Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Problem of The Bible: More on the Future of Science and Religion...

I continue in this post with another problem with young adults' embracing an integration of science and faith...

Speaking specifically of Christianity, the Bible seems outdated and unscientific. This problem is directly related to the the topic of my previous post because it takes intellectual work to engage texts that are thousands of years old. In this case, the problem also stems from emerging adults’ decreasing engagement with books generally and any ancient text specifically. (This is a trend, in my reading, that doesn’t appear to be reversing in the foreseeable future.)
And sometimes the Bible does need to be updated and correlated with good science; frankly, there are some notions that may sound “biblical," but that have to be jettisoned in order to bring the Bible to bear on issues that young adults face. The dualistic versions of the soul, for example—that there is an entirely separable substance floating within our bodies—owes much more to Plato than the Hebrew Bible. Accordingly, we can update and correct our doctrine of the soul by looking at the Bible, which see human beings as body/soul, a psychosomatic unity. We can also learn from contemporary neuroscience, which certainly cannot find an immaterial soul. In this, we need to follow the truth wherever it leads and this, by its nature, updates our biblical interpretation. As John Calvin rightly commented in his
1559 Institutes of the Christian Religion
“If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God.”
If the truth appears in natural science, we follow it. For this reason, a six-day creation is untenable if Christians want to take on mainstream science. Thankfully, this is not a new idea. As C. S. Lewis pointed out (and I have much more to say about this here), Genesis 1-2 probably “derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical,” or as the church Father Jerome put it, was written “after the manner of a popular poet” (and thus a myth, or what I would call, "a meaningful narrative"). Indeed and paradoxically, this hermeneutic probably requires a conviction that science is not the sole arbiter of truth, and that our biblical interpretation is about learning to live within the narrative of the Scripture, to let God’s story become our story, as it were. We don’t memorize the Bible as we do the Periodic Table. Again I’ll cite Lewis. The Bible, he commented, 
“carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone and temper and so learning its overall message.”            
If these statements make some nervous—that soon we will jettison all biblical truth—I need to clarify that this process goes both ways and along with Imre Lakatos, there are certain teachings (the divinity of Christ, for example) that are at the “hard core” of Christianity’s “research program,” and which are not jettisoned easily or lightly, even in the presence of some anomalies. (I’ll leave the full exposition of a Lakatosian research programme until a later time.)
Finally, not only does it take effort to grasp the meaning of two thousand year old Gospels, it requires work to find a meaning in Aristotle or Lucretius—so this difficulty is not unique to Christian Scripture. Needed here is something akin to what Stephen Greenblatt was able to do with ancient Latin poet-philospher Lucretius through his book The Swerve—demonstrate his relevance today. And it’s not “rocket science”… It’s what any good preacher or biblical expositor has to do in the church classroom or pulpit. 

In a word, thoughtful interpreters of the Bible—who also understand contemporary science—are critical helpful in addressing this problem. Whether they solve it is another issue...


Anonymous said...

"If the truth appears in natural science, we follow it. For this reason, a six-day creation is untenable if Christians want to take on mainstream science. "

This is a problematic statement. "Six-day creation" is only "untenable" if you limit yourself to certain presumptions. For example, John Walton suggests a literal six-day creation understanding that is distinct from the material origins [Proposition 9 in "The Lost World of Genesis One"]. This is much more "tenable" than what Lewis said in this case. But this is just an example of an option to say we should not limit ourselves this way.

But there is another problem. What does it mean to "take on mainstream science" if one presumes some of it's faulty premises in a commitment to philosophic naturalism? We have to be careful what we "rule out" as "untenable" and what premises we accept. As I've said before, there is value in returning to a more "pre-Galileoen " instrumentalist approach to science that strips it of granting such presumption as "truth". As with all probability, the fact that something "probably" happened a certain way doesn't mean it actually happened that way. Probability assumes a continuity of uniformity that may not exist.

There is nothing "scientific" in presuming an impersonal universe as a result of continuous "natural causes." As N.T. Wright said, "when people say ‘but that can’t have happened, because we know that that sort of thing doesn’t actually happen,’ they are appealing to a kind of would-be scientific principle of history, namely the principle of analogy."

And, while you may have trouble digesting Chesterton, I think he has said it well:

"..We have always... kept this sharp distinction between the science of mental relations, in which there really are laws, and the science of physical facts, in which there are no laws, but only weird repetitions...[Men o science] do talk as if the connection of two strange things physically connected them philosophically. ..A law implies that we know the nature of the generalisation and enactment; not merely that we have noticed some of the effects... Granted, then, that certain transformations do happen, it is essential that we should regard them in the philosophic manner ..It is not a “law,” for we do not understand its general formula. It is not a necessity, for though we can count on it happening practically, we have no right to say that it must always happen. It is no argument for unalterable law (as Huxley fancied) that we count on the ordinary course of things. We do not count on it; we bet on it...the terms used in the science books, “law,” “necessity,” “order,” “tendency,” and so on, are really unintellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis, which we do not possess...I deny altogether that this is fantastic or even mystical... It is the man who talks about “a law” that he has never seen who is the mystic... he is soaked and swept away by mere associations. ..We have all read in scientific books, and, indeed, in all romances, the story of the man who has forgotten his name. This man walks about the streets and can see and appreciate everything; only he cannot remember who he is. Well, every man is that man in the story. Every man has forgotten who he is. ..One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self more distant than any star. .... All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstacy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget..." -G.K. Chesterton

My two-cent thought for the day:

Science is dissection.
Theology vivisection.
Science is the cross.
Theology the empty grave.

Bill Jackson, Oroville

Greg Cootsona said...

Bill, I'm not sure I've got an entirely systematic response yet, but let me first ask this: I wonder if I had written "six twenty-four hour day creation," would that have helped?
I was also just reading today a piece by the astronomer and evangelical Christian, Jennifer Wiseman, http://biologos.org/blog/from-the-archives-science-as-an-instrument-of-worship. Here's a key quote, "[Evangelical Christians] hear the message to “teach the controversy,” so that somehow by proclaiming that there is a controversy about natural processes as an adequate explanatory tool for natural history, the controversy will in fact become real. They are then surprised to find out from either advanced scientific study or from the Evolutionary Creation voices that in fact there is no great controversy in the scientific community about the basic structure and timeline of the natural history of the universe and life; that in fact there need be no theological debate about how God brought (and is bringing) the universe and life into being, rather, the issue is whether God is in fact real and responsible for all we know and are."

If I have some more ideas, I'll post more... Thanks for your post.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Greg,

I regularly read through BioLogos & "Scientist in the Congregation" post, so I had read the Wiseman article. I was surprise to hear "they are surprised." I think such widespread acceptance of such uniformity alarming. Even more alarming is the ridicule of those who question it...Which is why I have suggested a return to doing science as instrumentalism and recognize it's limits. In such their is no curtailing of what science is taught or researched.

Science accepts by faith an ordered universe operating on some universal laws. This faith has proven reliable for the most part. What this means is that there are limits to the projections of our knowledge based solely on faith in these laws having some "eternal value." There is obviously no reason to hold God as always operating according to the "laws" of nature...unless theologically you believe God has bound Himself so. But, nor is there any reason to assume "laws of nature" in the absence of God.

On one hand many in the scientific community are genuinely baffled there IS such consistency in the universe. This is a faith based on empiricism of regularities, not any good reasoning. Christians see this in the lines of "fine-tuning."..That there are "laws" because there is a "lawgiver" (of course the Law-giver ins the author of the laws and needn't be considered subject to them). Such thinking flows from beginning our science from a point that believes the universe is the product of a "mind". It also assumes that our minds can have the ability to be rational because rationality is at the heart of creation.

Mainstream science has no room for such thinking. It must operate within the limits of a materially bounded universe. Their science is bounded by the laws they depend on (apart from a Law-maker). Therefore is no reason to have unquestioned faith in these laws when they use them to make project claims about creation. To evaluate explanations of creation itself "untenable" is full of presumption. Can you have faith in the "laws of physics" to explain the creation itself"? it's a singularity. Such explanations are based on probabilities and regularities, and as such could arrive at an explanation with a probability of 99.9 percent and still be wrong. What is probable is not always the actuality.

"Untenable" is a precarious word. it is true, modern science will not "attend" to explanations that look beyond it's dependance on regularities. And that is the problem of modern science I believe. It is on this very point the church has something to say.
-Bill Jackson, Oroville

Anonymous said...

Oh,to answer your direct question, " had written "six twenty-four hour day creation," would that have helped?"

I believe John Walton suggest such a time frame. But as you might infer from my previous post, I don't think we need to limit ourselves to merely evading material creation as he has done with the text.

Greg Cootsona said...

Let's bracket the complicated subject of the laws of nature for this post, if that's ok. But it is worth discussing...
I do want to respond directly to your alarm about Jennifer's comment. Really, it summarizes what I wrote in the article. 95-98% of scientists subscribe to evolutionary theory, and so it represents mainstream science. Therefore, your resistance to evolution and its implications is based on non-scientific commitments. In your case, it seems this is your biblical hermeneutics. So to repeat: If we take on mainstream science, it becomes untenable to believe that the world was created in 144 hours (i.e., 6 x 24 hour days). But you've decided to diverge for other reasons.
The reason I mentioned Jennifer Wiseman, and could add Gary Fugel and Francis Collins, is that they are not coming to these conclusions based on philosophically naturalist assumptions. They are self-described evangelicals and therefore believe that there is more than the material world. It is unfair to them to assert that their conclusions are based on philosophical naturalism.
One final, important issue for me--and really, for the church's proclamation--is that this kind of resistance can discredit the validity of Christian witness. If the world outside the church realizes we refuse to accept an extremely strong scientific consensus, how will they trust us when we talk about Scripture? (Here I am paraphrasing Augustine.)
So, Bill, I appreciate your comments, but as you can see, I have some disagreement.
My hope ultimately is that the Truth beyond all viewpoints will enlighten all that we discuss.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Greg for responding both here and personally. Perhaps my way of expressing myself is a problem. I am unconventional in the way I use terms...I usually hope this aides a paradigm shift, but it usually just make people mad.

From your response, it is obvious you have completely missed what I have been saying. I have expressed no resistance to evolution or it's implications. Nor do I find them a threat from a hermeneutical perspective. Nor was I attributing such philosophical naturalism to those mentioned.. If you understand my point you would not have bracketed what I said about the laws of physics, nor neglected the centrality of the issue of instrumentalism.

My over-arching point is that of unity. Hence, I found it problematic, or needlessly divisive, in discussing ways to "come-together" in "Science & Theology" to use such a term as "untenable" in a dismissive way regarding another approach to science (based on not sharing the premise...considering all else is consistent).

One might find a consensus reasonable and understandable, but not necessary...and therefore not necessarily true...and also for very valid and reasonable reasons..therefore it should not be called "untenable" no matter the odds.

Regarding cosmology and the beginning of life and the issues that have plagued the "Science & Religion" question...I contend there is a domain problem for science to make any kind of "truth" statements in these areas (and I don't mean NOM).

I mean science cannot make statements of regarding "reality" or "truth" based on probabilities and projections where the laws of physics can not be fairly applied. I point to scientifically extenuating circumstances that put this topics outside their domain.

Perhaps this article on the laws of physics will give you a hint of my inclinations on the issue.


a sample quote:
"Science proceeds from the assumption that the universe is ordered in a rational and intelligible manner. The most refined expression of the rational order in nature is encompassed in the laws of physics...There has long been a tacit assumption that the laws of physics were somehow imprinted on the universe at the outset, and have remained immutable thereafter. Physical processes, however violent or complex, are thought to have absolutely no effect on the laws. There is thus a curious asymmetry: Physical processes depend on laws but the laws do not depend on physical processes. Although this statement cannot be proved, it is widely accepted.There is, however, a subtlety. Physicists have discovered that the laws of physics familiar in the laboratory may change form at very high temperatures, such as the ultra-hot environment of the Big Bang. As the universe expanded and cooled, various “effective laws” crystallized out from the fundamental underlying laws, sometimes manifesting random features. It is the high-temperature versions of the laws, not their ordinary, lab-tested descendants, that are regarded as truly fundamental. The laws of physics as we know them may just be “frozen accidents.” ..Suppose the laws—even the ultimate high-temperature laws—evolve with time? ...The immutability of the laws has been at the foundation of physics since the time of Newton. But that does not make it sacrosanct..."

I lean toward Feyerabend in causing science in it's "truth" claims. It is too philosophically presumptuous about mass, space and time. I am urging more modesty in scientific clams, not advocating attacking any particular view.

I apologize for the long post. I hope it clarifies and suggest a shift in paradigm.

Bill Jackson, Oroville.

Greg Cootsona said...

Bill Jackson's entire comment didn't get posted and, as far as I can tell, this is the remainder. If it's a repeat (in part or whole)--no biggie, his comments are always provocative!

Regarding Jennifer Wiseman's comments about "teaching the controversy." On reflection, I see an analogy between here description of certain "Evangelicals" and many in the "Skeptic" crowd.

What if Evangelicals found all bible courses were mandated to "teach the controversy" using the "Skeptics Annotated Bible." They would recognized it (rightly) as merely an attack on the unity of scripture. In the same way, "teaching the controversy" can be an an attack on Evolutionary science that unfairly glosses it's unity. Evangelicals attack the "Evolutionary Epic" with what is equivalent to the "Sceptic''s Annotated Bible" And, not unlike one may imagine a "new young atheist, as Wiseman notes, many are surprised that there are reasonable answers to nearly all these supposed "contradictions."

However, the fact that the "Skeptics Annotated Bible" is superficial doesn't undermine the fact that there are underlying and unresolved issues that can substantively undermine the current particular way of interpreting the "texts." To answer all the skeptics questions doesn't prove the bible inerrant...nor does it " prove the science" is settled. When the "scientific community" is build with those from an educational system(s) that is systematically entrenched a cultural wall between certain types of "faith" and "science," we should not be surprised to find such unity. Science has oddly projected faith it's measuring sticks beyond creation itself! Such a faith seems a dangerous hubris to me. No, we don't resort to "God did it" to fill in blanks. But it is a different thing to acknowledge the sticks limits...especially in the face of the recognition of God. But this faith based merely on an empiricism of regularities is not based on any better logic than faith in a God who acts upon his creation. Either way, the measurements would be the same...and would hold the same measure of illusive "truth". He is a God who hides Himself from our instruments.

There are scientists with views I may not agree with, but can find completely "tenable." I just disagree with a premise. Perhaps her ridicule is unintentional, but Wiseman prefaced her remarks by strangely characterizing what she sees as a problem in the ID message:

"From the Intelligent Design community, they hear the message that life (and perhaps the entire universe) is too complicated to develop through natural processes alone...This implies that somehow natural processes must not be fully God’s processes, or that God’s work through them is somehow inadequate.."

So, what does this imply that SHE thinks? Choose one. is it:
a) natural process alone (without God's help)? b) with God's help in natural processes?

I think she identifies herself as "b" at the end of the statement ("God's work through natural processes.."), but she begins the statement by siding with "a" ("..they hear...life is too complicated to develop through natural processes alone..."). At this point, I have to wonder: Would not her awe be even greater if she removed God altogether then? This is the common response from non-Christians. Do we judge this a "good witness" or "better witness" ?

It is not that they (ID and Young Earthers) hold these unpopular views that should be considered a "bad witness," it is the manner in which they hold them that is judged "good" or "bad." Not judged on content, but conduct. A true witness speaks the truth as they see it. They can't help if it isn't mainstream or embarrassing.
Bill Jackson