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What does religion have to do with the Russia-Ukraine crisis?

Students are learning acceptance of both science and religion


Many times in recent decades, I've written about the relationship between religious ideas and science. Quick summary of that: Each area tries to answer different questions. Science is about what, how, when and other measurables. Religion asks about purpose, about meaning, about eternal questions.

Still, despite this obvious difference between the two areas there's been lots of tension between them, and often that happens when religion pretends to know science and when science doesn't understand the limits of its area of expertise.

All of which brings us to this interesting article from The Christian Century. It describes efforts to introduce the scientific theory of evolution to religious people who have grown up believing that evolution denies the centrality of God in the creative process.

The story describes how April Cordero, a science professor at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, tries to help students grasp what evolutionists teach and what they don't. That, if done properly, can lead students to accept the science behind evolutionary theory without needing to abandon their religious beliefs, even when those beliefs may seem to be in conflict with evolution.

"Cordero," says the article, written by Dean Nelson, director of that school's journalism program, "is part of a national effort to provide a setting where religious beliefs can be enhanced by scientific discovery without forcing people — especially young people — into an either-or position. This reconciliation process is often undertaken at conservative evangelical colleges where professors’ understandings of evolution are at odds with the culture from which their students come. Cordero and her colleagues hold that a rigorous university education and a belief in the truth of scripture can be embraced by the same person. But there are few places in our culture where such conversations can take place, and this positions classrooms like Cordero’s on the forefront of cultural change."

Nelson quotes Cordero as telling her class this: "The theory of evolution says nothing about God. Evolution is neutral about God. Science can’t test if there is a God. That’s not a scientific question.”

She tells them they don't have to choose either science or religion but not both: ". . .there is a third way, where you don’t have to buy into the war, you don’t have to choose between science and faith.”

It's an admirable effort. But I wonder whether in some ways it affirms for anti-evolution students the idea that you can use the Bible to reject what is so abundantly clear from scientific evidence -- that evolution happens, that the Earth is more than a few thousand years old, that human beings did not first show up on the planet looking exactly like human beings look today.

The story does note that Cordero has teamed up with a colleague, Mark Mann, from the college's school of theology. His job is to help "students grapple with the theological and biblical implications of believing in evolution."

And for that, Mann "takes a literary approach to scripture in his discussions with students. 'You have to look at it as a collection of many genres,' he said. 'If it’s a poem, you read it differently. You don’t read it for facts.'”

All true, but some Christians who identify as conservative or evangelical also believe that the Bible is "inerrant" in every way, meaning there's not much room to read it for anything except facts.

Another problem, of course, is that we seem to be in a post-factual world in which a majority of people who identify as Republican continue to believe, against all the evidence, that the last presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump.

How we get past that problem I don't have a clue, but I'm at least glad someone is trying to show college students how to accept scientific reality without throwing their faith tradition overboard.

(The image at the top of today's post came from here.)

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As we think about Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine, it's time again to look at the so-called just war theory, which National Catholic Reporter columnist Michael Sean Winters mentions in this column. (And, no, neither Winters nor any sane person is arguing that Putin's war can be justified.) Winters writes that just war theory "is rich, complex and comprehensive, but in a nutshell, it extrapolates from the moral conviction that a person has the right to defend himself to the moral parameters by which a people may defend themselves. The teaching has been much abused, used to justify even preventive wars like the war in Iraq, but its moral seriousness is as good a guide as we are likely to find in these moments when the evil of the world forces us into difficult, complicated and ambivalent moral calculations." Complicated, indeed. For more on that, here is a column by Jack F. Matlock Jr., former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, about why this war in Ukraine was completely avoidable. Oh, how I wish sometimes the world were as simple as former President George W. Bush thought it was -- a clear division between good and evil. People of faith should know better.

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P.S.: Here is an interesting graphic that assumes the church is just 100 people. Then it shows such things as how many of them attend worship weekly, and how many read the Bible and other statistical break-downs. It's an intriguing way of getting a better sense of the state of Christianity in the U.S. The graphic was created by a man named Mike P. Taylor, and the link I've given you will describe more about his work.

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ANOTHER P.S.: The other day I gave you this link to Mark Silk's first of two pieces about how Christian nationalism and American evangelical Christianity are related. Here is part two, the final one.


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