1 Nov 2023

REFLECTION ON A BOOK: Janet Kellogg Ray: THE GOD OF MONKEY SCIENCE, People of Faith in a Modern Scientific World (Eerdmans 2023)

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Books, Contemporary Ethics, Politics, Reading
Bad theology & Bad science are actually strange bed fellows.

Long experience has taught me this about the status of mankind with regard to matters requiring thought: the less people know and understand about them, the more positively they attempt to argue concerning them, while on the other hand to know and understand a multitude of things renders men cautious in passing judgment upon anything new.” (The Assayer, in Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, edited and translated by Stillman Drake, p. 256).

Janet Kellogg Ray is a faithful and devoted disciple of Jesus. She grew up in the Churches of Christ. She is also a PhD and professor of biology. She loves the Creator God. She loves talking about the wonder of God’s world.

She is also dismayed that Christians, especially white conservative Evangelical kind of Christians, have for a good bit of the 20th and 21st centuries devoted themselves to anti-science. This warlike relationship to science has dominated us during the Covid years. But, she points out, this has DNA that goes back a hundred years. She calls us to leave the culture wars and embrace good theology and good science.

The God of the Monkey Science” is a passionate call to be people who are committed to truth. She writes (you can order the book via the link. I do not make any money from this),

As Christians, we [note the “we”] are called to truth. Speaking it. Defending it. Living it. Why be afraid of science? If God is truth, all truth is God’s truth, including scientific truth” (p. 181).

The thread that runs through Ray’s book is the question of “How do we decide what is true?” (p.27).

We are grateful for Ray’s knowledge and ability to communicate and also to challenge misinformation.

Do we decide what is true based on what we “feel?” On what our uninformed “opinion” might be? Do we engage the actual evidence? Where do we get our information? Does our source actually have accurate information?

But Evangelical Christians, since the Scopes “Monkey Trial” of the 1920s have retreated from intellectual dialogue and declared a culture war upon science in most of its modern forms. The height of these culture wars are the anti-vaccine movement which white conservative Evangelicals are leaders in.

Reading “The God of Monkey Science” is a social history of the clash between white Evangelicals (even Fundamentalists) and science.

Why is it that Evangelicals will mock the Roman Catholic Church over the Galileo episode because they would not consider evidence (some would not look through the telescope) but we in our day refuse to read or try to understand the basic science on evolution, the Big Bang, climate change, etc. We are guilty of the exact same mistakes. When Evangelicals argue about science we almost always do so with two bad stakes:

– Bad (even atrocious) Theology (i.e. hermeneutics)

– Bad Science (a failure to understand even the basics)

Why do we embrace these? The answer is we often embrace both our theology and our science based upon political orientation rather than truth.

We end up making the Bible claim things it never did and we make science into something it never was. We Evangelical types are (sometimes) just the religious version of the rabid atheist Richard Dawkins (i.e. The God Delusion). His “hermeneutic” for the Bible is very similar to Fundamentalism. We create problems for ourselves where there is no need of them.

Why is it that Christians attack, rather than celebrate, Francis Collins. Collins is one of the most famous scientists in the world. Yet he is a dyed in the wool Evangelical Christian (he believes in an actual resurrection by Jesus folks!). Yet our “culture war” has vilified him and most have no idea that he is genuine dedicated Christian who sees and has seen his work as nothing but obedience to God.

Why is it that most white Evangelicals mock (that is the right word) climate science (yet watch the weather channel!) but have no idea that Katharine Hayhoe, one of the world’s leading climatologists is a “born again” Christian and married to a Pastor! (Here 17 minute TED talk is linked in her name). She believes, as scripture declares, “the world is his.” Her science is obedience to Jesus’s commands. Concerns for climate have been around longer than I have been alive. Did you know that in 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson received the “President’s Science Advisory Committee on Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide” report and warned about the dangers almost four years before I was born. (You can read this over half century old report in the link).

Why do conservative Christians not literally celebrate Kizzmekia Corbett, a conservative Evangelcial Christian, the creator of the Covid 19 vaccine? Most have no clue. She understands her work as literal obedience to the command to love her neighbor as herself. (You can watch a 30 minute video discussion between Dr. Corbett and Dr. Francis Collins about Covid and the vaccines).

Christianity could be known as the leaven of God’s kingdom in the world. Working to better this world. There is nothing inherently conflicting between Christian faith and modern science. Bad theology and bad science – yes. But not Christian faith and science. I for one thank God for Francis Collins, Katharine Hayhoe, Kizzmekia Corbett and scientists like Janet Kellogg Ray herself.

For eleven years I preached at a congregation next to a major university. On any given Sunday there were half a dozen or more PhD’s listening. We had physicists like Dr. Don Huffman who had been nominated for the Nobel Prize. I loved listening to Dr Don wax eloquently on the Psalms, the Moon and physics. Neither he nor anyone else imagined there was a conflict between Christian faith and modern science. There isn’t.

The Church still has not learned what it should have learned from Galileo, who also did not believe there was a conflict between faith and science. Every minister, elder, deacon and everyone should read Galileo’s “Letter to the Grand Duchess Christiana” (1615) which led directly to his condemnation. The Bible is not about science and has no interest in such. Galileo wrote,

If the sacred scribes had any intention of teaching people certain arrangements and motions of the heavenly bodies, or had they wished us to derive such knowledge from the Bible, then in my opinion they would not have spoken of these matters so sparingly in comparison with the infinite number of admirable conclusions which are demonstrated by science” (in Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, translated by Stillman Drake, p. 184).

The intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes” (ibid, p. 186).

Galileo offered four hermeneutical principles four hundred years ago in his Letter that are still extremely helpful. Ray has in various ways alluded to them in “The God of Monkey Science.”

1) Principle of the Unity of Truth

2) Priority Principle

3) Pragmatic Principle

4) Principle of Scriptural Intention

I recommend Ray’s call to Evangelical Christianity to look into the mirror. I commend her call to ask ourselves “am I a person committed to truth?” Why would I automatically hold Francis Collins, Katharine Hayhoe, Kizzmekia Corbett or even Dr. Janet Kellogg Ray as suspect?

I further recommend Ray’s call for us to embrace the notion of mind of Christ. The “me-first” mentality that has descended upon America, and drunk to the dregs among Evangelicals, is the very antithesis of anything we find in the New Testament. We are here FOR the sake of the world.

Janet Kellogg Ray’s The God of Monkey Science is as easy to read as anything on ESPN. It is a book you should read and wrestle with. Read it with some friends and have discussions about it. Pull up the resources and read them.

And ask, why aren’t Francis Collins, Katharine Hayhoe and Kizzmekia Corbett celebrated heroes in your life and your church?

See Also

Some Looked & Couldn’t See: Galileo, ‘Seeing,’ and the Quest for Truth

Bobby, the Bible, Stars and Constellations

One Response to “REFLECTION ON A BOOK: Janet Kellogg Ray: THE GOD OF MONKEY SCIENCE, People of Faith in a Modern Scientific World (Eerdmans 2023)”

  1. Phillip C. Garner Says:

    preach it Bobby. right on.

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