October 2002
volume 14 (2)

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Maintaining Scientific and Christian Truths in a Postmodern World

Donald A. Carson
Pages: 107-122


I should like to begin by thanking the organisers of this conference for inviting a theologian to participate in a gathering of eminent scientists.1 In one sense, of course, that mere fact is a reflection of our times. The pressures of global- ization embrace much more than the obvious truth that highly diverse cultures mutually influence one another today. They mean, as well, that at a time when discrete disciplines are becoming more and more specialised, and in that sense narrower and narrower, there are many calls for cross-disciplinary explo- rations, and I suppose that this conference, in part, is a fruit of such pressures. Ideally, that is a good thing. We must frankly admit, however, that not a few of the strident voices that clamour for cross-disciplinary study, some of them more articulate than well advised, are crossing disciplines with an exuberant glee that seeks to domesticate other domains of inquiry with the hegemony of postmodern epistemology. That sums up at least part of the contemporary clash between scientists and many philosophers of science. We know how you think, the latter say to the former, and so our task is to expose your blindspots, and teach you the proper way to think. Since both Christian confessionalism and science are facing a similar onslaught, it is not too surprising that we should be drawn together in a com- mon defence. For both parties have something in common: we both think there is such a thing as culture-transcending truth, and that we human beings have some access to it.2 For those who are both scientists and Christians, it is scarcely surprising that some should wonder if it might be profitable to pool our resources as we engage in this debate. In this paper my aims are modest. I propose to offer a summary of the chal- lenge, a survey of responses, and a pair of suggestions.


Science and Postmodernism - Further Reflections

Pages: 98-98


Human Cloning: A Watershed forScience and Ethics?

D. Gareth Jones
Pages: 159-180


The possibility that human beings will be cloned elicits widespread opprobrium from a wide spectrum of the population, Christians included, so much so that calls for its banning are frequently heard. The reasons for the strength of this opposition are profound and serious. They are based on the arguments that cloning: will imperil human dignity, represents a technological manipulation of human reproduction, will harm the resulting child, involves experimentation on human embryos, represents excessive human control, and is antagonistic to Christian aspirations. In assessing these arguments, concern is expressed with the assertions that cloning will inevitably lead to the instrumentalisation of human beings, that clones will be forced to walk in the footsteps of others, that their lack of genetic uniqueness will lead to a lack of human uniqueness, and that clones will invariably be treated as a product and not as a gift. The important role of control in human affairs is explored, with its repercussions for genetic control. While these criticisms do not lead to advocacy of human cloning, they encourage us to revisit the principles needed to guide us in our relationship to all aspects of God's world.


The Problem of Mental Causation: HowDoes Reason Get its Grip on theBrain?

Nancey Murphy
Pages: 143-158


Twenty years ago, when I first became involved in the theology and science dia- logue, it was possible to ask whether there was really anything for scientists and theologians to talk about. It is important to remember that some of the most powerful influences in the development of modern theology, such as Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Schleiermacher, had argued that religion and science have nothing to do with one another. Various intellectual strategies for insulating theology from science have made use of body­soul dualism. Put crudely, science can study the body but the soul is the province of theology. Such strategies, however, have become prob- lematic in that neuroscientists are now studying all of the human faculties once attributed to the soul. I would argue that Christians who have not already done so ought to join philosophers and neuroscientists in adopting a physicalist account of the per- son.1 The problems with dualism, in my judgment, are insurmountable. First, it may well be conceptually impossible to give an account of mind­body inter- action: how can something non-material interact causally with material enti- ties? Second, while neuroscience can never prove that there is no mind or soul, it is increasingly clear that, to quote Laplace out of context, we have no need of that hypothesis. Finally, in addition to being unnecessary on biblical or theo- logical grounds, dualism is theologically undesirable due to its penchant for distorting Christian priorities. Briefly, what I mean here is that the adoption of dualism gave Christians something to care about (their souls) in place of Jesus' primary concern, which was the Kingdom of God. There are problems with physicalism, also. Most of the problems come down, in one way or another, to the issue of reductionism.2 If humans are essentially bodies, can we still understand ourselves to have features once attributed to an immaterial mind or soul, such as rationality, morality and free will? What I intend to do in this paper is to suggest the outlines of an approach to the problem of rationality. Here is the problem in brief: if humans are purely physical entities, how can it fail to be the case that their thoughts are deter- mined by physical laws and, if so, what happens to our conception of rational- ity? This problem is discussed in the philosophical literature as the problem of mental causation. Philosopher of mind Jaegwon Kim expresses it as a dilemma: he argues that mental properties will turn out to be reducible to physical properties unless one countenances some sort of downward causation. But such downward efficacy of the mental would suggest an ontological status for the mental that verges on dualism.3 My plan in this paper is to suggest a strategy for solving the problem of mental causation by providing an account of the downward efficacy of the mental that leaves an ontologically physicalist account of the human person intact.


Explaining or Explaining Away?

Michael Poole
Pages: 123-142


A monolithic view of the concept of explanation has been responsible for what is, arguably, a cluster of misunderstandings about the interplay between science and theology. This is a chronic feature of science and theology disputes and, in the plethora of popular books on cosmology, appears to be on the increase. This paper takes the concept of explanation to be multiform and considers various types of explanation and explanatory type-errors which occur in the science­theology debate. Examples from the cluster of misunderstandings are examined, including the ubiquitous `God-of-the-gaps'; Atkins' `infinitely lazy creator'; Dawkins' claim that `religion is a scientific theory'; the idea of `need' and `room' for God in science; the phenomenon of processes masquerading as ultimate causes; the alleged alternatives of Big Bang v. Creation and organic evolution v. Creation; the equating of naming with explaining and explaining with explaining away; reductionism; functionalism and psychological/ sociological/ sociobiological/ anthropological debunking of religion.


The Postmodern Attack on ScientificRealism

John L. Taylor
Pages: 99-106


In this paper I examine three themes which figure prominently in what can be termed `postmodern' analyses of science and religion, namely relativism, sociological deconstructivism and anti-rationalism. There are a number of conceptual difficulties with the central tenets of what many post-moderns claim. I sketch these problems and extract a common moral, namely that robust, objective ideas of reason, meaning and truth are presupposed by the very activities of assertion and enquiry. If that is correct, then in so far as both science and religion involve these activities, it must be the case that the appropriate understanding of reason, meaning and truth in these domains is, contra many postmodernists, an objective one. Keywords: Anti-rationalism, critical realism, incommensurability, objectivity, post-modernism, relativism, sociological deconstructivism.



Some Thoughts on Causality and Design

Revd. Philip Bligh
Pages: 181-182


Book reviews

View book reviews

Psychological Studies on Spiritual andReligious DevelopmentBeing Human: The Case of Religion,Vol.2

K. Helmut Reich Fritz K. Oser W. George Scarlett (Rosamund Bourke)
Pages: 183-184

Reason, Science & Faith

Roger Forster Paul Marston (Andrew Halestrap)
Pages: 184-185

Ad Litteram: How Augustine, Calvinand Barth Read the "Plain Sense" ofGenesis 1-3

K.E. Greene-McCreight (Ernest Lucas)
Pages: 185-186

Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century

Denis Alexander (John Polkinghorne)
Pages: 187-187

God for the 21st Century

Russell Stannard (Ed) (John Bausor)
Pages: 188-188

Christianity and Western Thought, Volume 2: Faith and Reason in the 19th Century

S. Wilkens A.G. Padgett (Colin A. Russell)
Pages: 189-190

The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism

Niles Eldredge (R.J. Berry)
Pages: 190-191

In the Beginning was Information

Werner Gitt (Rodney Holder)
Pages: 191-192