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Science and Religion

My friend/bishop/fellow-blogger&social media person, Peter Carrell pointed me to the above Teilhard documentary which I viewed before I discovered it was also coming to a cinema here. If you are unable to see it in the cinema, I highly recommend you watch it online.

I started reading Teilhard when I was a teenager, and he is highly influential in my life and my holding together Science and Faith (I have a degree and taught in both).

In the weekend I also saw (this time in the cinema) Freud’s Last Session. This is a movie from a play from a book from lectures:

For more than twenty-five years, Armand Nicholi has taught a course at Harvard that compares the philosophical arguments of both men. In The Question of God, Dr. Nicholi presents the writings and letters of Lewis and Freud, allowing them to “speak” for themselves on the subject of belief and disbelief. Both men considered the problem of pain and suffering, the nature of love and sex, and the ultimate meaning of life and death — and each of them thought carefully about the alternatives to their positions. 
The inspiration for the PBS series of the same name, The Question of God does not presuppose which man — Freud the devout atheist or Lewis the atheist-turned-believer — is correct in his views. Rather, readers are urged to join Nicholi and his students and decide for themselves which path to follow.

The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life

Towards the end of Freud’s life, we know that an Oxford don (we don’t know who) visited Freud. Nicholi’s work, and the imagining that this don was C.S. Lewis, led Mark St. Germain to produce what I gather was a stunning play called Freud’s Last Session. The film is based on this play, but the film has received mixed reviews. I would say it is a good, but not great, film, maybe a discussion starter for some. Someone asked me, for example, after the film, knowing that I have degrees in Science and in Theology: “Do you have a lot of internal debates?” My answer was (and remains), “No.” If I have any internal struggles, they are not about some imagined conflict between Science and Faith – any fundamentalist tendencies I ever had were quickly demolished when I actually started reading the Bible and found that Chapter 1 conflicted with Chapter 2! The editor of Genesis/the Bible wasn’t hassled by the conflict, and so obviously didn’t think this was a Science or History text book in the sense that we understand those terms nowadays.

My sermon on the Trinity (starting about 21:00 here after the reading of John 3:1-17) shows the influence of Teilhard on my thinking even now in highlighting a different lens than the usual “survival of the fittest” as the key to evolution, offering instead “survival of those who cooperate” – a lens we could do well to use in our political life rather than our current lurching towards a more me-first economics as well! [I’m told this is the theme of Sapiens, a book on my shelf, but not yet read by me]. I wonder, also, if Teilhard has influenced my Trinitarian imagery by speaking of (quoted in the above documentary) the divine milieu as being within us, around us, and beyond us!

Some are quick to highlight that Christians were accepting evolution from 1856 and was common after 1870. I am far, far less sanguine. The culture I move in knows little to nothing of the place of Christians in the development of Science. I have often highlighted how reticent active Anglican diocesan bishops (in NZ) are to affirm evolution publicly. My experience is mostly surprise that I accept evolution (let alone Science generally, and more: that I taught it). Just this morning, I was pointed to RC priest Dave Nix’s statement:

Dinosaurs roamed the earth concurrently with humans until a giant flood (Gen 6) and then a few dinosaurs still survived (like crocodiles and komodo dragons) probably taken on the arc.

Fr Dave Nix

Am I surprised that a priest who is anti-Science also cannot spell “ark”?! Sadly, his perspective has so far had over 72,000 views. I will be pleased if this post is read by a thousand. In any case, sad as I found the Teilhard story, and sad how Science as seen as undermining faith is still an issue today, and sad how that prevents deeply-thinking people from following the Christian journey, and sad how this issue is leveraged to prevent a more nuanced spirituality – do relish the above documentary.

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3 thoughts on “Science and Religion”

  1. I am the culprit who said evolution has been held by Anglicans since 1856 – Rev Baden Powell. We need to thing both geology and evolution. Most educated Anglicans accepted an ancient earth by 1820s at the latest and evolution by 1870. What is not known is the proportion of average Anglicans who went for 4004BC from ignorance. I have found that in my fifty years of ministry. However since 1961 Young Earth Creationism has been pushed and made inroads into Anglicans. 50 years ago YEC was almost totally absent in the Church of England. not so today and there has even been a YEC bishop in the 21st century. A major problem is lack of discussion on the subject. Here is my very brief survey in Britain from 1859 – original in German!! https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/evolution-and-religion-in-britain-from-1859-to-2013/

    1. Thanks, Michael.
      That’s a very helpful piece, and I encourage people to read it – highlighting how evolution has become more of an issue nowadays within Christianity than other periods in the last couple of centuries. Within a liturgical context, I love that there were church buildings built in the second half of the nineteenth century that put stone showing fossils in the sanctuary – a sacred and symbolic way of affirming acceptance of evolution. I used to highlight the fossils visible in the Chapel stone in the school where I served as Chaplain. I also encourage people to read Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian.

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