Posted by: dacalu | 24 February 2012

To Set Our Hope on Science

I’ve noticed a marked trend toward scientific justifications of Christianity recently.  Intelligent design theorists speak of mathematical complexity as a proof for God, while the creation science movement searches for empirical evidence that evolution must be wrong.  The fine tuning argument pops up frequently – God must exist because of the improbability of physical constants being “just right” for the emergence of life and intelligence.

I’d ask you to set aside, for the moment questions of whether this is good science.  [By and large, it isn’t: mathematical complexity is too loosely defined, creation scientists haven’t published any even mildly remarkable results, and the fine tuning people have simply fallen into a classic statistical blunder – confidence based on limited data.]  There have been many scientific justifications for faith over the years, from Newton’s call for someone to wind up the mechanical universe, to Paley’s belief that someone must have made all the parts fit together, to 19th century claims that Biblical prophecies are historical proofs of Christianity.  No matter what the claim may be – there’s a problem that besets believers as soon as they go down this path.

They’ve set their hope on science…and not on Christ.

I love science.  Regular readers will know this.  I think science produces some of the highest quality knowledge, some of the best understanding of the universe.  I hope and pray (and work, of course) that science may get better and better, telling us more and more about the universe.

However.

Cardinal Bellarmine (Galileo’s nemesis) placed his faith in Aristotelian cosmology.  Turned out he was wrong.  A number of astronomers of the 16th century felt confident that Aristotle’s world (with the sun traveling around the spherical earth), Plato’s philosophy, and the Bible fit so seamlessly together, that to question one was to question all three.

Turns out the scientists changed their minds about cosmology.  We discovered that didn’t shake our faith at all.

Before that, Christians were determined that Platonic Realism (the notion that we reason better by conceiving perfect ideals than by observing tangible particulars) went hand in hand with Christian faith.  Empiricism only came about because of that horrible iconoclast, Thomas Aquinas, who had the temerity to follow Aristotle.  He was nearly cast out of the church for it.

Before that, theologians like Clement and Origen tried to place Christianity on the firm foundation of Greek natural philosophy.

I appreciate their attempts.  I also want desperately to reconcile what I know from faith and what I know from observation.  What I don’t do is rest one on the other.  Just as I don’t expect my faith to justify my science (except in the most abstract of ways), I don’t expect my science to justify my faith.  I need both.

Science is shifting ground.  It’s meant to be.  Science moves in pursuit of the truth by constantly observing and reformulating, making new models for how the universe works.  (Good models, useful models.)  If I tie my faith, not to the pursuit of truth, but to a specific insight in science, I run the serious risk of scientists changing their opinion.  I place my faith in the science first, and God second.

Thus I never try to convince people of the scientific factuality of my faith, or even it’s historicity.  I base my faith on a personal relationship with God.  We have thousands of years experience with faith – not the arid, propositional faith of post-Enlightenment Protestantism, but the heartfelt devotion of Theresa…and Wesley.  I set my hope on Christ, with whom I have a personal relationship, because I trust him not to change.

Does that mean I don’t believe in evolution?  By no means.  I trust the science on that one.  It means my love of God is not wrapped up in my thoughts about the manner in which events occurred in history.  It means my love of God is not shackled to my idea of God.

I assent to God first, a doctrine of God second.

I find I am saved by Christ, not by propositions about him.

I am enlivened by the Spirit, not by a text.

And so, at the end of the day, my faith will not be moved by changes in scientific theory, even though my model of the universe must be.  This is why it is so very important the we retain a meaning for faith other than “assent to a proposition.”

A student asked me the other night if belief in evolution required just as much faith as belief in God.  I was horrified.  It’s like asking me if following the Mets requires as much love as following my Savior.  Or looking forward to the next season of Dr. Who requires as much hope as looking forward to the resurrection.  Yes, “faith,” “hope,” and “love” can all be used in both ways, but they don’t mean the same thing in both contexts.  We know that there is love, and then there is Love.  We know that there is hope, and then there is Hope.  We must not forget that there is faith, and then there is Faith.  It’s the latter than I strive for, that I long for, and that I evangelize.  Heaven forbid we should reduce our trust in Way, the Truth, and the Light to simple knowledge that a particular man was also God.

This Lent I pray that you and I may find true faith in relationship with Christ.  I invite you to open your hearts to the possibility of close conversation with God.  And I pray we can leave behind the idea that scientific knowledge (as wonderful as it is) replaces that.

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Responses

  1. Really nice Lucas. It came so soon after our conversation. It was immediately posted in my class. Lent is a good thing. , hiram


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