Spiritual nods to the scientific

God, Faith and the New Millennium
August 21, 1998

All except the most fundamentalist Christians acknowledge the need to consider the scientific facts and reconcile them with belief. Keith Ward, the regius professor of divinity at Oxford University is someone who has spent much time combining his Christian belief and scientific evidence. Many people have found his previous books, such as Religion and Creation and God, Chance and Necessity of great value and this new contribution, which Ward describes as a summary of his life's work on Christianity, religion and science, will undoubtedly be helpful to those who have difficulty in reconciling science and faith. Not only the Christian faith, but those of other religious traditions as well. It is impressive how this theological scholar has also acquired such a broad knowledge of science, whether it be the laws of physics or of biology. Ward approaches his topic from the opposite training of particle physicist John Polkinghorne, whose recent book, Belief in God in an Age of Science, also sets out to show that science and theology can be brought together without destroying belief in God. The aim of this book is to show how Christian belief can continue to be a positive and creative factor in shaping life.

This book does not evade the controversial and difficult issues that need to be addressed such as creation and evolution on the one hand or the soul, the virgin birth of Jesus or the doctrine of the Trinity on the other. Christian beliefs were formed in a very different intellectual context from the present and scientific cosmology now provides the background against which contemporary Christianity must be interpreted. Ward shows that modern science necessitates a considerable reinterpretation of the traditional way of Christian thought. However, one feels that Ward's faith in God, in creation and in the work of Jesus Christ on Earth is enriched by his exploration of science. Ward's approach is distinctly Trinitarian. That is, God, the father who creates through the Logos, the Word on which principles of wisdom and reason that are progressively coming to light as science develops; Christ, the anointed one or revelation in human form appointed as saviour and deliverer of the whole cosmos; and the Spirit of God that gives life, who inspires human lives and gives wisdom. Ward regards the Spirit as the feminine side of God.

The chapter on creation analyses the two creation stories of Genesis, which are both in the Bible because they express different spiritual truths. They are not to be taken literally but are stories that bring out many important truths. God is presented as a rational, wise creator who created the universe on principles of wisdom and reason which are confirmed by science. The universe in all its ordered complexity is the result of a gradual development out of simple principles. That this could lead to complexity rich enough to generate such things as consciousness and free action is a strong reason to believe that it was due to design rather than chance. God has left a large element of freedom in creation. Not every outcome of creation is predictable. An interesting section of the book asks "Is God a hypothesis?". Ward concludes that the hypothesis of theism must be given a very high probability.

Another issue the author is not afraid of is evil and suffering, a stumbling block to the faith of many people. The freedom allowed to creation and given to humans led to freedom to choose evil, and a whole chapter treats the fall and the salvation of humanity. Chapter eight which addresses suffering and the love of God is the key to the whole argument. Although Ward makes a strong case for breaking out of literalism that has so damaged belief, his approach is by no means liberal because it accepts the resurrection of Jesus, the existence of a soul and an afterlife. His view is based on the mainstream of Christianity without promoting any denomination or faction, and should be acceptable to most Christians.

This book assumes that the reader will have considerable knowledge of Christian belief and the Bible. It deals with some controversial, important and vital issues that have been well thought out. It presents a strong argument for the existence of God and the importance of his revelation through Jesus Christ. It is a book that is well worth reading and challenges Christians to think deeper and to use scientific information to learn more about the revelation of God, and non-believers to reconsider their world view in light of Christian belief. This is a book which will challenge readers to greater thought, whether they start as scientists or Christians or even as both.

Sir Ghillean Prance is director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a member of Holy Trinity Church, Hounslow.

God, Faith and the New Millennium: Christian Belief in an Age of Science

Author - Keith Ward
ISBN - 1 85168 155 8
Publisher - Oneworld
Price - £9.99
Pages - 224

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