Thursday, November 4, 2010

Boundary Pioneers

How should Christian faith and science knowledge “interdigitate?” This imagery was used by Andy Crouch in his kickoff address at the recent Vibrant Dance Symposium in Austin, TX. Literally, interdigitation is an interlocking of the fingers of clasped hands. It suggests a figurative image of one entity overlapping and becoming an integral part of another. With respect to the interaction of faith and science, this imagery describes a desirable model proposed by conference speakers: a complementary relationship between the domains of faith and science.

Crouch, a journalist and senior editor at Christianity Today magazine, effectively presented several imageries to describe the impact of existing rigid boundaries between the magesteria (schools of knowledge and authority) of the faith and science communities.

Before the rise of the scientific revolution and, in particular, the geological discoveries of the early 19th century which clearly signaled a cosmos and earth of great age, no rigid boundary existed. Science as a body of knowledge was not well developed. The beliefs of Christians were not seriously challenged by science because so few discoveries were capable of presenting a serious challenge to long held beliefs concerning creation events, geologic time scales, and development of life on earth, for example.

Discoveries in geology, physics, and cosmology after 1800 began to produce a better developed boundary between faith and science. For some Christians, their travel across the boundary was (and is) relatively stress free. Their comfort level is related to their confident acceptance of the mainstream discoveries of science. For others, boundary crossings are painful because some of their long-standing, cherished beliefs need modification.

Ideally, the domains of faith and science should not conflict if both theology and science are without error. The Creator is the author of both realms. Sadly, scientists began to send bulldozers across the boundary, beginning especially in the 19th century. Even yet we hear the roar of the heavy equipment, and some religious leaders bear the wounds. Religious faith, according to Crouch, remained static, its adherents unwilling to launch a response based on an intelligent grasp of the world of science located across the boundary. Secular science, therefore, fortified its defenses and strengthened its modes of attack. Both religion and science see themselves as “victimized minorities.”

Crouch suggested the feelings of intimidation felt by scientists could be remedied if Christians became “boundary pioneers.” This includes a number of strategies, including learning the language of science and listening carefully. Above all, the discussion should be characterized by “graceful discourse,” an “intentional conversation” which assumes that our neighbor on the other side of the boundary is able to “teach us something.” Our conversations would be “integrative, not disjunctive.” Christians should expect to discover truth from the dialogue with our neighbors across the boundary. The implication follows that scientists, regularly humbled by their own work, may also learn from us, perceiving the humility of Christians who approach them in this manner.