Month: January 2020
Believing Science, Believing Theology
Believing Science, Believing Theology
Have you ever wondered why humans view the world, the way they do? If you have noticed, they have quite a diverse opinion on just about everything. In many cases even the thing they agree on, if you were to ask them to think a little deeper, they will begin to disagree. It seems that thinking in itself does not bring about a unity of opinion.
If we honestly trained our minds to separate a fact from our opinion, which is our interpretation of the facts, we could at least agree on the facts. You could say that facts are like stones that are lying on the ground. They have no inherent means other than they are stones lying on the ground. Similarly, the ground that they are lying on also is a fact. However, when a human comes along and picks up the stones and begins to ask himself questions about them, such as how, when and why, i.e. to give an explanation of the facts, we then have moved away from the facts and have moved into an interpretation of the facts. The problem with many people is that they cannot discern the difference between what is their opinion or their interpretation of the facts, and what the facts themselves truly are.
The discipline of science is an effort to determine what interpretation of the facts best represents the facts. Of course, this is conditional on the scientific community agreeing on what the facts are, but sometimes theoretical science cannot accomplish this merely because the facts are unobservable. Sometimes scientists must first create an instrument to prove the existence of the facts and then they must have a system to guard their interpretation of the facts. The process that they use to do this is called the scientific method
The same principle applies to theology. Theology is or should be about the business of sorting out what interpretation of God best reflects the facts. Like science, this is contingent on the community recognizing certain facts and having the tools to find and interpret those facts. In the case of Christian theology, the fact would have to be the words of the Apostle and what could be inferred about God from nature and person of Jesus Christ. One problem we have with theology is that things inferred are not necessarily facts, but more resemble an interpretation of the facts. However, this problem is often found in science as well.
The biggest difference between science and theology is the community explanation of what are the facts. In science, the fact should be physical and be observable. However, this is not true in many of the so-called sciences. For example, in much of evolution science or in psychiatry the scientific method is not possible, which in some people’s minds raises the question of whether or not these disciplines are truly a science? I would say in the most rigid way of thinking that they are not. Some, to note the differences between the sciences, use the term soft and hard. Hard sciences are those sciences that have physical facts to observe like physics or biology. The soft sciences are like psychology and sociology.
In Christian theology, the facts are also physical. Christians believe that at one time God revealed himself in Christ. That Christ was physically present and worked miracles to prove his identity. Like science, there was also a community of men that witnessed His existence and his miracles. They claimed that they saw, heard and handled this fact from God (1 John 1:1-4). Now if these witnessed and experienced events were going to be falsified, they would have by the very nature of the evidence, had to have been falsified in the current time frame of their happening. They were not falsified, although there were attempts to do so.
In science as in religion, the facts are often one step, or many steps removed from the facts and cannot or have not been observed or experienced by most men. In the community of faith, members believe that some men have observed the facts and therefore have a better knowledge of the facts than others. This is not only true in the faith community but also in the scientific community. Members of the scientific community, like the faith community, believe and accept by faith what the scientific community says about the facts, even though they have not seen the facts personally. Not only do they accept the existence of unobserved facts, but they also accept the scientific community interpretation of these unobserved facts, for they have neither the facts nor the expertise to question them.
However, this process of acquiring knowledge for the faith community is not as different from the scientific community as some scientists would have us to believe. The other day I was listening to an audiobook about Einstein’s theory of relativity and in the opening statement the authority, who is a Physicist, said that he believes that there were only a few men in the world that truly understood what Einstein was saying. I have read similar admissions by other men in other disciplines. I remember one, which pointed out that there were very few men that headed up any discipline that actually looked at the facts. The rest of the members of the discipline gained their knowledge through the community, texts, and schools. The majority of men believed not because of the evidence, but because they believed what the community taught them. In the majority of these cases, the evidence is never checked by the students of the discipline. In those circumstances, the majority of people’s beliefs are very much like those of religion, i.e. dogma. When you look at it this way, there are very few men in any discipline that really handle the facts and observed them firsthand. In essence, you could say that there are very few men that actually do science and the same thing holds true of those that do theology. In Christian theology, we could say only the Apostles of Jesus actually did theology.
In science, as in theology, there are certain assumptions that must be made to carry out science. Scientists must believe in the uniformity of nature and the law of cause and effect, otherwise, they could not do science. They must believe in a pattern that can be found in nature, which can be analyzed and measured. As Einstein said, “God does not play dice with the universe”. Of course, it must be noted that some younger scientists believe He does. Though that view is not the one that is accepted or used by the scientific community. Mainly because it would destroy the community.
In Christian theology, the assumptions are that there is a God and that God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. These assumptions are accepted as facts by the Christian community. If you do not accept them, you cannot logically do Christian theology. Of course, you could write about Christian theology as I write about science and I am not a scientist. This may or may not be a disadvantage. It is often hard for a fish in a bowl to see itself as others do. Sometimes being in a discipline is very much like being like a fish in a bowl. Those outside the bowl may have a clearer view of the fish and the bowl, than the fish that is inside the bowl.
I think this will help to understand why we often think, the way we think. Our thinking seems to be largely dependent on our habits of thought; and our habits of thought depend to on a large degree, on the community that we belong to, or lack of one. Now by the community, I mean formal and informal. Formal communities are groups like a family, religious organizations, professional groups or political parties. The informal communities are your friends, the books you read, and the places or the field that you work in. In the broader sense the formal community will often influence the informal ones reading habits and other social habits of the individual. In most cases, the community does a large amount of thinking for the individual, which is a hard pill to swallow for those that like to think of themselves as free thinkers. The greatest amount of our freedom of thought comes from our freedom to choose a community that will greatly influence our thinking.
The implications of this are many. One of the obvious ones is that it is the community that does the educating of the individual that comes into it. The community imparts its view of the world, which all in the group will believe is the correct view. Another obvious thing is that the community not only inputs its knowledge into the individual, but it also inputs its biases and its attitude, i.e. its spirit. It is also obvious that it is very hard to change or correct a belief in a community. It often takes the death of an entire generation, which allows a free flow of ideas. So, what we gather from this the community can enlighten, and can also blind the individual. This is true of the scientific community or a community of faith, as noted in Thomas Kuhn’s book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”.
The Christian faith, unlike any other faith, is much like science because it is based on a physical happening. That is the coming of the Logos (Christ) into flesh, his life, death, and his resurrection. All of these things were observed by men. These men, in turn, wrote down their experience and observation of the Logos in the book we call the New Testament. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3).
Note in this scripture that the apostles’ beliefs were grounded in facts. They claimed to hear, touch and see the man that they preached about. Their beliefs were not based on second-hand information learned from a book, but rather they were based on first-hand experiences. All of the Apostles of Jesus, but one, were killed for their faith and yet not one of them recanted their belief in Jesus. This seems to be better evidence than most scientific theories come up with and I have not heard of too many scientists dying for their theories. Yet today you have people that believe that the Christian community has no right to preach the message of Christ because they did not witness it. However, if that is the case how does a high school science teacher have a right to teach science which he has not personally observed? What right would anyone have to teach that humans came from a common ancestor or that a lizard evolved into a bird? Has anyone ever observed it actually happening? No, they have not, and they will never observe these things.
The Apostles of Jesus observed Jesus and the miracle of his resurrection. They also created a community of men that they left their knowledge with. This community was then told by them to take that knowledge to the world. Some have tried to explain this away by saying that Jesus never lived. However, if that is the case how can you explain the existence of a community of thousands built around his death and resurrection, shortly after his death?
Some may respond by saying that religion believes in miracles and science believes in facts. Before we take a close look at this statement, let us define our terms. A fact is something that e exists in itself. It stands by itself and needs no explanation or interpretation. Let us use our original example of the stones, or rocks on the ground. Let’s say that I was walking alone and saw some rocks laying on the ground. The rocks on the ground are a fact and in that statement, the ground would also be a fact. If you asked me how the rocks got there and I said I saw a truck dump them there, the placement of the rocks would be a fact for me, but not for you. You see a fact must be a thing that is able to be observed. Therefore, the placing of the rocks would be a fact for me because I personally witnessed it. The placing of the rocks would be a theory for you based on my testimony. Now the strength of the theory would depend on the credibility of the witness. Now, a theory can never become a fact to you unless you had a time machine to go back in time to the point where the rocks were dumped on the ground. The best you could do is try to find more witnesses that might confirm the witness’s testimony. The more witnesses the greater the probability that the witness is telling the truth and that the thing really happened or existed. You may increase the probability of how the rocks got on the ground, but you can never make a theory, a fact. Even if you were to take a truck and dump thousands of rocks upon the ground, all you could do is increase the probability of your theory. So, when you hear someone say that the theory of evolution has become a fact, you know that you are talking to someone that has some fuzzy thinking going on in their head. You might ask them if they were there when it happened.
I think now we may be ready to talk about science, religion, and miracles. We all know that religion believes in miracles, but do the facts bear out that science does not believe in them? Before going there we need to ask, what is a miracle? To me, a miracle is something that is super-natural i.e. beyond a natural explanation. If this is true, science should not hold to anything that cannot be explained by natural causes, within the framework of uniformity of nature. Yet, when we open a freshman science book, we are immediately confronted with the big bang theory of how the universe, time, space and matter, came out of nothing. We are even told when it happened, some 17 billion years ago. So, here we have a scientific theory that sounds very much like the first verse of the book of Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth”. Now, here’s the kicker, science says their theory is science and Genesis is religion. One view is scientific and the other is a belief in a miracle. The miracle of ex nihilo-the creation of something out of nothing. But how can one viewpoint be a miracle and the same viewpoint science? Someone might argue that it has been observed that the universe is expanding, which proves the big bang theory and that the universe had a beginning. But this would raise the question, “If the universe, space and time are expanding what did they initially expand out from if neither space and time existed? Does the evidence for the big bang prove the miracle of creation? Does it prove the existence of God? I do not believe so. However, it does leave the door open for something to exist outside of time and space, and that something could be God. It would also leave the door open for that God to come into space and time, and even to alter it. Otherwise, you have to believe that something came from nothing.
Is not something coming from nothing a miracle? I would say it is one of the greatest miracles ever recorded. If you can believe in something coming from nothing, then believing in the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine is nothing, for we see nature turning water into wine every day, Jesus just sped up the process. However, something out of nothing? That’s a big one.
 Some may say that Theology has no facts. But they have the facts of existence and consciousness.
 To some degree all of our assumptions are based on the primal assumption that we exist. Both the scientist and the theologian assume that they exist and begin with that as a fact.