Thursday, May 22, 2008

Towards a synthesis between science and religion

At first this may seem like the average, "making faith compatible with science" rant which usually follows. In Christianity, the attempt to combine reason and faith goes back as far as the early church fathers if no earlier. One of the champions of this field was St. Augustine who did his best to bring the two in harmony.

But of course we mustn't only make faith compatible with science, but also make faith hospitable for science. In order for them to be truly compatible they must both contribute to each other.
This would be a science-compatible theology, where science and theology are mutually adding to and sustaining each other. Now atheists and agnostics don't necessarily have to worry about this having no reason to combine science and faith. However since religious people still have a fair amount of influence in the world so atheists and agnostics and other non-religious people would probably be interested in a theology which does not force all society to accept their worldview, or at least subtly enough that it would still be a choice whether or not to believe in God.

So the objective of a practical science-compatible theology would be;

-- to lay a strong philosophical foundation for science

--Generate intense interest in science

--to Give science the freedom they need to explore the natural world without undermining the authority of the theology

--Be able to differentiate between scientific and spiritual questions

Therefore this religion would allow science to prosper and thrive while contributing to the religion.

Of course if we are to know how faith and science are compatible we must not just reconcile the latest scientific research and the current paradigms but the basic philosophic assumptions by which both science and faith operate. Let us first examine the foundations of science which are;

Uniformity in nature -- In order for science to work there must be laws in nature that repeat themselves in predictable patterns. So that we can test, experiment with, and observe the laws. Uniformity in nature is very important for the scientific worldview.

Objective truth -- Postmodernism (one of its many meanings being that there is no objective reality) is almost the exact opposite of the scientific worldview which states that there is an objective reality. The reason is because in order for science to work there must be a reality which we can test all ideas against, if there is no objective reality science is worthless and the necessity of science is eliminated.

The reliability of the senses and human reason -- Reason is obviously important to science, reason is how we do science. In order for science to be a trustworthy method of finding truth, reason must be reliable; because science is all about using our reasoning powers to discover the world around us. If we cannot trust our reason then science is worthless, because science is built on that crucial assumption. Also the trustworthiness of our senses goes hand in hand with this assumption since that is how we get information about the world, which our reason uses to put together of the pieces of the puzzle of existence.

Now that we know the foundations of science, how do we marry it to the philosophical foundations of faith? well what are the philosophical foundations of faith?;

That there is a reality in which the human intellect is inapplicable-- This is essentially faith, being that human reason is unreliable in gaining knowledge of this unseen world at least can only come from revelation. Now at first, this may seem to make faith and science seem like two contradictory views. But then again it is only referring to the unseen reality in which the five senses are not reliable tools for examining that reality. This does not necessarily mean all reality is undecipherable to human reason.

That there is an unseen reality which ultimately affects our reality -- This is fundamental to Abrahamic faith, since it implies a force from another reality which engulfs our own in its power, and that what happens in the other reality ultimately affect what happens in this reality and vice verca.

Objective Truth -- This objective truth is truth not established by human opinion but by the force which comes from the unseen reality, it is truth which will not change no matter how much a man wants it to.

Absolute Truth -- Even more important to faith is absolute truth. This truth unlike the uncertain truth in science is absolute and unchanging, this aspect of faith is what draws so many people to it. This truth is not found by human reason by revealed by the force from the unseen reality. So therefore it cannot change, that would upset a cardinal philosophical pillar of faith.

How do we reconcile these two views? At first they seem to be exact opposites, science says human reason is reliable and faith says the opposite; however it is clear faith only deems the unseen supernatural realm as inaccessible to human reason, and knowable only through revelation. Also both science and faith operate by the same assumption that there is an objective truth.

Well the obvious question for the Christian is, "Does the bible support science?" The bible gives strong support for using nature for the benefit of Man (Genesis 1:28) which is the the best reason for science. Also there are several verses which imply the reliability of human reason when applied to nature. One is Job 12:7-8; But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. "Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; And let the fish of the sea declare to you. This passage implies that our senses can be used to accurately understand the world. Also Romans 1:20 gives a clear indication that God expects us to be able to use our reason to determine his existence.

So we can say that the bible supports use of human reasoning skills from these two verses. The bible also supports uniformity in nature with passages like Genesis 8:22. Since the biblical God is unchanging and not whimsical in his moral judgements, it is not to much to extrapolate that he is not whimsical with natural law, thus allowing for science to exist. And obviously the bible supports the idea of an objective truth, otherwise the biblical worldview would be forfeit since it clearly states that there is only one truth.
So we find that;
--The bible supports objective truth
--the bible supports limited use of the mind when examining nature
--the bible supports uniformity in nature
--and the bible gives proper incentive for science.
So what would be the biblical reason for science? Well in Genesis 1:28 God gave us dominion of this planet and told us to develop it and to use its resources for our own benefit. Science is the best way to do this, at the same time science is the study of God's creation so it should be incredibly interesting to anyone who is interested in God. Because it is another revelation by which we may know God's face.

So ultimately faith and science are compatible, so let us work together to find truth. If science and religion can work together along these lines, one providing the philosophical foothold and the other gathering information about the world then we are on the right path towards reconcilliation.


I have a Question said...

Created Rational,

I have been reading your blog, and I find it interesting and informative. Even though I do not agree with many of your conclusions, I think your ideas are well thought out.

I am also a Christian, I believe the Bible is the true, inerrant Word of God. I also believe in Young Earth.

In my arguments, I am not going to dispute material facts with you (having looked at your writing, I know you would probably have an answer to every question of science I pose). I will focus on the spiritual aspects of your arguements, and the possibly eternal consequences of your beliefs.

In preface, I do not believe that Christians who believe in evolution are excluded from salvation just because they believe in evolution.

First, you state in your post "we mustn't only make faith compatible with science." This statement leads to as, On what do you base your faith? Is your foundation solidly placed in the Bible, or is it tossed about on the whims of science, or moved by the latest scientific discovery?

I believe that the earth, universe, and all contained within were created in six literal days... like the Bible says. I know it is your opinion that the passage is metaphorical, but how do you decide when reading the bible, what is metaphorical, and what is fact? Is fact simply something you believe and metaphor (based on what you know of science) something you do not believe?

Do you believe that a literal six day creation is a feat that is impossible for God? That He could not have created the universe mature and complete? Assuming you believe these things are possible for God, then why wouldn't he? Creating a universe from scratch is a huge display of His power, and taking the time to create it in such intricate detail shows His love.

The point I have been driving towards is this: if a passage or idea in the Bible contradicts what you believe is true based on science, you seem to simply write it off as metaphor. You write off the parts of Creation (day means age, created means evolved under guidance) and the flood of Noah ("under the whole heaven" becomes local area and mountains become hills) that don't support your world view... you have made your faith compatible with science.

Believing in old earth or evolution is not my issue, I am concerned with escalation. What are you going to do when your faith is actually challenged by something of science? Will you again make your faith "compatible" with science or will you take what God says on faith? In answering this question, remember Isaiah 40:8 - "The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever."

Like I said, I am not arguing with science or trying to prove you wrong on some technical point of fact. I am concerned with the big picture, the future, and the consequences of taking a view where you must creatively interpret the Word.

Created Rationalist said...

I have a question,

Good to see another Christian around, and I am glad your not one of those Christians who thinks Christians who believe in evolution are hellbound.

The reason we must make faith and science compatible because science is just as useful a method of understanding as faith in understanding God. Also many non-Christians tend to glorify science, so we must explain to them that faith and science are not in oppostion to eachother. It is for the sake of non-believers that we make sure faith and science are compatible. I already know that there is not real discordance between their perspectives. I was reconciling the philosophical basis of science with faith, not the latest scientific theories with faith, and you understand that the philosophy of science has little to do with the current theories and poaradigms in science. It is just the cardinal pillars by which science operates.

And why don't you talk about scientific facts? Who knows you may convince me.

To answer your next three paragraphs; I should probably explain how I (atleast, others may use a different method) decide whether something is literal or not. The fact is that I don't take the flood story figuratively but literally. Heres how, in order to tell whether something is figurative or allegorical you must look at the original Hebrew, for example Hebrew word for earth in the chapters describing the flood can also mean a local area, and the word for highest mountians can also mean hills, and the phrase "everything under heaven" could be purely phenomenological. So how do we decide which meaning global or local is best? By checking it for scientific and historical plausibility, until evidence is found there isn't exactly an overwhelming amount of evidence for a global flood. However there is evidence of huge catastrophic flood which occured in ancient times. So based on todays science and history and interpetation of the bible we can conclude the flood was local. Finally the most important, does biblical theology require a global flood? Well it turns out there was a time in history before humans had spread out across the planet when a flood could have very well wiped out humanity and also Christian theology does not require a global flood. Now I may be wrong and there might be lots of evidence for a global flood which has eluded me this entire time, I am simply not convinced.

Also Ihaq I go not base my scientific reasoning off fads which have just come into existence, old earth geolofy has been the mainstream view for the past 200 years, and evidence for it has only increased since then. Evolution may or may not be true but it has been in the mainstream for the past 150 years, perhaps I am after all mistaken but I am not following a fad. Pretty much the closest thing to a fad is my support for the Big Bang theory which has been accepted as the mainstream view for the past 40 years and the big Bang theory unless I am mistaken has only increased in strength. I assure you my faith is not being jostled at the whim of the latest scientific discoveries, these discoveries were all made decades even centuries ago. If a new scientific find came up (say evidence that we had all been created by aliens and the bible was in fact a book of myths written about these aliens) I would not immediately accept it until more conclusive evidence was found. This could take years until the theory was strong enaugh to shake my faith and until then I would not be worried.

I hope I was able to answer your questions.

Logic Lad said...

I Have a Question

I have a question,

If you believe in a young earth how do you account for the evidence that the earth is considerably older than 6000 years?

Created and Rational,

Your post seems to be less about how science and religion can mix and more about how religion gives permission for science to exist. i am sorry but I get a mental image of big hearted religion doing the serious thinking and making sure it's strange little friend with the obsession about counting doesn't do anything dangerous.

I agree with you that there has to be an objective truth. Without doubt there are truths regardless of the beliefs and wants of observers. However if a supernatural power can interceed on your behalf then I don't quite see how there can be objective truth. The implication is that you can have any truth suspended for your benefit if you can make a good enough appeal to the supernatural power. There is no objective truth, there is only the whimsy.

Also I don't quite get the difference between objective and absolute truth. both your definitions seem to describe unalterable realities, the difference i would suggest is in how this same concept is approached by religion and science. Relgion believes it knows the answers and so any further investigation may be interesting but ultimatly futile, you are not going to change anything (absolute truth). Science's approach is more along the lines of, there is an answer but we are still working on it, what we know today may be found to be partially or completly wrong tomorrow but at all times we are closing in on the (objective) truth.

A slightly more contentious point, what can theology offer as an answer, surely any thing that is based on an untestable and unknowable source is at best idle speculation. what philosophical questions, that are relevant to everyday life, do you see religion answering?

Created Rationalist said...

Logic Lad,

Well in order for science and religion to be truly compatible they must both contribute to one and other, do you agree?

And religion's role would be to support scientific enterprize by generating excitement about science as well as a reason to do science (example, "learning more about God through his creation"). At the same time science help religion by validating atleast some of its claims, develop ways to help the sick, the hungary, and other problems in the world, and incite awe of the deity through nature. Science would give a reason to join the religion just as the religion would give a reason to become a scientist. It is true that religion would have a certain amount of power over science, such as deciding the morality of a particular project. But someone needs to determine the ethics of scientific research.

There would atleast be one true unchangeable reality, that being the reality of the supernatural agent itself. The reality which we live in would be unchangeable by human means, thus objective. Now it is true the deity could change everything, but this would only be a problem if the deity which exists is capricious and fickle. So in order for there to be an objective reality the deity despite being able to turn reality upside down would for the most part let nature run its natural course and only intervene when it was according to his ultimate mission for the universe. However if the deity is capricious, is constantly changing his mind about moral law as well as doing miracles every other second that defy nature then there is no reason to assume that the nature created by this deity is uniform. However if this deity is not fickle and capricious, never changes his mind about moral law and each miracle he performs was for a specific purpose, then we can assume there are objective natural laws and uniformity in nature.

An absolute truth in the context of religion would be, "God created the universe"
And objective truth would be "He did it using the Big Bang." That is relative and tommarrow we could be saying "He did it using the Collosal kaboom (although its highly unlikely it will be called that)." These two forms of truth can be compatible if they answer the right questions. Science cannot talk about spirits so why should religion have say in how plants grow? As long as we keep these two forms of truth in their proper positions science and faith will do fine.

Well it depends on what you mean by relevant philosophical questions. Because Christianity does have an answer to many questions, such as the question of why there is evil in the world. Also the question of what seperates man and animal or man and machine (which will become rather relevant in the years to come). Also the question why we are here is answered by Christianity. Christianity attempts to answer many philosophical questions if that is what you ask. Of course deciding which philosophy is better is a different subject.

I hope I have answered your question.

Created Rationalist said...

I should probably add,

that just as religion keeps science from destroying the human race. Religion when institutionalized has a tendancy to turn into a grotesque tyrannical version of itself, science and rationality may keep this from happening. Also science would ward off a lot of superstition which grows around religion keeping it rational.

Logic Lad said...

I would agree, for any two systems to be compatible they must either, contribute to each other or have no interactions. (ie they cannot work at cross purposes)

However I fail to see how science would benfit from synergy with a theiastic religion. Religion gains legitmacy and proofs of it's scriptures and science gets ...... science is exciting in it's own right, people who are interested in it do not need to be convinced to work at it, people who are not interested in it are never going to be, besides surely teachers, not priests, are better for instilling a sense of wonder in the physical world. I can see how a humanist religion could blend with science, mostly because they would have no overlap, they wouldn't be stepping on each others toes.

What would happen when/if science could not validate a claim of religion, ie the power of prayer. Currently there is no evidence that prayer works (by evidence i mean independantly monitored double blind test not personal revelation) so science is sat saying ' we cannot support the claim the prayer does anything' religion says ' prayer can directly circumvent know laws of causality to get results impossible by other means' so who gets the final say?

Religion would get to decide the ethics of a project. Ok i agree that science for sciences sake can lead to some truly horrible places there must be a way of measuring the result ( or proposed result) against the actions to get there and the overall good needs to be judged. Killing thousands of people to keep hundreds alive is obviously not a thing you want to consider, creating human/animal cybride blastocytes in the lab to allow research to heal people with long term degenrative conditions is something that should be done with out a word of complaint. Plenty of relgious people would object to both. More to the point what makes a theistic religion the be all and end all of moral choice? I am quite capable of telling right from wrong with out turning to a book written 2000 years ago that has nothing to cover the some of the actual moral questions of the day. instead you have scholars who are extending their interpretation of existing material into new areas, how does this make their findings any more relevant than that of a secular philosopher? I am not saying that the ethical findings of a religous scholar are necessarily wrong just that they are not deserving of more weight than any other opinion

If any agent can change the laws of the natural world there is no such thing as objectve truth, every result must have a caveat ' and then God did something and it worked' there is no guaratee that any given experiment is repeatable. At any given moment God, for his own reasons, could change the results, hence the scientific method has been invalidated.

I have to conceed, God created the universe is as good as any other theory, as we have no idea what actually happened in the first few picoseconds of the life of the universe. and i love the idea of the collosal kaboom, I will happily support any effort to get that officialy recognised.

The philosophical answers from any deistic religion are all based on the concept that there is an ultimate arbiter of right and wrong and that he has communicated an understanding of them to some chosen person / people. While this does not inherently mean the message is wrong it does mean that some one who does not follow that particular deity will view any moral descions made on that basis as questionable untill verifed by a third party. to be honest this is a fair response to any statement made from a single point of view. The weakness of a religious point of view is that the supporting argument is often, 'because God said so', this argument is utterly usless to someone who is not a believer.

Using Christianity as a basis for starting a philosophical statement is fine, just as you can start from anywhere, you still need to support your conclusions with reasons that will make sense to some one who does not start out sharing your point of view.

I like your final point, but from a personal point of view i would rather say the science and philosophy keep each other honest, philosophy keeps science from going off the rails and science keeps philosophy from becoming too much navel gazing and self reverential.

Created Rationalist said...

The benefit of marrying science and religion takes place on a personal level before it takes place on a societal level. The importance is that a religious person combine his faith and his science, finding some sort of coherence. Then he will feel comfortable with his science and his religion. If you get an entire civilization of these people then both science and the religion in question will prosper, and this is what most people would want. It is not as much clergy which would inspire someone to become a scientist as it is the religion itself. If you are an intelligent person in awe of the wonders of nature, believing that it is the result of a loving and interesting God can be a powerful motivator to become either a scientist, a priest, or both. Although it is not the main purpose of religion to inspire scientific research, it under the right conditions could foster interest in the natural world, which would intern lead to scientific exploration.

It is true that most religious claims are not verifiable by science (prayer, mysticism, God himself etc.) However there are scientific ways to validate what a religion says about the natural world. Such as the bible says the universe had a beginning, and for the moment science appears to indicate such a proposition.

It is true there are many things we don't do simply because we know its wrong. Interestingly this argument could be turned on its head to say its evidence that the deity gave us a sense of morality thus proof there must be a God. CS Lewis is famous for making one such argument. Another interesting thing about that is a lot of the morals we have such as "respect your parents," "don't murder," and "respect your neighbor" tend to come from a Christian viewpoint, thus we borrow from the Judaeo-Christian worldview without actually realizing it almost everyday (or atleast I should hope we do).

Well, it is true that an allpowerful being looming around the corner that could change everything in an instant tends to put a damper on science. Of course in my religion atleast we are told to plan every day as if the world will continue. I see no reason why we shouldn't apply this mentality to the sciences. Especially since science requires uniformity, in our lives even though the world may end tommarrow we should continue to live our lives, serve others, and do our jobs as if the world will never end. Why couldn't we also say that God wants us to d othe same with science?

You mean theistic religion not deistic religion right?

Anyway, it is true that the "God says so argument" is weak. And it is important that the source of the supposed moral truth be trustworthy. But at the same time we also have logic. True morality will work best when applied to society and any moral system not based off of or derived from the correct moral system would not make sense. So we must not just argue morality from the typical argument from authority (God said so) but also from a secular good reason to enforce the moral law (outlawing stealing would make a more orderly society). So the problem is fixed when we use both logic and authority. You may object asking "Wouldn't logic supersede authority?" The answer is of course not since it is the authority which we are interpreting with logic in the first place.

Fair is fair, philosophy, of course it is true that philosophy forms the bulk of a religion. Thus it would be the philosophical aspect of a religion that science would be keeping in check.

Logic Lad said...

I agree that wonder and awe in the universe is always going to be the big prompt to wanting to know why, regardless of if this awe comes from god or not.

I still find it hard to see how you are going to have a theist (yes you are right, grabbed the wrong word when I said deistic) religion that will not at some point have a falling out with pure scientific enquiry, either God exists and this can be prooved by some form of experiment, or he dosn't. Science inherently can not tolerate the concept the something can exist that can have an effect but in it's self cannot be detected. Indeed the idea of such a thing has the effect of killing of science. If you cannot find the reason for why somethign happened then you just say ' it must have been God doing it for his own reasons, no need to continue looking' yes, this is lazy but if the answer will sometimes be 'God dit it' then why will you ever need to look for any other answer. addtionaly, every time someone comes up with a non repeatable experiment they can simply say 'for his own reasons God made it work this time, go ahead proove me wrong' it makes a mockery of peer review.

Morality must be applied with logic, i agree. and the example you give 'stealing is bad' is a good example. in order for there to be a stable society there must be rules allowing people to interact with each other within boundaries. However, society and the concept of what are acceptable boundaries change over time. So using a fixed point to dictate a moral code, ie the bible, very quickly gets out of date.

Homosexuality is now quite accepted by the majority of the population, at the very least most people adopt the position that what consenting adults do in the privacy of there own home is down to them. the Bible is often sited as being firmly against such practices, indeed condeming people to hell for all eternity for them. Society has moved on, grown up, the bible hasn't it is frozen in time 2000 years ago when opinions and practices where different.

That is not to say that there is nothing of worth in the morality of the bible, don't steal, don't kill, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. these are all as valid today as they where 2000 and 10000 years ago from the point of view of building and maintaining a stable society. Old does not mean wothless, but equally traditional does no mean right.

Created Rationalist said...

Well, religion only becomes a problem when it gets in the way of science (such as the Galileo affair) there are of course times when an idea held in science that contradicts most religions is found to be incorrect (the idea the the universe was eternal and infinite). How a religion should act towards a scientific theory which contradicts one of its doctrines is with one of respect and skepticism (as anyone religious or not should approach new ideas). As long as an inquisition doesn't being science and religion will do fine when they clash.

Even though science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God science prove things which back up statements made by a particular religion. One example would be the Big Bang theory, Christianity says the universe began, now the Big Bang theory is not necessarily a beginning but it sure looks like a beginning, so one could say that the Christians claim that the universe has a beginning in the finite passed has been varified. Another example is that Christianity teaches the human race descended from a first couple (although they probably had to interbreed with other hominids as well as eachother at first). Genetics points to a common human ancestor, a woman who lived 120,000-200,000 years ago. Like the Big Bang theory it does not prove Christianity, but it doesn't contradict it either and you might go as far as to say that it in fact supports the Christian faith. The statement that we have a human common ancestor is a biblical claim.

There are some laws in the bible that were specific to a particular culture (such as the command not to cut your beards) those laws were not meant to be moral laws for all people. In fact the Apostle Paul incauraged early Christians not to recieve circumcision despite the fact that it was a rather important law back in the days of the patriarchs. So there are laws which are no longer enforced. The laws of the bible which are still relevent today are those which were meant to be universal throughout all time. Such as the ten commandments. They are quite flexible and as relevant to Christians, Jews, and even Muslims today as they were 3500 years ago. Some of them are also useful in secular society, although especially these days you don't often find the ten commandments being promoted in public. Also commands in the New Testament such as "love your neighbor as yourself" is also good advice in todays society.

What it comes down to is how we are to apply these ancient rules to modern-day issues. As you can tell Christians are pretty well divided over the issue of homosexuality, on one side of the spectrum fundamentalists are ready to bring to down fire and brimstone on them. And on the opposite side of the spectrum some churches are having gay priests ordained. I personally am not particularly fond of the gay lifestyle but I don't see the use of forcing them to stop being gay. It is after all their choice and erhaps we should let them, it is after all how God interacts with us when we make mistakes. Now today logic is an indispensible tool in using the moral laws in the bible, after all there are commands such as if your eye causes you to sin pluck it out. Should we take this as a metaphor for removing a distraction from our life or take it literally?

Essentially you are right we do need logic, and yes it is a good idea to take an up-to-date view on particular issue. However we can still use the bible as a moral guideline.