Beyond Cynicism 4

Andrew Byers, in his very fine new book, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint, claims “cyncism is a sickness” and defines it as being contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives. I don’t know about you but many of us grew up in or near a populist anti-intellectual evangelicalism, almost suggesting that mind and faith would not work well. Indeed, suggesting that if you got too smart you’d probably lose your faith. Faith, it was suggested, is simple and maybe best suited for the simple. “The dumbest farmer,” the saying goes, “grows the best potatoes.”

Mark Noll has called this the “scandal of the evangelical mind” and says the scandal is that there is no mind. Read his book: The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

Is the problem the uber-intellectualism and doubt of professors or the anti-intellectualism of the church? [The latter, no doubt about it, in many, many settings.]

One of the major signs of anti-intellectualism is the shock of Christian-nurtured students when they encounter the Bible under the withering critique at a university or with friends. “I don’t know” goes only so far.

Then there are those who demean seminaries and suggest the best pastors don’t attend them, or that seminaries are where hot-blooded Christians lose their faith … and this too is a species of anti-intellectualism.

And the bottom-line approach to theology in churches so that today there are all kinds of Christians who wonder what the Trinity has to do with the Christian life. If you haven’t heard about it in years it’s unlikely that you think it matters! Intellectual Christians can often feel unwelcome in the Body of Christ. Sure, one of the problems here is what Chris Smith is talking about: biblicism.

Jonathan Edwards was brilliant but those who followed him became anti-intellectual. Revivalism and the bottom-line took over. What mattered was “doers” and not “thinkers.”

Byers observes that some of the most cynical Christians he has met came out of anti-intellectualism and were shocked by the power and compelling force of intellectual studies of the Bible and theology.  They become disillusioned. They go to seminary and desire to “correct” the church — and they find again that the place to operate safely in the academy because the church is swarmed by anti-intellectualism. Cynicism again, unloving responses to laypersons … but what’s the problem here? Too much anti-intellectualism drives out so many talented young Christians.

The Jesus Creed teaches us to love God with all our mind. Is the church, your church, ready for it?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.normmacdonald.wordpress.com norm

    It frustrates me that there seems to be no venue for what I would call serious discussion of hard issues in the local church. There have often been times when I’ve wanted to engage the pastor or Bible Study leaders in dialog over certain statements or positions with little response or only cookie cutter answers.

    I’ll also admit there have been environments where I’ve not only been unwelcomed but actually invited to seek other places of worship and I don’t consider myself a boat-rocker! I do,however, want to ask pointed questions and at least allow for the acknowledgement that there may be alternatives answers.

    Check your mind at the door – seems all too prevalent. :)

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    Norm, True. I wish there was a place, but churches and pastors are afraid of what it might do to the flock. Although I think our church is more open to this.

    What is quite frustrating is when quite capable people are defending intellectually what I would consider an anti-intellectual stance.

    I’m afraid the Body of Christ analogy and reality suffers here. We all need each other, and that includes the thinkers who actually are there to help us all learn to think better and well, as in loving God with all our minds.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    Interesting here: http://www.npr.org/2011/08/09/138957812/evangelicals-question-the-existence-of-adam-and-eve

    (Though rather beside the point of this post)

  • Susan N.

    Scot, my exposure to fundamentalists back in the 1970′s and ’80′s would definitely fit the anti-intellectual type you describe. These days, ISTM the ultra-conservative / biblicist group is pro-intellect and education for males, but then the education is expected to involve only what the group believes/agrees with. “Liberal” religious or secular thought is viewed with suspicion and contempt.

    When it comes to religious indoctrination, “girls” should be instructed by the spiritual leaders (husbands, fathers, pastors, elders, etc.), and submit to their authority. By controlling what is learned, and who is allowed to think and speak on matters of faith, the same death-dealing powers and principalities are perpetuated ad infinitim.

    I sincerely do not believe that any of this is really a pro- or anti-intellectual problem. It’s about power and control and protecting the religious institution.

    I am willing to take the risk of being rejected by the herd, labeled as a “femi-nazi”, appear ignorant, and even be wrong on occasion, in order to learn and wrestle honestly with the issues of faith that are worth confronting head on. I have a daughter. I want her to know how to think for herself and be strong in her faith, through fair AND stormy weather.

    My current church embraces thinking among all members, and values differences. They value the Bible and encourage study and growth, but take a more intellectual approach to interpretation. I hear that this is considered “liberal”. I call it a healthy spiritual environment in which to grow.

    A (woman) with whom I’m acquainted recently engaged me in a conversation relating to the Rob Bell controversy, knowing most likely that I have been questioning and wrestling with the matter of hell and universal reconciliation (translation: the agenda was probably to rebuke/correct my error). Her purported concern was not appearing to be uncertain in her faith in her children’s eyes, and also what to tell them about the subject if they were exposed to it (apologetics training). I asked, “Do you never have questions or doubts?” “Do you think that your children, once grown and out on their own, will never face a situation or time when their faith is challenged, and they have question?” Better to let them see that it is normal to have spiritual ups and downs, and also that it is critical that they learn how to think through the “problems” for themselves. –Apologizing for the length of this post. I could go on and on about this one!

  • Thomas S. Gay III

    Cynics live closer to nature, are more self-sufficient, masters of mental attitude, free from influence of wealth, fame, and power. They obviusly influenced early Christianity. The strengths and weaknesses today can be seen in some Anabaptists.
    The modern attitude of the only truly irreligious position being a cynic was presented in “The Protestant Era”.
    The philosophy was adopted by secular culture in a “Whole Earth” mentality. A lot of deep ecology is cynical.

  • Fred

    @2 Ted

    “but churches and pastors are afraid of what it might do to the flock.”

    I have seen this before…often. Is there something in the Word that promotes this idea, that pastors have to protect me in some way? What is that?

    I despair of even asking challenging questions because it will usually result in another monologue (sermon).

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Though I agree with this being present in the church, I think it exists in a more generalized sense. The Tea Party is also an anti-intellectual movement. While growing up I experienced ridicule for being being smart in a neighborhood of steel mill workers. Any time the public is together they will form groups, it is only natural.

    No one likes being told that they do not understand what is really going on, whether it be the root cause of debt and suffering in our country or the nature and facts of Christianity. So if people are able to form a group where their views are reinforced they naturally feel much better about themselves.

    So anti-intellectual religion and politics go hand in hand. In the end, most people want to feel good about themselves and they can easily do that through in-group behaviors. The more outrageous the claims the more coalescing the group behavior, and ironically, the special they feel due to their acceptance in the group.

    The last point I want to make is an idea that I have been seeing in my debates with Tea Party people which parallel many debates with Biblicist and conservative Christians. In many cases these folks seem to think that my view of the many issues is purely a matter of opinion and not reason. For instance, it does not matter how many logical arguments you make about climate change and whether they should believe the scientific consensus, they don’t seem to understand that there is a difference between reasoned opinion and opinion based on the gut. They can look at this article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_change and still conclude that it is not true because they can name one other scientist that disputes it. I have heard it over and over, they say they are entitled to their opinion and I am entitled to my opinion.

    This goes back to a topic we have debated here multiple times and that is how do people know what is right and what is true? I think this may be the single most important topic we have today.

  • Amos Paul

    Let’s be honest here. Those of us who intellectualize greatly often *do* call almost everything into question. For better or for worse, that makes people uncomfortable who have already decided to believe for whatever reasons and just want to get to know God… rather than be challenged by who they think He is.

    So on the one hand, one could call that being spiritually ‘immature’, since God calls us to grow in the knowledge of Christ.

    But *on the other hand*, how easy does our intellectualism and supposed ‘spritual maturity’ turn into pride? When we set ourselves above our brothers and sisters due to what we’ve ‘figured out’…

    I think that God clearly calls us to think. Love Him with our Minds. But at the same time, we’re supposed to come to Him as a child, because the Lord grants understanding to the simple and not the proud (Ps 119:130).

    And *also* let us remember that there is more to maturity than the Mind. The Mind and action must accompany one another. This is a hard truth I must face (am facing?) constantly. Theology is merely the *thinking* part of your *doing*.

    —- QUOTE (from, yes, The Message guy…) —-

    “The two terms, “spiritual” and “theology,” keep good company with one another. “Theology” is the attention that we give to God, the effort we give to knowing God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures and in Jesus Christ. “Spiritual” is the insistence that everything that God reveals of Himself and His works is capable of being lived by ordinary men and women in their homes and workplaces. “Spiritual” keeps “theology” from degenerating into merely thinking and talking and writing about God at a distance. “Theology” keeps “spiritual” from becoming merely thinking and talking and writing about the feelings and thoughts one has about God. The two words need each other, for we know how easy it is for us to let our study of God (theology) get separated from the way we live; we also know how easy it is to let our desires to live whole and satisfying lives (spiritual lives) get disconnected from who God actually is and the ways He works among us.” (Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p.4)

    [Found at, http://vineyardusa.org/site/blogs/vineyard-theology/why-theology-important

  • Susan N.

    DRT (#7) – you raise an interesting point. Whichever in-group one happens to be a part of, those unlike you will tend to be devalued. Last week at our county 4-H fair, all three political parties had a tent or exhibit booth with representatives to speak to and hand out literature. On the way to a 4-H event for teens that my daughter was attending, I stopped with my husband at the Democrat’s booth. The rep on duty was an older man, a construction laborer. We were discussing the fact that in our current socio-economic climate, intellectuals and white-collar professionals are highly valued, whereas common laborers are viewed as less worthy of a voice in politics and are at the very least undervalued in our society. The rep expressed his belief that no matter how hard he might have tried to study and become educated for a “professional” career, he would not have done well. His speech was rather coarse at times, but I thought there was a lot of wisdom in what he said. There’s a different kind of intelligence involved in “blue collar” work. It is valuable to our economy’s health. Scholars — secular and religious — have their place too. Again, it’s all about power and control, and what is perceived to be valuable in gaining strength.

    Incidentally, my husband approached the Tea Party booth and engaged with the elderly couple representing their brand of politics. After being presented with the predicted set of talking points, my husband attempted to dialogue on a few issues. He felt that they didn’t really understand the full complexity of the issues, and suggested that they check their facts. I didn’t go over — figured it would be a futile conversation. The Republican tent was the most prominently situated and largest on the fairgrounds, which reflects the political majority in my locality.

  • Joe Canner

    My experience with this mainly comes out during discussions of creation and evolution (perhaps because this is a hobby horse of mine). I find a number of people who are quite willing to delegate their opinions to others (spouses, pastors, websites, etc.), but who are deathly afraid of looking at the scientific data themselves. These are people who, for the most part, are well enough educated to do so, but who believe that science is by definition suspect because of its anti-theistic presuppositions. Even Christian evolutionists (or even OECs) are considered to have compromised or to have been corrupted by their anti-theist colleagues.

    What is sad is that many times their children don’t find out about controversial topics until they get to university and their whole world-view gets shaken up. Fortunately, I am finding that there is at least a nominal desire to expose kids to this stuff ahead of time so that they are prepared for it. We’ll see what that actually means in practice.

  • Fred

    @7 DRT

    True, but our job is not to win arguments. Our job, in the church, ought to be creating little Christs, human beings who know can say that they actually know God. Part of that is the ability to intellectualize their faith but thats only part of it. Is it really enough to be able to argue that Adam was a real person? Or defend Calvinism? Or avoid biblicism? Or all of the other isms that people love to debate?

    But, your final question is a great one. What does it mean to know something? The classic definition of knowing among educational philosophers is justified, true, belief. All of those components should be addressed in the church. So maybe we need to discuss what Paul meant when he said “able to teach.”

  • Susan N.

    Joe, I suppose the willingness to delegate intellectual authority is due in part to laziness (easier to let someone else do the heavy mental lifting), but don’t underestimate fear as a root cause. Compromise is a dirty word for some; there are no shades of gray…only black and white thinking — which sometimes means not thinking/questioning at all. In these circles, if you disagree, you had better keep it quiet…if you want to remain a part of the group anyway. Avoiding controversy and confrontation is a much safer approach. I’m not advocating for this M.O., btw, I’m just saying this often what it boils down to.

  • Fred

    @10 Joe

    Who among us have the time, energy and resources to adequately address all of the issues that confront us? With the proliferaton of information available, it is an impossible task. I would like to be well versed in politics, theology, economics, biology, etc. but I can’t. In the end, most of what we read here are opinions, some educated and some not so much. How does one tell the difference?

  • Amos Paul

    ‘Checking the Scientific Data’ IS delegating your understanding to an authority–a particular scientist or research group’s authority to explain what they did and what it meant.

    Nearly all belief is belief contingent upon some authority.

  • Dan

    LOL. Funny how quickly this blog gets politics into the discussion. Dumb old tea partiers!

    It would be interesting to hear how large the churches are that people experience this anti-intellectualism. How many are fielding questions who are pastors and SS or group leaders. Often the teacher in a group sets the atmosphere as to whether or not intellectual questions are substantively addressed.

  • Joe Canner

    Susan #12: No doubt…I certainly avoid bringing it up, but when someone else brings it up, I tentatively push back as far as a I can without causing trouble. One thing that is helpful is figuring out what things we can agree on and hold in common.

    Fred #13: So true, and we tend to rely on sources we agree with for our synthesis. It helps to keep me humble to remember that I do this as much as they do.

    Amos #14: True, but some authorities are more authoritative than others. I would prefer to listen to someone who has sufficient qualifications in a field. And, even though truth can’t be reduced to majority rule, there is something to be said for the sheer numbers of scientists who take certain positions. It also baffles me that people won’t even consider what a well-qualified Christian scientist (small-s) has to say. I have heard of scientists who are young-earth creationists who admit that that the scientific evidence is against them, but who prefer to let Genesis 1-11 trump the science. This kind of approach leaves very little room for discussion. This is where the Biblicism discussions come into play.

  • Amos Paul

    Joe,

    I would say that’s probably an unfair generalization of ‘Young Earth Creationists’ as several self-attested YECs I’ve known and researched *start* with Scripture but quickly defend their views with hard scientific critiques of mainstream views.

    But it’s also unfair to generalize that those that may disagree with mainstream scientific theory are YECs. There’s certainly a broad spectrum of scientific belief. I would say that any expert scientist who says anything along the lines of, “We *know* XYZ”–is flat out lying, if unintentionally. Being an expert means you should be most familiar with all the holes and current weaknesses that your theories can’t explain.

    Science unlocks more questions than it does answers, now more than ever. I find no reason to place scientific ‘knowledge’ on a pedestal above other forms of ‘knowledge’. It’s a practically useful form of investigation that may or may not have impact on other views. Yet I find scientists who claim to be the end authority on any ‘issue’ to be epistemically proud and, at least in that sense, potentially untrustworthy in what they conclude.

  • rjs

    Actually Joe (#16) and Amos (#14) – I don’t think checking the data, scientific or otherwise, is delegating to some authority. It is part and parcel of the process of understanding and learning.

    I don’t delegate my understanding of the faith to some “authority” when I check the biblical data, looking at different translations, what people have said about the terms and the grammar, look at the greek text (clearly a product of “authorities) – I make use of the authorities and their insights and observations, and I treat what they think and say with critical respect not blind acceptance.

    The same is true with science – in so far as someone is interested in pursuing the ideas and the data. Check the data, read the arguments, try to understand why a position is taken.

    Of course we can’t all be experts in everything, so we have to pick and choose areas of emphasis.

    I agree with Joe on the science issue though – and this is my area of expertise. I don’t expect you to simply believe me though. I have to make my case so that it can be understood – or at least make an effort to do so.

  • rjs

    Amos,

    What do you mean by certainly there is a broad spectrum of scientific belief?

  • Joe Canner

    Amos #17: You’re right, most YECs start with Scripture and use that as a basis for questioning the science. But there are a few YECs who are qualified scientists who have taken the time to review the data, have found it convincing, but still revert to YEC because Scripture trumps. They are definitely a minority, but their view of Scripture and its relationship to science is shared by most, if not all, YECs.

    Yes, more humility is needed by scientists, especially those responsible for making science understandable to the general public. However, lack of humility does not automatically invalidate their conclusions.

  • Brian

    Weighing in perhaps a little late here, but I’ve definitely experienced some anti-intellectualism in Christian circles. I became a Christian in early high school, and had some doubts before I left for college…then I went to college and my first semester I took a New Testament class thinking it would be fun to challenge myself…but some of the questions there started nagging at me, and as I began to question more and more in college, I wasn’t really sure where to turn. I didn’t feel like some of my friends understood, so I ended up turning to podcasts and blogs and articles and books, and I feel like I spent a whole year inside my head.

    There are also all those proof-texts too, such as “the Lords thoughts and ways are higher than ours” (not exact quote)….and I get that if we are finite that there are things that we won’t be able to understand…but I’m not really sure how that works out practically and where, when wrestling with doubts, it is legitimate to appeal to versus like that. i.e., when does appealing to mystery become a cop-out?

    I dunno if that last question relates to the discussion here…but I know I’ve wrestled with these things for a long time, and felt comfortable in some places with some people, but definitely not in others. And I think some of the anti-intellectualism is due to fear. Heck, sometimes I’m afraid to read the Bible because I don’t know if my faith can handle another question. Little quotes to “not be afraid” because God has the Truth and can handle your questions seems to try and take some of your fear away by assuring you that God is real anyway, or if you look hard enough that you’ll find a satisfactory answer…just makes me worried because of what happens when people don’t…

  • Fred

    @Brian
    Thanks for your honesty. You may be further ahead than many of us.

  • Amos Paul

    RJS,

    I would claim that –*unless you perform the experiments and crunch all the data therein yourself*–, you’re trusting an authority or authorities to have done that for you. You’re taking their word for it, even if it’s a lot of different people’s words. And, of course, interpretation tends to color a scientist’s investigation (how they choose to go about things).

    But even then! Who taught you the basic theories and formula you use to ‘crunch’ data? That is, the very concepts you learned first to then utilize in science. Or the scientific information relevant to your study which you are not an expert in? Or the histories of scientific experiment and investigation? Authorities. Whom you trusted.

    I argue in the Aquinan tradition that anything you believe in short of having a pure and certain deductive proof for is faith, though I’m willing to go even farther in that deductive proofs are actually having faith in the authority of yourself. Which, on my view, is ultimately having faith in your created capabilities, or rather, Creator.

    [Which is, tangentially, the Cartesian argument for total doubt. Either my Creator created me perfect in that what I reason correctly must be true, or I have no reason to suppose that I can understand anything rightly at all.]

    But I see you reference faith or trusting authorities as ‘blind’ acceptance. I disagree with this more modern construct of what it means to trust or have faith in an authority. The Aquinan answer is that, if it’s blind, it’s not faith at all. Faith must be *reasonably founded* to be true faith. That is, you have a firm foundation via reason in how and why you trust whatever authority. Otherwise, you have no justification for it, and there is no real faith.

    But Aquinas says we take virtually everything on, ultimately, faith. In this, I completely agree.

    [And by broad spectrum of scientific belief, I mean that scientists are certainly researching, arguing, and stating a variety of things when it comes to evolutionary theory, genetics, or any field really. If they weren't doing that, there'd be no development. And especially when it comes to the Christian "Where did we come from?" discussion, you've got pure mainstream evolutionists with a God context behind it all, 'soul-insertion' theories, 'soul-making' theories, degrees of YEC, degrees of OEC, etc.]

  • Fred

    Amos

    Is knowledge even possible?

  • rjs

    OK Amos, We all stand on the shoulders of others – past and present.

    But your point applies to everything – and it applies to our understanding of scripture and theology at least as much as, and probably more than, to our understanding of science (I can test more for truth in science than in scripture and theology – by simple home experiment).

    We take much on faith – but critical reasoning faith, asking questions about the overall coherence and consistency.

    We need to take the authorities in science with no more or less skepticism than the authorities in our religion.

  • Amos Paul

    Fred,

    My personal view is that knowledge is a subset of understanding, and understanding is dynamically growing and not static.

    Rjs,

    My ultimate point concerning science is that it is only one form of thinking. A form we must take seriously, but I ground my understanding of it and everything else in my faith of a Creator. Without that justification, Aquinas himself says that people really have no business believing anything with certainty, really. He was an apologist, after all.

    Moreover, science is practically useful first and foremost to me, and not ultimately definitive. It is one way of looking at things, amongst others. Further, scienctific understanding is very transitory. It often goes back on previous assertions, reasons this way now and another way later, etc.

    I see no difference when it comes to theologians, so I agree with you there. But when it comes to my own faith in God, that’s grounded directly in God’s authority.

    Of course, when theologians and scientists disagree over a particular issue–that’s a good clue that one could be wrong. Or we might be misunderstanding the disagreement. Or they could both be wrong! But we should be very careful how much authority we allot either ‘side’ in deciding anything as ‘the answer’. And I caution that science tends to claim that we, a part of the universe, can grasp many ‘wholes’ of its actual workings.

  • Fred

    I understand your comment, Amos. But, if our facts are always chosen based on presuppositions (those things you mentioned in #23), how can we ever be certain we know anything. Even our understanding of theology is colored in some way. That is the point of postmodernism. Are you saying that we know theology differently than science? Is there a different set of rules?

    I don’t mean to be contentious, but epistomology is an area of interest of mine.

  • rjs

    Amos,

    You are saying, I think, that our understanding of God is grounded first and foremost in relationship – and in a relationship, I think, God intended from the beginning and initiates.

    Here I agree with you – there is a kind of knowing inherent in relationship that extends beyond “scientific” knowing.

    On one level there is a conflict between science and Christian faith that is focused on the reality of this kind of knowing in relationship – but that is relatively easy to undermine. Ontological naturalism is a matter of faith, not a demonstrable “fact”.

    But the kind of conflict we often discuss is not this kind of conflict. It is a conflict where the basis on faith in authority (or experience) is equally weighted. I only know and understand the text of scripture and its relationship to my faith because it has been, and continues to be, translated into my language and my range of understanding by those who carefully study and consider such things.

    Likewise I know and understand much of science because I carefully study and consider such things.

    When theologians and scientists disagree about a particular issue we have to carefully consider why and on what ground. It may very well be that a better, more complete understanding of nature requires us to rethink aspects of theology.

    Here is another point to consider – as a Christian and a scientist, I know my weakness in this discussion is in the area of theology and biblical studies. As a result I read and study extensively in these areas to try to have an appropriate understanding to enter the conversation intelligently. I find it essential to take my faith with the same level of rigor and professionalism I take my science. I may never “arrive” – but I am working on it.

    How many of the theologians who question science have taken the time to really engage with and understand the basis of the science? How deep can they or do they go? Based on the arguments put forth, the answer quite often is “not very” – not very deep and not very seriously.

    This is where we get back to one of Joe’s points – it is important that Christian scientists and theologians talk with each other – as equals with different areas of expertise. This way we will move forward. But there is a tendency among the theologians to dismiss the scientists and, of course, for the scientists to dismiss the theologians.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Amos, this post is about anti-intellectualism and I am trying to understand your position. Are you saying that science is not really intellectual?

  • Joe Canner

    Amos #23, If you really want to go down that road, even if you do the experiment yourself using basic uncontroversial principles, how can you trust your senses? How do you know your measurement devices are trustworthy? How do you know you are not altering the subject in the process of observation (e.g., Heisenberg uncertainty)? At a certain point, the objections get a bit pedantic.

    But, more to the point, science (as well as most other academic disciplines) are self-correcting. People can do or say what they want, but if it is wrong it will be disproved in short order (e.g., cold fusion). The best way for a scientist to make a name for him/herself is to overturn the current theory. The barriers are substantial but so the are the rewards of success. Consequently, things tend to move in the direction of truth.

    That said, I agree with the sentiment expressed in the last paragraph of your comment #26. Both sides need to be circumspect about what conclusions can be drawn from their “data”. I suspect in many cases both are wrong, but at the same time both can contribute to different aspects of the search for truth (as best we can approximate it given our limited capabilities).

  • Amos Paul

    Fred,

    Mind you, my personal view has God as the absolute and necessary center authority that grounds human understanding and any real ‘facts’. Even if our understanding of things is growing and changing, God is a belief (and reality!) that grants foundation. And if God is our trustworthy Creator, we can then trust his Creation to be orderly and match up with the way he Created us–even if our understanding of it is not static.

    Now theology is our investigations and knoweldge about God. But again, He is our sure foundation with whom we are also connected. Without that theological point, I see epistemology spiraling away into post-modern skepticism. So, yes, theology in that sense is sort of pre-eminent.

    However, I’m also very perspectivist when it comes to theology. We can’t draft up limits to God, but must necessarily approach Him from finite angles. So we’re going to see things about God differently. Nevertheless, if we see anything from one perspective as *necessarily* true, then such *must* be true in all valuations. Such is the definition of necessity.

  • Amos Paul

    Joe,

    I agree with your assessment of the pure skeptical conclusions of my reasoning about faith in authorities. However, as I’ve claimed, I see God as a basic belief. Properly basic, actually. I don’t agree with Plantinga on everything, but he’s done some very interesting work in what he calls ‘Reformed’ episermology.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reformed_epistemology

    That gets us into an even deeper philosophical discussion, though, concerning what a ‘properly’ basic belief is–essentially a belief which any justification for is actually less certain than the belief itself. Although justifications can be used to chase away doubts. In RE, there’s also no pure definition between what is and isn’t a properly basic belief. People must simply investigate and figure some out to hold up as paradigms of properly basic.

    [Ex.'s of properly basic--that there are other minds in the universe that we interact with, that God exists, sensory experiences such as, "Such and such appears to me"]

    Assuming you have no reason to doubt any of the properly basic beliefs, they then justify things like sensory experiences being actual experiences of the world, theological faith, etc.

    RJS,

    I agree that theologians and scientists should probably discuss how each of their views may or may not interact with each other on various issues they disagree with each other on. But, conversely, I see the sharp disagreement often resulting from contrasting worldviews that necessarily produce contrasting interpretations of the data.

    Both scientists and theologians have to think. What do you say about the two needing to have philosophical discussions upon how they view the categories of theology and science in the first place?

    Furthermore, they may need to agree to disagree in that regard and accept that there are other, valid manners of thinking and worldviews.

    As I said to Fred, I can be quite perspectivist at times when it comes to theology…

  • rjs

    In what way do you see the sharp disagreement resulting from contrasting worldviews, views that necessarily produce contrasting interpretations of the data?

    I see sharp disagreements between non-Christian scientists and Christian theologians that result from contrasting worldviews.

    But I don’t think that the disagreements between Christian scientists and Christian theologians result from contrasting world views. Rather they tend to result from (1) a complete misunderstanding of the science on the part of many theologians, (2) a lack of appreciation for the depth of the theological issues on the part of many scientists, (3) a willingness to dismiss another’s expertise in favor of one’s own, and (4) human factors such as limited time, laziness, ambition, arrogance, and pride.

  • Amos Paul

    DRT,

    [Sorry for the the triple post, didn't see the question]

    My basic claims are (1) that there are other ways to understand reality than simply that of scientific thinking so that science cannot be our definitive *only* way to be intellectual. And also that (2) God is a necessary, basic belief one must have in order to justify a worldview beyond pure skepticism in everything.

  • Amos Paul

    Rjs,

    I posted one example awhile back on one of your posts–that God could easily have Created an adult, mature universe at the Eden stage wherein the makeup of our immediate natural world (Earth or whatever) was transformed by sin into the dying state now. You can’t scientifically investigate that.

    A Christian scientist may disagree, but this is not merely because of the scientific research–but also because they disagree with this theological view of Creation. Each can understand one another’s data but disagree on the framework.

    Another possibility is that a theologian can say that science not only has the potentiality to outreach its actual grasp, but that it has. That humans can’t postulate one way or another about the deep makeup of the universe. That we’re just blowing hot air at this point. One could call this the Chestertonian objection. The scientists have already attempted and failed at fitting the whole Unvierse into their heads.

    The philosopher Bas Van Frasen cites such a Chestertonian possibility in his argument that if there is not God who created us then science only *appears* to match up to reality because we’ve worked ever so hard over the centuries for that correlation. The fact could be, despite all our hard work, that the universe doesn’t match up to our rationality at all and we’re pitifully pretending that it’s so.

    Van Frasen goes on to say, lucky for us, God DID intend us to understand the natural world and that we must have been Created as such for that possibility to exist. But how do you scientifically disagree with a theologian who denies this? Who says that we were never given the capability to actually do complex science.

    *There’s also the simple objection. Science only seems to say this for now, but theology has said XYZ for 1,000s of years. Why reject that answer for an answer from a field that has radically changed its answers time and time again?

    *Probably an easier argument for a Tradition-centric Catholic or Orthodox to make.

    I’m sure there’s other, more mystical world views that would also deny various claims of science. There are at least a couple of examples, however.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Amos, thanks.

    I do believe rjs really nails it in 33 though. Yes, scientific thinking is not the only intellectual pursuit, but the unfortunate state of our world is that Christian religions have purposefully come across as non-intellectual and dogmatic making the gap quite wide. Yes, scientists can be quite pompous, but a pompous scientist has to have some basis to appreciate the intellect of the religion. If the religion tells its people that we have to just have faith and believe things like YEC and such, then there is little impetus to research it further.

    Several years ago I was getting very fed up with my life in general, not suicidal, just not finding meaning the way I want to have meaning. I could not find a church that could help me find any of the meaning. All I heard were arguments that really did not make a whole lot of sense to me. I would say that I may be, at least, somewhat representative of someone who has been university training in scientific thinking and is naturally an analytical thinker. What I decided was that it was really easy to come up with the reasons that the various approaches to Christianity are wrong, but that did not answer the question as to what the right answer was. I made the arrogant and pompous and self centered decision that I could figure out what we should believe in, better than those who are teaching us about god in Church.

    It was not easy to find a good reason to believe, but after much searching I started to find fellow searchers in many places, all of them in books and on the internet.

    The point I am making is that, yes, the scientists are not the only analytical and disciplined thinkers out there, but they do seem to be the only ones that reach the popular level. We cannot expect people who are deep into science to have to actually dig to find rational thinking in Christianity.

    If churches do not teach in a rational way, how can we expect people to think they are intellectual? Especially when the churches say we should not trust scientists.

    I had to work really hard to find what I would consider to be an intellectually honest faith. Churches need to change with this.

  • Amos Paul

    Addendum example:

    And might I add Bishop Berkeley’s view to that list, the classic foudner of Idealism. He denied that there was a physical world at all!

    And his view is, philosophically speaking, difficult to argue against.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Berkeley#Contributions_to_philosophy

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Amos, I also think that your definition of science and mine are different. Mine is that science investigates and attempts to understand non-magical ways thigs work. There is no *thing* science, it is strictly applying the best analytical tools to understanding the way things are without resorting to magic.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Amos, science has pretty much determined that the universe is indeed unlike our perception of it. I don’t think any scientist would concede that the true nature of the quantum world, accelerating expansion of the universe, and multi-dimensionality is within the realm of common experience. Do we actually exist? Who knows! But we do know we exist in a way no one would have guessed.

  • rjs

    Amos,

    There are two major difficulties I have with your comment #35 – issues to be discussed and worked out.

    (1) Mature creation is a view that I have discussed at length throughout a variety of posts over the years. You are right that science cannot disprove mature creation.

    The problems with this view are, I think, theological not scientific. It requires not just a mature creation, but a mature creation with an embedded history – not generic history, Adam with a navel and trees with rings, but a convoluted history, the equivalent of trees with records of droughts that never happened and holes from bugs that never lived. Our DNA contains a clear record of this false history, and it exists elsewhere as well. I find the idea that God created an apparent history, or introduced it as a consequence of the Fall, and then gave us scripture so we would know the truth more troublesome than acceptance, with appropriate epistemological humility, of the history as real rather than apparent.

    In fact, I think that the only reason to propose a mature creation is a deferral to authority, not deferral to the authority of God, but the same kind of deferral to human authority that started this conversation in the first place. We defer to a human understanding of the appropriate interpretation of the language and culture that gave us the scripture. And/or we defer to a definition of what scripture must be.

    (2) On your later points – the inability of scientists to explore the deep make-up of the universe, and the ever present “Science seems to say for now” argument. I have not had someone bring up Bas Van Frasen before and would have to look into the structure of the argument before commenting.

    The changing conclusions of science is a red herring, and one that is raised constantly. Of course scientific conclusions are adapting, self-correcting, and improving. If everything was nailed down tight it would be no fun at all. Some of what we know now is wrong. That is not a problem. But the changes and adaptations are not going to bring us back to a young earth with no evolution or for that matter to pillars and vaults. They won’t bring us back to an ANE view of cosmology and biology. This doesn’t really help us with the science/faith discussion.

    I agree with your comment #34 – science is not the only way of knowing and God is a necessary basic belief. My problem with your comments, both here and on other posts, and with the comments of many others through the last several years, is when this is turned around as a justification for extreme skepticism about the claims of scientific knowledge in the realm where it works very well. It is particularly troublesome when the extreme skepticism is accompanied by statements that indicate a complete lack of understanding of the science.

  • rjs

    This conversation has moved way beyond the questions in the original post – but it also indicates how some of these issues work themselves out.

    I think Andrew Byers is right, cynicism is a sickness, one we need to be on guard against. But the anti-intellectualism in evangelicalism is real and hard to pin down. And it can make the church environment a hard place to thrive and grow.

  • Amos Paul

    I also don’t think many theologians or scientists often take the time to dissect their worldviews enough to identify these sorts of fundamental assumptions… Your average theologian may likely assume the supremacy of their theological understanding of human history while implicitly adopting a worldview like I discussed above, and a scientist may assume a systematically materialistic worldview without even considering how or why one could reject that.*

    *I studied Van Frasen in a Phi of Mind textbook and his stuff is difficult to track down online, but he says some very interesting things about materialism–basically that the term doesn’t have any real meaningful content but is more like a philosophical attitude to follow after whatever science happens to be saying then.

    While I don’t discount your arguments nor actually reject ‘the claims of science’, I will admit that I personally remain skeptical of many of the scientific claims you’ve discussed. But this is not because of Genesis 1 (which the Catholic description of solving formlessness and emptiness hit me as right in describing). It’s mainly because –

    (1) I don’t think the scientific world’s knowledge is advanced enough to make claims like ‘the genetic record *clearly* indicates X for a fact’. I agree with C.S. Lewis that any genuine scientific field expert is more aware of the many weaknesses and many, many new questions the theories have brought, rather than strengths and answers.

    (2) While I don’t believe in letting Scripture dictate science, I’ve have seen many good, specific arguments from Creationists that had hard data to back up their negative criticisms of mainline theory which are usually ignored by other scientists calling them crackpots. Just because they’re religiously motivated to find weaknesses doesn’t mean they haven’t found any.

    My guess is that both ‘Creation’ and ‘Evolution’ scientists could be more humble with their claims so that their criticims might come across a little more effectively.

    (3) I am still theologically troubled with fully justifying a world filled with death and decay prior to the free will of human beings (or whatever). I don’t buy Hick’s version of soul-making theodicy which sounds more Bhuddist than Christian to me–nor do I think he properly understood Iranaeus.

    But again, I’m not really representative of the people who adopt the worldviews I discussed whole cloth. Honest to goodness, there are also Berkelians (Idealists) out there who, as I claimed, deny the material world altogether. There are also Christians that have Eastern worldviews (Emergent from the Daoist tradition) and the post-modern esque philosophies that say basically, ‘You have your view and I have mine. We’re just looking at the world differently. Neither of us is wrong or right’. That latter view verges on denying Christianity altogether, but it can still be doably specific to interpreting the material world.

    We can all debate about the rightness or wrongness of these views, but is it really a big deal if people remain skeptical of the grand claims of science–especially concerning ancient history? I don’t really see a need to be militantly for or opposed to a single view about ancient history or whatever in the church. Science is practically useful. We don’t have to have a single, certain scientific story for God and Jesus to be true.

  • Fred

    I think maybe skepticism may be a better word for what I feel about the church. I am skeptical about some of the ways we do things but, at the same time, there are hopeful signs that things can change. Cynicism implies a deep mistrust but I am not sure I would call it a sickness. I’m not sure Jesus trusted the religious leaders of his day.

  • Fred

    Please don’t take this as a challenge, rjs. I’m only trying to understand my own thoughts. You agree that cynicism is a sickness and then you assert that anti-intellectualism in the church is real. Is there not at least a degree (or kind) of cynicism in that?

  • rjs

    Amos,

    How much science have you studied?

  • Susan N.

    Fred (#43), I don’t know. You’ve got me thinking about the distinctive meaning of these two labels.

    Here’s a definition of skepticism at:

    http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Skepticism

    “In philosophy, skepticism refers more specifically to any one of several propositions. These include propositions about (1) the limitations of knowledge, (2) a method of obtaining knowledge through systematic doubt and continual testing, (3) the arbitrariness, relativity, or subjectivity of moral values, (4) a method of intellectual caution and suspended judgment, (5) a lack of confidence in positive motives for human conduct or positive outcomes for human enterprises, that is, cynicism and pessimism (Keeton, 1962).”

    I personally am O:K with being labeled a cynic, if that means I am mistrustful of individuals or institutions with too much (especially unchecked) authority or power.

    I wouldn’t call Jesus’ attitude and approach toward the religious leaders of his day merely skeptical. Calling them a brood of vipers, white-washed tombs, etc., doesn’t indicate that he had put too much hope in them changing. I hope in Jesus…Him I trust. With religious and political (or some hybrid of the two) powers, I take a “Show Me State” approach.

    rjs (#41) -

  • rjs

    Fred,

    It isn’t a challenge. Cynicism as defined above is being contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives.

    I try hard not to assign motives, especially ulterior motives, to anyone. I try hard to take what they say at face value and interact with the ideas presented. This doesn’t mean an innocent naivete, but simply a working hypothesis that most of the people I am interacting with are sincere and trying to communicate. I try (and don’t always succeed) to have this attitude when I interact with things that Dr. Mohler has written or said and when I interact with things that Francis Collins has written or said (to take two rather polar extremes on some issues).

    But if we are going to get anywhere we have to be able to analyze ourselves and discuss a wide range of questions – and this can at times lead to what could be viewed as a negative assessment. I don’t consider the observation that anti-intellectualism is real to (necessarily at least) entail cynicism.

  • Susan N.

    Sorry for the fragmented post — I meant to agree with this sentence: “But the anti-intellectualism in evangelicalism is real and hard to pin down. And it can make the church environment a hard place to thrive and grow.”

    One doesn’t get any smarter by not asking questions and risking error. Even the most brilliant scientists and inventors failed many times in their theories and experiments before a successful outcome. In religion, error in belief and thought is seen as such a matter of life and death.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Amos, it seems that you are treating the conclusions (or to be more precise, evidence and experimentally verified hypotheses) as simply matters of conjecture. You are missing the fundamental difference between objective methods and prognostication.

    And before you accuse me of belittling philosophical and theological argument, I’m not. I respect it too. I really don’t think you are giving experimental and theoretical basis of science proper due. There is more than simple argumentation there, like your claim to knowing god. I concede that, for myself too, but you are not conceding how sound reasoning and evidence can lead to intrinsically valid insights. It seems to be a slight of quite a bit of the world.

  • Amos Paul

    Rjs,

    Academically, Only to your basic undergraduate level. College level Astronomy, Biology, Physics, etc. And random articles, obviously. I can only attest hearing expert opinions from professors I befriended to chat, etc. Talking *about* science was very popular though in philosophy, my main course of study. Hah.

  • alison

    Amos, you are my hero!

  • Jim

    Amos (#42),

    Your statement “I don’t think the scientific world’s knowledge is advanced enough to make claims like ‘the genetic record *clearly* indicates X for a fact’” is a very powerful claim. I’m curious about what basis upon which you make this claim? Scientific claims (at least the ones that are dissemenated in refereed papers) are communal claims in the sense that they are vetted by the scientific community of people who have spent their professional lives studying such things. I’m having a hard time understanding how one dismisses an entire community of thought. Can you help me understand where you are coming from?

  • Amos Paul

    Jim,

    I figured that I’d stated my views on science and its limitations well enough herein. But, if not, I’m not certain that even the most *basic* ‘scientific’ statements are be all, end all ‘truth’ or ‘facts’ of matters. Is our scientific way of thinking really the definitive and only way of looking at the Universe and its contents? I don’t trust our own minds enough to think we have that capability. Though *as a Christian*, I certainly assent to us having *some* capability to understand Creation, it seems arrogant to suppose that the Universe is thoroughly understandable and predictable by us.

    But more specifically, geneticists are looking at incredibly complex biological records. Science has discovered many correlations and inferred many conclusions upon concerning the meaning of such correlations. But I think it’s a rather *bold* claim to say that scientists can now read genetics so well that they can tell you exactly for certain what everything means, how, and why.

    Science, and *especially* biology, is really a large series of inductive inferences about the way things are in the Universe. Inductive inferences have a certain degree of ‘risk’ taking to their makeup (X seems reasonable with Y correlations, so X is true). Therefore, the bolder and more in depth that scientific claims get, the more their potential for significant error increases–even if the error seems reasonable and slight.

    And who’s to say that our little slice of time and space right now is filled with the best examples and room for experimentation for us to observe and test scientific theories accurately? The only area of science I ever really pay attention to out of interest is physics or, more specifically, astronomy. They’re always blowing my mind with in-depth new theories about how they think the Universe has altered in the ways it develops over time or how much of everything going on even under our noses we seem to be unable to observe.

    I don’t raise these arguments to say that science is bad or wrong, but that I don’t believe science to be the end of truth. Moreover, the bolder the claims scientists are making, the more skeptically I tend to take them as being totally accurate. Rjs has argued against my claims that science is always changing, but nevertheless I claim that history tells us… it is! Scientists will often start trying to answer the many new questions their theories have raised and realize they must to return to some of their previous, most basic assumptions to sort out a new contradiction.

    I don’t see science as slowly figuring everything out by this method. I see science as slowly and exponentially multiplying the massive degree of questions we can possibly ask ourselves now about the Universe by figuring out little bits of potentially true things.

  • rjs

    Amos,

    Science is changing – in the same way you are changing and growing and learning and developing. It is a body of knowledge, tested against observation. There is no going back – and the only way the fact that science is changing can be of importance in the science/faith discussion is if we can turn the clock backwards in our understanding.

    But none of this gets us back to an ancient near Eastern view of cosmology, biology, or origins. You make a big claim here – where have you seen that scientists realize that the questions raised require a return to previous basic assumptions (assumptions that have been discarded) to sort out the contradiction?

    Of course scientists often overreach in making philosophical claims based on “science” that are unsupportable. But this is a different issue and one we must argue against. We can go back (or move on) from scientism as a philosophy (ontological naturalism as a world view).

  • Amos Paul

    Rjs,

    How much Newtonian Physicis is still considered accurate today? It seems difficult to even browse a physics forum without gravity being called into question and debated. What about Einstein? It seems popular these days to question his special theory of relativity as well.

    Granted, these might not seem ‘basic’ to you, but each of these men’s views laid the foundation for physics after them. If their theories can be called into question, what about the physics that developed out of and on top of them?

    I have no idea what modern theories of today or yesterday might turn into the Phlogiston or Geocentric theories of tomorrow. Too many contradictions. Shut it down, start over again. One of my old Physics professors jokingly demonstrated the history of science looking more like an insane scribble than a straight line on the board. We go down so many paths that end up being tossed out.

    I think one thing I should make clearer, though, is that I’m not denying science’s viability in that it can discover truth. But it’s saying that it’s ‘the’ definition of truth and it’s reliance upon what I, philosphically speaking, see as very uncertain reasoning which troubles me when it makes strong claims.

    I harken, rather, to what C.S. Lewis implicitly argued for when he merely tried to ‘explain’ the Medieval worldview concerning the Universe in his last academic work–The Discarded Image. The argument is, basically, that science is contingent upon faulty human reasoning and is, while very useful and good for us, subordinate to our reliance upon God and the Heavens to guide us with transcendant, perfect reasoning.

    By this I don’t mean to say that Scripture or Ancient Eastern Cosmology = the correct Scientific description of the Universe or Earth. I mean to say that Scripture illustrates real truth about reality that science has no method of discovering (what I assume you also meant by science needing to understand its philosophical limits). But I don’t think that physical and spiritual reality are so harshly separated as we might often imagine. The things Scripture says or indicates, I think, are directly related to the physical world–and I’m not certain that science would have any idea what to do with that or how to interpret it.

    *Our dconversation may also be starting to go in circles now. If it doesn’t go on any more relevantly further, thanks at least for challenging my views to have some interesting discussion. I figured I’d argue my somewhat different ideas when the topic came up of science and reasoning… didn’t think it would generate so much more talk. Hah.*

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Amos, you are grossly mistaken in your approach. You are making the argument that because science is not perfect we should not consider it. That is not a rational argument. My shovel is not perfect but it can dig a hole just fine.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Amos, Newtonian physics works just fine within the world today. Newtonian physics and gravity are models of our world, not the fundamental nature of it. They model our world within most limits just fine. Its only at the extremes it does not work. It is a very good shovel for 99.999% of what is going on in our world.

  • Amos Paul

    DRT,

    Your analogy may actually help me clarify what I’ve been saying. If you had a shovel, I believe you could dig. But if you told me that you’d just dug halfway to the center of the Earth with your shovel, should I be skeptical?

  • rjs

    Amos,

    Newtonian Physics is accurate in the realm for which it was developed. We teach and use this constantly – when I teach quantum mechanics (my favorite class to teach, by the way) it represents a refinement and extension of much of Newtonian Physics, not an overthrow of the prior work. In fact it is hard (impossible) to understand quantum mechanics without also understanding classical (Newtonian) mechanics. Quantum mechanics reduces to classical mechanics in the appropriate realm of size and speed.

    Everything you list as a change is more accurately described as a refinement building on what came before, or is at the edge of our current understanding. These are fundamental changes in some ways, but by demonstrating the limitations of what came before, not by discarding it. I think your old physics professor, while communicating a true concept that this is a discovery process with false starts and errors, was not entirely clear about the history or the stability of the (growing) foundation.

    I pursued this because you put up very common throw away comments that are often used within evangelicalism to dismiss the science completely. This kind of reasoning is deeply flawed, misleading, and damaging. If you are going to dismiss science, do it intelligently in the areas where there are real problems and flaws, not by repeating these kinds of throw away comments.

    We do agree on the philosophical overstepping of many scientists – making claims in the name of “science.” And we agree that there are realms where science simply cannot appropriately address the question.

  • http://www.spirithome.com/holy-spirit.html Bob Longman

    On the one hand, one can’t help but decry the lack of thinking in the churches – evangelical or otherwise. Even those who think don’t think it through. (Me, too, at times.) It’s actually a trait of our societies too – how many people really think out their life decisions, or their political choices? – so it isn’t just Christians. But that makes it all the more shameful of us, since we ought to know better.

    Yet, I think the critique of seminaries and other church learning institutions has much validity. For some schools and professors, the idea wasn’t to build on what the family and community taught them, but to rip it down as fast as possible, in order to rebuild a new, intellectually-competent individual. Such thinking was especially in vogue in mainline seminaries in the 1980s and ’90s (they had to stem the influence of those pesky pietists, charismatics, evangelicals, etc.). And it was a failure; too much of the time nothing got rebuilt. And it was a stark contrast to all the nice talk about ‘serving the congregations’; serve them by demolishing their work? I still think the first thing to do is to attempt to develop a seminarian’s spiritual life. They do it better now than a decade ago, but that’s because if it happened back then it was by accident. Then, start gradually bringing in the ideas and challenges, giving them time to sift things through. There would be a stronger framework or context to set the thinking into, something that will cohere instead of permanently crumbling to the ground. And the seminarian will have time to mature in thought and to take faithful action. With faith or anything else, thought does not stand by itself.

    Just a thought.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    58, Amos, I am on board with that. It is key for science, and theology, to make claims about the extent of its applicability.

  • rjs

    Amos,

    I am, by the way, a professor of chemistry and physics. My research is at the interface of chemistry, physics, and biology.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Amos,…and I am an beginner with an opinion :)

  • Amos Paul

    Rjs,

    You must forgive me if I say that I’ve been taught that Newton’s theories have been proven to be inaccurate and, while useful, ultimately wrong. Maybe this was inaccurate. But if that notion wasn’t wrong, woud it not be fair to say then that views now considered to be correct grew out of views now considered to be wrong?

    In any case, I think we also see the abstract outline of scienctific history differently. Things like Phlogistion, Geocentric theory, and of course many less famous things are considered to be precedent examples of elimination in science by Philosophy. Philosophers use these examples to back up things like ‘Eliminative Materialism’ which asserts that any and all views postulating anything beyond material substance must be eliminated from the start just like these previous scientific views were eliminated as wrong altogehter.

    And in Philosophy of Science, it’s popular to ask questions like–will gravity be eliminated next?

    While I obviously don’t agree with Eliminative Materialism, I’ve never found a reason not to assent to the examples. Though my philosophical studies, of course, often tend to produce a preferance for strong, deductive reasoning over a lot of inductive reasoning (like science–discounting the abstract mathematical side). So those inaccurate theories of old play a cautionary tale to my mind of relying upon the certainty of induction.

    *My academic credentials include merely an undergraduate degree and a lot of thinking ;).

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Amos, rjs can give us the definitive answer, but I think it is better to look at science differently.

    Its not as often that one thing gets disproven and more that we understand the underlying nature better and better.

    Now to risk going outside of my league, take Newtonian physics. Sure things appear to have mass and are acted on by forces which produce accelerations. But when you get down to the actual mechanisms by which this happens it becomes obvious that the nature of reality is quite different than we experience it. The actual particles themselves that make up our world are few and far between and not big at all. Most of everything is made up of nothing. Additionally, there is nothing out there that intrinsically says something has to have mass. We all think it is obvious that things have mass, but the question is why do they have mass? As I understand it, it is less like a property of the tiny particle and more like the interaction of the tiny particle with a field that is all around us. Like if you tried to push a ping pong ball through syrup, the ping pong ball does not have mass, per se, the effect is because it is trying to be pushed through the surrounding. So too it is with mass.

    So is Newtonian physics wrong in that it attributes an attribute of resistant to acceleration to the material itself and not the interaction of a particle with the surroundings? Well, not really. It depends on the scope of the application.

    In fact, we still don’t have experimental evidence that the theory above is right, but that’s why they are investing mega-money into particle accelerators.

    And once we find the higgs boson someone else will come along and refine it so that the boson is actual our 3 dimensional eperience of an 11 dimension string or something like that and the move will go on. Does it mean the other stuff is wrong, not really, but sometimes.

    Using one more analogy, when we learn to flush the toilet we learn that we push on the lever and the toilet flushes. One day, we see someone take the top off the tank and pull up on the little arm and it flushes. Does that mean that the science behind making a toilet was wrong, no, it just means that we have a more nuanced understanding of the mechanisms actually taking place.

  • http://www.paulosophia.com Paulosophia

    To not study classical philosophy, as a perquisite to the study of theology, is, in itself, anti-intelectualism.

    In no other art or science does one skip over fundamentals. Formal study in the art of thinking—logic and philosophy—is what has yielded the church its greatest minds. Dallas Willard’s article, Jesus The Logician, should be a must read for anyone interested in the topic found in this thread. Here’s a short excerpt:

    “An excellent way of teaching in Christian schools would therefore be to require all students to do extensive logical analyses of Jesus’ discourses. This should go hand in with the other ways of studying his words, including devotional practices such as memorization or lectio divina, and the like. It would make a substantial contribution to the integration of faith and learning. While such a concentration on logic may sound strange today, that is only a reflection on our current situation. It is quite at home in many of the liveliest ages of the church.”

  • rjs

    DRT,

    First – I don’t claim to give the definitive explanation on anything, and I don’t buy the deferral to authority approach. But I do think we have to learn to ask the right questions and evaluate.

    I would need to sit down and think about your comparison – it isn’t an approach that I’ve taken in explaining distinctions.

    There is an important sense in which Newtonian mechanics is wrong and has been replaced … but not in any fashion that really helps with the science/faith discussion. It has been replaced because we’ve learned more about the fundamental nature of matter.

    So one aspect of this is the wave-particle duality. It was discovered that matter behaves as though it has a wavelength inversely proportional to its momentum. This is irrelevant when the wavelength is infinitesimal compared to the size of the object, as for a baseball, a bullet, a plane, or a person (here newtonian mechanics works just fine), but it is significant for very small, light objects (electrons for example) and newtonian mechanics fails. What the wavelength means is a matter of discussion and ongoing research and debate.

    Newtonian mechanics can describe the behavior of large objects but cannot explain the atomic level structure of these objects. (It also can’t explain entanglement – but macroscopic objects can’t entangle.)

    This history does, of course, caution us against the headlong extension of a point of view in to a realm for which it was not developed and has not been tested. It does not mean that there are not general laws and principles.


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