This week it’s the British Association for the Advancement of Science “Festival of Science” at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. It may be an interesting commentary on our times that the biggest media interest seems to be centred around speakers dealing with what some might see as very unscientific behaviour in the forms of superstition, telepathy, the afterlife and the paranormal.
Of particular interest is the work of Professor Bruce Hood (reported here in The Times and here in The Guardian) who proposes that belief systems and superstition are a positive outcome of evolution in that they equip us to reason intuitively and to generate theories about the way things are, even when they cannot easily be seen or obviously deduced. This contrasts sharply with the view of Richard Dawkins who views religion and superstition as evil ‘memes’, ideas that have been passed down through generations but which ultimately (he hopes) have the potential to be expunged from human history. Dawkins increasingly vehement denouncement of religion and god reach a new landmark later this month with the publication of ‘The God Delusion’.
Much as I am warm towards Dawkins’ science, I am left cold by the leap of faith he makes, and seems to require everyone to make, towards atheism. Alister McGrath’s book, ‘Dawkins’ God’ deals with this wisely and respectfully. From a purely evolutionary scientific perspective, Bruce Hood’s theory seems to make more sense, to ‘fit’ better.
So where does that leave us theologically?
For me, there are two vitally important issues.
Firstly, if there is a God (and I believe there is!) then by very definition, as well as by essence and being, he is far above all that we investigate or even imagine. I believe God has given us wisdom and reason which outworks into the scientific method so that we can both enjoy more fully all he has made and also better steward the resources he’s given us. But the scientific method falls within all that he has created – therefore all we know is not all there is to know. Further, our understanding will forever be limited by the fact that in our world we are both the subject and the object of observation – we can’t get out of the system God has set us in to take bigger look. We can’t get up into the control room of the Truman Show and look down upon the Truman world.
Therefore, even if Bruce Hood is right, and we are made to reason intuitively and to imagine beyond the immediately verifiable, is this not a quality that God has uniquely breathed into us as humans? This gives us not only the capacity to think, reflect and create, but also to seek him, the one for whom and through whom all things were made. It is a scary possibility that God could just as easily have made a universe and placed humans on the earth and left the phone line disconnected – leaving us to experience a God-less life whilst God looked on, uninvolved. No. He made us to seek and to find.
The other vital issue is Jesus! Much of the current discussion centres on the phenomenon of religious faith in general and its usefulness (Hood) or otherwise (Dawkins). Since God has ‘set eternity in people’s hearts’ it’s not surprising that the tendency to seek God, or at least to be superstitious, is a nearly universal experience. But God did the most amazing thing when he sent Jesus to walk among us and the evidence stands out in history.
Perhaps the scientists should shift their gaze towards a thorough investigation into the evidence for the one who was God, who moved into our neighbourhood and who clearly overcame the ultimate fate of us all.