Peter's Blog

The God Question

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Discussion with The God Question

With a group of around a hundred other folks, I travelled through the snow on Saturday morning to Chatelherault Country Park where a breakfast conference was being held to launch some new discussion materials.

We met inside the country house, rather a nice wee pile, for bacon rolls before heading to the auditorium for the presentation by the folks from Search for Truth Enterprises. The discussion materials are called “The God Question” and comprise the usual DVDs and study books. The main areas covered are “The Cosmos and God”, “Life, Evolution and God”, and “God and Consciousness”. I confess I went with a healthy dose of scepticism as someone who has, for my own personal reasons relating to my own background in science, done considerable reading around all three of these subjects over the years. However, I was heartened by what I heard. [There’s more…]

I was expecting to hear that these were materials akin to the usual creationist propaganda (or intelligent design as it is more palatably labelled) that attempted to dismiss the evidence available from many years of observational science and the attendant explanatory theories in favour of clinging to a literal reading of certain Bible passages.

Instead, the producer of the series (which has also been edited into three high definition television programmes that are currently being touted to various television networks around the world for broadcast) explained that they had attempted as much as possible to be fair to the range of different views from scientists to theologians to atheists. And indeed the selection of contributors that they persuaded to participate is an excellent cross-section. This was a good first start.

The producer, Iain Morris, who led the presentation was at pains to say that they had tried to portray each position as evenly as they could so that the programmes left the viewers with more information from which to decide for themselves. I am intrigued. We saw some clips and what I saw was of excellent quality with some very high quality visuals (although I did flinch, nerd that I am, at the sound of jet engines spooling up to images of the rocket-powered Space Shuttle lifting off). I would have loved to have seen a full episode, and am sorely tempted to buy the study pack to see if they managed to keep the balance throughout that they insist they have done.

If they have, then these could prove an excellent study resource for small groups to explore some of the current scientific understanding in cosmology, evolution and consciousness in order to think about how it impacts (or not) our theological understanding of origins, God’s role in the universe, the role of chance in life and free will, amongst many other areas. This would be highly commendable.

I don’t know why I am swithering really, I know I will buy the pack! So watch this space for an update…

Chance or Design

One of the issues that was raised initially when discussing the God question as it relates to the cutting edge of scientific understanding was whether or not what we see around us - life, our world, galaxy, universe - is here as a result of chance or of design. Is their intelligence behind it or not? Is God behind it or not? In the presentation, which was rather rushed due to unfortunate technical issues with the video projection equipment (even the pros have issues!), this was presented as an either/or.

It let me to think about this as I was listening, because I don’t think this is so clearly an either/or kind of decision. Does it have to be either/or, or can it be both/and? We can intentionally create systems that rely on chance as part of the system. Do we live in a universe that has an ordered system of laws (physics, chemistry, etc.) that nonetheless relies on chance for innovation and creativity within the scope of those laws. The theory of evolution is perhaps one of the best known examples of this where random genetic mutation provides the raw creativity on which the law of natural selection gets to work. Where the line is drawn between what is intentional and what is chance is the fascinating part for me.

Science and Scripture

In the Q & A session that I alas had to leave early from to pick up one of the kids from gymnastics the questions from those gathered were very interesting. I sense that I was one of the few coming from a more progressive background that were present, and some of the questions related specifically to the biblical accounts of creation and to a historic Adam. It was very interesting to me to see the producer of the video series, who I assume would be coming from a much more conservative background to my own, start talking about the complexities of our interpretations of Scripture, saying something along the lines of "when I have discussed this with people while making the programmes, I have usually found that when people say 'the Bible says this' they are actually saying 'I think the Bible says this'." This difference is crucial in becoming self-aware of how much we interpret the texts which we hold as sacred without even realising it some of the time. With an issue like the creation stories in Genesis this is perhaps more obvious than the more subtle ways we read into the text our own presuppositions and understandings.

If they can find the funding, the next programme in the series, we were told, would look at sacred texts like the Bible and the Koran.

Anyway, I would encourage anyone interested in exploring these issues to have a look at the website for The God Question materials. Increased understanding is always good.