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Friday, September 16, 2005

Volcanology journal discusses evil in nature

Here's an encouraging development: A reasonable discussion of the question of evil in a science journal:

Theology and disaster studies: The need for dialogue
David K. Chester
Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, Volume 146, Issue 4 , 1 September 2005, Pages 319-328. Chester is at the Department of Geography, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, L69 3BX, UK

Here's the abstract:

In hazard analysis the conventional wisdom holds that disasters are features of either human vulnerability and/or de-moralised nature. The notion of the 'Act of God' has been almost completely replaced. Using examples of volcanic eruptions and Christian theology, it is argued that many actual and potential victims of hazards continue to explain losses in theistic terms; even in societies where individuals are aware of alternative scientific and social explanations. In Christianity attempts to reconcile God's love, justice and omnipotence on the one hand and human suffering on the other, is termed theodicy, and it is proposed that recent developments allow more fruitful dialogue to take place between hazard analysts and theologians than has been the case hitherto. During the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (1990*2000) a consensus emerged that, if responses to disaster are to be successfully managed, then an awareness of local culture is vitally important. This consensus has continued, as research agendas are currently being formulated for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. In many disaster prone regions, religion is an essential element of culture and must be carefully considered in the planning process, and not simply dismissed as a symptom of ignorance, superstition and backwardness.

Apparently, the author references classic publications on the subject by C.S. Lewis and Alvin Plantinga, for example.

(Note: I can't see how to get this online for love or money, but this is the author’s Web site.)

Why do I see this article as an encouraging development? Because, while covering the intelligent design controversy, I felt frustrated by a high level of backwardness and a double standard in dealing with theological argument in science journals.

For example, a scientist trashing Behe's or Johnson's pro-intelligent design writings, can carry on about the cruelties of nature, insisting there can't really be intelligent design because ... (insert problem here), and that's just fine.

But, one rarely sees a paper from a scientist trained in theology summarizing a variety of theological perspectives on the cruelties of nature or studying how they are commonly addressed. No doubt many editors would reject it on the grounds that it was "beyond the scope of science."

In other words, theology is within the scope of science when it is badly done by an amateur, on the fly, for the purpose of trashing a book he dislikes. Anyway, the volcanology journal seems to be a happy departure from that.

If people are going to point to evil or bad design as proof that there is no design at all in nature (a questionable assumption at best), experts in the study of cosmic dysfunction should be allowed to offer perspectives.

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.
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