Science in Christian Perspective
A Promising Beginning: A Report on the First Pascal Centre Conference on Science and Belief.
J. W. Haas, Jr.
Wenham MA 01984
From PSCF 44 (December 1992): 257
Over 130 participants from 8 nations gathered at Redeemer College in August to lay the groundwork for what the planners identified as an attack on the compromising legacy of secularism in placing a wall of separation between Christian faith and a scientific understanding of the world. Pascal Centre director and co-program chair, Jitse Vandermeer and a capable staff provided excellent accommodations and a meeting format which effectively integrated keynote addresses and small workshop sessions on specific themes. The conference focused on various relations between religious belief in God (faith), conceptual beliefs about God (including theology) and conceptual beliefs about the world (including science). The various sessions reviewed the current status of these relations and sought to identify basic questions for future study.
One was aware of strong philosophical and historical emphases with theology less prominent but always undergirding the discussions.
Working scientists were underrepresented, and one observer noted the lack of overall relevance of the program for the working scientist, a common note at conferences of this type. The implication is that we can begin to deal with the real world once the ideal world is sorted out.
While the predominant accent was Dutch, Scottish brogue and the tones of Philadelphia, New England, mid- America and the regions beyond guaranteed a good mix of ideas and a chance to build friendships with those previously known only through their work. ASA and CSCA members played prominent roles.
Something of the flavor of the meeting can be gained from a sampling of paper titles and speakers: "Religious Belief and the Natural Sciences: Mapping the Historical Landscape" (John Brooke); "The Transcendental Role of Wisdom in Science" (Thomas Torrance); "Scientific Work and Its Theological Dimensions: Towards a Theology of Natural Science" (Christopher Kaiser); "The Mediating Role of Metaphor and Analogy in the Relationship Between Science and Religion" (Elaine Bothe); "On the Very Possibility of Intelligent Design" (William Dembski); "Newton and Christianity" (Samuel Westfall); and "Control Hierarchies: A View of Life" (David Wilcox).
One welcome emphasis of the conference was the ample opportunity for discussion and rebuttal. There were no sacred cows. Availability of papers before the meeting allowed the participants to prepare for the workshop sessions. The last day of the conference offered the chance to gain an overview of what had been accomplished and identify topics for future conferences. This sort of "summing up" and "future directions" is a welcome change from the inclusive endings of many science/faith meetings. Many of the papers will be included in a two volume Proceedings due to appear in 1993.
Frustrations with occasional participant longwindedness, moderator lapses, and scheduling conflicts did not dampen enthusiasm. Discussion were often spirited as sharp differences emerged, yet a sense of purpose kept a divisive spirit from emerging.
Participants left with an overload of ideas to mull over and incorporate in their own thought, while Pascal Centre planners turned to editing the papers and planning the next phase of their task. This was indeed an impressive beginning.