Week in Review — Cultural Power, Galileo, Naivete

As you take a break to enjoy the summer weather, review these pieces and share your responses. …

1.  Andy Crouch: Christians, culture and power (Faith & Leadership, Duke University, 8:31 on-line video):  Andy’s back with more!  Do you agree with him that

Christians don’t like to talk about power. But cultural power — the ability to create — is something all people are meant to have.

Should we (or do you) start each day with such a vision? How well are you able to embrace and articulate a distinction between power to coerce (e.g., political) versus power to inspire (e.g., cultural power for the redemption of creation)?

2. Vatican’s Celestial Eye, Seeking Not Angels but Data (George Johnson, NY Times, 6/22/09).  Check out

[t]he Vatican Observatory Research Group [which] does workmanlike astronomy that fights the perception that science and Catholicism necessarily conflict.

Galileo Before the Holy Office

Galileo Before the Holy Office

Anyone have reflections on Galileo or The Two Books (i.e., the Book of Nature and the Scripture)?  On Monday, I had the opportunity to hear Ted Davis, Messiah College’s Historian of Science, lecture on The Galileo Affair: What Really Happened. He had just returned from The Legacy of Galileo Symposium and had upgraded his presentation, below’s an excerpt.

No story in all of the history of science is more famous than that of Galileo, who was tried by the Roman Inquisition after he had written a book advocating the new astronomy of Copernicus.  But the real facts of his story are much less well known.  …  The ideas being debated involved science and religion, but this is not an example of the “warfare” of science and religion.  Galileo saw himself as a faithful Catholic; the church never opposed any proven fact; and the real debate was between different Christian views on how to interpret the Bible.Ted Davis, Messiah College, History of Science.  6/25/2009.  Part of the the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science summer lecture series.

3.  When to Be Naïve: It’s not a virtue just for children (Christianity Today Magazine, 6/12/2009):  Edith M. Humphrey, William F. Orr Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, has a good word to share, wish the article was slightly longer.  Note:  If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading Edith’s Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit (Eerdmans, 2005).

We must therefore consider the dynamic of the Christian story rather than merely static principles. God alone, who lives from eternity to eternity, has the wherewithal to be absolutely simple and omnisciently wise at the same time; human beings, on the other hand, must take things in stages, for they are indeed players in the drama of God.”

As always, if you’d like to contribute to next week’s Review, add your link(s) in the comments, or send them to Tom or Mike directly.

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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  • hannaheag@comcast.net'
    Hannah commented on June 29, 2009 Reply

    In relation to religion and science, I’d be interested in hearing what people think of Peter Harrison’s The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science. It’s about 16th and 17th century natural philosophy, and argues that a shift in reading the Book of Scripture was the catalyst for a shift in reading the Book of Nature. Basically, Harrison suggests that medieval writers read the Bible as an allegorical system and that this reading of the Bible carried over into interpretations of nature, so that nature was also seen chiefly as an allegorical system of meaning. For instance, the pelican might be seen mainly as a symbol for Christ in a medieval bestiary, rather than an opportunity for observation and experiment.

    Harrison argues that when Protestants began to push for more literal readings of Scripture, the old system of reading nature as allegorical began to seem less plausible, and that factor was one thing that drove a movement towards understanding nature through experimental science. I thought it was a fascinating read, but I’m in English, so I’m not sure I’ve learned enough about history of science to have any useful opinions. 🙂


  • tdavis@messiah.edu'
    Ted Davis commented on June 30, 2009 Reply


    Peter Harrison is a very fine scholar, one of the best working today on the history of Christianity and science. All of his books and essays are worth reading, and in general I agree with most of his claims.

    The one major claim he has made that I dissent from, which he has advanced in several places but esp in his recent book on the fall and in an essay in the journal “History of Science” in 2002, is as follows. Harrison gives little support to the view that “voluntarist” theology (which stresses God’s freedom to do anything short of a logical contradiction, in contrast to a “rationalist” theology that stresses the degree to which God’s activities conform to reason) was very influential in shaping early modern science. I do not agree with that view; my dissertation argued for that view a quarter century ago, and a lot of other scholars before and since have also supported it. Most recently, John Henry (Edinburgh) has replied at length in “History of Science,” and in this case he speaks for me as well as for himself — quite literally, insofar as he discussed his essay extensively with me as it was in process.

    Since then, Harrison has responded to Henry in the same journal.

    As I say, my disagreement with Harrison is pretty much limited to this particular issue, a very important one to be sure but not one that negates the value of his work on this or any other matter. I strongly recommend that you read more of Peter’s work; I do think that historians will still be reading it 50 years from now.


  • dwsnoke@comcast.net'
    Dave Snoke commented on July 5, 2009 Reply

    Haven’t finished working my way through this book, but it is definitely one of the most fascinating reads for me in the past few years.

  • dwsnoke@comcast.net'
    Dave Snoke commented on July 5, 2009 Reply

    My previous comment was in regard to Harrison’s book.

    In regard to Crouch’s concept of power, I have another comment: Christians seem to be afraid of “strategy”. Does using strategy perhaps feel too much like lacking trust in God? Other groups have had well defined media strategies, infiltration strategies, etc. (Think of fundamentalist Muslims, communists, environmentalists, gay rights, etc.) Missions agencies use it all the time overseas. But many Christians I know react against it here in the US, when used by Christians. Is using strategy itself a lack of faith, a hungering for power? Or are we simply reacting to past strategies that have failed?

  • hannaheag@comcast.net'
    Hannah commented on July 6, 2009 Reply

    Ted, thanks very much for your helpful comments! I’ll probably be using some of Harrison’s work in the dissertation chapter I’m working on at the moment, so it’s great to hear more about him from the history of science point of view.


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