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August 01, 2010

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"Variety of opinion would not be such a problem if it were not for the fact that conflict between science and the Bible is damaging faith." You're absolutely right.

professor,
thanks for your illuminating thought about hermeneutics, your articles have help me a lot. happy sabbath

I like your point 3. It's obvious from experience that good, committed Christians come to different conclusions on such issues.

If we're all Bible believers, then we believe the judgment will be about how we lived our lives, not whether we were theological experts who could sort scientific discoveries as reliable or unreliable.

It will do us good to hear from Jesus on the last day that we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and were merciful to our brother or sister who disagreed with us on science.

Roy,

All very good points. I appreciate this post.

I doubt anything in the below will be new to you. It's a standard pro-science, skeptic's viewpoint. But see what you think.

My only negative reaction would be to caution you not to be too eager to jump on the postmodern bandwagon with other creationists who want and need science to be so subjective that it is no better than the humanities. I don't think you're doing this, in fact, you're clearly not in general, but so many people do I'm preconditioned to be over-sensitive.

I guess what I'm reacting to is the implication in point one that theological understanding is independent of science (or vice versa, I suppose). If the Bible actually did say that the Earth is at the center of the solar system, then we'd have to say that it's wrong. That's because science leaves no room for interpretation on that point, to the point that supposed revealed truth must bow before observed truth.

Accepting antinome is only valid to the point that you believe the jury is still out on both sides. Often it is, so antinome is powerful -- but real conflict exists too.

What brings this up is the example you chose: "Regarding the origin of Planet Earth, the clarity of Genesis 1 (and other passages on creation, which should not be overlooked) leaves no real interpretive wiggle room to escape the idea that God made it from nothing and brought about life and its environment here in six days."

I realize you're an expert on the scriptural sidemof this area, and I've heard you discuss your differences with John Walden, for instance. As a non-theologian I certainly can't argue the point with any competance (especially not without saying things you'd disagree with, such as that maybe Moses believed in a six-day creation, or was even told of one by God, but that's still not what happened).

My point isn't the theology. It's that science *also* leaves "no real interpretive wiggle room" that the earth is 4.6 +/- 0.5 billion years old (to take a generous error margin), and life is very nearly as old. If level of consensus is any indicator, there is *much* less wiggle room in science than religion on this matter.

Cognitive dissonance, which I'm normally a fan of, doesn't hold here very easily. Something has got to give. Somebody must compromise. Yes, I will grant that science too must be show humility, especially in the context of a belief in revealed truth. But while you can argue social bias and imperialist dominance all day, in the end I trust the scientific hermeneutic, when it finally speaks boldly, over the theological ones any day.

Yes, a religion which refuses to compromise on issues science considers settled beyond a doubt is "damaging" to my faith. As such, my Adventist background is in part to blame for my present atheism, to the extent that it denied rather than faced the evidence.

I'm glad you take seriously the importance of doing justice to the truth in both God's books. I wish more Christians recognized the issue with the depth that you do -- and I often wonder if my faith would have survived if I came to Andrews sooner. That said, I still don't see how all aspects of prescientific theology can survive such a synthesis without doing an injustice to the science. It must be more humble than that.

Siggy

The epistemological question is probably the fulcrum of the Gospel. Is truth ascertained and defined by the perception and work of humans? Is truth defined through a scientific method? Is it determined by a hermeneutic? Is it managed by a community of authority? Is truth known by the human will or revealed by the Divine? How much truth do we get from science, from the church?

It seems the conundrum takes its toll when we consider it with human capacity. When Christ speaks to the Father concerning His disciples he affirms that they are still in the World and in need of His protection, yet he also affirms that they are not of the World and so are one with Him. How can it be both? Perhaps that description is the experience of those who are one with Him but still in this world. Do WE find God by OUR means? Do WE find truth by OUR means? Is the truth and god we find in this world of this world? When we conduct scientific inquiry who or what is the standard of truth? When we conduct theological research who or what is the standard of truth? Often we claim the answers are opposed but I suspect the answers are the same. We inquire with human minds and therefore arrive at human answers. If the objective of science is discovery of answers by means of human observations and the objective of theology is the discovery of truth by means of human study then both will be equally valid, but also equally limited.

So do we abandon science out of futility? Do we abandon theology out of the same futility? We are still in the world. Science provides answers within our limited yet expanding perception. Theology provides understanding of how God has worked in human history. Both provide answers within the limits of their human capacity. When either makes claims to absolute and cosmological truth they have stepped beyond their authority. I believe only God holds this authority. In matters of truth we ought to surrender our authority and trust to Him that we may receive His mind for the revelation that doesn’t lead to this world’s standards or expectations of truth, knowledge, wealth, power, health or life. Christ has already shown us what is better and what leads to eternal life and it’s not by the works of human hands but by the works of the Father. Will the Revelation benefit science or religion . . . I expect they will not; but then again who am I to hold expectations of what God will or will not do.

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Memory, Meaning & Faith is a blog covering Christian history in light of contemporary issues.

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