Dear Editor, I applaud the succinct insight and sensible points raised by Cameron Clarke in the opinion article (April 1, 2014) concerning the re-adaptation of Carl Sagan’s classic “Cosmos” miniseries, presently hosted by our nation’s premier astrophysicist cosmologist and public intellectual, Neil deGrasse Tyson. I’ll mention in passing I have assisted in teaching a course in science and religion (when I was an assistant professor of mathematics and physics at Piedmont College) and have done some research in that area, in grants funded by the John Templeton Association and the Fetzer-Franklin Fund.
Clarke hits the nail on the head when he writes that all too often some Biblical literalist theologians will retrench themselves in their comparatively less evidence-based perspective, just as scientists may be guilty of philosophical overreach (i.e., making general philosophical claims that the evidence and inference from their fields cannot possibly justify).
Excellent sources to consult, in my view, underscoring Cameron’s points include Ian Barbour’s “Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues” (1997), as well as Michael Ruse’s “Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science” (2010). Both underscore the central point that the perceived conflict between scientific and religious worldviews concerning cosmic origins has really to do with the presumed separation between value and fact. I say “presumed” because all too often the scientific secularist concludes that value is subjective — and “objectively” nature is devoid of it — our Cosmos is but a “value neutral” chance occurrence. On the other hand, Biblical literalists, with their selective cherry-picking of scientific facts and their exaggeration of scientific uncertainty, seem to confuse fact with value, i.e. assume religion must compete with science.
However, at least in earlier traditions of Christianity, (whether Catholic or Protestant) flourished the view that the Genesis story really reminds one the world is value-laden, not value-neutral, and those reading scripture were inspired by revealed reason. Whereas, on the other hand, the scientist studying the “book of Nature” uses the gift of natural reason. In terms of revealed reason, one was expected to read and interpret scripture primarily from a level of moral and spiritual value — anagogically, allegorically and historically (the original meaning of the word “literal”). As far as I know, the claims of history do not, and should not, compete with science. Why should some think, then, that the claims of religion should?