Thursday, November 18, 2010

Science Trumping Religion? Let's Talk about Sin

Over at Faith & Reason, Cathy Lynn Grossman has an excellent post raising some questions about science and religion, particularly in light of some recent conversation at the Faith Angle seminar where Elaine Howard Ecklund, a sociologist, and Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR religion reporter, had a conversation.

Grossman's post highlighted a few things, most notably (but not surprisingly to me), about 50% of the 1700 scientists Ecklund had surveyed were religious. Hagerty, having written a new book Fingerprints of God, highlights the findings of neurologists that call into question the authority of religious experience.

In the midst of these conversations, the sticking point I continue to come to, Grossman also lifts up. What about sin? In so many ways, genetics is looked to as the final word. Some scientists hold that because of genetics completely takes away our free will, since we are nothing more than pre-programmed responses hardwired into us. The other extreme takes genetics to be a vision of how God created us. Grossman highlights this position in connection with homosexuality. This argument is often used but supporters of gay rights or relaxed stances toward biblical authority regarding gays and lesbians.

So we are left with two options, genetic determinism (you will simply respond to the world around you as your genes dictate) or genetic creationism (your genes portray a vision of who God made you to be). Neither position takes into account the full reality we face. The first takes away the problem of sin, at least individual sin. No longer do we have to call out "The devil made me do it," but now we may excuse ourselves by calling out "My genes made me do it!" As the end of the post says, there is already some movement in our legal system that begins to allow this thinking where one offender was acquitted since as the juror said "a bad gene is a bad gene." In this case the manifestation of individual sin is removed. But I would imagine, for most people, the concept of sin is distasteful. We are after all really good for the most part, right?

The second option (and please know I have made up those labels... I don't know if they appear elsewhere) fails to discern the reality of the brokenness of our genetic makeup. I am NOT saying that homosexuality is a manifestation of brokenness, but what I am saying is that by saying homosexuality is a matter of being wired that way, we fail to distinguish why the baby born with the genetic markers for a fatal condition is not also created that way by God. In the long run, this position creates a God who gives people death sentences.

The reality to face is the presence of sin. But we must tread with caution. First I do not understand sin as an individual moral category. That is, when we start discussing sin we do not jump immediately to our transgressions. First and foremost, we must talk about the understanding of the universal brokenness that permeates creation. Sin should be seen as the primal rupture in relationships; relationships between the human being and God, human being and other humans, the human being and creation, and finally the human being and his or her self. Our individual transgressions are manifestations of these broken relationships. In a fallen world, where sin is a power that holds sway over us, we must realize that any scientific study of the world around us is a study of this fallen world. As circular as this sounds, it points to the very cold, hard reality that our genes reflect this fallenness, but maybe not the complete fallenness. Some genes, we find are necessary for life. Some genes, should we have them, will bring death. The relationship with creation, through our selves, is broken.

The power of sin is much more universal than we might think. It is far more than just our misdeeds. So we must, I think, read Paul's words from Romans "the wages of sin is death" in the light of this cosmic power that takes root in the very fabric of our genetic makeup. We should not then place all of our hope in the genetic science around us. We can neither simply negate sin nor embrace it through genetics. As we near the season of Advent, when we hear of the cosmic struggle that will take place in the coming of Christ, where sin and brokenness finally are done away with, and the Reign of God is established, let us ponder the person of Christ. Through him will all things be perfected. Our resurrected bodies will be free of any and all brokenness. Our view of genetics then must rest in some eschatological tension between what is and what will be. Genetics does not determine our end. Christ does. Genetics does not guarantee our identity. Christ does.

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