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Monday, Sept. 13, 2010

Faith, Fact and Wonder

Building Bridges between Science and Religion

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The argument between science and religion is as old as Copernicus, but the shouting got louder during the last decade, fueled in part by an American administration whose policies sometimes appeared to be written by biblical fundamentalists. William P Brown, a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, wants to restore civility to the discussion and bring more light than heat to bear on the sort of ultimate questions addressed by both science and religion.

In The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder (Oxford University Press), Brown seeks to show how contemporary physics and biology and the Genesis accounts of creation can illuminate each other. He also strikes a prophetic note regarding humanity’s poor stewardship of the Earth accelerated by the growth of technology. Properly understood, the Genesis story is not a license to exploit but a command to care for creation.

Brown writes subtly, thoughtfully in his exploration of “virtual parallels” and “consonances”—rather than clear connections—between “Let there be Light” and the Big Bang. Although militant atheists and biblical literalists will not be happy, Brown proposes a benign God working with and through the elements of nature, not so much determining every outcome but allowing the dynamism of natural selection to work over the eons. His ideas will be thought provoking to those of us who would like to square the paradox of faith and empiricism, the things we can know and those of which we can never be certain.

Near the opening of The Seven Pillars of Creation, Brown quotes biologist Edward O. Wilson, who wrote; “We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom.” With The Seven Pillars, Brown suggests that lack of wisdom and discernment is behind those mutations of Christianity that see the world as nothing more than the stage for the passion play of human redemption, and a science whose heedless application has degraded the environment and threatened the future of humankind.