On Science and Religion

Here’s an essay I found while rooting around on my external hard drive the other day. I wrote it for a Christian Theology class I took, and it’s really neat to look back and see where I was along my journey when I wrote this. Also, my writing sure could be better:

Science and Religion
In today’s North American society, one of the hottest topics of debate is the apparent conflict between science and religion. This debate has oft been understood as the Science versus Religion debate, and not the Science and Religion debate. There are many reasons for this, the largest being that whoever the “winner” is, it has the potential to fundamentally affect every single person. It is because of that, the power of this debate, which causes everybody to cast their own opinion into the fray. The problem with this is that not everybody is well-informed on the topic. Many are stuck into popular definitions of the terminology, trapping themselves into a scenario where they must choose one or the other; they must choose their side on this battleground. The power of topically uneducated masses can be unstoppable, and Galileo expressed the importance of being informed when he said, “. . . for this would be the same as if an absolute prince, knowing he had unlimited power to issue orders and compel obedience, but being neither a physician nor an architect, wanted to direct medical treatment and the construction of buildings, resulting in serious danger to the life of the unfortunate sick and in the obvious collapse of structures.” (Galileo) Along the same lines, the injection of non-professional views into this debate infects and destabilizes the argument, filling it with inconsistencies and glaring holes. The first step I took to begin my long journey of developing my own link between science and religion was to enter into professional definitions of the terms involved in the debate. When looked at through professional definitions, science and religion are complimentary; each reveals aspects of God’s works and God’s words.

The largest problem with the Science/Religion debate is that it is filled with falsehoods. The largest falsehood is the very title: Science versus Religion. This dichotomy present in the title simply doesn’t exist. Like most things in life, this issue simply cannot be simplified into two sides, black and white. This is shown simply if you look towards the theists in the debate: there are Young-Earth Creationists, Progressive Creationists, Evolutionary Creationists, and Deistic Evolutionists, among others. How do you address this problem of having creationists who believe in evolution in the Science versus Religion debate? The answer is quite simple: throw out popular definitions. Creation is simply the product of the Creator, not the commonly-believed notion that our origins were De Novo1 in six twenty-four hour days. Evolution is a scientific theory of the progression of molecules to people, free of the dysteleological implications commonly associated with it today. Science is a method of studying nature; making philosophical inferences are outside the realm of what science is able to do. Religion is more or less metaphysics: the philosophical inferences we make of our world. Using these professional definitions, we can relate science and religion using the Metaphysics-Physics Principle. What this principle says is that metaphysics, our ultimate beliefs of our world, are contained within religion and philosophy. Disconnected from that is Physics: theories and laws, observations and experiments; science. In order to connect the two, you have to make a jump. Whether it be through reflection, faith, or judgment you have to take observations and make something from them. Related to the Metaphysics-Physics Principal is the Message-Incident (MI) Principle. It defines scripture into two parts, the message and the incidental vessel. The message is the underlying theological message, whereas the incidental vessel is the culture and science at the time of writing used to covey the message. The message is the metaphysics of the scripture, whereas the incident is the physics. This principle was developed to address epistemological gaps, such as the ancient phenomenological perspective of nature, which is far removed from our modern perspective of nature. The MI Principle is heavily based on hermeneutics: tools that let us successfully interpret writings over a thousand years old.

Hermeneutics are tools that let us use our professional definitions to help close gaps between us and the ancients that have left us writings, windows into their world. As a personal note, it was not until I began to develop this understanding that I realized I was guilty of the exact issues hermeneutical principles address. Hermeneutics play a large role in my developing relationship between science and religion, as they address the very issues that cause the conflict in the first place. There are several hermeneutical principles that I found very useful for my own understanding. The first is Literalism, simply stating that some of scripture is literal and some isn’t; nobody can be literal all the time, and it is up to the reader not only to decide what is literal and what isn’t, but to justify it as well. Building on that is the Principal of Accommodation, which is the adaptation of the Message to human level in order to be understood. The most poignant example of Accommodation that very much struck home with me and offered strong proof is Incarnation. God became flesh, human, in Jesus only to be happy, to be sad, to love, to suffer, to hurt, to give His message to us in ways that are intensely human, intensely real, intensely touchable, and intensely familiar. That being said, in terms of Creation, it makes sense that God would choose not to reveal how He created the universe to a culture three thousand years ago through Big Bang Theory and Evolutionary Biology, topics way beyond the scientific understanding of the day. What good would be explaining something nobody would understand? A third hermeneutical principal I found helpful was the inherent scientific assumptions of the author, demonstrated in class through the one-seed theory of reproduction. This principal encourages you to put yourself into the mindset of the author, see the world how they saw the world. In the case of the bibles of the author, they saw female reproductive organs as a field which the male plants a seed in. This understanding of their agrarian metaphors to understand human reproduction solves our modern problem with the seemingly sexist view on reproductive problems in the Bible. Inherent scientific assumptions are a small section of a larger hermeneutical principal, Historical Criticism. Generalized, this principal tells us to realize that “The bible is the Word of God given in the words of men in history.” (Ladd) We have to understand biblical text in their historical setting; researching the time period in which the literature was written is key to understanding it. Another critical understanding that must be reached is the ancient phenomenological perspective of nature. This means that the reader has to understand the world around them as the ancients did: what they saw is what they believed. Their world-view included beliefs such as: they lived in a 3-tiered universe where the Earth was immovable, had foundations, an underside, had ends which were surrounded by a circumferential ocean, was circular, and was flat. They believed that the sun moved across the sky, that there was a solid structure over the earth (the firmament) holding up waters above, and that stars actually fell onto the Earth. These are all things that today we wouldn’t even think twice about considering, but this was their fundamental understanding of the universe, and is reflected in their writings. The last hermeneutical principal that I found incredibly useful was Phenomenon of the Biblical Text, which states simply that the Bible is an incidental vessel for a message, and that the text itself has characteristics unique to it. These characteristics can include the language used2, textual errors3, form and literary devices4, and the aforementioned ancient science in the text. The next step to take, now that these hermeneutical principals have been added to the arsenal, is to begin to set up a framework between Science and Religion. John F. Haugt presented a “Four C’s” framework of conflict, contrast, contact, and confirmation. “I think that the ‘contact’ approach, supplemented by that of ‘confirmation’, provides the most fruitful and reasonable response that has held so many scientists away from an appreciation of religion, and even a larger number of religious people from enjoying the discoveries of science.” (Haugt) Ian G. Barbour presented his own framework, the “CIDI” model. This approach relies on conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration. William Paley’s model of integration was based on the “Watchmaker Argument”, simply that if you find a watch in a field, you would assume there was a watchmaker; when we see design in nature, we should assume that there is a designer. All of these above frameworks both have their strengths and weaknesses, and it is key that we learn to mix and match typologies to create the framework that works for us.

My views on the topic have dramatically evolved since I began my journey. Coming to an understanding of popular perspectives, professional perspectives, and developing the skills to read the Bible in it’s ancient context have let me not only define my viewpoint with more clarity, but be able to support it as well. When I came into this course, I believed that God is the Creator and that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was resurrected. Religion was, and always has been, important in my life. Throughout this fast-paced journey, I have come to see why Religion has always held a spot in me. I have always seen something special in nature. Every single aspect of nature has always seemed to call out something more to me. Ever since I was very young, I have always loved thunderstorms. Through my education, I’ve learned differential equations of motion such as:

that can be used to describe the conditions that lead to their development, yet watching one form is something beyond math and physics, it touches us deeper. Despite its complexity, it always seems to work. Beauty, I feel, has been one of my strongest driving forces towards Religion. Hugh Ross wrote “The Creator & the Cosmos” in which he outlines evidence for the fine tuning of the universe: what the outcome would be if many of our physical constants were slightly different then their actual value. More or less, the universe would cease to exist. It is this complexity, this design, which put me along the lines of Paley’s watchmaker argument: the fact that something so complex works so well, and above that touches me somewhere deeper than an intellectual level lead me to believe in a Creator. In that, I viewed Religion as what I made of the world, my metaphysics. Throughout this course, my view has not changed. I still believe that Religion is my metaphysic, my ultimate belief about this physical world we live in. When it comes to science, when I came into this course I had a firm understanding of the mechanics of the physical world, the ability to explain away many “miracles” we experience5, and a faith in evolution. My beliefs put me in a difficult position; coming into this course I was trapped inside a dichotomy, torn in half, by two beliefs culture told me were opposites. The two most fundamental changes in my perception of science and religion have been triggered by the Metaphysics-Physics Principal and the Message-Incident Principal; these have allowed me to break out of the dichotomy and realize the important link between science and religion.

By separating the worldview from they physics, the message from the vessel, you are able to see the message through the outside influences. The message of Genesis 1 is not that God created earth and man in six twenty-four hour days, but that God created Earth and Man, and that his Creation was good. His method of creation is not the focus of the text, whether it be de novo or through big bang theory and evolution. Science is a tool God has given us to study his Creation, to allow us to examine the laws and structure He set in place to create a sustainable place for us to live in.

Everything I have learned in Christian Theology 350 has only reinforced my belief that science is a tool that can be used to bring us closer to God and understanding His works. Religion is a gift God has given us that enables us to receive and appreciate the Message God has for us. Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37 to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The theories and principals explored in this paper have allowed me to create a framework between my emotions and my intellect, my religion and my science, that allows me to fully appreciate God’s kingdom.

Bibliography

Galileo Galilei, “Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina,” in Maurice A. Finocchiaro, editor and translator, The Galileo Affair: A Document History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), p. 100-101

George Eldon Ladd, New Testament & Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967) p. 12

John F. Haught, Science and Religion: From Conflict to Conversation (New York: Paulist Press, 1995), p. 4

Footnotes

  1. From nothing; quick and complete.
  2. Greek used in Bible was “Don Cherry” Greek.
  3. Errors in translation and in replication.
  4. Parallel panels and chiastic structure are used in Genesis.
  5. Retrograde motion, rainbows, crepuscular rays, halos, sun dogs, solar and lunar eclipses, among others.

I thought it was a fun little read.

Advertisements