Monday, July 24, 2017

Believing in God After Hume and Kant

I begin with a story I’ve told before, but it’s worth retelling for the sake of the theme of this post.
At age seventeen, having grown up outside the church, I began college at U.C. Berkeley and not too long after, I became a follower of Christ. I admit it—“Grow up in a secular home. Go to Berkeley. Become a Christian”—is an almost laughable oxymoron. But that’s what happened. I certainly didn’t have every answer clearly figured out, but still I had enough—by reading the Gospels, studying other religions, talking with intelligent friends, and just thinking it through—that I committed my life to following him.
This means I find myself often balanced between a faith I’ve practiced now for decades as an adult and a secularism I learned from the cradle. (Although, to be honest, I’m not sure I ever spent time in an actual cradle.) Even today, it’s not hard for me to imagine the mindset of Nones (those who reply “None” when asked, “What is your religious affiliation?). Nones often look for anything that offers a convincing way to deny God’s existence—and for many science does as a satisfactory job. For others, it’s a scientifically-informed philosophy.
These guys don't look too scary, do they?
Like many, I heard at Cal that there’s no way to put together faith and science, and this brings me to a particular evening during my junior year. I had invited one of my favorite professors, a visiting scholar from Germany, Friederike Haussauer, to have dinner with my parents, who had come to visit from Menlo Park about fifty miles south. We had just enjoyed canapés as we sat across from one another at Upstart and Crow Café and looked out at Bancroft Avenue. (Actually I’m not sure it was canapés—I just like the word because it sounds refined). Our discussing turned to various topics about Germany and the States (my mother’s side of the family is German so the motherland was a topic of common interest), Dr. Haussauer heard an incidental remark that I believed in God. Almost immediately, she presented a challenge (which we could even call the Hausser Problematik),
“What possible sense does that make after modern science and the Enlightenment? How could you believe in God after Hume and Kant?”
That comment right in the middle of eating our quiches and hamburgers! I, not really thinking there was much conflict because of Hume and Kant and still a bit stunned, had little to say. The conversation continued, and later we said our goodbyes. In her class on Enlightenment literature and thought, it wasn’t many weeks later that we read Voltaire, d’Alembert, the other philosophes, who joined their French voices to my Deutsch professor’s—true intellectuals of the Enlightenment concluded that science presents decisive reasons for not believing in God.
I wish this were simply my experience. Over the past few years, I’ve interviewed students who similarly experience antagonism from other students and their profs and other students. As one of my current students told me, 
“The world doesn’t want to mention both religion and science in the same sentence. But it shouldn’t be that way.” Eliana (age 19)

I have answered these challenges a time or two on this blog—and certainly will do so in the future—but for now I want to let the question dangle in the air a bit, 
“What is it about an age of science and technology that challenges our faith in God?”


Alice Linsley said...

I teach technology and science, and I believe that an empirical approach to the data of the Bible helps students gain an appreciation for both the empirical method and Scripture. My students investigate the alignment between Scripture and 15 sciences.

Greg Cootsona said...

Just had time to take a quick glance at the link, and this looks fascinating. Thanks.

Michael F said...

As a philosopher myself, I'll just say: neither Hume nor Kant saw a conflict between religion and science.

Yes, they both saw conflicts between certain theologies and the sciences of their day. But since then we have both gained better theologies and better sciences. The narrative that at some point either philosophy or the sciences decisively overthrew religion is just nonsense. Most of the time they coexist together without any issue at all.

If you want to know what I think is the real cause for the secularization of the world and the waning of the influence of Christianity, it's this: the Protestant Reformantion. Speaking as a Protestant myself, when the Church fractured into a dizzying panoply of distinct traditions, the Gospel became a buffet, Christianity became a buyers market, and there suddenly central witness to the truth of Christianity. There were just "truth for me," and if you didn't like the truth for me at the church you were in, you could try the one down the street. It wasn't science or philosophy that destroyed our place in the world -- it was ourselves, and our unwillingness to live by 1 Corinthians 1.