Kurt Jaros talks with Chris Reese and Michael Strauss about their newest resource book: The Dictionary of Christianity and Science which covers topics ranging from various views on Adam to the age of the earth, and even an overview of popular figures in the field.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. Today’s show we’re going to be focusing on a book that is the Dictionary of Christianity and Science, the definitive reference for the intersection of Christian faith and contemporary science and before we get into a discussion with two of the general editors, I’ve just got one announcement here regarding the September 8 and 9 conference, the Deeper Roots Apologetics Conference, which is a program of the Library of Historical Apologetics in partnership with Defenders Media. The Deeper Roots Conference exists to deepen faith through understanding, equip believers to share that faith, and to connect believers to one another. I hope that you’ll join me in Kalamazoo, Michigan on September 8 and 9 and our conference keynote speakers are J. Warner Wallace and Dr. Tim McGrew and we’ve got a host of other speakers as well. For pricing and more information you can go to defendersmedia.com. You can register there. Just click on the banner image there at the homepage or click on the events tab to find our more about that and I hope you’ll join me September 8 and 9. I’m really looking forward to that. It should be a fun time. The first time that Defenders Media is doing an event outside of the Chicagoland area and so I’m excited about the opportunities that those present as well for us.
Alright. Well I’m joined here by two of the four general editors of the Dictionary of Christianity and Science. Chris Reese and Mike Strauss. Thanks so much for joining me on the show today.
Both: Thank you.
Kurt: Great. So for long-time listeners, you might recognize that this is the first time I’m interviewing two people at the same time so hopefully we’ll get a good discussion going here and hopefully I can ask some clear questions. Let me first talk about you Chris. You’ve got numerous graduate degrees and you have a long history in Christian publishing and you’ve got an interesting apologetics as well. What were some of your intentions in vision for putting out this dictionary?
Chris: Yeah. That’s a great question. When we first started talking about it, my friend Madison who works at Zondervan and he was the supervising editor for the project, I thought about, to my own experience, when issues would come up in science related to Christianity and I remember always having a really hard time finding good resources to go to. You never knew what would come up. Maybe it was about the age of the Earth or maybe it’s about Galileo or some subject in the philosophy of science and so it was just tough to go and find information on all these different topics from a Christian perspective and so when I was talking with Madison about this project, I said this would be a huge help to have a book like this. It would just kind of bring everything together in one volume and would be a starting place to start getting some, at least a general overview of a lot of the topics and so that was the big motivation for me when we were starting it.
Kurt: Mike. Sort of the same question to you. As someone who is the scientist, you’re the David Ross Boyd professor at the University of Oklahoma. You study physics, experimentally, experimental particle physics. You’re doing it on the ground and so what was your interest then in being an editor for this work?
Mike: For me, because I’m a scientist and a Christian, that is a combination that some people think is kind of like an oxymoron so I get a lot of invitations to talk about the relationship of science and Christianity and what I find is that there’s just a lot of misinformation and a lot of people talking at each other, but not really talking with each other and so when Madison approached me with this project and the idea was to try to present kind of a broad view of the evangelical current thought on science and Christianity, it really kind of resonated with what I do and what I call my night job, talking about science and Christianity, and so the opportunity to as a scientist have some input was really exciting to me.
Kurt: So you said there that there’s a lot of misinformation going around. Could you give us some example? Is it just on one side or do we see it sort of on both sides between philosophy or Christianity and science? What’s been your experience?
Mike: I think it’s on both sides. There is a mistrust in many evangelical Christian circles of the kinds of discoveries that science is making and whether it even has any possibility of being compatible with Scripture and there’s certainly a view among many scientists that religion is passe, it’s built on superstition, there’s no foundation for it. I think it comes from all sides, both the Christian church and the secular scientific world.
Kurt: So now, Chris, this question will be directed to you. Here we’ve got sort of just a wide spectrum of perspectives. The dictionary doesn’t sort of take one specific position on these controversial topics, does it?
Chris: No. That’s right. We have about 140 different contributors.
Kurt: So, of course, they’re going to disagree.
Chris: That’s right. This is true. Yes. I think we intentionally wanted to get people from kind of across the spectrum on different topics to just be balanced. We wanted the main sort of movements out there to be represented and to have those voices as part of the dictionary and then in addition to that, for the topics that have really generated the most controversy, we arranged those in a kind of counterpoint kind of a format where if you’re talking about say, are Adam and Eve historical, we would have a position that argues for a literal historicity and another one that kind of sees it as more sort of symbolic and so we tried to do that for some of those topics that were especially controversial to try to get the main viewpoints represented there and so people can read and kind of make up their own minds.
Mike: I think if I can interject one thing with that is, I think it’s important to reiterate that these are all evangelical voices. A lot of times when some people hear that there’s a belief that Adam and Eve may be more allegorical or something you think, “Oh that comes from a very liberal view of Scripture,” and what we do really present is a conservative evangelical view and even within that camp there are these broad views which I think will surprise some people, even that.
Kurt: Mike. Could you give us some other examples aside from the historical Adam? What are some controversial topics that might surprise some Christians to find that there are Christians advocating that view?
Mike: Depending on your Christian background, the age of the universe where many evangelical Christians believe that a straight forward reading of Genesis is compatible with the Big Bang and 14 billion years old and some don’t. Even the topic of evolution. There are conservative Christians who would believe in the theistic evolution viewpoint, that God somehow used evolution in the creative process of humans. I think some of these areas where a certain, myself included, the background I grew up in would look some of these scientific discoveries as completely incompatible with Scripture. There’s certainly a large fraction of scholars, good evangelical scholars, who would say those ideas are compatible with Scripture.
Chris: Mike and I have talked about this before on other interviews we’ve done. This kind of has been true throughout the history of the church, even going back to the church fathers where you have different approaches to these issues. Some think they are more allegorical or symbolic and so I think a lot of people have the idea that the church, everyone in the church has always believed in say a literal six-day creation, 24 hours, six literal days, but there’s always been a diversity out there and it’s not really a new thing that people have different takes on.
Kurt: Right. Yeah. So Chris, in this dictionary, it’s not all controversial topics is it? There are bios and just description of other philosophies. Tell us what other sort of content can we find here in the dictionary?
Chris: Yeah. We have some really nice biographies in there. I think a lot of them, you would be hard-pressed to find, biographies of some of the folks in any other reference book. A lot of those are really fascinating. We have some you would expect like Galileo and Darwin.
Chris: Right. Those guys and some that are lesser known, especially some guys who are more well-known in philosophy of science. We have some entries on them. There are sort of concepts and topics that we devote entries to. Chaos theory or the cultural mandate, dualism, some things like that.
Kurt: Some very scientific like epigenetics, but then there are others sort of piqued my own interest, say on the hiddenness of God. How would something like that fit within The Dictionary of Christianity and Science. What does the hiddenness of God have to do with science?
Chris: Yeah. We brought in a lot of topics that deal with kind of apologetic issues in a way, and with the hiddennes of God, that comes up often in discussion of God’s existence. Why doesn’t God make Himself.
Kurt: If all that there is the material world, then I can’t see God, doesn’t seem like He’s here. Where is He? I guess that does sort of connect with sort of philosophy and Christianity with science, so yeah. I can see that.
Chris: Yep. Also connects you know with natural theology. Can we know some things about God just from observing nature and that sort of plays into that as well.
Kurt: Mike. I got a question for you and I’m wondering if the dictionary tackles this and I want to thank Zondervan for sending me this copy here although I must say for a dictionary of this size, I wasn’t able to read the whole thing before the interview.
Mike: It took us five years to read it. It’s not expected.
Chris: That’s right.
Kurt: Mike. Does the volume here deal with, how do I phrase this, there’s a common perception out there that Christians believed that the Earth was flat for over a millennium.
Mike: Yeah. I don’t remember if that, sorry. Go ahead.
Kurt: When you really study it, that’s far from the case. Does the dictionary deal with that at all?
Mike: Right. So actually I have the dictionary in front of me. I didn’t remember if we had an entry on that, but we do have an entry on flat Earth.
Chris: Yep. We do.
Mike: And part of the writing is the myth of the flat Earth so yeah, it’s in there, which is kind of nice[NP1] . I tell you a feature that I like of the dictionary which you’re not going to find anywhere and that is even the articles on science, which I wrote a lot of, we try to say how does this touch on theology. One example is, I wrote an article on conservation of energy and you could look up on Wikipedia the conservation of energy. What will you gain in the article here that you can’t find on Wikipedia? One thing we touch on is the fact that conservation of energy is a law of physics and when you talk about the laws of nature, it brings up the question what about miracles? How do miracles occur? Are they violations of the laws of nature or what? And so even on these topics that oyu might say are purely scientific, a lot of them within the philosophy of science and religion touch on issues and we try to bring those into the article and so you could say, “I can get this stuff by searching the web or something.” The answer is, “No you can’t,” because the kind of integration between science and Christianity that we do is nowhere else to be found, even on articles that have to do with purely scientific topics or purely biographies or whatever.
Chris: That’s hugely helpful. It’s just so helpful to have the Christian perspective on these topics that you normally wouldn’t get out there.
Kurt: And I know for the Intelligent Design wikipedia entry, I know that there’s a fierce debate between Wikipedia writers, since anybody can become a writer, as to how to even phrase the debate and what words mean and all that, whereas in this case you’re getting the definitive Christian evangelical perspective on how these things should be understood. Mike. Question for you. Being a scientist, how was it that you undertook the project of making some of these scientific and even philosophical ideas accessible to say folks like me, people who don’t have much of a background in science. I think I took one science class in college, sort of the general requirement. What sort of challenge presented itself there to make this material accessible?
Mike: I think you’d have to read some of the more esoteric articles and tell us if we did a good job, but from my perspective, one of the things that I find is a strength of mine, and when I give talks and when I do writings, people consistently come up to me and say that they think that I’ve personally had the ability to take complex subjects and make them easily understood, and so I think me as an editor, my goal was not only for the articles I write, but for the other articles that they would be kind of done the same way and so it took a lot of editing. I think that for me, some of the harder things to digest were maybe some of the stuff on philosophy of religion and things that I’m less versed in and every author puts their own spin on things. There’s certainly some articles that are a little bit more academic and a little bit harder to understand and there are ones that are written in more simplistic language. I think for me, the scientific articles I wrote, and I think 22 of the articles, I worked hard to try to make them written in such a way that they’re understandable and those that I added to, we tried to do the same thing, but a lot of it does reflect kind of the tone of the contributor himself or herself as to what the depth of the article is.
Kurt: Chris. What sort of difficulties did you find in being editor in the same way and for your specific articles that you were working on?
Chris: Yeah. Each of us oversaw a certain number of articles and it kind of fell on us to recruit contributors for those and then edit them and it was actually pretty tough finding the number of contributors that we have.
Kurt: Cover here says 140.
Chris: Yeah. I think we got probably just about every well-known evangelical writing on these issues, but at times it was a strain to get people to write on certain things, especially some of the biographies. Not everyone kind of feels like they can write those well or necessarily have an interest in them, but they were important to include and so, just trying to get contributors, about 450 entries and then finding people who have expertise in those areas. That was definitely a challenge to do that, but thankfully, I think it came together pretty well and, we just had this wealth of great writing from these folks in these entries.
Kurt: And I can see for each of these entries, the authors have provided references and recommended reading and it’s just, it’s like a wealth of knowledge that if people are reading an entry and they want more, that’s where you go find more.
Mike: There were some people we asked to contribute who didn’t want to abide by certain guidelines, like the guidelines were that in these articles where they’re multiple viewpoints, none of the contributors got to read or respond to the alternative viewpoint, and there’s some contributors we asked who wouldn’t abide by that, and another rule was that we as the editors would make final editorial decisions, so I read one, the reason I say this is I read one blog that was actually critical of the dictionary that there were certain people this blog writer thought should be in that weren’t and as I think of some of the people I mention, I go, “Well we approached them and they weren’t willing to abide by the same rules as everybody else,”: so it’s certainly possible that your favorite person with one particular view is not a contributor, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because the dictionary was biased. It probably means that that person was more biased and not willing to put their thoughts into a dictionary that was a little less one-sided I’d say.
Chris: That’s actually right. Some people we approached, especially some of the most well-known people in the field, they were just too busy at the time to take anything else on and you also run into a thing where depending on who else is contributing sometimes other people don’t want to. Sometimes things get bad so it’s sort of divisive. He’s writing for this and I don’t think it’ll be good for me to be part of it kind of a thing.
Kurt: When you’re dealing with people of different perspectives and you do have these sort of stipulations and you’re worried that they didn’t get a chance to respond, how much did you guys perceive one, a scholar’s biblical assumptions or interpretations of certain texts affecting, and this may be the case for the more controversial entries, how often did you see that where it was just really clear they interpreted it this way versus that way?
Mike: Let me jump in on that one. We have about, I think, Chris, you might remember, about 14 different topics that have these multiple views and the others are just straight forward dictionary entries. For the ones with multiple views we allowed a little bit more personal commentary, a little bit more of an editorial kind of bias and so there were people who had made statements about a biblical passage that might be interpreted a number of ways and I may the editorial decision to let them say how they thought it should be interpreted regardless of if there were other possibilities and so I think on those controversial topics of multiple viewpoints, there’s a little more flexibility in letting the other person write in the way that they think it should be, but then on the other ways I think there were times where we said “This is too one-sided for this entry.” In fact, one of the entries I wrote was heavily edited by the other three editors. It took me multiple rewritings to get it through because they felt like it was not balanced enough and so I think it kind of depends a little bit on what we were writing.
Kurt: Yeah. I’ve even had the chance looking through it. I’ve come across an entry I was like, “Oh. I understand that that’s this position, but I’m not sure I agree with their perspective on that,” so it was really neat to sort of see those interlocutors present their own positions. Chris. Go ahead. You were going to say something.
Chris: That’s even going to be true on some of the supposedly unbiased articles. You’re still going to get at times the viewpoint of the person writing it to some extent. Yeah. I’m just really happy with this group of general editors that we had. It’s great to have Mike’s expertise in science, especially physics, Tremper’s expertise in biblical studies, Old Testament in particular, Paul Copan’s wealth of knowledge in philosophy. Philosophy is also my background and also publishing and I was able to kind of bring some publishing perspectives to the project. These guys were great. Everyone was a very strong editor, very careful reader, and had good suggestions and I was just glad to work with this team on this.
Kurt: Here will be sort of, maybe you haven’t had this question yet, and I want both of your answers so Mike, you can go first and then Chris. What’s one of your biggest regrets? What’s something that you would do differently or maybe if there’s a second edition sometime in the future what’s something you would change about the dictionary?
Mike: That’s a good question. It’s still early in the process. One of the things we do ask readers to do is if there is a topic that they thought was left out that’s really important to let us know for a future edition. We brainstormed these 450 articles. In fact, we probably went through a year or more of iterations and yet I’m sure there are topics of importance that slipped our minds so I think that would be one thing that might be a regret. Again, I’m sure there are places like you just said Kurt that probably slipped through a little more biased than we would like in certain articles. It’s really hard because you’re trying to find a balance between appreciating the work of a contributor, but yet putting out something that is fair and sometimes I’m sure we didn’t quite find that balance so that might be another thing that could use a little more work, but it’s a very tough job to do.
Chris: Yeah. I agree. I hope that if we do another edition of this, that we can include some entries, and of course, every year, certain topics kind of come to the fore and need to be addressed more than others. I hope we can do that and another thing that I hope we can get into the next printing, even before a next edition, would be a subject index and a table of contents. I know that some of the reviews I’ve read, some people have said that would have been a helpful thing to have an index to look things up in or a table of contents and I hope we can get those in for the next printing of it.
Mike: I think it’s interesting because a dictionary or encyclopedia doesn’t have a table of contents because it’s in alphabetical, but it’s exhaustive and this isn’t, so I kind of mixed feelings. If you want to look for a subject you go look in the right place alphabetically, but because it’s not exhaustive and therefore doesn’t have everything you’re looking for, it might be nice to somehow have a few pages that list every article or something, but it’s kind of, I can understand why the initial editorial decision was to leave it as it is, but I can also understand the criticisms of because not every subject’s there, it’s really hard to find the subject that I’m looking for at times.
Kurt: Sure. One of the thoughts I had was “Could I see a list of all the different biographies?” But of course, if I had someone in mind that I wanted to look up I should just look them up. It’s alphabetical.
Chris: Last name.
Kurt: We’ve got to take a short break but stick with us and we’ll be right back after this break from our sponsors.
Kurt: I’m here with Chris Reese, and Michael Strauss, two of the four general editors of the Dictionary of Christianity and Science, the definitive reference for the intersection of Christian faith and contemporary science. In the first half of the show we got an introduction to what the book was all about and the intentions here of the editors and the various entries. So what are some of the key features that you would want your average Christian churchgoer, someone who may not have a formal education in theology or may not even have gone to a Christian school, what would you want them to get out of a work like this? Mike. You first and then Chris.
Mike: The articles that have different viewpoints have this little symbol in front of them that indicates that this is kind of one of these longer editorial articles. I think the first thing I would say is leaf through the book and where you find those, read the different viewpoints, because it’s going to, whichever viewpoint you hold it’s going to broaden your view of the options within evangelical Christianity. I have a real passion for exposing young people to different options and the reason I have that passion is because as a professor at a secular university, I find Christians coming to my office, students who are in crisis and they’re in crisis because their view of the Bible that they’ve been taught has very little flexibility to deal with scientific results that they don’t think agree with the Bible and yet within a strict conservative evangelical literal approach to the Bible where it’s the inerrant inspired Word of God there still is a broad viewpoint, and so if you’re a youth pastor dealing with students or a pastor who’s going to teach I would say leaf through the dictionary and read these editorial articles. You’re not going to agree with one side or you’re not going to agree with both sides, but at least it exposes you to the fact that maybe I can be a Christ follower and have a view that’s different than my own and then the next time a student comes in with a crisis of faith you can say instead of “Oh you can’t believe that and be a Christian,” you can say “I don’t believe this, but you can believe this and be a Christian and there’s some who are.” I just think that would smooth over a lot of the problems in the church itself but even in our presentation to the secular world that believes that Christianity is incompatible with science.
Kurt: Chris. Same question to you. What are some things you want people to get out of this work?
Chris: I agree with Mike on this point. Any time I hear, and I know we’ve all seen these stories, these kinds of deconversion stories, where people talk about it was science that drove them away from Christianity because they felt like they had to choose. I can choose either science or the Bible. I think if this dictionary helps to dissolve that false dilemma, I think it will have accomplished a great thing, because it’s totally unnecessary. It is literally a false dilemma. You don’t have to choose one or the other. I think another thing, it may be more for Christians, is that it’s okay to disagree on a lot of these topics. Good people, you find good people on multiple sides of a lot of these issues. I think we just need to kind of be a little more tolerant and open-minded toward people who take other viewpoints on a lot of these topics.
Mike: I think another thing that’s neat about it is the depth of the articles and the biographies. There is a wealth of deep Christian thought throughout the ages and again, I think in our culture we live in, there is a misconception that Christians don’t think deeply or aren’t critically thinking about ideas and this book is full of critical thinking and I think that would be another great thing to take away from it, that both the current Christian thought and historically Christian thought has been deep and wrestling with truly complex questions and answers.
Kurt: This will be my final question to you guys and Chris, I want to get your take first and then we’ll follow up with Mike. If you could give me three of your favorite entries, maybe that’s asking a lot, three of your favorite entries, which entries would they be?
Chris: Yeah. That’s a tough one. Definitely one of them, I’ve mentioned the biographies a few times, and I was recently reading the biography of Robert Boyle and that was just fascinating, reading about his life and how he was a guy who did a lot of foundational scientific work, but then was also just a very committed believer and he didn’t see a conflict between the two. He was one of these guys who saw science as being a way to understand more about God through His creation and that’s a really great entry on him. Beyond that, I think a lot of the articles related to philosophy are really interesting, especially ones that deal with things like scientism, the limits of science, we have entries on both of those. I think our culture is sort of deep in scientism and so I appreciate those entries because they really attack the foundations of that view, the view that all of our knowledge only comes from science or our best source of all knowledge is science, and that’s all within our culture, but when you really start looking at it, it’s a very indefensible position to hold and so I thought those were very interesting.
Kurt: Mike. How about you?
Mike: That is another great question.
Kurt: They can’t be articles you wrote yourself.
Mike: That’s what I was going to say. I think I’m going to be a little self-serving and talk about articles I wrote myself. I think the two articles I wrote that I think are good are these overview articles. One on the days of creation where I list twelve different possibilities that evangelical Christians hold about the length and the interpretation of the days of creation and then I wrote a similar one on the Genesis flood, on the flood about different ideas that Christians have about the scope of the flood. I like those because within one article you see the scope of the different options. One I didn’t write is on the star of Bethlehem. I have a colleague at the University of Oklahoma, Kerry Magruder, who is an expert on the history of science and one of his expertise is ancient Babylonian history and he gives great talks on the star of Bethlehem and particularly on who the magi were and how they would interpret astronomical phenomena. He has completely reshaped my view of the star of Bethlehem. I think that’s a very good article. I would highlight that one as well.
Kurt: I’ve opened it up here so I’ll have to take a look at that. That is interesting. There was a documentary of some sort that came out about 10 or 15 years ago about the star of Bethlehem. A gentleman was just studying astronomy and he thought that if he could trace it back then maybe he could figure out what it was, but I know there’s some debate on exactly that point.
Mike: Kerry’s thesis is unless you understand who the wise men were, you can’t understand what the star of Bethlehem was and so a lot of his discussion is who were these people that were interpreting this star phenomena.
Kurt: Neat. I’ll have to look into that and all the other different topics somewhat, some 450 different key terms, entries, and it’s just really a wealth of knowledge there at the intersection of philosophy, Christianity, science, history, biography, it’s just a great opportunity for people to delve into these issues and to get something that’s a little more robust than Wikipedia. Chris Reese and Mike Strauss, thanks so much for joining me on the show today.
Mike: My pleasure.Thanks for having us.
Chris: Great to be with you.
Kurt: Thanks so much. Thanks guys. If you want to get your hand on the Dictionary of Christianity and Science, we’ll put a link to Amazon our website and just let me talk a little bit about the features that the book includes. There are over 450 key terms, theories, individuals, debates, and more to help you think through some of the most challenging topics including evolution, bio-ethics, age of the Earth, Adam and Eve, and a host of other ones. There are essays from over 140 leading international scholars. There are multiple view essays on the controversial topics. You can learn about the flesh and blood figures who have shaped the interaction of science and religion, going back to the church fathers, to the medieval era, including sort of the modern era as well, and there’s a full-cross reference system and entries include references and recommendations for further reading, and this is a really great book and I want to highly encourage you guys to go pick up a topic and I want to thank Zondervan for putting something like this out. It’s really a valuable asset and should be on everyone’s self.
That does it for our show today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons and partnerships with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, and Ratio Christi. Thank you to our guests today, Chris Reese and Mike Strauss, and finally I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
[NP1]There was some detracting mild discussion around 14:55 that I chose to edit out.