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Andrew Loke: Healing the Relationship Between Science and Faith

May 16, 2017
The historical relationship between science and Christian faith is a very complicated one, with instances of perceived conflict...but also instances of deep conversation and convergence.

In this short interview, Dr. Andrew Loke explains the how prayer and careful analysis provide important starting points for understanding the complex relationship between science and the Christian faith. Andrew Loke is Research Assistant Professor at The University of Hong Kong. He did his PhD at King’s College London under professor Alister McGrath. He is the author of The Origin of Divine Christology (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming), Science and Christian Faith (Ethos), and numerous articles on science and religion. Dr. Loke will be teaching Faith and Science: Exploring the Connections at Regent this summer.

A lot of your work is devoted to healing the often fraught relationship between faith and science. Why did you choose this as your field of study?

When I was in medical school I struggled with a number of perceived conflicts between science and Christian faith. After working as a medical doctor for 7 years I went on to do a Masters in Philosophy and a PhD in Theology. I gradually came to discover that these conflicts are only apparent, not real, and that they can be resolved with a better understanding of philosophy, history, biblical interpretation, and theology. I became very excited about my discoveries and shared these with other people who have found them helpful as well. In short, I choose this field of study because it is important, it is helpful for people, and I am able to make significant contributions to it.

Do you think the historical relationship between science and faith has been primarily  healthy or full of conflict (the Galileo incident for example?

The historical relationship between science and Christian faith is a very complicated one, with instances of perceived conflict on the one hand but also instances of deep conversation and convergence on the other. While the Galileo incident is often regarded as a conflict, Galileo himself did not think so. He perceived that with a more adequate view of biblical interpretation the apparent conflict disappears. And I think he was correct.

 Do you think the Galileo incident is repeating itself in any way in the modern context?

Yes, in the controversies concerning the age of the universe and creation and evolution. Many people think that the Bible says that the universe is about 6000 years old and that different species did not originate from an evolutionary process, and many regard these as instances of conflict with science. However, quite a number of scientists and biblical scholars do not think there are real conflicts.

They argue that with a more adequate view of biblical interpretation the apparent conflicts disappears. Some have even argued for a deep convergence between evolutionary theory and biblical doctrines.

 How has the relationship between faith and science unfolded in the Chinese context in comparison to the Western context?

Similar to the Western context, many Chinese non-Christians hold to scientism and a conflict model between science and Christianity. They regard belief in a personal Creator God to be based on ignorance, and think that Darwinian evolution implies atheism. Unlike the Western context, though there are also many Chinese non-Christians who would embrace Taoism and Buddhism. It is fascinating to consider how Taoists and Buddhists relate their faiths with science and compare their approaches with those of Christians. For example, some Taoists and Buddhists have argued that quantum physics provide justification for their views about ultimate reality, and some Christians have also utilized quantum physics to address the coherence of the doctrines of the Trinity and incarnation. While interesting, such utilizations of quantum physics are based on a number of philosophical and hermeneutical blunders which I shall explain in the course.

What are the most important steps we can take today to avoid repeating mistakes in our past regarding faith and science? 

Prayer and a trans-disciplinary approach are important. A trans-disciplinary approach is one which integrates different disciplines to create a new methodology that moves beyond discipline-specific approaches to address a problem. For example, the task of (A) “interpreting the Bible” is distinct from the task of (B) “showing that there is no incompatibility between evolution and Bible.”

 Take Genesis 2:7 for example: “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” For (A), one might ask for evidences for what the human biblical author had in mind, but for (B) it is perfectly legitimate to suggest a possible scenario[1] which the biblical authors may not have thought of, as long as the possibility is not contradictory to what the biblical authors expressed.

Compare this understanding with, for example, Peter Enns’ dismissal of all efforts to reconcile Genesis with evolution on the basis that these efforts produce a “hybrid” Adam who is utterly foreign to the biblical portrait and to the consciousness of the biblical authors. Enns’ dismissal is based on a misunderstanding of the intention of such efforts—such efforts do not have to be perceived as attempts to understand what the biblical authors had in mind, but rather as attempts to show that evolution is not contradictory to what the biblical authors expressed. The inerrantist doctrine of divine inspiration of Scripture does not require the human biblical authors to be omniscient just as the Divine Author is, and it does not require God to reveal to the human biblical authors an exhaustive knowledge of everything (such as an exhaustive knowledge of Adam); it only requires that what is inspired is true.

The Bible is not intended to be an encyclopedia of science; God did not provide an exhaustive knowledge of the natural world in the Bible, but encouraged people to study it and find out the details themselves. Given what is said above, it can be argued that the reason a “hybrid Adam” does not feature in the Bible is not because the human biblical authors rejected evolution but because they did not think about evolution at all. While the evolutionary Adam suggested by such efforts may indeed not be what the biblical authors had in mind, “not being what the biblical authors had in mind” is not the same as “contradictory to what the biblical authors expressed.” Task (B) requires a careful utilization of different methods of analysis (e.g. scientific, historical, philosophical).

In my course this summer, we will be considering these different methods of analysis and integrating them into a coherent whole.

[1] I explain a possible scenario in detail in Andrew Loke, “Reconciling Evolution with Biblical Literalism: a proposed research program.”Theology and Science 14 (2016):160-174. The following discussion is extracted from that paper.

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