Posted by: clavelle | April 8, 2009

Be Careful…

So as our panel was discussing our topics, we recognized the complex territory that we were entering into, whether that be quantum phyics or evolutionary biology, and the need to be careful and cautious about the claims we make about these ideas, the implications we perceive they have, and the way we use them.  Below is a segment from my paper, highlighting these ideas.  I think one way we can challenge the current New Atheism debate is humble ourselves before our own ignorance and own ideas.  Check out what follows:

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One must be incredibly careful not to overstep the implications that they perceive these theories to have or if they do, to acknowledge the possibility of error or openness to revision. Some claim that these theories bring about a change to the old scientific view of the determinism and reductionism of Newtonian physics, while others claim that these events have their mathematical and mechanical explanations due to their initial boundary conditions and do not do away with determinism or naturalism. Some claim that the “openness” and indeterminacy that chaos and complexity theories apparently display are an intrinsic principle of the makeup of the universe, while others claim that this “autonomy” only appears to be so; with better technology and theories, they will be explainable and predictable. As Willem Drees states, “Quantum indeterminacy might be resolved either via a modification of quantum physics or via different interpretations” (Russell and others, 232).

It is with this awareness that I enter carefully and tentatively into these realms, taking certain positions as to the impact and implications these theories have. I am fully aware that my implications may need to be revised or all together thrown out as we come to better understand these theories and I welcome this challenge. I also understand that I may be stretching the implications of chaos and complexity theories, misusing them, or exacerbating the illusion of their contribution to theology. Yet these theories have proven to me to be important in theological reflection and praxis and I believe it to be worth entering into the home of the scientist, in which I have so many chances to misstate, overstate, understate and misuse these concepts. I will take a certain position on the implications of these theories and, as a theologian, expand on their implications for an understanding of creation theology. I do not claim to exhaust the richness and multi-layered field of creation theology but seek to creatively interact with current scientific theories in hopes of contributing to the important dialogue and careful integration of science and religion. It is with this hope of fruitful encounter that I enter into dialogue and interaction with chaos and complexity theory.

Let’s all try to be intentional as we rush to finish these papers and present.  Let’s not just through stuff together and leave a messy engagement with these ideas.  I need your help to challenge me to do the same, especially as the year ends.  Peace



  1. Ry, I think what you’re pointing out is really important for all of us to remember. It’s easy to get caught up with the desire to just get things done, especially at this point in the year. But lets be real, the subjects we’re all dealing with for our papers are big questions and deserve appropriate attention and respect in research and analyzation. These are incredible questions and sometimes I get so into the research that I end up detaching myself from the material in the process. I was explaining my paper topic to a friend (who is not a theology major) the other day and she looked at me, first like I was crazy, second like she was confused, and third like she was jealous. She said she would love to research some of the stuff we’re dealing with and its always interesting to see the reaction of our own research through fresh eyes.

    These are intense questions, and not ones to be taken lightly. Not that I think anyone is, but I know its easy to put ourselves outside it to get more into it. So I second Ryan in that we should continue to challenge each other until the end. We owe it to ourselves.

  2. Ryan,
    I am glad you recognize your limits when it comes to the debates of religion and science. In my opinion, one of the biggest problems in the discussion is when people over step their bounds of expertise without doing the proper legwork, and it happens in both directions.
    I don’t know your plans for your paper, but I would encourage you to do one thing in addition to acknowledging the weaknesses of your own arguments. Don’t hesitate to point out the shortcomings of scientific viewpoints presented by science experts. While they may be the professionals on the raw data, this does not mean that they always know the best ways to apply the information. I think that many people become intimidated by science because of its complexity, and give into it when they don’t understand it. However, these people, especially theologians speaking on the topic, should not become controlled by the science. We are entering into a different realm with this discussion, where neither the scientist nor the theologian can claim complete expertise.

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