What Do You Find Most Interesting or Surprising About the S&R Discussion Today? Ron Cole-Turner Answers

Today’s science and religion discussion? Are you kidding? It’s over. It never was anything but an intellectual dead end, a really bad career move. If anything at all, it was religion’s last gasp, the obsolete theologian’s desperate attempt to hang onto a job.

But then comes the surprise. Science and religion just won’t go away. Despite all its flaws and academic false starts, the fact remains that for many people, science invites awe and religion invites insight. When awe and insight engage, science-and-religion happens.

The meeting of awe and insight, I’m suggesting, is just another name for science and religion today. To me, at least, it’s never been about a new discipline or a hybrid field. So if “science and religion” as an academic discipline is on its way out, I am more relieved than saddened. From the beginning, it was not a new discipline so much as a deliberate attempt to move beyond established fields into the uncharted, open, and expanding space between fields. Science-and-religion is a mode of exploration that moves into an in-between realm, into that space that is investigated by many disciples in part but by no disciple in whole, that space otherwise neglected because it is too big to fit one method or guild. And precisely because it goes beyond the limits of disciplines, it cannot and should not be a discipline in its own right.

But we all start from somewhere or maybe from several somewheres. For example, your intellectual home base might be one of the sciences or engineering. Or it may be one of the fields of religion scholarship or, like mine, the more traditional field of constructive theology. Your starting point matters. It affects the questions you ask and the insight you seek. It also affects what you bring.

For those of us who come from religion, what do we bring to the mix? A set of well-traversed questions that stretch the human spirit and inspire the human conscience. A history of arguments about purpose, beauty, goodness, human flourishing, ecological wholeness, and whether there’s more than nature. These are standard themes in religious thought, each with a rich literature of subtle debates.

We bring them with us, but when we go beyond our discipline and enter the open space between the disciplines, we seek something new. Especially for people like me, rooted consciously in a theological tradition, the adventure of the open space is provocative, disruptive, and creative. New insight debunks old ideas. Unexpected findings open new perspectives. Surprising discoveries stretch every component of my religious view, ever renewing my theological imagination across the entire scope of what I believe. And for that reason, for me at least, science-and-religion will never go away.

The Rev. Dr. Ron Cole-Turner is the H. Parker Sharp Professor of Theology and Ethics at Pittsburgh Theology Seminary and he blogs at Enhancing Theology.

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