By Mark McCartney
Exploring The God Question: Science, God and the Search for Truth
The relationship, or conflict, between scientific endeavour and religious belief is a topic about which many a book has been written, and many a debate been held. The Exploring the God Question video series is a resource which attempts to cater for an audience who might not be inclined to read a whole book, or might find a debate arid.
At its heart, Exploring the God Question has three DVDs, covering the three broad topics of ‘The Cosmos’, ‘Life and Evolution’ and ‘Mind and Consciousness’. Each topic is split into two roughly 30 minute programmes, and each programme is divided into between six and nine sections, all of which can be individually played from the main DVD menu. This allows the DVDs to be used to provide stand-alone 30-minute or one-hour presentations on a topic, or each section can be used as short discussion starters. The overall format is made up of segments of interviews linked by a narrator and interspersed with impressive visuals.
A real strength of the material is the range and stature of the voices included. To make the point, here are a selection: Denis Alexander, Peter Atkins, Francis Collins, William Lane Craig, Dan Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchins, Steve Jones, John Lennox, Steven Pinker, John Polkinghorne, Michael Ruse, Lord Sacks, Keith Ward and Steven Weinberg. This, by any measure, is a line-up of some of the biggest names in science and religion. It ranges from the strident and uncompromising atheism of Peter Atkins, an Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Oxford, to the philosophically adroit theism of William Lane Craig of Talbot School of Theology. The programmes move smoothly between interview segments with the various protagonists, and the two sides of the debate are, to my mind, fairly represented.
Those on the side of theism are drawn almost exclusively from Christianity (with Lord Sacks and the Muslim Usama Hasan being the only exceptions I noticed), but given the nature of the topic this makes little difference. The point at issue is primarily God’s existence, not His nature. That said, at the end of the third DVD, which deals with experience of God, the material becomes explicitly Christian in its perspective.
Equally impressive as the line-up of interviewees is the scope of topics covered, and the willingness to take tough topics ‘head-on’. Thus, for example, the ‘Life and Evolution’ DVD includes dealing directly with the fact that suffering is ‘hard-wired’ into any theistic-evolutionary perspective. This point, sometimes skirted over by theists, moves the exegetical issues around the early chapters of Genesis from chapter 1 (the nature of the creative act) to chapter 3 (the consequences of the fall), and related issues of theodicy. I was also happy to see recent creationism being given a voice, not because I happen to agree with it, but rather because it is a view to be found within many evangelical churches, and stems from a genuine respect for the authority of Scripture.
The ‘Mind and Consciousness’ DVD covers material which is becoming increasingly relevant, with the rise of Artificial Intelligence and allied questions about the nature of humanity. Nineteenth century concerns about Darwinism may have centred on the reduction of humanity to being no more than a the animal kingdom, but in the twenty-first century the issue is whether we are no more than very complex biological machines. If materialism is true then this is certainly the case. However, this brings in its wake a number of consequences, the most important of which are that free will is an illusion, and that morality is a social construction and no moral absolutes exist. The DVD deals with the question of morality, but also covers near death experiences, religious experience, and the nature of consciousness.
The DVD which dealt with material closest to my own area of expertise was ‘The Cosmos’, which covers the creation of the universe and the Big Bang, the elegance of the laws of physics, and various aspects of the ‘fine tuning’ of the universe. These are well covered, and to me show the difference between atheism and theism at its most stark. For the theist ‘the heavens declare the glory of God’ (Psalm 19). For the atheist ‘it’s really just chance’ (Steven Weinberg, Nobel Prize for Physics, 1979). Using the polite discourse of the academy I would say I find Weinberg’s view ‘deeply unsatisfying’. Using the somewhat more direct level of discourse of my local coffee shop I would say that if you are asking me to believe that the whole physical universe, its laws and allied complexity, came into existence out of nothing and ‘it’s really just chance’, then sorry, I just don’t have enough ‘faith’ to be an atheist.
The accompanying Study Guide gives a set of broad questions to accompany each programme as well as more detailed questions based on quotes from the various interviewees. There are also a number of appendices which, among other things, contain definitions of various technical terms which occur in the DVDs and summaries of the cases for both theism and atheism. Finally, the Leader’s Manual gives helpful overviews of the programmes and sensible suggestions on how to lead group discussions.
In summary, this is an excellent resource which would be valuable in the RME or science classroom in school, Christian Unions in universities, or in youth or apologetics groups in churches. The DVD material can be used in short ‘bite-sized’ chunks of a few minutes, or longer half or full hour formats, making it very flexible. It manages to cover a very wide range of topics and perspectives within the broad area of science and religion, and it does so, in the main, very well indeed.
3 DVDs (total running time approx. 3 hrs), Kharis Productions Ltd, 2013
Study Guide (82pp), Leaders Manual (70pp) by Iain Morris, Pub. Search for Truth Enterprises, 2013
Mark McCartney lectures in Mathematics at the University of Ulster