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Test of Faith

By Ruth Bancewicz
January 2010 | Review by Arthur Jones

Synopsis

Test of FAITH is an innovative new resource designed for use by small groups wishing to explore big issues raised by science for both faith and ethics. It introduces a wide range of hot topics including: Are science and Christianity in conflict? Has the Big Bang pushed God out of the universe? What does 'creation' mean? Is evolution compatible with religious faith? Is cloning ethical? Are humans no more than biological machines? Test of FAITH is designed to enable non-specialists to join the discussion. It allows small groups to unpack these issues, and discuss them at a level and pace that suits the group. It is flexible so that users can choose the topics that they want to cover, and encourages open discussion of a range of views. This Leader's Guide accompanies the Test of FAITH DVD, and provides all the content of the Study Guide plus suggested responses to questions, critical background information, and opportunities for taking these issues further. Samples and DVD trailer at www.testofaith.com

Book Review

Test of Faith is a course promoting acceptance of modern secular science, in general, and theistic evolution, in particular. It is designed for use with small groups of non-specialist Christians, such as church home groups.

Spiritual journeys with Scientists is similar to the book Real Scientists, Real Faith (Ed., R. J. Berry, Monarch Books) and there is a small overlap of authors (Francis Collins, Alister McGrath). The DVD has interviews with key scientists in the main programme.

As far as I know, these scientists are all theistic evolutionists and, clearly, a major aim of the project is to present these prominent scientists as people of real Christian faith and thereby commend their theistic evolution position. Scientists who are creationists or proponents of Intelligent Design (ID) were not invited to contribute.

The main part of the DVD comprises three sections: Part 1, ‘Beyond reason?’ focuses on cosmology and contains much that evangelical Christians are likely to agree with. It affirms the Christian roots of modern science (especially the intelligibility of the universe) and the consistency of fine-tuning arguments with belief in God.

Part 2, ‘An accident in the making?’ is where there will be most disagreement. Creationism and ID are introduced by Paul Taylor and William Dembski respectively, but are misrepresented and dismissed by all the other contributors. Paradoxically, however much he rejects the label and attacks ID, Cambridge professor Simon Conway Morris’ contribution is mainstream ID!

This session also deals with the problem of evil –– the waste, extinction, destruction, violence, suffering associated with the Darwinian processes and how this can be reconciled with a God of love. This is really the weakest part of the whole programme and the theistic evolutionists flounder. All they suggest is that this was the only way God could do it.

Part 3, ‘Is anybody there?’ deals with the challenge from (secular) neuroscience: Are we just sophisticated chemical machines running on rails laid down by our biology (or biochemistry)? Computers made of meat?

Insofar as this section is critiquing materialistic science, there is little to disagree with. What is frustrating is that here we have clear evidence of the way in which worldview (metaphysical) commitments bias science, yet no one explains what is happening or draws out implications for the rest of the programme.

Three central but unarticulated and unexamined assumptions lie behind the programme:

•   that philosophies/worldviews/ideologies are something that are added to (neutral/objective) science. If science is functioning properly, it is independent of faith and neither driven by faith nor shaped by faith.

•   that all real scientists will agree about the science, regardless of their personal philosophical or religious beliefs.

•   that therefore science can be trusted to tell us the truth about origins.

Because of these assumptions, the Leader’s Guide invariably contrasts ‘science’ and ‘faith’ as if science is a faith-free zone.

However, the last half-century of work in the history and philosophy of science has shown abundantly that, in every area of science, facts are seen in terms of theory set against the frame of reference of a paradigm, within a philosophical view of reality, and from a religious stance (see, e.g., Roy Clouser, The myth of religious neutrality, 2005). This is seen most clearly in historical sciences (that include evolutionary biology). Yet the crucial distinction between historical and experimental science is overlooked in the Test of Faith programme.

Test of Faith contains some interesting material, but the programme is deeply flawed. The DVD is also rather arid and boring, consisting almost entirely of interviews. I wonder how many church home groups will use it (or if they do, will regret doing so).

Additional information:

DVD: 87 minutes, plus 78 minutes bonus footage; £8.40; ISBN: TOFDVD

Study guide £21.39; ISBN: 978-1-84227-664-8

Leader’s guide £8.07 (this includes the Study guide); ISBN: 978-1-84227-663-1

Spiritual journeys with scientists, £0.01; ISBN: 978-1-84227-661-7

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