Wednesday’s Links: Faith and Science

October 3, 2008

Introduction

My namesake for this blog, Socrates, says in Plato’s dialogue Theaetetus,

Wonder is the special affection of a philosopher; for philosophy has no other starting point than this…” – Theaetetus 155D

Faith and Science. Two ponderous ideas about which much has been said. What is my purpose in lumping these two together?

I think if I look honestly at my own life, I find the seeds of both already implanted in me, and the beginning of them is a mystery.

Science

I want to know the answer to many “how” questions. How do computers work? That’s a big one I’ve picked up lately.

How does my brain work — what happens inside my brain when I have what I call a “thought”?

These, to me, seem to be the domain of what we all generally call science.

Faith

At the same time, I am full of “why” questions. Why am I here, fundamentally? And why is there a universe around me at all — something, rather than nothing?

Why do I think? Why am I, unlike other animals (as far as I know), capable of generating and expressing a series of thoughts about my life?

This seems to be a different category of questions, and the domain of what many people call faith/belief. (Many people approach these questions from a secular standpoint not related to religious faith. I am not saying that religious faith is the only way to deal with these questions.)

Thesis and Antithesis

Can we afford to dismiss either the “why” or the “how”?

Some people say they have all the answers to the “why” questions, so they can ignore the question of “how.” They look down on science, suspicious of it, because they think it undermines their faith.

Others look down on the “why” questions. They say that in time science will have all the answers we need, so “why” questions are extraneous.

Synthesis

Yet others say something remarkable. They say that as they learn more about “how” through science, their sense of wonder and awe is reinforced, their perception of mystery becomes deeper, and the “why” questions are nurtured.

Websites

So I’ve looked up some websites on this topic. I’ll mention two today.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying a website from Berea College called “Faith and Science: Perspectives on Christianity and Science,” written by professor Robert J. Schneider.

Dr. Schneider says some remarkable and surprising things. Even as I glanced over the Table of Contents, I was intrigued to find an essay called “Evolution for Christians.”

In the first essay, “What the Bible Teaches About Creation,” Dr. Schneider says the following:

I shall take the position, common among most Christian scholars, including many evangelicals, that Genesis 1 is not “a straightforward, historical and scientific account of how God created,” the view espoused by young-earth creationists. Rather, this magnificent hymn-like passage is a theological proclamation, a manifesto, a statement of faith about both the creation and the Creator. [bold text mine]

Elsewhere in the essay we find an interesting quotation from Galileo:

“The intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” — Cardinal Baronius, quoted by Galileo.

I give this website a hearty thumbs-up — for being knowledgeable, readable, and thoughtfully prepared, and for defining faith and science in contexts that make both meaningful and valuable.

My other website for today is “Intelligent Design vs. Evolution,” which I found doing a Google search for “intelligent design and evolution.”

I can’t tell you exactly what the current theory of “intelligent design” is, but I didn’t get a good impression of it from this website. The website itself doesn’t seem intelligently designed; it features loud colors and a huge in-your-face banner announcing “Win $10,000 for Proof of Evolution!!!”

I watched the videos on the site. One of them involves a middle-aged man named Ray Comfort asking college-aged kids probing questions about the scientific theory of evolution. The video makes a big deal out of the fact that the kids respond with words like “maybe,” “probably,” and “I’m not an expert.” I guess we’re meant to notice that they don’t understand the theory of evolution very well even though they believe it is true.

A second video claims to feature a scientist asking British biologist Richard Dawkins, “Can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?” Dawkins looks up at the ceiling for a few seconds deep in thought and says nothing. (It is not clear to me that Dawkins was even in the same room with the questioner, because of the way the camera cuts drastically from one person to the other.)  I think the purpose of the video is to try to show an expert being stumped by a basic question, not an approach I find particularly useful because I have made some effort to understand evolution for myself, so I don’t feel the need to either rely on or disapprove of Dawkins.

I don’t think this website really promotes better understanding of either evolution or faith like the Berea College site does. It might have some marginal value in getting people to think through their positions more clearly.  I have read elsewhere, though, that the Dawkins video is a total hoax, which of course would make the website just plain silly to me.

Further Research

The Berea College website got me thinking I’d like to devote a couple of blogs to researching prominent scientists and what we know of their spiritual or religious beliefs. I might start with some great historical scientists like Newton, Pascal, and Einstein.

I remember hearing once that Newton was an alchemist before he revolutionized physics. Pascal, of course, was a mathematician heavily immersed in probability, number theory, and physics before his mid-life conversion to Catholic Christianity. At the time of his conversion, he gave up on math and sciene altogether and devoted his full attention to religious life.

Then I might move to some modern, working scientists. The Berea College website has a Resources section that lists some prominent current scientists who are also interested in questions of theology. I might begin with this list…