Tom Gilson

David Heddle on Science and Religion

Part of this post mysteriously disappeared sometime today, June 3. I don’t know how long ago that happened; in fact, it may never have been published correctly, though some of the comments that were written here seem to indicate it was for at least a while. I am rewriting it to finish it out again at about 10 pm Eastern time. It is not the same as it was before. My apologies. I don’t know what happened.

David Heddle has been posting on the relation between science and religion on his blog, He Lives. I especially appreciate what he says in “God is not a God of confusion.” I recommend you take a look there before you read on here.

Speaking from a Christian position, I think that much unnecessary confusion arisse from those who correctly understand that the Bible is perfect and inerrant, but incorrectly conclude that the way they understand the Bible is also inerrant. David points out that this ain’t necessarily so.

We can shed light on David’s topic by taking a common principle of Scriptural interpretation, and extending it somewhat. Bible students universally agree that we must let Scripture interpret Scripture. That is, we must not latch onto one verse or short passage and draw conclusions from that small piece alone. There are many passages on prayer in the New Testament. Some of them, taken individually, would lead one to believe that we can make God do things just by asking him according to a certain formula. Only by considering the full teaching on prayer, in all the relevant contexts, do we approach a correct understanding. We can get there, too, on prayer and other topics too, for the Bible is clear on its major teachings. Scripture interprets scripture.

Science also interprets science. This is so commonplace in the sciences it hardly needs to be stated. Findings in one area of research certainly affect conclusions in other related areas, and vice versa.

But if David is right, as I think he is, that both Scripture and science are revelations of God, and both need to be interpreted, can we not extend the principle? Consider this approach: Revelation interprets revelation.

This would mean that where science and the Scriptures speak to (or even seem to speak to) overlapping areas, we ought to be looking for how they can inform one another. Where there is agreement, that ought to increase our confidence that our interpretations are on the right track. Where there is disagreement, that ought to tell us we have more work to do: we’re on the wrong track, either in our understanding of nature, or of Scripture or both.

This could be a dangerous proposal. In some Christian circles the rejoinder will be quickly shouted, “You can’t let science overrun Scripture!” Many scientists would cry out the converse: “How could you possibly let an old book like that influence your view of nature?!” It’s not my purpose here (I’ve worked on it elsewhere) to explain why some of us believe there is knowledge and authority to be found in the Bible; I’m speaking mostly to those who already accept that is true (so was David Heddle, in his post). What I do want to say is that I’m not talking about either field overrunning the other. If all truth is a unity, then Scripture correctly understood must agree with science (nature) correctly understood, where the two overlap with each other.

Scripture and science only partially overlap, of course. Science has nothing particularly important to offer on whether Jesus Christ rose from the dead or how we enter a relationship with him. Those aren’t matters for scientific investigation. Scripture doesn’t help us program our VCRs, much less map the genome or solve the mystery of dark energy. But there are important areas where the two do intersect. The most obvious is origins. Biblical revelation also speaks to some of science’s underlying assumptions, like the question of scientific realism, the rationality and knowability of nature, and more.

Anyway, if the Bible is indeed true, then Christianity has nothing to fear from science, and science has nothing to fear from revelation. All we might have to fear is that certain cherished interpretations might be overturned, as we let revelation interpret revelation, and draw on our full range of knowledge to try to understand the full range of truth.

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47 thoughts on “David Heddle on Science and Religion

  1. Heddle seems to present the Bible as if creatures didn’t do the writing.  The various writers may well have been inspired by God, but they were imperfect creatures living in specific times and places also.  That aspect of the Holy Bible is missing from Heddle’s post.
    Where in the Scriptures is a claim made about the texts’ inerrancy?
     

  2. Jacob,

    Where in the Scriptures is a claim made about the texts’ inerrancy?

    There is none, nor would it be definitive if there were, since any book can claim to be inerrant.

  3. Why then should we describe the Bible with extra-biblical language?  Is extra-Biblical description warranted?  I’m not sure it is.  I mean, often those that say the Bible is “inerrant” use the phrase as a rhetorical bludgeon to beat those that disagree.

  4. Extrabiblical language is used for many Biblical concepts, like the Trinity, the Incarnation, hermeneutics, and much more. It is an aid to communication. It can be used for good or for bad. 

    It seems that you might disagree with this usage. I would suggest there are ways to think through the good and the bad of language that are more thoughtful than simply pointing out the obvious, that language can be misused.

    More to the point, I would suggest that “rhetorical bludgeon” is an outstanding example of a rhetorical bludgeon.

  5. That extrabiblical language is used is obvious.  My question is whether extrabiblical language warranted?  Particularly, when it comes to calling the Bible “inerrant.”
     

  6. David’s point remains valid even if we use other historic affirmations, like “authoritative,” “trustworthy,” or even (to use the Biblical language of 2 Timothy 3:16) “God-breathed.” I believe in inerrancy but this is not the time for a full defense, for point of the post was the relation of science and religion.

    Those who don’t believe the Bible is trustworthy will not agree with David or with me on this. We know that.

  7. I trust the Scriptures.  The language of trust is throughout the Bible.  The language of “inerrancy” is not in the Bible, especially when it comes to referring to the Scriptures themselves.  I’m sure that you do believe in “inerrancy”–it is a very popular belief among conservative evangelicals today.  My point is simply that “inerrancy” is not biblical and it is biblically unwarranted.
     
    Is “inerrancy” a cherished interpretation?  Since it’s not biblical, why not overturn it?
     
    Also, with all this science interpreting science and the bible interpreting the bible, where are all the people that actually do the interpreting?  They seem left out.  I mean, I’ve never seen a Bible interpret itself.  Are you advocating a certain type of reading strategy?  Or are you saying that the bible interprets itself without a reader?

    There seems to be a pattern in Heddle and your posts in that people are missing. Heddle acts as if the Bible was not written by creatures and you seem to say that interpretation happens without an person interpreting.

  8. I trust the Scriptures.  The language of trust is throughout the Bible.  The language of “inerrancy” is not in the Bible, especially when it comes to referring to the Scriptures themselves.
     
     
    Actually, Jacob, neither “trust” nor “inerrancy” are in the Scriptures, because the Scriptures weren’t written in English. We try to use words that refer to the the same concepts that the Scriptures teach.
     
     
    Is “inerrancy” a cherished interpretation?  Since it’s not biblical, why not overturn it?
     
     
    Why overturn things that aren’t biblical, unless you believe that unbiblical things are in error, which would imply that biblical things are not in error, or in other words… inerrant?

  9. There seems to be a pattern in Heddle and your posts in that people are missing. Heddle acts as if the Bible was not written by creatures and you seem to say that interpretation happens without an person interpreting.

    Heddle was speaking to people who have a basic agreed understanding of the chain of revelation–from God, through people, etc.

    N.T. Wright once said (partly tongue-in-cheek) that the danger in speaking about theology is that if you don’t say everything every time you talk, someone will accuse of not believing it all. The fact is you can’t say everything every time you talk, or every time you blog. Heddle didn’t say everything, and I didn’t say everything either.

    I was in fact using idiomatic language. It’s really quite unfair for you to accuse me of leaving humans out of the process: I’m not that stupid, and I don’t think of my readers as being stupid enough to buy that kind of thinking, either.

    Jacob, you seem to alternate between (a) a near complete disregard for the ordinary meaning of words (you raised questions about whether the Bible really speaks to morals and norms!) and (b) absolute literalism, as here and elsewhere, making no concession for idiomatic expression. I don’t see a consistent pattern or principle there, except for taking whatever opportunity to disagree.

    I’m calling a halt to the discussion on inerrancy here. It’s off topic, as I’ve said already, and to treat it properly would take more time than ought to be devoted to something that is off topic. To me it also has at least a hint of the smell of quibbling for the sake of quibbling. We’re not going to take this thread down that path. That’s not what this post was about.

    Jacob, I would appreciate it if you would allow discussion to focus on the main topic of a post. This one was about the relations of science and religion, and there really hasn’t been any discussion on that. I suspect it’s because it got hijacked onto another topic right from the start.

    The discussion guidelines include this: 

    3. You are welcome to comment on any topic raised in the blog entry to which it is attached. This is not the place to share just anything that’s on your mind, though. Comments introducing tangential or completely new topics for argument may be edited or deleted. (This applies especially to material that is deemed to be mere advertising for other sites.)

    Be advised that I will be especially alert now for tangential topics that interfere with discussing the main topic of a post, and I will feel free to edit or delete them away.

  10. I don’t see a consistent pattern or principle there, except for taking whatever opportunity to disagree.

    I see the same disagreement pattern.

  11. Am I responsible for other people not posting a comment?  If so, I’m sorry.  I didn’t realize my response had that much effect.  Everyone can post now.  I’ll keep my quibbles to myself.

  12. If all truth is a unity, then Scripture correctly understood must agree with science (nature) correctly understood, where the two overlap with each other.

    Assuming also that science is about producing truthful answers and not useful answers.  Because if science is about producing useful answers, then the truth of Scripture doesn’t necessarily agree with science.


  13. Tom,
     
    You wrote: 

    This would mean that where science and the Scriptures speak to (or even seem to speak to) overlapping areas, we ought to be looking for how they can inform one another. Where there is agreement, that ought to increase our confidence that our interpretations are on the right track. Where there is disagreement, that ought to tell us we have more work to do: we’re on the wrong track, either in our understanding of nature, or of Scripture or both.

    I think that you create a situation here where science and religion inevitably become antagonists. I agree that religion can and has promoted science, but I would say that it only does that when religion is heedless to science’s disagreement with religion. In other words, trying to reconcile areas where you interpret overlap is at best unproductive, and often quite damaging.
     
    For instance, study of the Theory of Evolution leads one to conclude that man evolved from prior, non-human ancestors. Many Christians (including you, I believe) hold that your religious beliefs make this conclusion impossible, and so you resist the findings of science because of an untouchable religious conviction. (Correct me if I’m wrong here – that there is a scientific finding that would allow you to consider that man has evolved from prior, non-human ancestors.) In other words, as long as there are sine qua non’s of religious conviction, science will, to some degree, be impeded in the minds of those who hold those convictions. I see this as a bad thing for the acceptance of scientific knowledge, and so I am unenthused about your proposal to more formally combine religious and scientific discovery.
     
    You say that “Biblical revelation also speaks to some of science’s underlying assumptions, like the question of scientific realism, the rationality and knowability of nature, and more.” I’m not sure what you mean here (an example would help me, I think), but I’m guessing that you are saying that there is scripture that can be interpreted to offer insights into reality and nature that are unknown by science. If this is true, I see no reason why scientists would not want to test this so that the knowledge could be known scientifically. I don’t believe that there is any knowledge that science would not willingly test and accommodate. But if there are untestable religious conviction that scientific scrutiny must not disrupt, then how does science benefit? In other words: what does science today gain from a relationship where it must heed the sensibilities of scriptural interpretation? Aren’t you troubled by the roadblocks some of today’s religious adherents have placed in the way of scientific knowledge (the findings of NASA being watered down by a Presidentially-appointed ID-proponent [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/08/politics/08nasa.html?_r=1&oref=slogin], the persistent collision among religious parents and the teaching of science, the resistance among the religious to global warming [http://www.christianpost.com/article/20080516/32396_Christians_Launch_Campaign_against_Global_Warming_Hype.htm] and if not, how would you prevent your interpretation from sliding down such a slippery slope?
     
    In other words, I believe that you are promoting a version of Christianity that will, among those who practice it, stunt the acceptance of scientific knowledge. And because I believe that you also appreciate science, and consider its discoveries to be a good thing, I wonder if you might reconsider that your proposal for marriage is something that science is better off not accepting.

  14. tony
    I agree that some of the resistance to scientific knowledge is a bad thing.

    But not all of the reistance is bad. I hope you will agree that the pursuit of knowledge takes a back seat to the pursuit of higher good. I fully support those who resist the quest to know what a human animal cross breed is all about.

  15. SteveK,
     
    I agree that ethics and science should work together — what to do about cloning, etc. My distinction would be that a guiding ethic should pervade science, but not a guiding religious conviction about the natural world. 
     

  16. Tony,

    A great deal of what you said above is off-target, but this thread isn’t about those ideas. Some of what you’re representing is far more reasonable and nuanced than you seem to think it is. A short response, in general, focuses on this comment:

    “My distinction would be that a guiding ethic should pervade science, but not a guiding religious conviction about the natural world.”

    There is no such thing as a “null set” of convictions about religious ideas. It is not possible for a person to have no convictions whatsoever. Rejecting the influence or impact of any organized religious beliefs is just using atheism as the guiding ethic. Atheism is not religious neutrality – it’s just one of the possible expressions of metaphysical belief.

    What you propose is exactly what angers and insults so many believers when it comes to science education, for example. It presumes that religious ideas are automatically incompatible with reality. That “real” science has no connection to religion. What that mindset really says is, “we need ethics, but it has to be non-religious,” which is functionally identical to, “we need ethics, but it has to atheistic.” We’ve discussed in depth why that’s irrational.

    The point being made here is that interpretations of scripture, just like interpretations of scientific data, are subject to human misinterpretation. Scientists have looked back and admitted that they misinterpreted nature. Nature wasn’t wrong – scientists made wrong conclusions about it. Theologians have done the same. Conflicts arise between those who claim to represent Christianity and those who claim to represent science when one or both sides assume that their own interpretations are infallible.

    I don’t see how, in any way, you can see this as a philosophy that stunts scientific learning. Unless, of course, you’re arguing that seeking harmony between observation and revelation is a bad thing.

  17. Medicine Man,
     
    You wrote: “What you propose is exactly what angers and insults so many believers when it comes to science education, for example. It presumes that religious ideas are automatically incompatible with reality.”

    No, I’m not presuming that (all) religious ideas are incompatible with reality, although clearly some are. I’m saying that religious convictions that can’t be tested or falsified aren’t scientific and should not take precedence over science where science can operate. 

    What angers and insults so many skeptics when it comes to science is how easily and blithely some Christians, Muslims, etc. will assert a religious conviction over scientific evidence to the contrary. (See my examples in my original comment here.) I don’t see how you can assert that these people are seeking harmony between religion and science. They are not. They are seeking hegemony of religion over science. And that, I fear, is the logical extension of Tom’s argument.

  18. Hi Tony Hoffman,
    Since science offers a tentative explanation of the world which is likely to be over-turned when more evidence comes available it would seem to me quite unreasonable and even schizophrenic to base your deepest convictions solely upon its interpretations.
    Thomas Aquinas said that he would take it on faith that the universe had a beginning even thought the scientific evidence said otherwise and even though he thought that science may never be able to support his view.
    In the 19th century William James, based upon ethical considerations, claimed that the individual had to have the ability to focus his will and to responsibly determine his own actions. He said this even though he knew that the physics of his day denied the possibility and the theories of mind declared him wrong.
    Today, whatever your position on the mind/body problem and the Copenhagen interpretation, physics now offers James just what it denied him before.
     
    Speaking of Copenhagen, how can one formulate a deepest conviction based upon science when science admits the basic nature of the universe is open to interpretation?
    ===
    Side note. Since you now admit that science and religion are not antithetical by nature, and that this view was not derived from a frank appraisal of history or of religion why do you appear to continue to seek ways to rationalize this belief? Wouldn’t it be easier just to dump the ill-founded prejudice?

  19. Tony,
    There are problematic people on both sides; those who want to make either religion or science dominant, when they should be in harmony. It is simply not true that only the religious impose their philosophy on their interpretations of reality.

    This, though, is still confusing to me:

    “They are seeking hegemony of religion over science. And that, I fear, is the logical extension of Tom’s argument.”

    I am struggling to understand how you are getting this from what’s posted above. The argument being put forward here is exactly the opposite: that neither should be in control of the other.

    I think you’re (subconsciously?) saying that any pronouncements of scientists should automatically override pronouncements by theologians, and that admitting any fallibility in scientists is equivalent to throwing science out in favor of religion. Invert the religion/science terms, and that’s exactly the kind of attitude that fundamentalists are accused of taking.

    Everyone needs to take our own ability to interpret into account, both in regards to scriptures, and in regards to science, and that’s the position being taken here. The fact that some people – religious and anti-religious – do not do this does not diminish the point at hand.

  20. Charlie,
     
    You wrote: “Since science offers a tentative explanation of the world which is likely to be over-turned when more evidence comes available it would seem to me quite unreasonable and even schizophrenic to base your deepest convictions solely upon its interpretations.”

    Charlie, how do you know what my deepest convictions are? Do you think the law of gravity is likely to be overturned later because there will be more evidence in the future? Just because science is always willing to be overturned to accommodate reality does not mean it is not reliable. I think we all get on airplanes based on our scientific convictions. That’s a pretty good test for me.

    You wrote; “Thomas Aquinas said that he would take it on faith that the universe had a beginning even thought the scientific evidence said otherwise and even though he thought that science may never be able to support his view.” What was the scientific evidence that Thomas Aquinas said pointed to the earth not having a beginning? I think that Thomas Aquinas had practically no scientific evidence available upon which to base a theory of the universe’s beginning.

    You wrote: “… how can one formulate a deepest conviction based upon science when science admits the basic nature of the universe is open to interpretation?” I seriously don’t know what you mean by this.

    I’ll just respond to your last paragraph in parts because it’s too complicated if I don’t break it up. You wrote: “Since you now admit that science and religion are not antithetical by nature [ they are not necessarily, although some religious convictions are antithetical to science] , and that this view was not derived from a frank appraisal of history or of religion [ not sure what you mean by here — do you mean from earlier posts, and if so, is there a typo here, because it reads strange to me ] why do you appear to continue to seek ways to rationalize this belief? [Where am I rationalizing my beliefs, and what beliefs would those be? ]  Wouldn’t it be easier just to dump the ill-founded prejudice? [ And my ill-founded prejudices are? ]

  21. MedicineMan, Tom wrote: ” Where there is disagreement [between religion and science], that ought to tell us we have more work to do: we’re on the wrong track, either in our understanding of nature, or of Scripture or both.”

    This allows for circumstances where science (nature) is not accepted because it disagrees with Scripture. And that belief has led in the recent past to problems like the political appointee George C. Deutsch at NASA  trying to dilute scientific information about the Big Bang because he thought it interfered with his interpretation of Scripture.

    Medicine Man, I believe that science is eminently fallible. I disagree with Tom that its fallibility should be measured in how it compares with Scripture. 

    And no, I would not dream of asking you to re-interpret Scripture based on the pronouncements of science. I see no reason why the two (religion and science) should expect that of one another.

  22.  
    Tony,
     
    I agree completely with this…
     

    “Where there is disagreement [between religion and science], that ought to tell us we have more work to do: we’re on the wrong track, either in our understanding of nature, or of Scripture or both.”

     
    But not this…
     

    “This allows for circumstances where science (nature) is not accepted because it disagrees with Scripture.”

     
    …for a nit-picky but very important reason. “Science” is a means by which we understand nature. There is no circumstance under which we should not accept nature – but plenty under which we might not accept science. Nature is what it is, but science is subject to human fallibility. If we are never willing to disagree with science, then we are not treating it as fallible, we’re treating it as godlike.
     
    In the 1800’s, “science” said that the universe was eternal. There were scriptural reasons to reject that, and that rejection was ultimately proven correct. In that case, science was misinterpreting nature. Nothing changed about nature, nothing changed about scripture. We just learned more, and changed our assessment as a result. Bloodletting was practiced in the 1700’s, and some protested it, since the Bible gave reasons to denounce it. Those denunciations of science were also proven correct. Again, nothing changed about reality, but science was wrong in an area where scriptural interpretations of the time were actually right.
     
    I bring these up just to emphasize the idea that science is not fallible, because it is a human endeavor. And the scriptures are not inherently inferior in their ability to reveal truth. I know you agree, rhetorically, but your approach does not. What you’re demonstrating is that, to you, science is fallible, but not nearly so fallible as religion…so science always gets the benefit of the doubt.
     
    I actually do think that the correctness / incorrectness of science should be measured against its agreement with scripture. But hang on, don’t get ahead of me. I hold this position because “science” is our interpretation of what we see in nature. That interpretation can be wrong, so we need to look at other reference points to help us make the right interpretation. I also think that “religion” can be measured against its agreement with science. I hold this position because “religion” is our interpretation of what we see in scripture. That interpretation can be wrong, so we need to look at other reference points to help us make the right interpretation.
     
    Let’s not forget that science has sometimes been led in wrong directions because scientists have imposed an anti-religious bias. George Deutsch might be dismissing the Big Bang, but atheists in the early 20th century denied it completely, for decades, and for one reason: it implied something contrary to their metaphysical beliefs.
     

    “…I would not dream of asking you to re-interpret Scripture based on the pronouncements of science. I see no reason why the two (religion and science) should expect that of one another.”

     
    Oh, but that’s exactly what I think we ought to do. That is, the two should be interpreted cooperatively. I absolutely demand it, because I expect both science and scripture to correspond to reality. I don’t think either side should be knocked around carelessly, but neither should take the attitude that they are immutable and not subject to change. It’s that very attitude of NOMA, a la Gould, that opens us up to the kind of hard-headed denials that either side has a tendency to engage in. We have to be ready to accept that idea that science can help us understand scripture, as much as scripture can help us understand science.

  23. Hi Tony,

    “Since science offers a tentative explanation of the world which is likely to be over-turned when more evidence comes available it would seem to me quite unreasonable and even schizophrenic to base your deepest convictions solely upon its interpretations.”
    Charlie, how do you know what my deepest convictions are?

    Sorry, I didn’t mean your deepest convictions, but one’s deepest convictions. Gravity’s a good example, though. What is one supposed to believe about gravity? Is is conveyed by gravitons? Is it even a force?
    What if we find that gravity is not a warping of space-time? 
    It would be quite odd to base a deepest belief upon this and then have to turn around and found a new deepest belief on the next theory.

    What was the scientific evidence that Thomas Aquinas said pointed to the earth not having a beginning? I think that Thomas Aquinas had practically no scientific evidence available upon which to base a theory of the universe’s beginning.

    He had the opinions of science of the day:

    In the thirteenth century, brilliant scholars such as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas wrestled with the implications for Christian theology of the most advanced science of their day — namely, the works of Aristotle and his Muslim commentators, which had recently been translated into Latin. 

    Adhering to the traditional reading of Genesis and the doctrinal proclamation of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), Aquinas believed that the universe had a temporal beginning. Aristotle, he thought, was wrong to think otherwise. But Aquinas argued that, on the basis of reason alone, one could not know whether the universe is eternal. 

    http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/science/sc0034.html

    ====
    You wrote: “… how can one formulate a deepest conviction based upon science when science admits the basic nature of the universe is open to interpretation?”
    I seriously don’t know what you mean by this.

    What I’m saying is that we have a right, if not a duty, to deep convictions of how the world is and that science does not provide these single-handedly.  Our interpretations of the world are in constant flux and are often unsettled  and the multiple interpretations of QM stand as an example. Science does not agree on whether or not the observer affects the collapse of the wave function, whether non-locality holds, etc. These are fundamentals about the universe and its functioning. How could a person ground his view of the universe in a deep-seated belief in the Copenhagen interpretation, for instance, when science cannot agree and we know that whatever we come up with is more likely than not to change? All he can do is accept science’s pronouncements on the subject tentatively. So why should those tentative thoughts be able to dislodge any other opinions he has about the nature of the universe?
    The very fact that there is no scientific answer to the question “should all our answers be scientific?” demonstrates that it cannot be the foundational belief in anybody’s system.

    On my last paragraph:
    I looks like you are trying still to justify your opinion that science and religion must be at odds.
    From whence this opinion?
    Not from studying the history of science and religion. In our previous discussion you were gracious enough to admit that there was a lot about the situation that you hadn’t known before and that your opinion required alteration.
    That being the case, we see that the original opinion was not based on the facts of the true history of science and religion.
    It was based upon something else.
    So it just makes me wonder why you still seem to be looking for some reason to assert that “I think that you create a situation here where science and religion inevitably become antagonists. I agree that religion can and has promoted science, but I would say that it only does that when religion is heedless to science’s disagreement with religion.”
    The original position did not spring from truth so it doesn’t seem like there ought to be any reason to keep looking for reasons to believe it.
    Your alteration, that not all religious beliefs, but some religious, beliefs are at odds with scientific opinions is true enough. But that doesn’t mean there is a natural antagonism. every world-view is grounded in philosophy and is at odds with one opinion or another in science for the very fact that not every interpretation can be true, especially since they are often in conflict with other scientific interpretations.
    There is no special case here of religion being at any special odds against science. In fact, it is at least as cooperative a facilitator of science as is any other worldview.


  24. Medicine Man,
     
    You wrote: “What you’re demonstrating is that, to you, science is fallible, but not nearly so fallible as religion…so science always gets the benefit of the doubt.”
     
    This is absolutely NOT what I am trying to say. I thought I was saying that it is science that should evaluate science. Yes, science is fallible. Yes, scientists are human, with human foibles; no scientist is a perfect scientist. I never said we should never disagree with science. I expect that we should. What I have been trying to say is that we should reject science on scientific grounds only, and that there are too many examples of religious objections to valid science today for me to endorse Tom’s vision of collaborative evaluation. 
     
    Science today is challenging and changing itself constantly. New facts are discovered, ideas are challenged, some are modified, etc. That’s largely what’s going on. The Theory of Evolution, for instance, has undergone significant modification since Darwin, leading to one of the most productive runs of scientific advancement in history, and most of this has been despite the objections of those who feel it contradicts Scripture. Evolution is a much stronger theory today than when Darwin first proposed it, and that is precisely because neither Darwin nor those who followed in his footsteps made claims to inerrancy or infallibility. 
     
    Medicine Man, you bring up some examples where Scripture and science have disagreed, and science has altered itself back to alignment with scripture. But that’s not how I read it. For instance, doctors (by the way, I’m not so sure how “scientific” Medicine was in the 1700’s) did not stop bloodletting because of scriptures — they stopped bloodletting because scientific knowledge gave them a basis to stop doing it. Scientists did not theorize the Big Bang by returning to Scripture, they came across physical evidence, theorized and ran experiments on the physical world and formulated an explanation based on the evidence they uncovered. (I think we can safely say that Einstein’s references for the Theory of Relativity were not Scriptural.)
     
    You wrote: “I actually do think that the correctness / incorrectness of science should be measured against its agreement with scripture.” Really? How would you accommodate for different interpretations of Scripture? Who decides whose interpretation is correct? How should those of us who are affected by your judgments decide whose Scriptural interpretation is correct? And what means would you use to persuade believers in non-Christian religions that your Scriptural interpretations are more valid than theirs and thus should hold authority?
     
    Science offers solutions to the kind of disputes above that are universally agreed upon by its practitioners. Your wish to evaluate the correctness / incorrectness of science against scripture holds no ability to persuade outside those who share your religious views. 
     
    I have no problem with religiously motivated scientific inquiry – to the extent that a theoretician’s curiosity is piqued by her religious convictions, that religious conviction is a boon to science. My dispute is with religiously motivated resistance. Reducing such resistance is, in my mind, a clear good, and I feel that Tom’s and your system would offer more resistance to science than one in which Scripture and science were not measured against one another. 


  25. Charlie,
     
    You wrote: “What is one supposed to believe about gravity?”
     
    One doesn’t “believe” in gravity. (I don’t know anyone who is a “Gravitationist.”) Gravity is. Science describes it with a great deal of exactitude, and will probably more exactly describe it in the future. The probability that gravity may be better described, predicted, and explained by science in the future does not stop me from using science’s current theory, which has already been used to accomplish spectacular feats.
     
    In response to my question about the scientific underpinnings that formed Aristotle’s view that the universe was endless you cite “…the works of Aristotle and his Muslim commentators…”
     
    I thought we agreed earlier that Aristotle was not a scientist, mostly because he eschewed experimentation. The Muslim scholars, I assume, to be primarily theologians, and by time and place also definitely not scientists. So, the “scientific” evidence that Aristotle’s scriptural interpretations disagreed with were not scientific and were partly religious.
     
    You wrote: “But Aquinas argued that, on the basis of reason alone, one could not know whether the universe is eternal. “ In other words, one cannot know whether the universe is eternal through a priori reasoning. How does this affect my argument?
     
    You wrote: “What I’m saying is that we have a right, if not a duty, to deep convictions of how the world is and that science does not provide these single-handedly.” Of course we have a right to hold deep convictions. A duty? I’d like to hear the rationale for that. I’m sorry if you feel adrift without holding deep convictions about how the world is, but I will confess to you that I do not.
     
    You wrote:
     
    <blockquote>In our previous discussion you were gracious enough to admit that there was a lot about the situation that you hadn’t known before and that your opinion required alteration.
That being the case, we see that the original opinion was not based on the facts of the true history of science and religion.</blockquote>
     
    My original opinion was that religion had played, on balance, a more resistant than supportive role in the formation of the scientific method. Through our discussions I became aware of historical study that gives a more complicated and nuanced story of the role between science and religion. (I hope that you would concede that there are still cases where those with Religious views have withstood the findings of science, and their resistance was wrong.)
     
    You wrote: “I[t] looks like you are trying still to justify your opinion that science and religion must be at odds.” This is not my opinion. This is a fact. Tom’s original posting concedes that there will be, at times, disagreement.
     
    The examples I cited are not my opinion. Do you hold Evolution to be an accurate description of nature? If not, don’t you think that your religious views and science are at odds?
     
    My point remains the same: I believe that we are all better off disputing science based on science. Disputing science based on Scripture is not persuasive, stunts the spread of scientific knowledge, and therefore should be avoided.
     
    (I actually think that Thomas Aquinas even agrees with me on this one.)

     

  26. Hi Tony,

    One doesn’t “believe” in gravity. (I don’t know anyone who is a “Gravitationist.”) Gravity is. Science describes it with a great deal of exactitude, and will probably more exactly describe it in the future. The probability that gravity may be better described, predicted, and explained by science in the future does not stop me from using science’s current theory, which has already been used to accomplish spectacular feats.

    This is pretty close to what I am trying to convey; one does not, rightfully, believe in science or its findings. One accepts them as more or less accurate, more or less tentative, interpretations of how the world is. One does not found his deepest convictions on them, and if he does, he is apt to be changing his so-called deepest convictions.

    You said:

    In other words, as long as there are sine qua non’s of religious conviction, science will, to some degree, be impeded in the minds of those who hold those convictions. I see this as a bad thing for the acceptance of scientific knowledge, and so I am unenthused about your proposal to more formally combine religious and scientific discovery.

    What is so wrong with not accepting everything dubbed scientific knowledge? Since scientific knowledge is bound to be contradictory on many points we can’t help but fail to accept at least portions of it. Since it is tentative and subject to change we are completely justified in holding beliefs even if that means they contradict some scientific knowledge. Lots of people do for lots of reasons. Against scientific knowledge they said that spontaneous generation was not true, that antiseptic practices would aid medicine, etc. It is often by not accepting scientific knowledge that we improve our scientific knowledge.

    I thought we agreed earlier that Aristotle was not a scientist, mostly because he eschewed experimentation. The Muslim scholars, I assume, to be primarily theologians, and by time and place also definitely not scientists. So, the “scientific” evidence that Aristotle’s scriptural interpretations disagreed with were not scientific and were partly religious.

    That’s fair enough, to a point. True, science as a modern a systematic method was not yet in the 13th century what it would become. But it was much more by then what Aristotle had performed even if many of his thoughts still held sway with those developing science. The point is that Aquinas felt that observation and reason would never be in a position to support his view but he held it anyway. And he was right (as far as we know  today, based upon science). Just as William James was supported by new knowledge from the field of physics even thought he previous knowledge in that field had made his position unlikely if not impossible.
    But in saying that Aquinas was not holding to a view contrary to science because science wasn’t yet developed is almost like saying what was mistaken, the current theory of nature, was not a scientific position – fair enough. But the only significance there would be held if you were also saying that scientific opinions today can’t be mistaken. But you aren’t saying that, I know. So I think the point about Aquinas holds.

    I’m sorry if you feel adrift without holding deep convictions about how the world is, but I will confess to you that I do not. 

    Also a fair enough position. But it’s not that I would feel adrift, I don’t know how I would feel at all. I presume that by holding no deep convictions about the world that includes a conviction that science is the best tool with which to understand it?

    I hope that you would concede that there are still cases where those with Religious views have withstood the findings of science, and their resistance was wrong.

    Absolutely, the findings of science have been opposed by religious people on the basis of their religious convictions and they were mistaken (as far as we know) in their opposing views. Were they wrong to oppose? That’s a moral question, not a scientific one. One would have to hold a conviction about how the world is to answer it.

    n. Do you hold Evolution to be an accurate description of nature? If not, don’t you think that your religious views and science are at odds?

    Which “evolution”? Gradualism? Natural selection and random mutation? Evo-devo? Polyphyletic endo-symbiosis? Self-organization? Are those in each of these fields who resist the ideas of the others “at odds” with science? What about lay-people who think one is more correct than the other? Are they at odds?
    My religious view is contradicted not by an observation of nature nor an experimental finding but by another religious view – that we are the product of an unguided random process that did not have us in mind. That is not science and I oppose that.
    I believe that we are all better off disputing science based on science. Disputing science based on Scripture is not persuasive, stunts the spread of scientific knowledge, and therefore should be avoided.

    Scientists can dispute scientists all they want using scientific evidence and scientific arguments. The fact that they do demonstrates that scientific theories do not have to be accepted by anybody and everybody – whatever their rationale for disbelief. A lot of people I know didn’t/don’t believe that the ozone was depleted and that we could only save it without giving up aerosal cans, that margarine was better for you than butter, that taxing gas will save the environment, and that ulcers were caused by stress. They resisted the claims of science without religious motivations. Sometimes science is right and sometimes it is wrong and it is not an infringement or a disobedience to proper authority to withhold assent to all of its statements. It is religious prejudice to say that the only invalid reason to doubt a finding of science is a religious one, just as it is to say that the only arguments that should be struck form the public sphere are those motivated by religious beliefs.

  27. Tony,

    No, science isn’t obligated to follow scripture (just as the opposite would be a bad idea). What I’m saying is that it would be false to always assume that where religion and science intersect and disagree, that science should always be considered correct. The Big Bang, bloodletting, etc. are examples of how religion (the interpretations of scripture) can be right when science (the interpretations of nature) is wrong.

    I would accommodate for different interpretations of scripture the same way we accomodate different interpretations of nature. Compare, contrast, test, and modify. That there are tricky questions about how to do this is not different than it is in government, law, or any form of science. It’s never going to be easy, and never going to be finished.

    I’d be careful about linking the terms “science” and “universal agreement”. The very aspect of science that you’re seeking to applaud despises that monolithic approach.

    “My dispute is with religiously motivated resistance.”

    Which is exactly what I asserted before. When A and B disagree, so you suggest, B needs to get out of the way. Such resistance is neither universally wrong, nor universally right, but can’t be ruled in or out in all cases. Claiming that they should not “be measured against one another” is really just a way of saying that one of them can’t really be trusted to determine truth, and so needs to leave the other alone.


  28. Charlie,
     
    You wrote:  “What is so wrong with not accepting everything dubbed scientific knowledge?” 
     
     
    Virtually anything could be “dubbed” scientific knowledge, so that covers a lot of quackery and purely speculative stuff. But if you’re asking what’s wrong with not accepting established scientific theory, I’d say that what’s wrong is people die needlessly, children remain ignorant, that kind of thing. In other words, I think we should not allow our right to hold personal convictions interfere with our duties to each other as citizens. We live in a civil society, where we need to, among other things, feed each other, combat disease, treat illness, etc. This requires cooperation, and it requires consensus. Failing to accept established scientific facts on religious grounds is bad for society because it undermines the cooperation we need to reduce misery and suffering. 
     
     
    Charlie, all I am saying is we should reject scientific knowledge based on scientific evidence. If there is a highly speculative hypothesis, and it is unsupported by the evidence, of course we should be highly cautious. If there is an overwhelming amount of evidence I think we should be less cautious. As I mentioned, we already do many things that appear dangerous but are not because we trust in scientific knowledge. 
     
     
    You wrote: “Since scientific knowledge is bound to be contradictory on many points we can’t help but fail to accept at least portions of it.”
     
     
    What established scientific theory is contradictory on many points? I think you are way overstating your case here. 
     
     
    You wrote: “Since it [science] is tentative and subject to change we are completely justified in holding beliefs even if that means they contradict some scientific knowledge.”
     
     
    I believe this is a mis-apprehension of scientific progress. Scientific theories are not usually replaced by contradictory theories as they are by theories that better explain. For instance, if ID were to underdetermine the Theory of Evolution, virtually all of the Theory of Evolution would almost certainly remain intact but with the tenets of ID incorporated. For instance, the Theory of Relativity is said to have replaced Newtonian physics, but the scientific revolution that occurred under Relativity did not throw Newtonian physics on its head — it provided a fuller, more complex, and more accurate description of the physical world, something that Newtonian physics already did very very well. 
     
     
    You wrote: “It is often by not accepting scientific knowledge that we improve our scientific knowledge.” 
     
     
    I completely disagree. It is by seeking better explanations, not by rejecting knowledge, that scientists improve our scientific knowledge. Theoreticians haven’t improved our scientific knowledge by rejecting it; they built on it. Einstein, for instance, could not have given us Relativity if he rejected Newtonian physics. 
     
     
    You wrote (in response to my question about whether you felt your religious views and Evolution were at odds): “Which “evolution”? Gradualism? Natural selection and random mutation? Evo-devo? Polyphyletic endo-symbiosis? Self-organization? Are those in each of these fields who resist the ideas of the others “at odds” with science? What about lay-people who think one is more correct than the other? Are they at odds?”
     
     
    My question was to your assertion that religion and science are not at odds. I think you are mischaracterizing scientific debate (and lumping in some disciplines that sound forbidding but are fairly innocuous) as posing real disagreement within those who work in the biological sciences. I would simply contend that the Theory of Evolution, defined too quickly as holding that “natural selection and genetic variation are the sole mechanisms for the diversity of living organisms and their behavior” is something that would not be disputed by 98% of those scientists practicing in the biological sciences. So that’s the Evolution I mean.
     
     
    You wrote: “…the findings of science have been opposed by religious people on the basis of their religious convictions and they were mistaken (as far as we know) in their opposing views. Were they wrong to oppose? That’s a moral question, not a scientific one. One would have to hold a conviction about how the world is to answer it.”
     
     
    By wrong I mean incorrect. I don’t believe I need a conviction about how the world is to say that, in the past, people with religious convictions have opposed the findings of science, findings of science that we today accept to be accurate descriptions of nature. Why is that a moral question?
     
     
    You wrote: “It is religious prejudice to say that the only invalid reason to doubt a finding of science is a religious one, just as it is to say that the only arguments that should be struck form the public sphere are those motivated by religious beliefs.”
     
     
    Okay. I didn’t say that, though. I said that objections to science should be based on science.
     
    You wrote: “Scientists can dispute scientists all they want using scientific evidence and scientific arguments. The fact that they do demonstrates that scientific theories do not have to be accepted by anybody and everybody – whatever their rationale for disbelief.”
     
    I could write that because those with religious convictions dispute interpretations of Scripture all the time demonstrates that they do not have to be accepted by anybody and everybody. So why defer to Scripture? In other words, if you want to be stubborn and say “Because that’s what I want to do,” that’s fine.  But I resent my asking for a justification for this approach being automatically characterized as prejudice, when in fact it appears to me that the justification you are providing – that Scriptural interpretation is superior to scientific interpretation because it provides deep convictions – is the one that is prejudicial.
     
     
     

  29. Hi Tony,

    But I resent my asking for a justification for this approach being automatically characterized as prejudice, when in fact it appears to me that the justification you are providing – that Scriptural interpretation is superior to scientific interpretation because it provides deep convictions – is the one that is prejudicial.

    This is an invention. Nobody said scriptural interpretation is superior to scientific interpretation and this is exactly what Tom was addressing in the OP. If there is conflict in the few places the two overlap then one is mistaken. Your belief that the religious interpretation must be wrong is belied by the fact that the scientific interpretation is often wrong. Your worry that a religious person, doubting a scientific theory for religious reasons, is somehow “at odds” with science ignores the fact that people doubt scientific theories all the time for all kinds of reasons – scientists among them, and most vociferously. You keep bringing up evolution (no surprise) but if you look at the history there you will find that Darwin’s greatest adversaries were other scientists, not the religious. This is a convenient culture war stereotype that people have become addicted to creating since the Enlightenment and it is no more historical here. The fact that there is such a thing called theistic evolution ought to show you that just knowing a person is religious is no reason for you to keep assuming he is “at odds” with science on this issue. The fact that you just admitted that ID itself could be adopted with little or no change to the science ought to tell you that even IDers, even those arguing about evolution most vehemently, are not at odds with science and are not a danger to it.
    You overstate the case about natural selection being the driving force in evolution. There is, in fact, debate on this issue and many doubt its efficacy at all. Calling these the “sole” mechanisms appears to give them equal weight and as one of the sole mechanisms natural selection is viewed by many as virtually null. From mathematics to empirics it is not seen to be that effective. Variation is king. 
    But this site is not one devoted to origins debates. There are lots of such sites. Religion does not equal being at odds with evolution and until scientists make metaphysical claims, as I could make a case for in your use of the word “sole”, or when they do when they say it is a random unguided directionless process that didn’t have us in mind, I have no complaint.

    You wrote: “Since scientific knowledge is bound to be contradictory on many points we can’t help but fail to accept at least portions of it.”
    What established scientific theory is contradictory on many points? I think you are way overstating your case here.  

    What do you believe about the established theory of gravity? There is a world of difference between accepting that it (whatever it is) acts and that its does so with a measurable and predictable regularity and accepting the explanations for it. Denying observable facts, weights and measures, is not the same as doubting interpretations of those observations.

    I completely disagree. It is by seeking better explanations, not by rejecting knowledge, that scientists improve our scientific knowledge. Theoreticians haven’t improved our scientific knowledge by rejecting it; they built on it. Einstein, for instance, could not have given us Relativity if he rejected Newtonian physics. 
     

    Semantics. Scientists reject the received wisdom, the knowledge of science, say this interpretation can’t be right, and seek ways to show this to be the case. Some say that the knowledge that LUCA must have been a simple organism, or even a single organism is wrong and they seek to demonstrate this with evidence.
    And better explanations aren’t always scientific. It is a better explanation of man that he have volition than not, regardless of the scientific knowledge on the subject. It was a better explanation of DNA that it not be overwhelmingly junk. Science is a limited venture with a limited view and a limited scope. Its job is to uncover more and more information as it goes, and as it does it will turn over its own findings and its own tentative (and often reckless) claims.
    There is no reason to accept these findings as writ in stone when by their very nature they cannot be.

    I could write that because those with religious convictions dispute interpretations of Scripture all the time demonstrates that they do not have to be accepted by anybody and everybody.

    And so could I write this. And this is very true. If Scripture is at odds with how you see the world, even without deep convictions, then you have every right not to believe it. To properly not believe it, however, a person should have some basis.

    You wrote: “It is religious prejudice to say that the only invalid reason to doubt a finding of science is a religious one, just as it is to say that the only arguments that should be struck form the public sphere are those motivated by religious beliefs.”
     Okay. I didn’t say that, though. I said that objections to science should be based on science.

    Objections have to have a nexus and every scientist even, mythologies about objectivism aside, approaches a subject from a point of view. Scientific clams are  not objected to on the basis of what evidence there is but on the basis of what that evidence says. And scientists are not not the only ones with valid points of view from which to evaluate evidence. Regardless of the data, eugenics is wrong and being at odds with it is correct, even if you do so for religious reasons.

    By wrong I mean incorrect. I don’t believe I need a conviction about how the world is to say that, in the past, people with religious convictions have opposed the findings of science, findings of science that we today accept to be accurate descriptions of nature. Why is that a moral question?

    It’s not. You are skipping the part that was a moral question. I already agreed that religious people, for religious reasons, rejected scientific claims and were mistaken in the facts when they did so. 
    Whether or not the ought to have rejected these is not an empirical question but a moral one.
    I disagree with this next (your first) paragraph in many ways:

    But if you’re asking what’s wrong with not accepting established scientific theory, I’d say that what’s wrong is people die needlessly, children remain ignorant, that kind of thing.

    Scientific knowledge is only focused ignorance. We will always be ignorant of things and having a “knowledge” about one thing is to be ignorant about another. Many good ideas are rejected in science because they are in conflict with what is already “known”. Science rejects ideas, as it did Duchesne’s on antibiotics, for all kinds of reasons and delays knowledge for decades – if not in perpetuity. How many diseases have not been cured by looking at so much DNA as junk instead of worthy of study? 
    “The chief lesson of the history of science is that it is not ignorance that menaces scientific advancement, but rather the illusion of knowledge” Daniel Boorstin, via Vox Day.
    And people die needlessly because we do accept scientific findings. They are sterilized, lobotomized and segregated as well.

     In other words, I think we should not allow our right to hold personal convictions interfere with our duties to each other as citizens.

    Science dictates no such duty. What about when science interferes with this duty?

    We live in a civil society, where we need to, among other things, feed each other, combat disease, treat illness, etc. This requires cooperation, and it requires consensus.

    This deeply held belief is not scientific. The need to do these things is a moral finding, not a scientific one.

    Failing to accept established scientific facts on religious grounds is bad for society because it undermines the cooperation we need to reduce misery and suffering.

    This is your claim, your prejudice, and the case you have not made. Cooperation and the reduction of misery and suffering are hallmarks of religion and science is religion’s handmaiden in achieving these goals. When science is at odds with these religious goals it ought to be rejected for these religious reasons. The theory of evolution, relativity, QM, etc. have nothing to do with attaining these goals, NCSE pronouncements to the contrary notwithstanding.
    And consensus is the anti-thesis to science itself.
     
    Once again, the point of the OP is that nature and Scripture are both truthful revelations from God. Apparent conflicts are misinterpretations of one or the other. They can not rightly contradict. The fact that you don’t believe in the truth of Christianity is not sufficient reason to suggest that those of us who do need to write blank cheques for every pronouncement uttered by somebody claiming to represent science. Neither you nor anybody else does and to prejudice the expression of doubt against only the religious is just that – prejudice.

  30. Charlie, 
     
    You seem intent on mischaracterizing both my argument and science so I’m not going to take the time to address all of the inaccuracies in your latest post. 
     
    In your closing you wrote: “Once again, the point of the OP is that nature and Scripture are both truthful revelations from God.”

    Tom wrote: “Where there is disagreement (between the interpretation of Scripture and science), that ought to tell us we have more work to do: we’re on the wrong track, either in our understanding of nature, or of Scripture or both.”

    I don’t think it’s a subtle argument to say that Tom’s view as stated above allows that there are times when the interpretations of science should be resisted because they disagree with the interpretations of Scripture. I applaud Christians who accept and reject scientific interpretations based on the evidence of science. And I fear for a society that encourages vetting science through a religious as opposed to scientific prism, because such approaches have a less than happy history. (See: The Middle East.)
     
    Charlie, last thing: just because I said I don’t have deep convictions about how the world is doesn’t mean that I don’t have deep convictions. And speaking for my people, skeptics are insulted when it is assumed that because they don’t have deep convictions about how the world is it can be assumed that they must be devoid of moral convictions or compassion.
     

  31. Hi Tony,
    If you shelved your resentment and your indignities you would notice I am not insulting you or judging you.
    I am stating that you, and all skeptics and atheists alike, do have morals, compassion and deep convictions.
    I think I am exposing the hypocrisy in your jibe that I would be the only one who would be set to floundering without deep convictions.
    The second point there is that science can in no way supply those deep convictions, the feeling of compassion, the imperative of morality, etc.
    I bet if some scientific pronouncement was against these you’d resist it, even if you had no other science on your side to back you up.
    And deep convictions about morality and compassion, etc. are deep convictions about how the world is. 

    And I fear for a society that encourages vetting science through a religious as opposed to scientific prism, because such approaches have a less than happy history. (See: The Middle East.)

     See Lysenkoism for another less than happy history.

  32. Charlie,
     
    You wrote: 
    <blockquote>”If you shelved your resentment and your indignities you would notice I am not insulting you or judging you.”</blockquote>

    This is actually one of my favorite new comments. You tell me that I have [unwarranted] resentment and indignities in the same sentence you tell me that you’re not insulting or judging me. You go on to accuse me of hypocrisy two sentences later.

    How resentful of me to feel insulted.

    Charlie, if I have the energy this weekend I might start trying to break your arguments into smaller compartments. Suffice to say that you continue to mischaracterize my argument and science.

  33. New comment it was.
    But you’re right, I shouldn’t have said you were being hypocritical when you said :

    I’m sorry if you feel adrift without holding deep convictions about how the world is, but I will confess to you that I do not.

    Telling you how mistaken you are since this applies to you as well as to me would have been enough. I’m sorry that I characterized your jibe as hypocritical instead of just wrong.

  34. This is another one of those threads that I let go by without paying much attention for a while. I regret that; now that I’ve finally read it, it’s pretty interesting. I’m going to go back into comments from a couple of days ago and add some further thoughts. Hope you don’t mind backtracking a bit.

    First, relating to two passages from Tony:

    At 4:18 pm on 4 June,

     

    And no, I would not dream of asking you to re-interpret Scripture based on the pronouncements of science. I see no reason why the two (religion and science) should expect that of one another.

     

    On 5 June at 12:32 pm:

     

    One doesn’t “believe” in gravity. (I don’t know anyone who is a “Gravitationist.”) Gravity is.

     

    Here’s my question, Tony. I admit I’m reading into your comments here, but what I’m reading into them is a very common conception, so you can feel free to let me know if I’ve misinterpreted you. I think what you’re saying is that when one “believes in” something religious, such as “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself,” that’s something different than knowing something. I can “believe” it, but it’s not the same as “knowing” it. We “know” what we have learned to be true; we “believe” what we have chosen for ourselves.

    That view of “belief” and of religion in general makes your first comment quoted here possible. If something in the world makes our religious views untenable, so what? They’re just “beliefs,” anyway; they’re not really something that we know.

    If this is your position, you’re hardly alone. A lot of Christians have forgotten that Christianity is a knowledge tradition, based on historical events that actually happened; or, if those events didn’t actually happen, then Christianity is false (1 Corinthians 15:12-20).

    In other words, Christianity’s claims intersect with claims of history. If history disproved the resurrection, Christians who really understand our faith would be the first in line to cast it aside; for if the resurrection didn’t really happen, our faith is false. And just as the pronouncements of history can have both a real and potential effect on our beliefs, so could the pronouncements of science.

    On the other hand, Christians have solid reasons for believing that we have true information in the Bible, as long as it is interpreted correctly. It would take a lot coming from science to show that these reasons are false.

    So I return to my starting statement: we have (at least) two good sources for developing our understanding: nature and Scripture. Nature is understood through science, Scripture is understood by the practice of hermeneutics. Science and hermeneutics are both practices toward the development of genuine knowledge.

    And on 5 June, at 11:57 am,

     

    You wrote: “I actually do think that the correctness / incorrectness of science should be measured against its agreement with scripture.” Really? How would you accommodate for different interpretations of Scripture? Who decides whose interpretation is correct? How should those of us who are affected by your judgments decide whose Scriptural interpretation is correct? And what means would you use to persuade believers in non-Christian religions that your Scriptural interpretations are more valid than theirs and thus should hold authority?

     

    How would I accommodate different interpretations of Scripture? I’ll limit my answer to what is relevant to the topic of the original post. Where science appears to contradict our understanding of Scripture, I would take all of my information from both sources and either come to a conclusion or suspend judgment pending further research. That’s my position regarding Intelligent Design, by the way. I don’t know if Behe et al. are right in saying that God’s design can be detected empirically in nature. I think they have a pretty good case, but it’s still in process. I’m suspending judgment on that. But I’m not suspending judgment on whether God actually created the natural order. Nothing in science contradicts that, and there’s no reason to call it into question.

    And on 6 June, 9:28 am:

     

    But if you’re asking what’s wrong with not accepting established scientific theory, I’d say that what’s wrong is people die needlessly, children remain ignorant, that kind of thing. In other words, I think we should not allow our right to hold personal convictions interfere with our duties to each other as citizens. We live in a civil society, where we need to, among other things, feed each other, combat disease, treat illness, etc. This requires cooperation, and it requires consensus. Failing to accept established scientific facts on religious grounds is bad for society because it undermines the cooperation we need to reduce misery and suffering. 

     

    Charlie rightly pointed out that you’ve moved well beyond science here, into morality, to which science cannot speak. Science can speak to how we can accomplish what we decide is good, but it cannot speak to what actually is the good to be desired.

    On 6 June, at 1:55 pm:

    I don’t think it’s a subtle argument to say that Tom’s view as stated above allows that there are times when the interpretations of science should be resisted because they disagree with the interpretations of Scripture. I applaud Christians who accept and reject scientific interpretations based on the evidence of science. And I fear for a society that encourages vetting science through a religious as opposed to scientific prism, because such approaches have a less than happy history. (See: The Middle East.)

     

    Let’s agree there are wrong religious beliefs. I’m not supporting “religion.” I’m supporting historic, orthodox, Biblical Christianity. Which I think is true, and if I’m right, where “science” disagrees with it, “science” is wrong. For example: some say that “science” says that God had nothing to do with the creation or development of life. They’re wrong. They’re wrong, because Scripture clearly says so. Not coincidentally, they’re also wrong on scientific/logical grounds, for science cannot make that pronouncement.

  35. Tom,
     
    You wrote: “I think what you’re saying is that when one “believes in” something religious, such as “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself,” that’s something different than knowing something.”

    I believe I was responding to Charlie’s query that science must form my belief system, and I was trying to say that because scientific knowledge does not demand absolute certainty (unlike an essential religious belief) it could not constitute a belief system. Let’s call it a set of operating principles.

    Tom, you wrote: “Science can speak to how we can accomplish what we decide is good, but it cannot speak to what actually is the good to be desired.”

    My point was to Charlie’s question, why is it important that an individual (in particular non-scientists) hold a scientific theory to be essentially correct in its view of nature. I didn’t say science gives us an answer for that. I gave my answer. Is the implication that my basic argument disallows me from making any moral or ethical comment on a side question?

    You wrote: “How would I accommodate different interpretations of Scripture? I’ll limit my answer to what is relevant to the topic of the original post. Where science appears to contradict our understanding of Scripture, I would take all of my information from both sources and either come to a conclusion or suspend judgment pending further research. 

    That was not the question I was trying to ask. My question is how would you accommodate the variety of scriptural interpretations given by the Christian community as a whole, including Catholic, protestant, and Greek Orthodox. In other words, are you claiming that you can achieve agreement as to who and who does not belong in the community of scriptural interpreters, and that there would be no disputes as to the correct interpretation achieved?

    Tom, you are making two basic arguments, one is that Scripture is inerrant in its description of nature, and the second is that scientific interpretation cannot be accepted that is not also vetted by its agreement with Scriptural interpretation. This is placing untestable assumptions before testable ones. It turns science from a quest for natural knowledge into a handmaiden of your religious convictions. If allowed to be practiced, it would endanger the good that can be achieved by better understanding nature. In other words, everyone would be better served if your religious conviction guided you with what to do with scientific knowledge, NOT to determine what is scientific knowledge. In order for scientific knowledge to be scientific, it can only be tested by science. Testing by religion makes it something else. 

  36. In order for scientific knowledge to be scientific, it can only be tested by science. Testing by religion makes it something else. 

    But is that something else non-knowledge? 

    Everything else you wrote here, I’m fine with, but I want to stay with this question. Does a statement about nature have to be strictly, exclusively scientific to be a knowledge statement?

  37. Tom,
     
    I would say that a statement about nature has to be scientific for that knowledge to be scientific. I would like to know of what practical value non-scientific knowledge about nature is. How can that knowledge be known, how can it be tested, what are the means for its acceptance, and what good will it do us?
     
     

  38. I would say that a statement about nature has to be scientific for that knowledge to be scientific.

    Can’t disagree with that! The rest of what you said gets into practical questions. I was wondering whether a statement about nature has to be strictly, exclusively scientific to be a knowledge statement, in your opinion. I might summarize your answer this way: there doesn’t seem to be any other way than science to arrive at something that might count as knowledge. Science is the only way that works; and it works because its statements can be tested, there is a route toward its statements’ general acceptance, and it can accomplish us some good.

    I could respond in perhaps two ways. One might be to show that those aren’t the only, or the best, tests of what counts as knowledge; another might be to show that another route to knowledge could satisfy those tests. But before I do that (it’s the weekend again, and I don’t want to go long) I’ll let you respond to this so far.

  39. Yeah, sorry to be so lame — I just haven’t thought long enough about how I’d define knowledge yet to make any statement broader than that. 
     
    You wrote the following (as a summary of my argument): “There doesn’t seem to be any other way than science to arrive at something that might count as knowledge.”

    No, I’d say that a statement about nature that has not undergone the process by which scientific facts are established should not be regarded with equal value to scientific facts. (I hate to have to say this but it’s come up innumerable times with Charlie — I hope that you’re not going to trot out examples of unscientific conclusions made by bad [non] scientists and bureaucrats in the past and portray them as examples of scientific facts that are later disproven. For instance, I hope that you aren’t going to cite Spontaneous Generation as an example of a scientific fact.)

    You wrote the following as a summary of my argument: “”Science is the only way that works…”
    As I mentioned above I haven’t thought very much about a definition for knowledge. But I would definitely not say that science is the only that we can accurately describe nature. There’s dumb luck, for instance. I would say that the scientific process is the best way currently known to describe nature. 

    You wrote the following as a summary of my argument: “and it [science] works because its statements can be tested, there is a route toward its statements’ general acceptance, and it can accomplish us some good.”

    You left out how scientific facts about nature can be known, which I would include. That is, empiricism. 
     
    With those modifications I think that is a fair summarization of what I would like my answer to be.


  40. MedicineMan,
     
    You wrote that you can’t see where I could summarize this about Tom’s philosophy, that ““…scientific interpretation cannot be accepted that is not also vetted by its agreement with Scriptural interpretation.”
     
    But that is what Tom is saying. If a scientific interpretation does not clash with Tom’s Scriptural interpretation, then no problem. But Tom posits that in times when scientific and Scriptural interpretation clash over nature, one should re-examine the scientific interpretation (as well as the Scriptural one) to see if it is incorrect. I contend that this is wrong — Scientific interpretations should be examined solely based on scientific standards, not Scriptural ones. 
     
    I am not trying to be coy about my position; I would say that the scientific process is the best way currently known to describe nature, and that a statement about nature that has not undergone the process by which scientific facts are established should not be regarded with equal value to scientific facts. Despite Tom’s statements that he holds science and Scriptural interpretation to be equal in their interpretation of nature, my summary of his position you quoted above remains correct; Tom does hold that scientific interpretations should be compared to Scriptural ones.
     
    I can guess that a response to my protest over Tom’s proposed system is that “Science admits that it is imperfect and fallible, and has been wrong about things in the past, so there’s nothing wrong with using the strong convictions of Scripture to check against the sometimes too hasty conclusions of science.” There are several problems with that approach. For one, modern science already has in place a system for questioning its conclusions and explanations. (And I’m not talking about unproven hypotheses and flavor-of-the-month medical studies that journalists sound bite and the public accepts as a scientific fact – I’m talking about scientific facts like gravity, etc.)
     
    Let me use an example. Say I run an artistic commune, and I propose to the community that we only accept scientific facts that are also beautiful. We all have different but oddly similar senses of what construes beauty. We accept many findings of science, because many scientific explanations are elegant and beautiful. But others we do not accept, like the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, because to us they appear to conclude that there is no order and beauty in the world. I oppose this community’s process for accepting science because it is less complete and useful than one in which scientific facts are judged on the basis of science. 
     

  41. Tony, our differing positions really come down to one question. Only now do I realize how simple the issue is.

    I believe that the Bible speaks the truth; that it is trustworthy and correct in all that it affirms, because it is the revelation given us by God. I think Medicine Man and SteveK and Charlie would all agree with that statement.

    If the Bible is correct in all that it affirms, then it is correct in what it affirms about nature. If it is correct in what it affirms about nature, and if the current conclusions of science disagree with what it affirms, then by the Law of Noncontradiction, those current conclusions cannot be correct.

    I have not forgotten the point of this post, which is that we can make mistakes in our interpretation of the Bible, just as we can make scientific mistakes. The two disciplines can help correct each other.

    But I think you can probably agree that the question hinges on one’s view of the Bible. If one takes it to teach truly about all it affirms, then one has to take its teachings into account in every area of life, including one’s understanding of nature.

    If I didn’t view the Bible this way, then I would agree with you, that science is the only methodology to use for understanding nature.

  42.  
    Tony,

    My disagreement with your assessment is precisely because of what you wrote here:

    “…in times when scientific and Scriptural interpretation clash over nature, one should re-examine the scientific interpretation (as well as the Scriptural one) to see if it is incorrect…modern science already has in place a system for questioning its conclusions and explanations.”


    That is precisely the point. Tom is not indicating that one or the other interpretations are automatically wrong. He is indicating that when conflicts appear, the problem is in the interpretations, not reality. Thus, the phrase “as well as the scriptural ones.” This is parenthetically noted in your own quote, but it’s not parenthetical to the argument. It’s central. Our view does not reject all scientific interpretations that disagree with scriptural interpretations – it notes that at least one of the two must be wrong when they seem to disagree.

    I think Tom’s also right, though, about this really being an issue of one’s view of scriptures in general. What you are advocating is just the polar opposite of what you claim Tom is. You’re just saying that when scientific interpretations and scriptural interpretations disagree, that’s scripture’s problem. If you’re convinced that scripture cannot speak to reality, then no other arguments make much difference.

    Your idea about the commune is interesting, but not helpful for this issue. You’re setting up exactly the kind of hierarchy that Tom (and I, and the article) are not. In your commune, science is completely rejected when it conflicts with a preferred interpretation of beauty, ipso facto. That is not what is being proposed here, and I don’t know how much clearer I can be on that. No one is talking about dismissing a scientific idea only because it conflict with a religious idea. We are saying that reality is reality; both nature and God are real; therefore, any apparent disagreement is the fault of the interpreter – and both sides can be wrong.

    Scientific facts are to be judged, ultimately, on their scientific merits. That have to be, actually, so that’s just a tautology. That does not mean that we can’t get some direction from scriptural interpretations when forming scientific interpretations (and vice versa). This is, partly, because “science” is only able to speak to a limited portion of reality, not all of reality.

  43. As I said, science doesn’t know about gravity. We can have no deeply held beliefs about it based upon science, other than the measurable effects of whatever it is. If my religion told me that gravity is not caused by neutrinos pushing against objects, a warpage in the space-time fabric, or the action of gravitons it would only be putting me in the company of, and not in opposition to, scientists.
     
    Berlinski on gravity, Darwin, and science.
    http://www.remnantnewspaper.com/Archives/archive-2008-0531-dr-berlinski.htm

  44. If the Bible is correct in all that it affirms, then it is correct in what it affirms about nature. If it is correct in what it affirms about nature, and if the current conclusions of science disagree with what it affirms, then by the Law of Noncontradiction, those current conclusions cannot be correct.

    It seems to me that is a relatively arbitrary claim, that the Bible is correct in nature — science — claims.  Nothing in scripture can be fairly interpreted to suggest the Bible was ever intended to be used in such a fashion, and it seems to me that the story of Jesus’s temptation from the top of the Temple is a fair warning that we should not interpret the Bible as authoritative over nature.

    As a pragmatic question of interpretation, creation generally has been assumed to be a testament of God, coming from His hand directly.  (Indeed, that is one of the foundations of the authority of science as promoted by the church.) In that view, where scripture disagrees with nature, nature should probably be given the leeway, don’t you think?  Unless we promote the Bible to a position of authority over God, we have no other choice.

    Were we to choose to say scripture is literally correct and our understanding of science merely inadequate, shouldn’t we be demanding that the meteorologists find the storehouses where God laid up the hailstones, as God told Job?  Perhaps we could prevent many crop disasters and dented cars if we could just find those storehouses and clean them out.Logically, of course, isn’t that where Tom’s reading takes us?  Ready to denounce the weather forecast from the pulpit?  I’m not.

  45. Ed, I don’t know why it should be considered arbitrary to suppose that God’s revelation of himself should be accurate or true. What’s arbitrary, it seems to me, is to say that there are some areas – like nature – where God’s word is not true. How would that become the subject matter we would choose to disregard?
    As a pragmatic question of interpretation, creation generally has been assumed to be a testament of God, coming from His hand directly.  (Indeed, that is one of the foundations of the authority of science as promoted by the church.) In that view, where scripture disagrees with nature, nature should probably be given the leeway, don’t you think?  Unless we promote the Bible to a position of authority over God, we have no other choice.
    This was the topic of the original post. There are two sources of revelation under discussion here. It almost seems as if you are implying there is only one, and that one is nature.
    To take Scripture at its word is hardly putting it in authority over God. He inspired it, and what’s in there is what he wants in there. It is true because God does not lie.
    I don’t think Scripture disagrees with nature, in any case. I think Scripture can disagree with interpretations of nature. Great case in point: the former interpretation of nature that it was eternally existing in the past. The disagreement was not with nature itself, but with the interpretation provided by the science of the time.
    Actual truths of nature can also disagree with interpretations of Scripture. In that case, it is the interpretation that needs correcting, and that’s important for us to do. Case in point: I am not a young-earth creationist, because I think nature points toward an old universe (and also because I think an old universe interpretation is not a violation of the message of Genesis).
    Were we to choose to say scripture is literally correct and our understanding of science merely inadequate, shouldn’t we be demanding that the meteorologists find the storehouses where God laid up the hailstones, as God told Job?
    That’s a false version of Scriptural literalism, not adhered to by anyone. Scripture is true in what it intends to affirm, and nobody is the least bit bothered by the fact that there is metaphor in Scripture. It also says God shelters us under his wings, after all.
    Scripture and nature both need to be interpreted, and information from one can aid the interpretation of the other.
  46. P.S. Thanks for the tone of respectful engagement in that comment, Ed. I suppose you wrote in from another IP address this time. You’re welcome to stay if the discussion remains on this level.

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