Sunday, 21 February 2010

Some of my influences, for any who are interested.

I thought I would list some of the authors, theologians and scientists who have influenced my beliefs and ideas. Some of them I have quoted from extensively, others you may not have realised have affected me. Many of them have had an enormous impact on me, whereas some of them have merely influenced a small area of my beliefs or given me a simple "eureka" moment which helps tie together other parts. I present this list so that any interested know where to go if I touch on something and they desire more detail.

Theology of Nature:

First up is Alister McGrath. I read his book Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life and thoroughly recommend it to any who want to know whether theism is compatible with science. His discussion on this is excellent and his critique of memes is worth the read. I was not keen on the way he paints atheists, but other than that it is a good book. I have also read most of The Dawkins Delusion and found it wanting. It is better to read Dawkins' God (written before the God Delusion) as his response here is short and rushed. Another area in which I recommend McGrath's work is his discussions of Augustine. Most theistic evolutionists mentioning Augustine tend to focus simply on his allegorical interpretation of Genesis and his advice to not contradict science. McGrath instead looks at Augustine's views of how creation occurred, see here for example.I have not yet read his book on natural theology, though from what I know of his views already I get the feeling I might disagree. He has a PhD in biophysics before he became a theologian, so he is well worth listening to.

The biggest influence on me in this area has undoubtedly been John Polkinghorne. I mention him often so this should be obvious. I have some disagreements with him, but overall I get a lot from his discussions on science and theology. I first encountered his views in his short but worthwhile book Scientists as Theologians. Here he compared his own views with those of Ian Barbour and Arthur Peacocke, who are both also worth mentioning. I have also found a lot to chew on in another of his short books Belief in God in an Age of Science. If anyone wants to look deeper into science and theology then Polkinghorne is certainly one of the big names in that area. Like McGrath, Polkinghorne was a scientist first. He was a prominent mathematical physicist before becoming a priest and theologian.

Surprisingly to any who have read through my blog, Francis Collins has been an influence on me. His book The Language of God was the first I read by a Christian on science. For this I recommend it, as it is a demonstration of how one prominent scientist has reconciled faith in God with his studies. However, I would also recommend using it more as an introduction, as Collins' book is relatively simplistic and there are areas in which I personally disagree with him a lot.

Although not strictly an influence on me, I thoroughly recommend Kenneth Miller's book Finding Darwin's God. It is the best book on the subject I have read by a scientist. If you are looking into creation and evolution then look here. If you want more theology then you may want to look elsewhere (Catholics may prefer the work of George Coyne).

An example of a minor influence on me is Joan Roughgarden, an evolutionary biologist. Her book Evolution and Christian Faith is a bit short, but did influence my views on the body of Christ extending to all creation; I found this rather beautiful. I should also add, as mentioned in another blog, that she has some controversial views within evolutionary biology.

When I first started writing about theistic evolution it was Greek Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware that influenced me the most. I read an essay by him titled The Environment from a Christian Perspective in a book called Abraham's Children. This introduced me to panentheism, which I dabbled with for a while, influencing my views of God's action in creation. It also started my interest in how we should treat creation and is the reason I prefer to call us 'priests' instead of 'stewards'. He has also influenced some other areas of my theology, but these were some of his biggest impacts.

Bishop Richard Harries was one of the editors and authors of Abraham's Children and has had some impact on me, albeit rather minor. He is worth the read.

A philosopher and theologian I find interesting is Keith Ward. He is a liberal Anglican and often offers an intriguing perspective on things which causes one to think things through. His book What the Bible Really Teaches is worth a read.He has also penned a response to Richard Dawkins, titled Why There Almost Certainly Is a God. I have not yet read it in full, but it is certainly interesting, looking at only the philosophy. From what I saw he makes some leaps which are not completely justified, but then Dawkins did this also. The most interesting critique I read of Dawkins came from H. Allen Orr.

Frustratingly I do not know the name of one of my influences. I read the book Real Scientists, Real Faith edited by R.J. Berry and was particularly interested by an essay from a neuroscientist. I do not currently have the book in my posession and cannot remember his name. I had intended to look into the soul in more detail, fortuitously this neuroscientist had written on this subject. I found his views gave me a bit of a eureka moment. I looked elsewhere to see what my other favourite authors said on the subject and was pleasantly surprised. I found that Polkinghorne, Harries, Peter Vardy, Ware and a book from the Taizé community all described monism when discussing the soul, though not always obviously. I intend to write about this in future, so stay tuned.

I have just mentioned Peter Vardy, who is not strictly an influence, though I found his book The Puzzle of God very informative when I was new to philosophy. His book allowed me to look into the deeper questions concerning God's existence and recently finding that he is a monist has sent me back to his book.

Here are some random useful articles on interpreting Genesis, aspects of which will likely work their way into my writing; the temple narrative; and the incarnational model.

I have not thoroughly explored eschatology yet, but already NT Wright has been an influence. His essay in The Green Bible had an impact on me, especially the way it relates to care for creation. I also went on to find that Polkinghorne has very similar views. Here is a particularly good video of Wright talking about myth and meaning. Another influence from The Green Bible is Dave Bookless.

Denis Alexander and Denis Lamoureux are both worth mentioning. Alexander has done some interesting work for theos and Lamoureux is a proponent of evolutionary creationism. I have also recently been introduced to the work of Orthodox Christian and palaeontologist George Theokritoff who will likely be my platform, along with Kallistos Ware, for discussing Eastern Orthodox views on evolution.

General Faith

I regularly visit the Taizé community so they naturally influence me theologically. Brother Roger is always worth a mention (or Bro Ro as we used to call him) and his theology of love is simplistic and moving. I regularly consult a book I bought whilst there called Seek and You Will Find. One of the reasons I have not yet written at length about the meaning of Genesis is because I want to read Brother John's book about it first.

Another great influence is Desmond Tutu. Just go out and buy his book God Has a Dream and you will see what I mean.

A friend I met online sent me a book called The Mind of Jesus which had a huge influence on how I view Christ. The author was William Barclay and I fully recommend the book to any Christian.


Most of my influences in science have influenced me for their writing. Neil Shubin was one of my inspirations when I was making the decision to study palaeontology. I read his book Your Inner Fish at just the right time.It influenced my life decisions as it showed how fascinating palaeontology can be, whilst also showing how it connects to other areas of interest. It also influenced my understanding of evolution and some of the arguments I used, despite being an easy to read book.

Donald Prothero is another palaeontologist worth mentioning. Mostly because his book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters is an excellent introduction to what the fossil record tells us about evolution, if you can get past the creationist bashing. It is a good resource for anyone debating creationists.

People find it odd when I cite Richard Dawkins as an influence. He is one of my favourite science writers, even if I completely disagree with him about God (and some science too). If you want to know about evolution, particularly natural selection, then Dawkins is a good author to start with.

Another palaeontologist who is good for showing what palaeontology does is Phil Manning. His book Grave Secrets of Dinosaurs is a great read and shows many of the methods of palaeontology, again crossing disciplines.

An author who combines both excellent writing skill and shows the many facets of palaeontology is trilobite expert Richard Fortey. He is perhaps my favourite science writer and within palaeontology I would say there is currently none who can match him in popular science.

Nick Lane is a biochemist and author whose book Life Ascending is definitely worth the read. Another book that influenced my debates with creationists and expanded my knowledge significantly. He is also an excellent writer.

From a much more scientific perspective Sean Carroll's book Endless Forms Most Beautiful comes highly recommended from me. It was my introduction to evo-devo and goes well with Neil Shubin's book. It has been the biggest influence on my understanding of evolution. Though evo-devo views are not without their critics.

Last but certainly not least is Stephen Jay Gould. Agree with him or not, he was highly influential within evolutionary biology, particularly palaeontology, and is one of the greatest science writers who ever lived.

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