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Norfolk talk on Science, Reason and Christianity 

Over sixty people met online for the November meeting of Science and Faith in Norfolk. Dr Rodney Holder, a scientist and ordained Anglican priest, explained the links between Science, Reason and Christian Belief.

Report by Peter Bussey

Dr Holder spoke about "Ramified Natural Theology", which comes from the title of his latest book.  Natural theology refers to the knowledge of God that can be inferred from nature. For example, the remarkable fine-tuning of the physical laws of the universe has eventually permitted the development of advanced biological organisms - such as the human species. Such fine-tuning can be taken to imply the existence of a Creator who is interested in beings such as ourselves. 
Holder argues that natural theology must be amplified ("ramified") by an integration with historical and specifically biblical information, in order to arrive at the most reasonable set of beliefs. These will be in line with orthodox Christianity, he maintains, but will be founded on a more reasoned set of arguments than simple authority-based statements.
Dr Holder took his audience through the views of a number of prominent theologians, with particular reference to Richard Swinburne, whose basic approach he followed.  The aim is to take us away from academic theology into a realm where intelligent evidence is gathered from many quarters.  Another theologian quoted was Wolfhart Pannenberg, who stressed the importance of “publicly checkable evidence” in drawing conclusions, as opposed to subjective exhortations and opinions.  With the latter we end with a host of different belief-statements for which there is no easy means of comparison.
Public evidence comes from physical and biological nature, but one can move on to draw a variety of factual statements from biblical texts themselves.  This means, according to Swinburne, that there is no real dichotomy between reason and revelation.  Swinburne believes that his approach requires only a fairly cursory understanding of the details of other religions in order to assess their credibility.  In reply to a question, Dr Holder felt that we are not seeking an “underlying depth” common to all religions, but rather that Christianity is the one that reaches the highest peak. He was more sympathetic to Hinduism, with its theistic content, than to Buddhism, which he saw as atheistic.
Biblical texts, while they may be treated as “revelation”, can in many cases be seen to contain historical witness statements. This is the opposite of dismissing them as “myths”.  Disbelief can also be dogmatic, and we must be vigilant in rejecting a priori presuppositions that will automatically deny the historic credibility of a given text. 
Revelation should be supported by reason, which can employ historical analysis.  But “historicity” does not mean that a given event should be treated like other historical events.  For example, the Holocaust was something so outrageous and exceptional that the British government did not publicise information about it at first, for fear of disbelief, but in the end the witness statements were essential and were vindicated.  Similarly, we should be prepared to accept extraordinary witness statements, such as those concerning the resurrection of Jesus, provided there is a sufficient historical backup.
Dr Holder is an Associate Fellow at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge. He writes and speaks on a wide range of matters relating to science and religion. In his recent book (Big Bang, Big God: A Universe Designed for Life?, he argues that the existence of the universe and its finely-tuned physical laws are best explained as the products of a divine mind.
Following the talk, there was a stimulating question-and-answer session, despite the obvious constraints of an on-line meeting. Clearly, the perspectives that Dr Holder outlined will be an essential component of many fruitful discussions in the future.
Next meeting: January 25 'Evolution and the God of Love'
The meeting was organised by Science and Faith in Norfolk (SFN), a Norwich-based group which aims to explore the broad interface between science and religious belief. The next SFN meeting will take place on-line on Monday 25th January to coincide with the visit of Dippy the Dinosaur to Norwich Cathedral. The speaker will be Dr Denis Alexander from the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge. He will speak on the topic: “Evolution and the God of Love”.
For further information, Contact Professor Nick Brewin (07901 884114); . Visit the SFN Homepage or follow SFN on Facebook.
A recording of the talk is now available on Facebook

Helen Baldry, 19/11/2020

Helen Baldry

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