’s general point with NOMA is that we should respect the boundaries of both science and religion, as well as affirm the legitimacy of each other. Cootsona’s music director at his first pastorate knew Gould personally, and said he was a brilliant and kind man who didn’t conclude that “thoughtful Christian” was an oxymoron.
The third type is dialogue which involves a respectful discussion of insights from each discipline. Almost every academic theologian or scientist who’s been at a science and religion conference does the work of dialogue. It’s what academics do—talk, talk, talk, and then talk some more.
But if dialogue is fruitful, it leads to Barbour’s fourth type—integration. Integration holds that science and religion need to make a difference to each other through collaboration; it’s exemplified by people such as Francis Collins and Robert J. Russell.
In Cootsona’s experience, both dialogue and integration are well represented in emerging adults. He says:
When I begin my science and religion class at Chico State, I often have the students form a visual graph of where they find themselves on Barbour’s scale by grouping themselves by their preferred type of interaction in the four corners of the classroom. There are few in the conflict corner, a few more in the independence, and the most (usually over half the class) in dialogue and integration. (I also have a fifth spot, in the middle of the room, for those who are undecided. To my surprise, few choose this).
Bear in mind, Chico State is part of the California state school system, and is not a religious institution. Cootsona notes that there is two conflicting sets of survey data regarding the attitudes of college students towards religion and science. One study of 2,381 undergraduates found 70% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that religion and science conflicted. However, another survey of 10,810 California undergraduates found that, despite the seeming predominance of a conflict-oriented narrative, the majority of undergraduates do not view the relationship as one of conflict. This study found 69% agreed that independence or collaboration was the best way to relate religion and science. Cootsona, trying to make sense of these conflicting claims believes that it is in how the question is posed. The first study asked about the culture at large, while the second one focused more on personal view. Cootsona concluded that, simply put, the majority of emerging adults in these studies sense that there is conflict “out there” in the culture, but they themselves want something better than conflict. They are fatigued by the culture wars. (Oh, Greg, good luck getting the evangelical church to listen to you!) He says:
Unfortunately, I cannot predict that an integration of mainstream science and mere Christianity will dry up the market for Barker’s de-baptism certificates. But it might help stem the flow of “nones” and “dones” away from the church. So how does integration take shape in emerging-adult ministries? How do we speak to a demographic context that hears conflict but favors collaboration or independence?
First, Cootsona says, the church needs to show how it engages mainstream science. Don’t teach the controversy; teach the collaboration. The majority of emerging adults want to move beyond warfare. Second, he says, engage the Internet, the influence of the Internet on the emerging generation is mostly negative, and inflames the conflict narrative. Don’t be a part of that, point to the positive influences on the Internet, like BioLogos. This is one reason I’ve committed to blogging here at Internet Monk. I want to use my credentials as a scientist and a Christian to work for dialogue and collaboration.
Case Study: Cognitive Science and Reasons not to Believe
The case study for this chapter is Cognitive Science and Reasons not to Believe. One of the arguments Cootsona hears from 18-30 year-olds is that the idea of the soul does not make sense anymore in light of the advances in cognitive neuroscience. We dealt with this subject at length in my review of Minds, Brains, Souls, and Gods: A Conversation of Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience by Malcolm Jeeves. The problem, prominent in most Christian circles, is the dualistic concept of the soul—the idea that there is an entirely separate substance within our bodies that make up our soul, like air in a tire, or what philosopher Gilbert Ryle called “the ghost in the machine”. Many Christians think this is the “biblical” position, but it really owes much more to Greek philosophy, particularly Platonism, than Hebrew thought. As we discussed in the Minds, Brains… series, the ancient Hebrew view was that we are a unity of body and spirit. As seen in Genesis 2:7, we don’t have a soul, we are souls, a psychosomatic unity, if you will, or, as I like to put it, an emergent property.
The bible teaches that full redemption includes redemption of the body (Romans 8:23, 1 Corinthians 15:12-57). Our hope is not, what N.T. Wright calls “platonized eschatology”, in which our disembodied essence rises up to a noncorporeal heavenly realm. Rather, Christians traditionally believed in the resurrection of the body and living on an earth that has be remade. So, in a sense, neuroscientists are correcting an erroneous idea that Christians hold.
In a similar manner, evolutionary psychologists who note the human tendency toward cooperation, which helps ensure survival, and produces a common morality. Humans naturally seem to converge upon a common set of intuitions that structure moral thought. Some scientists take this tendency into the service of atheism and use it to impugn belief in God i.e. we can’t help belief in God, our brains demand it. But this view essentially takes atheism as the given starting point and argues to its own conclusion. It begs the question. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has set eternity in the human heart. There is no reason why an evolutionary process couldn’t be the means of that setting of eternity in human cognition. It’s what you’d expect if we are His created creatures.