Sam Brownback on faith and reason

In a New York Times op-ed piece published today, Kansas senator Sam Brownback writes about how he views the relation between faith and reason, between science and Scripture. The op-ed is titled, “What I Think About Evolution,” and in it he speaks frankly about his desire to avoid both a fundamentalist creationism and an atheist evolutionism. Instead, he wishes to affirm both that God is the creator of the cosmos and that evolution is a helpful explanation of the scientific evidence. Faith and reason are not in conflict, but are complementary.
People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.
I have nothing but positive things to say about this piece. Sen. Brownback wishes to avoid letting faith or science subjugate the other—in which science becomes a tool for preserving faith or faith becomes obsolete in the face of science—and instead he affirms a kind of theistic evolution which upholds the centrality of God’s providential activity without denigrating modern scientific discoveries. Perhaps most admirable of all is Sen. Brownback’s ability to do all this without once mentioning Intelligent Design.



Robert Cornwall said…

I'm not sure we read the same piece. You are right, he affirmed the relationship of faith and reason and clarified his view of evolution. The problem is that he affirmed micro-evolution (within species) but denied common descent. Common descent is apparently atheistic theology and to be opposed in every way. He got things half right, but got the rest extremely wrong. I've noted some of these places on my own blog.

Thanks for pointing that out. I meant to say something about it. I agree with you entirely. He certainly only gets evolution half-right, and that's unfortunate. But I'm pleased with what he does affirm.
Brownback wrote,

"The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God."

David, I'm not so sure I buy this rather gnostic interpretation of the domains of faith and reason, faith treating only 'spiritual' matters and reason the 'natural' or 'physical.' It is rather unsophisticated, too, not perspicuous enough, for we tend to think of the claims of faith and reason having different grounds, not objects. That is to say, a thoroughly theistic worldview still makes claims about nature--as being God's handiwork--but on the grounds of faith, not of scientific reason. And so whatever you want to say in favor of Brownback's rejection of anti-intellectualism regarding evolution--with which I agree--he has not got the faith-reason issue at all right, IMO.

BTW, Robert Miller at First Things offers similar insights in his review of Brownback.