Early on in my academic career, I nervously typed up an abstract in application for an interdisciplinary conference on food studies. The field of food studies is better than most about merging seemingly incompatible academic fields. Hard sciences, social sciences, the humanities, and journalism all converge to respond to the environmental and economic crises of our day. And yet, despite the open interest in collaborative work, I grew worried this field would not have place for me—a theologian. With a bit of embarrassment, I sent in my paper, convinced that there would be little interest in the overlap between food and the capacity for knowing God. To my surprise, my topic was met with great excitement.Ian Hutchinson faces the prodding of scholars and Christians alike, holding faith up to academic inquiry and in turn guiding Christians into more detailed understanding of the world.
Over the past few years, I have oftentimes found greater encouragement for my converging ideas in conversations with food studies scholars than among theologians. Despite the negative narrative common in some pockets of Christianity, the academic world hungers for theological insight. Academics challenge and prod, sometimes in hopes of disproving, but more often out of genuine curiosity to see if assertions hold up against serious inquiry. Similarly, pressing into academic discourse can guide Christians into more intimate knowledge of creation, thus paving the way for more intimate relationship with the Creator.
In Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles: An MIT Professor Answers Questions on God and Science, Ian Hutchinson faces the prodding of scholars and Christians alike, holding faith up to academic inquiry and in turn guiding Christians into more detailed understanding of the world. Like my community of food studies scholars, Hutchinson has long been fascinated by the interaction between the humanities and hard sciences: “My ambitions was not just to be a physicist,” he says, “but also to be an intellectual—to understand and participate in the culture and ideas, and make them my own” (4). And, like me, he encourages such questions to incorporate theology into the mix as well.
Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles? was born out of questions posed to Hutchinson at events put on by the Veritas Forum, ranging from the definition and role of faith and knowledge, to the interplay of science and cosmology, and the possibility for the miraculous or divine. After transcribing over 220 questions asked at these events, Hutchinson consolidated and organized the topics into a systematic flow. Each chapter explores a unique theme, answering three to seven questions related to that theme. These dozen themes, which include “Do Scientists have Faith?” “Do Miracles Happen?” and “Is there Good and Evil?” are book-ended by a chapter about Hutchinson’s own spiritual journey and the personal consequences of engaging these questions.
Though the book is ordered thoughtfully in order to flow, it is meant to be read in any order depending on the interests of the reader. The questions were initially asked by individuals with a wide variety of convictions—people of faith, atheists, and students still figuring out what they believe. As such, the book is valuable to readers across the spectrum of viewpoints on faith. Further, it is a helpful gauge of the topics important to contemporary students regarding science and faith.
Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles? is not a book of apologetics. Hutchinson’s goal is not to offer proof of Christianity, but instead to show that there is no intellectual incompatibility between the orthodoxy of Christianity and the work of science. “Nobody, however detached, thoughtful, and insightful, really escapes the subconscious influence of their desires, emotions, past experiences, and perceived interests,” he says. “Nobody is really in the position of being able to see through the predispositions and biases of all the contending perspectives… so as to arrive at attached objectivity” (244–245). More than proof of God, academic discourse needs encouragement to question, challenge, and trust that scientific and theological inquiry can be mutually beneficial. And it needs an honest reflection on the personal consequences of such inquiry. Ian Hutchinson’s Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles? offers just that: a launching point for Christians and non-Christians alike to think more deeply about intersections of faith and the natural world.
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