One of the aims of our conversation on this blog is to grapple with the issues of reasonable faith. As a professor and a scientist, I (RJS) find this a crucial and unavoidable discussion. It is a fact of our modern (or postmodern) church that we must develop a way to think about our faith that engages heart, mind, soul, and strength.
In the current conflict between science and faith the discussion often boils down to knowing; how do we “know” and understand? How do we learn? We have amassed an enormous body of knowledge in science and history, sociology, psychology, and linguistics. None of us can know everything in every subject. How many of us really understand particle physics, quantum mechanics, genetics, geophysics, or ANE culture and language? For that matter, how many of us read Greek and have real expertise in 1st century Roman and Jewish culture? We all trust intuition, common sense, and authorities. In this post and in a follow-up post I want to consider two aspects of knowing in relation to science and faith. Today – intuition, and in the next post authority.
Here is the key question for us today – How do we know that our Christian faith is true – founded in reality? Is this knowledge based on intuition or authority or both?
Tim Keller in his book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism claims that we all know that God exists. He concludes CH. 8 The Clues of God and sets up CH 9 The Knowledge of God saying:
In the next chapter I want to do something very personal. I don’t want to argue why God may exist. I want to demonstrate that you already know that God does exist. I’d like to convince the reader that, whatever you may profess intellectually, belief in God is an unavoidable, “basic” belief that we cannot prove but can’t not know. We know God is there. That is why even when we believe with all our minds that life is meaningless, we simplty can’t live that way. We know better. (p. 142)
This intuitive belief in God is widely recognized and acknowledged, even among secular scholars. But is this intuition reliable?
An interesting essay was published awhile ago in Science Magazine [Childhood Origins of Adult Resistance to Science, P. Bloom and D. S. Weisberg, Science 312, 9960-997 (2007)]. This short essay discusses resistance to ideas that conflict with common sense and intuition and are reinforced by trusted authorities. An important point is that intuition and common sense are not always right as intuition is based on limited experience. For example consider a ball exiting a curved tube. Which picture best illustrates the motion of the ball?
Many college students will select A – based on an intuition that motion should continue as before. The correct answer, of course, is B – the ball will continue straight. Our intuition recognizes this as obvious if we simply change the illustration from a ball to water:
The point of this illustration is simply that intuition is not always right and must be questioned – something every teacher, every professor, especially every science professor, knows very well. Quantum theory for example is not exactly intuitive or obvious. Evolutionary biology is, perhaps, more intuitive – but still conflicts with “normal” expectation.
Bloom and Weisberg, the authors of this Science article, as well as Richard Dawkins and others, are defending the position that “scientific” naturalistic thinking is counter intuitive but correct, while religious thinking is intuitive and wrong. Our innate belief that the universe has purpose, meaning, or plan is “unscientific” and in error. Likewise, a belief that we are more than a fortuitous agglomeration of electrons, protons, and neutrons is a fairy tale.
While Dawkins and others would like us to believe that all intelligent, reasonable people will see things their way – this is hardly a universally accepted position.
Many scientists at all levels disagree with the pure naturalist view. Francis Collins (The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief) accepts the observations of science (age of the universe, evolution as mechanism of God’s creation) but denies the assertion that our sense of right, wrong, meaning and purpose is an evolutionary accident. We have considered Collins’s book at length on this blog. So here I would like to look at another book.
Owen Gingerich, Professor of Astronomy and of the History of Science Emeritus at Harvard University has written an excellent small book, God’s Universe, in which he contests the idea that science and our understanding of the Universe eliminates purpose or design. There is no “center” of the universe – but this does not mean no purpose and no plan. Our understanding of astrophysics and astronomy does not lead inevitably to the view that the earth is insignificant and unexceptional. It is reasonable to consider the possibility or probability that God planned the emergence of intelligent creatures “in his image” and that this was programmed into the universe.
It was Galileo who wrote that the reality of the world was dually expressed in the Book of Scripture and in Nature, and these two great books could not contradict each other, because God was the author of both. So just as I believe that the Book of Scripture illumines the pathway to God, I also believe that the Book of Nature, in all its astonishing detail – the blade of grass, the missing mass five, or the incredible intricacy of DNA – suggests a God of purpose and a God of Design. And I think my belief makes me no less a scientist. (p. 79)
Accepting our intuition as correct, that there is a meaning and purpose in the world makes our Christian faith both reasonable and plausible. Gingerich reflects on this in the epilogue of his book.
If we regard God’s world as a site of purpose and intention and accept that we, as contemplative surveyors of the universe, are included in that intention, then the vision is incomplete without a role for divine communication, a place for God both as Creator-Sustainer and as Redeemer, a powerful transcendence that not only can be a something but can take on the mask of a someone; a which that can connect with us as a who, in a profound I-Thou relation. Such communication will be best expressed through personal relationships, through wise voices and prophets in many times and places. (p. 120)
Within the framework of Christianity, Jesus is the supreme example of personal communication from God. When the apostle Philip requested “Show us the Father,” Jesus responded, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the father.” When Jesus, hanging on the cross and slowly suffocating, cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” the nature of God’s self-limited, dappled world became excruciatingly clear. God acts within the world, but not always in the ways most obvious to our blinkered vision (p. 121)
So, back to Keller and our intuitive knowledge of God. I think that the most important point of conflict in the science/faith debate is located right here. Collins, Gingerich, and I think that our intuition is reliable on this issue (and I could add many more names of scientists to this list). Dawkins, Bloom, Weisberg, and many others believe that our intuition misleads us.
What do you think?