Pharyngula

Sam Brownback has an op-ed in the NY Times today, in which he explains with much straining at gnats why he was one of the Republicans who did not believe in evolution. Short summary: he reveals his own misconceptions about the biology, and mainly pounds the drum on how important Faith and Religion and God are. It will be persuasive to people who are already convinced that God is the most important thing in the universe, right down to what they do in the privacy of their bedrooms, but it underscores my conviction that faith is the enemy, the source of many of our problems…such as the promotion of incompetent politicians to positions of power on the fuel of the ethereal Spirit.

Get ready. It’s a whole succession of reiterated platitudes about how important faith is, with no evidence that it actually is — we are, apparently, supposed to take that on faith.

The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

There is a fundamental contradiction. Faith says that the way to get answers is by revelation, accepting authority, and dogma. Science says that the way to get answers is by examining the evidence critically, testing hypotheses with experiment in the natural world, and by constantly reevaluating and revising our ideas to make them more accurate. It isn’t just that the two arrive at different, conflicting answers—for instance, that the earth is 6000 years old vs. 4.5 billion years old—but that their methods conflict. Scientists will not accept a random idea because someone contemplated and decided a deep “Truth” appealed to him: a kernel of observation and evidence is required.

It is disingenuous for Brownback to claim that science and religion do not contradict each other, given that religion contradicts itself. Which “same god” created the material order? Allah, Jehovah, Vishnu, Thunderbird, Jesus, Ymir? Which sect’s interpretation will we accept: Catholic, Protestant, Sunni, Shi’a, Scientologist, Mormon? There are even two accounts of the creation in the book of Genesis that differ from each other greatly—which one is the “spiritual truth”? Most importantly, how will you objectively evaluate these explanations?

People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.

Please, Senator Brownback, define “faith”. You keep throwing that word around as if it actually has some substantial meaning, but it seems to me that all you’re doing is inserting an emotionally-loaded buzzword that has its import dunned into your voters from birth to death, while avoiding saying anything of significance about it.

I know the scientific method. Faith isn’t in it, or anywhere near it, although you could make a good case that doubt and suspicion are everywhere in it. The scientific method is a tool to counter faith and intuition and other such misleading biases that investigators bring to their research.

There is also some confusion about what faith can accomplish. I reject faith, yet somehow I have value and meaning in my life, I feel empathy for those who suffer, and I love. I do not need your dogma to understand those matters. I do so by observing my own life, the lives of others, the consequences of actions on people—by considering just the material world, not assuming an irrelevant supernatural one.

Brownback is intentionally, I suspect, muddling his words. He is replacing “compassion” with the nonsense word, “faith”. Compassion is a human value possessed by scientists and by citizens, atheists and the devout; we do not need faith, that bamboozling misleading sacred delusion, to live as good human beings.

The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

If I had a nickel for every creationist who says “I believe in microevolution, but…”, I’d be rich enough to run for president. This is a false dichotomy between micro- and macroevolution, as used by creationists (it has technical meanings beyond what people like Brownback argue, though); it’s really simply an admission that a large part of modern science has been driven home enough to them that they can’t argue against it anymore (progress!), so they’ve invented this other category of things they don’t understand, called it “macroevolution”, and used that as an excuse to avoid accepting any more conclusions. It’s rather funny, actually. It’s like they’ve wrapped up their ignorance with a pretty bow and named it “macroevolution”, unaware that there is a large and growing body of scientific evidence for macroevolutionary processes.

As for his blanket rejection of one explanation for the world, that’s part of the conflict between faith and science. He is unaware of the evidence, but because he dislikes the idea, he categorically rejects it. That is anti-science. Show me evidence for a god that adequately accounts for the evidence that contradicts his existence, and I’ll accept it; I’m not going to pre-announce that I am going to ignore anything science might tell me.

And I’m sorry, but the evidence from science is a testament to the overwhelming power of natural processes. No external, supernatural intervention is needed, and no evidence for such an event has been discovered. There is no place revealed for a guiding intelligence in the story so far. If someone wants to claim that there is, they have to do more than say that they fervently wish it were so.

There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.

He is correct that there is no one single theory of evolution. It’s a complex process with many contributory mechanisms and the even greater complicating factor of historical contingency. There is also ongoing debate about the relative importance of various mechanisms, which is the sign of a healthy science. But there is no significant debate about the observed facts of evolution — that the earth is very old, there has been continuous and ongoing change in populations of organisms, that we see a succession of different ecologies over the history of the earth, and that all life on earth is united by common descent — and it is precisely this solid core of well-documented, thoroughly tested, and confirmed beyond reasonable doubt conclusions that the anti-evolutionists contest.

The man is so uninformed that he can’t even recognize a legitimate debate. There are no “classical Darwinists” anymore — pangenesis is refuted, we know of many places where Darwin is wrong, and we’ve moved on. Punctuated equilibrium as a description of the pattern of change in populations over geological time is also almost completely beyond argument at this time (some of Gould’s interpretations of the meaning of that pattern are still fun to argue about, though). And please, Mr Brownback, which is it: is evolution an “exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world” or is it “merely the chance product of random mutations”?

Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man’s origin, faith can do its part as well. The fundamental question for me is how these theories affect our understanding of the human person.

Name one thing of value that “people of faith” bring to the table. One thing. Make sure it’s something that people of reason do not bring.

I oppose the inclusion of faith in the interpretation of scientific evidence, and Brownback might be surprised … even many of those “people of faith” he thinks he is courting do not want his sectarian, idiosyncratic faith coloring our understanding of the material nature of how the world works. Scientists — a term that includes anthropologists and psychologists — are well able to work towards an honest “understanding of the human person” without some priestly biased sort leaning over and urging them to twist the results to better fit the flawed and ancient rationalizations of primitive Middle Eastern holy books.

I am also interested in how science can help us better understand humanity. I don’t think distorting the evidence with faith and wishful thinking helps, though, since I’m more interested in the honest truth.

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

Whoa. The first clause claims he’s open to looking for the evidence, but then the rest is a positive assertion of a false claim that is contradicted by the evidence. The evidence from molecular biology says that much of what we are is the product of many completely random changes and a smaller number of changes that were subject to slow selection over millions of years that gradually shaped us away from a more generalized ape-like form. That is the truth, as revealed in the rocks and the genes; it is not compatible with his truth, which is derived from his ignorance of science and his quirky interpretations of an old book that summarizes a flimsy mythological account in a scant few pages. What Brownback is doing here under that reassuring mask of piety is demanding that science must be in accord with his interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, no dissent allowed.

His are the words of an ignorant theocrat. I will let the evidence take science where it must go, unconstrained by religious preconceptions. I’m not going to worry that it might discomfit Christians; as far as I’m concerned, those narrow fundamentalist/evangelical views have already been demolished.

Comments

  1. #1 Andrés Diplotti
    May 31, 2007

    If I were an elector in the U.S, I’d feel compelled to ask:

    “Senator Silverb– er, Brownback, why is it against the ‘truths’ of Christian faith specifically that we must measure science? Why not against the ‘truths’ of Muslim, Hindu or Budhist faith?”

    And I can imagine his answer would be as typical as everything else he says:

    “This a Christian nation.”

    An that’s how you know that universal truths change across international borders.

    We’re on the verge of having a fundamentalist theocracy with nuclear weapons, and it ain’t Iran.

  2. #2 David Marjanovi?
    May 31, 2007

    It’s a whole succession of reiterated platitudes about how important faith is, with no evidence that it actually is — we are, apparently, supposed to take that on faith.

    Hey, at least he’s consistent.

    (This time.)

  3. #3 David Marjanovi?
    May 31, 2007

    It’s a whole succession of reiterated platitudes about how important faith is, with no evidence that it actually is — we are, apparently, supposed to take that on faith.

    Hey, at least he’s consistent.

    (This time.)

  4. #4 David Marjanovi?
    May 31, 2007

    Reason can’t answer some questions such as

    I completely agree with your point, but you picked a few bad examples:

    why are we here,

    Looks like this question is wrong.

    how did life get started,

    Research on the origin of life is science.

    what’s the purpose to existence

    As I just said: this looks like a wrong question. You’re assuming there is a purpose to start with. Why did Napoleon cross the Mississippi?

  5. #5 David Marjanovi?
    May 31, 2007

    Reason can’t answer some questions such as

    I completely agree with your point, but you picked a few bad examples:

    why are we here,

    Looks like this question is wrong.

    how did life get started,

    Research on the origin of life is science.

    what’s the purpose to existence

    As I just said: this looks like a wrong question. You’re assuming there is a purpose to start with. Why did Napoleon cross the Mississippi?

  6. #6 David Marjanovi?
    May 31, 2007

    In response to Steve_C (#61) and others, I would submit that the fact that the universe had a beginning, that it obeys orderly laws that can be expressed precisely with mathematics, and the existence of a remarkable series of “coincidences” that allows the laws of nature to support life in the iniverse can also lend strong support for the God hypothesis.

    Why shouldn’t it obey “orderly laws that can be expressed precisely with mathematics”?

    On the other two arguments, I disagree. We don’t have a reason to consider ourselves so important.

    and the early Church bet their lives on the truth of the claim of the resurrection.

    Come on. Even the PKK — the Stalinist “Workers’ Party of Kurdistan” — had suicide bombers. I repeat: Stalinist. People who were fully convinced that death is The End ™ killed themselves for an ideology. Once convinced of a “higher cause”, lots of people will gladly die for anything.

  7. #7 David Marjanovi?
    May 31, 2007

    In response to Steve_C (#61) and others, I would submit that the fact that the universe had a beginning, that it obeys orderly laws that can be expressed precisely with mathematics, and the existence of a remarkable series of “coincidences” that allows the laws of nature to support life in the iniverse can also lend strong support for the God hypothesis.

    Why shouldn’t it obey “orderly laws that can be expressed precisely with mathematics”?

    On the other two arguments, I disagree. We don’t have a reason to consider ourselves so important.

    and the early Church bet their lives on the truth of the claim of the resurrection.

    Come on. Even the PKK — the Stalinist “Workers’ Party of Kurdistan” — had suicide bombers. I repeat: Stalinist. People who were fully convinced that death is The End ™ killed themselves for an ideology. Once convinced of a “higher cause”, lots of people will gladly die for anything.

  8. #8 David Marjanovi?
    May 31, 2007

    The tools made for exploring God is theology, philosophy and mysticism. The tool for exploring Nature is Science.

    Fine.

    Now, is there a tool to explore the question whether God exists at all? Because, you see, if he doesn’t, trying to explore him would be a waste of time and effort, so we should find that out first, instead of assuming our premises.

  9. #9 David Marjanovi?
    May 31, 2007

    The tools made for exploring God is theology, philosophy and mysticism. The tool for exploring Nature is Science.

    Fine.

    Now, is there a tool to explore the question whether God exists at all? Because, you see, if he doesn’t, trying to explore him would be a waste of time and effort, so we should find that out first, instead of assuming our premises.

  10. #10 David Marjanovi?
    May 31, 2007

    but it is certainly compatible with such a belief.

    Eh, of course. Anything is compatible with a belief in anything sufficiently ineffable.

  11. #11 David Marjanovi?
    May 31, 2007

    but it is certainly compatible with such a belief.

    Eh, of course. Anything is compatible with a belief in anything sufficiently ineffable.

  12. #12 EvanT
    May 31, 2007

    To David Marjanovi?: Quite an interesting if somewhat sarcastic comment my fellow commenter (and dare I assume you are of Balkan origins as well?)

    Since theology, philosophy and mysticism are the tools to explore God they’re also useful to determine whether he exists at all. The problem is that they all produce different results for each individual. Philosophy is not a Science after all (even if it often likes to masquerade as such), so you cannot really expect repetition with others or quantifiable evidence.

  13. #13 Jason
    June 1, 2007

    aguyinpew,

    I’m glad you accept evolution, but like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris that’s not my main concern. Evolution vs. Creationism is just a battle, a symptom. The real war is reason vs. faith, naturalism vs. supernaturalism, scientific thinking vs. magical thinking. And your latest post confirms that you’re on the wrong side of that war.

    The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is a scientific impossibility. It is contradicted by mountains of empirical evidence from physics, chemistry, and biology. If you seriously believe that the kind of dubious historical reports you describe (second-hand accounts of supposed eyewitness testimony, and such) constitute seriuous evidence that this scientifically impossible event actually occurred, then all I can say is that you are as blinded to reason by religious fanaticism as Sam Brownback is. The Resurrection is not just unlikely, or doubtful, it’s preposterous.

  14. #14 Ichthyic
    June 1, 2007

    Damn, does that mean I need to change my latest post?

    I don’t want some creationist coming back and saying “That’s not what PZ said!”

    Posted by: Berlzebub | May 31, 2007 04:17 PM

    no; what you are directing your ire at on your blog is the artificial distinction created by creobots.

    what PZ briefly mentioned is referring to the actual distinction made by Paleontologists who study long-term evolutionary patterns and processes, which they typically refer to as “macroevolutionary”

    example, Punc. Eq. is a macroevolutionary theory, and all they meant by classifying it as such is that it a theory that tends to analyze evolutionary theory by looking at large scale processes, rather than those occuring on the population level.

    whether it is a useful distinction or not to an evolutionary biologist is debatable, but it IS a distinction made nonetheless.

    and of course, it has nothing to do with the way the creobots have twisted macroevoltuion to mean “difference in kind”

    so, no problem, you can attack the idiotic definition of macroevolution that the creos created and totally not offend any paleos in attendance.

  15. #15 Ichthyic
    June 1, 2007

    Thank you. I could not have said it better myself.

    could not have said WHAT, exactly?

    frankly, I couldn’t make it through all that piffle.

    here’s a question for Julie:

    you say that religion can seek alternate “truths”.

    define the end result of finding a “truth” by using religion as a process for me, would ya please?

    even more basic:

    define “truth” in that context.

    and comparing it to science…

    funny, but I don’t find the word “truths” to be a scientific classification.

    I see hypothesis, law, fact, theory…

    no “truths”.

    hmm.

    so shall we compare the general meaning of “truth” to mean essentially “undeniably accurate”?

    ’cause if we do that…

  16. #16 Ichthyic
    June 1, 2007

    My sense is that you would reject, out of hand, any eyewitness accounts of the resurrection because of your belief that it is preposterous.

    above the level of the preposterous nature of the resurrection (assuming you’re referring to Jesus), is that there ARE no living eyewitnesses to interview.

    that, combined with the fact that nobody has even claimed (eyewitness or not) to have seen a “ressurrection” since, makes the claim rather dubious, at best.

    see, the difference between the way a rationalist and a “believer” think, is that the rationalist starts correctly with a null hypothesis, which must then be disproven.

    so, we start of with the general observation over thousands of years that there has not been any verifiable evidence of the supernatural affecting reality, and then construct a mental null hypothesis of:

    There are no supernatural forces at work.

    this is easily disprovable.

    it just never has been.

    so you are asking the question incorrectly when you ask a rationalist:

    Has science disproven resurrections?

    the question should be:

    has science garnered any evidence in FAVOR of resurrections.

    answer:

    nope.

    there is no way to measure probability levels of such a thing, so there is also no way for science to say it is impossible.

    that is a conclusion a rationalist will draw given the vast amount of time and observation hours indicating that the null hypothesis has not yet been disproven.

    just as surely, if tommorrow there were independently verifiable accounts of someone being resurrected, then a rationalist would simply incorporate that as new data and begin to look for new theories that fit the new data.

  17. #17 Ichthyic
    June 1, 2007

    there is no way to measure probability levels of such a thing, so there is also no way for science to say it is impossible.

    let me embellish on that by saying that a scientist could test the null hypothesis that there are no resurrections by taking a sample of the population of all dead people to test that hypothesis.

    even with a HUGE sample size (say 10 to the power of 6), the data would not support rejection of the null hypothesis, now, would it?

    so, for a rationalist, the confidence that the null hypothesis will not be disproven grows with each successive failure to disprove it.

    now then.

    say there was, once upon a time, a real resurrection of one individual, and that individual was the one you are obviously referring to.

    how can you demonstrate any practical effect that has on reality at present, even given that it MIGHT have happened ONE time?

    now, before you go off half cocked, you have to show a DIRECT effect of that resurrection, and not just what people interpret it’s “meaning” to be.

    If you ever see “Life of Brian”, you know i mean:

    don’t show me that a “sacred gourd” has a meaningful effect in reality.

  18. #18 Ichthyic
    June 1, 2007

    Man, they should give all this print and air-time to Ron Paul, instead of rehashing all this nonsense.

    he got air time on John Stuart’s show, and on Bill Maher (IIRC).

    he makes too much sense to make it out of the republican primaries, though.

    plus, he simply hasn’t got enough cash at this point.

    he needs an influx of about a 100 large in the most immediate sense, to keep him viable.

  19. #19 Ichthyic
    June 1, 2007

    Like I said. Until the documentation of paleomagnetism in sea floor basalt samples on the mid-Atlantic Ridge in the early 1960s, all reputable geologists for 60 years said plate tectonics was as likely as Jesus’ resurrection.

    that’s a baldfaced lie.

    I suppose you don’t “recall” the thousands of debates over why the continental shelf shapes matched up across each ocean?

    or the fact that fossils matched up in similar deposits in parallel locations?

    you are making yourself look very bad in trying to make your galileo-style argument.

  20. #20 Ichthyic
    June 1, 2007

    I have learned that when I attack things with anger and scorn, I turn into the very thing that threatens me.

    *yawn*

  21. #21 David Marjanovi?
    June 2, 2007

    (and dare I assume you are of Balkan origins as well?)

    Well, my dad is. To say that I am wouldn’t make much sense: I’ve never been there, and after I was 2 years old I forgot the language.

    or where God merely gave shape and order to a preexisting universe. (A professor of Jewish philosophy told me that Genesis suggests the latter view, in the original Hebrew.)

    If you remove the first sentence, it certainly looks like it: there already was an Earth and water, and then a mere demiurge came and brought order into the chaos (and then had help in creating humans — “let us make Man”). Accordingly, it seems to be a very widespread view that Genesis 1:1 is a later addition, meant to change the demiurge into the creator.

  22. #22 David Marjanovi?
    June 2, 2007

    (and dare I assume you are of Balkan origins as well?)

    Well, my dad is. To say that I am wouldn’t make much sense: I’ve never been there, and after I was 2 years old I forgot the language.

    or where God merely gave shape and order to a preexisting universe. (A professor of Jewish philosophy told me that Genesis suggests the latter view, in the original Hebrew.)

    If you remove the first sentence, it certainly looks like it: there already was an Earth and water, and then a mere demiurge came and brought order into the chaos (and then had help in creating humans — “let us make Man”). Accordingly, it seems to be a very widespread view that Genesis 1:1 is a later addition, meant to change the demiurge into the creator.

  23. #23 Janet Leslie Blumberg
    June 2, 2007

    Okay, this is Janet, and I probably should just post the following on my own weblog, that is specifically for folks I already know are interested in having a conversation between science and religion. But this thread on pharyngula was what gave rise to these thought, so I’ll leave these comments here, for anyone who might be interested…Thanks.
    In a reply to Janet: “By your own admission you imply that musical truth (and by analogy, religious truth) is necessarily relative and subjective. Good, as it relates to music…”
    This is Janet, now, replying to the above writer, who goes on to say that science is in search of “universal truths” that apply across time and various kinds of beings. Here it is again. This well-worn juxtaposition of “subjectivity” and “relativism,” on the one hand, with objective, universal truth…
    No, I am NOT saying music is “subjective and relativistic.” I AM saying that music is rigorous and evidentiary TO THE EXTENT that its own subject-matter allows it to be. Musicians are thinking and knowing musically, while scientists are thinking and knowing scientifically, whenever they are working within their way of knowing, using all their training, knowledge, experience, imagination, and creativity (including well-honed intuitions). And working with others in their disciplinary community, notice. Not alone. Not making it up as they go along!
    Long ago Aristotle pointed out that some fields deal with the kinds of things that “always” happen, as in mathematics, he said, and that other fields deal with things that “usually” happen, and even then, with varying degrees of determinacy. The “less certain” fields are to be studied and formalized just as rigorously as the others, but (of course) within the limitations of the nature of the kind of thing to be known. (Do physicists say that the scientific formalizations of quantum mechanics are less rigorous or less valid than those of Newtonian mechanics? Of course not. We do what we can, given the nature of the phenomenon.)
    So whoa. This thing about relativistic vs universal s precisely the point I would like to have you folks listen to me about, for a minute. I love science. I’ve studied it from the Greeks to the present. I’ve taught its history. But this stark objective/subjective dichomotomy that came into fashion in the Enlightenment, while it cleared the way for the earlier phase of classical science in the 18th and 19th centuries, has done much harm culturally and historically. I don’t hold this fact against science itself, but against cultural “scientism” as a belief-structure, because science is a very honest and humble way of knowing (whereas scientism is a belief-structure dealing in an uninformed way with issues in metaphysics).
    So I am NOT saying music (or by analogy religious knowing) is inherently subjective and relativistic. (In fact I envy scientists; they get to tackle the easy questions. Cool down, that’s a joke!).
    Some musicians and religious people are, no doubt, subjective and relativistic, but they aren’t very good at what they are trying to do… (Music and religion when practiced as genuine ways of knowing and not as knee-jerk belief-systems, are both communal and disciplinary fields, sophisticated and rigorous in their own terms, often superbly so.)
    I am saying that music and theology are addressed to subject-matters with their own kinds of rigor, discovery-procedures, validity-testing, and DEGREES OF MORE OR LESS CERTAINTY, as appropriate to their own disciplines.
    So I would be the first to agree that philosophy and theology do not have the same kind of certainty that science, fortunately, can claim, and it’s okay to call this objectivity, as long as you don’t then turn this relative “objectivity” into some kind of absolute truth to bash every other field over the head with.
    But it is precisely the fact that science deals with mathematical laws of matter in motion, laws that apply identically to ALL matter no matter what kind of thing the matter is formed into, that is why we need these other ways of knowing, so we can deal with all the kinds of things in our life that present themselves to us in other terms than their basic matter in motion. (Theologically, I think all this SHOULD be “reducible” to matter, but that reduction doesn’t help us very much in dealing with the phenomena, as Dennett and Dawkins and Hofstadter themselves are saying…)
    It is because science deals with such underlying phenomena in such a highly certain manner, that we HAVE to turn to other ways of knowing. And it is why practicing them is trickier and more philosophical and more existential and far less certain than practicing day-to-day science. (Even though science’s truth-claims are not nearly so black-and-white as is being made out all the time when this religion-bashing gets going on science blogs.)
    I point out that science’s truth-claims are quite a bit more epistemologically modest today than in the Newtonian period, NOT in order to put science down. Science has a relatively high degree of certitude, as defined within its own way of knowing, which is one of the things that gives it its own peculiar beauty and elegance — for example, that explanations confer upon us an ability to make predictions about how matter will behave, for instance. Unfortunately,science only deals with how matter will behave. (On its own level of organization.)
    Philosophy, ethics, theology, politics, and so on, deal with different kinds of subject-matters, often allowing much, much lesser degrees of certitude. (Though don’t Charlie Parker or the Beatles display really high degrees of precision and certitude, based on their own ways of knowing? Every field has its own kind of beautiful precision.)
    But remember, you science folks, that we have only one lifetime to make our peace with the big questions, so some of us turn to other ways of knowing and practice them with all the rigor they have to offer to us, because we want to have a deep contact with reality, the kind scientists obviously experience in and through science.
    So, let me repeat, science is NOT a belief-system. This, imho, is entirely correct. It is a disciplinary community practising its disciplinary methodologies to arrive at its own kind of goals. SCIENTISM is a belief-system! Scientism is “believing” that science is capable of answering every kind of meaningful question, and answers them absolutely, ruling out any other way of knowing: that is a metaphysical (and very fundalmentalistic)commitment that is epistemologically a belief-structure.
    Belief-structures in themselves aren’t bad things, if they are informed and held with due humility, but dogmatic ones, or holding them dogmatically, turns them into very bad things. This dogmatism doesn’t do science much good in the long run, just as this dogmatic and close-minded Christian creationism doesn’t do religion much good.
    And worse, it isn’t an honest claim, intellctually speaking, and science is above all honest, like religion, when it is doing what it’s there for…
    What breaks my heart here is that there are obviously large numbers of good scientists pursuing their electrifying way of knowing who genuinely do not know that religion, and in particular Christianity, has always been about our deep human desire to know, to know better and more deeply and fully and integratively. (Don’t the universities teach the history of Christianity or of science any more? I guess they do, but some science students simply put all that in the “subjective” category and dismiss it?)
    Here’s the really threatening enemy. Close-minded, triumphalistic, uninformed, dogmatism of the “us against them” variety. And I’m guilty of this too, which is why I’m listening hard, and trying to carry on conversation.
    It drives me a little bit crazy that my own fellow-Christians, the ones most influenced by science and scientism’s absolutist truth-claims, define “faith” as though it were in opposition to honest inquiry and genuine learning. “The more you persist in the face of evidence, the more faithful you are,” they think. This is tragic beyond words. And it is a viewpoint that only emerged within Christianity in the scientific West, after science began to be associated with a single, absolute, universal Reason!
    Science begins in the 17th century by studying matter in motion. Is it any surprise that it reports back on matter in motion? Descartes and the Enlightenment also at the same time dissociated matter from its indwelling form and invented instead something they called “mind,” which was regarded as immaterial and separate from the natural world (which was reduced to a machine), so that we came to think of “mind” and of “God” as some kind of “ghost in the machine.” Some “kind of being” separate from matter and from physical reality.
    But only Western Protestant Fundamentalists, by and large, have bought into this, because the Protestant West is so thoroughly scientific and because scientism made such hugely immodest claims in the first couple of centuries. Religion has responded (scientistically) in kind, claiming to possess absolute and universal truths and absolute certitude.
    But the huge numbers of Christians in RC, Orthodox, Episcopal (Anglican), and Presbyterian and other Reform denominations have no problem with science and do not read the Creation Poems in Genesis as scientific textbooks. They do believe in an indwelling vital formality in the matter of the universe, and prior to 17th-century science they identified this with mathematical structure — which is why Dante’s vision of the Trinity in Heaven is given in mathematical terms, which modern readers don’t find awe-inspiring, but medieval Christians did.
    There is so much convergence between the best theology and contemporary scientific pondering about what it all means — why are we wasting our time antagonizing one another because some hot-heads don’t understand that science and religion are different kinds of search engines into the nature of reality?
    Religion does not threaten science. Fundamentalism threatens both science and religion. And the best way to deal with it is not to antogonize the large number of moderate and thoughtful Evangelicals and all the other religious communities, by being just as dogmatic about science proving there is no God as parts of the religious right are being dogmatic about creationism being science. It is true that science gives no evidence of a supernatural being, one who intervenes or is necessary to the development of the natural world. Fine. Religion has always been fascinated with the elegant formalities of things and has found there an indwelling formality that evokes awe and hope. Science describes this formality, and not just “matter”; “explains” it in terms of mathematical laws.
    What some scientists hate is that much of humanity hopes for a personal and loving Intentionality, a compassionate God, who is one with that indwelling formality science describes. Why hate this? We agree that it is a wild and crazy hope; the scriptural tradition is always commenting on how nature shows signs of Power and Knowledge but not of Love and Mercy. For that we are dependent on God’s further self-disclosure. But then Richard Dawkins, just on the basis of the material world and its order, says that as a biologist, he feels Something is out there, something awe-inspiring and transcendent and that will turn out to be better than anything we could possibly imagine. It just isn’t God. Okay…..
    Sorry for the absence of paragraphing. But I am pleading that we respect the human desire to know, and the way that some humans have consistently throughout history sought for knowledge humbly and honestly, by formalizing their fields of interest. When any group claims to have the one absolute truth and to have the only authoritative way to get to truth, then they are twisting their own indeavors into something that cannot contribute the liberal arts and to democracy in the long run.
    Let’s not disrespect each other. Respect the rigor of disciplined ways of knowing with long histories of cumulative effort. Leave room in the universe for all of us Christians (and other theists) who love science and who practice lifelong thought and inquiry and self-searching because we are just as in love with the elegant order of the universe as virtually every scientist and mathematician is.
    Don’t tell us there is no indwelling formal power in the natural world, because you feel it too. And even if that power were to be not only immanent in matter, but also transcendently able to intervene miraculously (and that that latter is regarded with due diffidence by those who experience it, by the way) that wouldn’t disturb or threaten the laws of nature at all.
    We are not saying external intervention by a Spirit-being is necessary to “explain” the reality of the natural world, so we don’t disagree with you or with Darwinianism. But it may not be the fundamental reality, just as many scientists also wonder about. Intelligibility in the universe is so compelling to us, as intelligent creatures who desire passionately to know, that we are willing to listen to testimonies and trains of thought and practice that for centuries have been claimed to put people into states of awe and humility in the face of overwhelming divine love.
    We are willing to go through all this the training and self-surrender in order to know better, which we do not really have the ability to sustain and need all thehelp we can get, and we are willing to talk about our experiences and development in a long, long tradition of knowing. But how does one encapsulate an entire life-journey (within one’s own ways of knowing) so that folks unacquainted with it can understand it in a trice? I’m just saying that real disciplines and fields, and by analogy any disciplined experience and thought and practice within a religious tradition, needs to be studied sympathetically, the way you might take a series of courses at college?, before statements and judgments made in those fields can be meaningfully interpreted and conversation can begin to be thoughtful. How do we mutually inform each other so as to sustain such a conversation, I wonder? That is the question I pursue.

  24. #24 tom chastain
    January 28, 2009

    sam brownback is going to run for governor of kansas. his book is power to purpose it would make a great gift idea for a friend or family member please letmothers know about his book

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