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Science, Faith and Authority

June 17, 2011

Science, Faith, and Authority


By Rob Wilkerson Georgia Southern University Curriculum Studies Summer Collaborative Savannah, GA Friday, June 17, 2011

Every viewpoint is based on and argues from a source of authority. Science argues from its source of authority, which is the scientific method. And faith argues from its source, which is belief. Science argues from a position of authority which it assumes to be internal, arising from that which can be observed and repeated. Faith argues from a position of authority which it assumes to be external, arising from something outside that which can be observed and repeated. Commonly, any discussion between the two positions really boils do wn to a conflict between the two sources. Science says the scientific theory has little place for faith, unless such faith is willing to include the scientific theory. And faith says that belief has little place for the scientific theory, unless science is willing to concede to faith, even when it is absurd. Science views faith as blind, and faith views science as arrogant and presumptuous. Too often, both positions end up attempt ing to degrade each other to appear utterly foolish through ad hominem arguments. Subsequently both end up reducing themselves to an emotional, fundamentalistic caricature. In short, both adamantly claim objectivity, yet tend to treat the other with supreme subjectivity. It seems that any relationship between the two occurs b est along two rails, joined by the ties of frequent discussions, manufactured with the sinews of honesty, raw introspection and confession, academic and mental integrity, and above all a type of patience which values the person above the position. Yet in and of itself, this philosophy is one rooted in faith, isn't it? It is rooted in the subjective belief that at the end of the day, what we agree or disagree upon when it comes to objective science still somehow mysteriously and almost unexplainably fades into the background when personal relationships begin to blossom in the slightest. Therefore it should be obvious from this statement that I choose to argue from an authoritative source of faith, since a deep yearning for meaning between persons almost always transcends any desire for reason in every honest human being. In other words, there's not a human being alive who doesn't value unconditional love from everyone else at the end of the day when all the argumentation between science and faith are adjourned. When it comes to the subject of beginnings, both faith and science are forced to come face to face with a large measure of the "unknown.". This, of course, is that whole field of that which has not yet been discovered (due to our current technologic al limits) and/or never will be discoverable (simply due to the very nature of our finiteness). None of us here right
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Science, Faith and Authority

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now were there when the beginning occurred, whatever you believe it may have looked like. Therefore, the scientific theory is honestly and publicly exposed for what it is: a theory. It would be most fitting for any area of science then, which appeals to the scientific theory as its source of authority, to humbly admit that while it can boast about a great deal of concrete, provable, repeatable conclusions in the experiment labs, the measure of what is left unknown is too great to allow those conclusions to be dogmatic and immutable. Likewise, faith and religion are publicly exposed for what they are: theory. It would be most fitting for any area of religion then, which appeals to faith as its source of authority, to humbly admit that while it can boast about a great deal of concrete, provable, repeated conclusions throughout the history of mankind, the measure of the unknown that is l eft here too is too great to allow those conclusions also to remain immutable. Certainly, within each theory however, there seems to be a kernel of thought within each conclusion that one will if not must consider to be immutable or unalterable. An exa mple of this in the science of math for example, would be theorems, and an example of this in faith would be the existence of the divine. But the unarguable fact of what is in fact unknown, combined with our own finiteness, begs for if not demands a humility that does not make dogmatic, immutable interpretations or applications of those kernel conclusions. In other words I have to make room for the existence and assumption of a starting point of some kind in order to get anywhere. In the end, faith and science are worldviews. And it is impossible that both worldviews should encounter each other and never experience conflict, and especially become heated at times. For behind Oz's curtain of clashing worldviews sits clashing sources of authority, each struggling with "little man syndrome" insecurities because what the massive weight of the unknown constantly threatens to undo them. Yet logic demands if they are both saying different things, then both cannot be right at the same time, unless some part of th at "unknown" can produce an epiphany to the contrary. A person seems bound therefore to live largely according to one source of authority over the other. What I contend for however is that the authority of faith demands a level of relationship and friendship between the human beings participating in the discussion. And that does not seem to be something that the scientific theory can objectively quantify in a laboratory. In short, I speak of love. Science would define love as a series of chemical reactions affecting neurons and hormones which carve out pathways in the brain that control the choices a person will make, ones we recognize as self-preservation, self-protection, self-esteem, self-aggrandizement, selfRob Wilkerson 2|Pa ge

Science, Faith and Authority

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confidence, self-assurance, etc. Faith however, would define love as an non -quantifiable supernatural force from a divine source which affects the psyche of a person, or his mind and will and emotions, so that he uncharacteristically makes certain choices, ones we recognize primarily as self-control and self-sacrifice. For me personally, I prefer to see love rooted more in faith than in science, if for no other raw and honest reason than again the desire for meaning beyond what can be measured in a laboratory or experiment. Surely science would have to concede that in light of the "unknown" there may in fact be a concept of "meaning" beyond the observable. Faith seems to be the only theory that one is left with when a humility toward the unknown is the controlling factor. And it is faith that looks at love as self -control and self-sacrifice. That kind of faith comes not from within a human being, but outside of him or her, since it can be scientifically proven that human beings are born with built -in sense of selfpreservation and self-protection. Since the nature of human beings is first and foremost programmed or hard-wired toward self-preservation, then any activity of self-sacrifice must have come from some other source. Science authoritatively proves that human beings are born intrinsically predisposed to self-preservation, which exerts a force on a person from the inside. That force is a powerful and complex mixture of networked chemicals and neurons and hormones, conditioned by our environment. Faith seems to authoritatively prove that acts of self-preservation are extrinsic and come from something else, which exerts a force on that person from the outside. That force is a powerful yet very simple influence of immeasurable changes that occur within the psyche, making them somehow act completely different, totally contrary to what we know is inherent. As I consider faith and the love it produces in self -sacrifice and self-control, I see that modelled most profoundly in the person of Jesus Christ. H istorically, there seems to be little doubt that he actually existed. And for the majority who consent to this conclusion, there also seems to be little doubt that he was at least a good teacher who was murdered. Much more remains in limbo even among the majority, like whether or not he actually said the things we find attributed to him "in red" in the gospels. That said, the historicity of Jesus Christ, along with his teachings, combined with historically reliable eyewitness testimonies to his miracles all lead me to an unalterable, immutable kernel of conclusion I call Christianity. Jesus is real. The gospel -records containing his teachings were really said by him. And the miracles attributed to him were really done by him. The capstone of my faith in these realities is rooted in that self -controlling, self-sacrificial love I just mentioned. Such an act transcends and even defies inherent human nature. The vindication of my capstone of faith was forged in Jesus' historically verifiable resurrec tion
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from the dead according to over 512 eyewitnesses. My participation with this capstone of faith is undeniably existential and was sealed the day I met him, or rather when he met me. This was an experience which was completely internal, subjective, an d unmeasurable, yet it was a day with completely external, objective, measurable changes. In other words, the choices I began to make seemed to defy what was formerly and inherently true of me. I began to love like Jesus did. This capstone, along with i ts vindication and participation, convinces me that Jesus Christ is divine, that he is the very person of God. What this means for me is that he is the only source of authority for a person of the Christian faith. This is perhaps the single most significant thing that a Christian can say therefore, when it comes to the subject of beginnings and of the origin of the universe and of this planet and the various life forms on it. A passage like Colossians 1:15 and following sums it up nicely for the follower of Jesus. "Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the thin gs we can't see...Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together." Or, as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews phrased it more simply in 1:2, " through the Son [God] created the universe." For the follower of Jesus this plainly, unarguably and undeniably means that if Jesus Christ created the universe, then it stands to reason that whatever he says about it is the most authoritative word on the subject. After all, even in the most ba sic sense for us as human beings, the creator or inventor of a thing is the most authoritative source on that thing itself. It was his idea and his doing. Therefore if Jesus Christ is the creator of the universe and of planet earth, then whatever I read from the words or teachings of Jesus about the things he created is my best source of authority and obvious starting place for any discussion about the universe and the earth. Let me give just two examples. First, when it comes to the institution we know today as marriage, the teaching of Jesus leads us to the conclusion of a literal six day creation of the earth. "...the Scriptures...record that from the beginning 'God made them male and female.' and he said, 'This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one '" (Matt. 19:4-5). "But 'God made them male and female' from the beginning of creation.' This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one'" (Mark 10:6-8).

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Science, Faith and Authority

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Both passages are a direct quotation from Genesis 1:27, 2:24 and 5:2, the first two of which are found in first two chapters of the Bible, both of which recount the six days of creation. Science sees the first two chapters of Genesis as much a common myth as the Chaos and Titans of Greek mythology, or Ginnungagap of Norse mythology, or the Babylonian Enuma Elish of Mesopotamian mythology, or the Ogdoad of Hermopolis and the Heliopolitan Ennead (the Chaos of Goose and Chao s of Gander) in Egyptian mythology. But if faith assumes that Jesus Christ is the creator of the universe, then it also assumes that whatever he says about that event is the most authoritative "stuff" on the subject. And when He bases a major teaching in his ministry on an event which he directly caused, then the event he directly caused must be taken as serious as Jesus took it. Male and female were literal. So was their marriage. Therefore so was their creation. And therefore a plain implication seems to be that everything else in the creation account of days one through five from which Jesus quotes in Genesis 1 and 2 is also just as plain a matter of truth as is the events of day six to which he refers in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. In other words, Jesus is the one who created the first male and female and joined them together in what we know today as marriage. Theologically and exegetically, if Jesus is in fact the creator of the universe, of planet earth, and of human beings, and i ndeed all life forms, then we cannot just accept the common notion that he is simply quoting the most widely accepted beliefs of the day regarding creation in order to teach something important. Taking such a position means the ultimate undoing of the very thing Jesus is trying to teach since he is basing marriage in its entirety on a historical event. In other words, if one questions whether or not the history to which Jesus refers actually happened, then what basis does one have for believing the prima ry thing he is trying to teach? In any teaching of any kind, the thing being taught is based on an appeal to something more authoritative than the teaching itself. In any court of law a verdict is rendered based on the jurors interpretation of the reliability of the testimonies they heard. Jesus' teaching on marriage is a teaching put forth and a verdict rendered about marriage based on the interpretation of the reliability of the history and origin of marriage itself. And that is something he would kn ow about the best because he created the first male and female and joined them together himself! Second, when it comes to the institution of the Jewish Sabbath day, our understanding of several features in the teachings of Jesus leads us to conclude in a literal six day beginning of the earth. In John 5:45 47, Jesus taught, Yet it isn't I who will accuse you before the Father. Moses will accuse you! Yes, Moses, in whom you put your hopes. If you really believed Moses, you

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would believe me, because he wrote about me. But since you don't believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say? In this passage, Jesus first acknowledged that the Jewish leaders to whom he was speaking made constant appeal to the writings of Moses, also called the Law or the Torah, for their own lifestyles and teachings. Second, Jesus unmistakably concluded for them that if they really and truly believed everything Moses wrote, they would believe what he himself was teaching, since Moses wrote about Jesus Christ. Yet th is was one of the reasons they ended up murdering him, simply because they did not want to believe that he was God and that Moses wrote about him. An inductive and deductive consideration of the Law of Moses necessarily includes perhaps the most famous kernel of the Torah which we know today as the Ten Commandments. In one of those commandments we read Exodus 20:8 -11 which reads, "Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God...For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy." Undeniably, this, of course, is the basis for our seven -day week six days of work and one day of rest. And it stands to reason that this passage was meant to be assumed as a reference to a literal six days of creation followed by another literal day in which God ceased from his creating activity. The point to be made is simple: Jesus took the Torah more seriously than the Jewish leaders of his day, and began with the assumption that the record it gives is a reliable, verifiable historical record, simply because he is the creator of the universe! When we come to a passage like Luke 13:14, for example, we are forced to reckon with the fact that Jesus approached creation with the childlike assumption that it took place in six literal days. In his response to Jesu s healing a person on the Sabbath, the ruler of the synagogue, who knew the Law of Moses, obviously referred to this passage. Luke records, "But the leader in charge of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath day. 'There are six days of the week for working,' he said to the crowd. 'Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath .'" Taking this passage at face value, the Sabbath day here was assumed by both the Jewish leader, Jesus, the healed woman, and the crowd to be a literal, ordinary day, just like the other six days of the work week were considered literal, ordinary days.

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Science, Faith and Authority

June 17, 2011

Once again the issue at stake is clear. If Jesus is trying to teach something specific in order to make a point, and if Jesus refers to a historical event in order to make that point, then the thing he is trying to teach falls apart if the event to which he points is not factual. Normally I would personally be inclined to challenge this philosophy of interpretation, because it is not altogether uncommon to refer to a historical event, whether factual or not, in order to make a point or tell a story. However, since Jesus Christ, the creator of the universe and of planet earth, is referring to this historical event at which he was present as the cause and initiator, then there really seems to be no challenging his view of the historical event. He referred to the Torah's reference to a literal six days of work and a literal seventh day of rest because he created the world in six literal days and r ested in a literal seventh day. Conclusion We must not miss the way Jesus treated as historical fact the accounts in the Old Testament. Scientists and sceptics view this as mythology, common to other records and all of them unbelievable. For Jesus Christ, these historical accounts include Adam and Eve as the first married couple (Matthew 19:3 6; Mark 10:3 9), Abel as the first prophet who was killed (Luke 11:50 51), Noah and a worldwide flood (Matthew 24:38 39), Moses and the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14), Moses and the manna from heaven to feed the Israelites in the wilderness (John 6:32 33, 49), the experiences of Lot and his wife (Luke 17:28 32), the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Matthew 10:15), the miracles of Elijah (Luke 4:25 27), and Jonah and the big fish (Matthew 12:40 41). As New Testament scholar John Wenham has compellingly argued, Jesus did not allegorize these accounts but took them as straightforward history, describing events that actually happened just as the Old Testament describes. As difficult as this may seem to science, it is not that much of a stretch even for the scientific theory which must accept as faith the singularity factor, or black hole theory, or string theory, or membrane theory, and especially evolution. However, when science is controlled by the humility of the "unknown" then there is plenty of room created for faith to move in and have a naked, honest and raw discussion about how the "facts" of science are interpreted. And conversely, when faith is controlled by the humility of the "unknown" there is plenty of room created for science to move in and have the same type of discussions about the "beliefs" of faith. For me personally I see much promise in the progress of these kinds of discussions when I read about intelligent design theories, for example. And of particular interest for me, there is much promise in discussions between faith and science when it comes to string theory, M-theory, black holes and the singularity factor in particular. In each of these my feeble attempts at reading the theories and the data leads me to a place where science and faith are finally shaking hands, because there is a mutuality of respect between the two.
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Science, Faith and Authority

June 17, 2011

In seeing Jesus Christ as the primary source of my authority in thinking, belief and argumentation, the "unknown" factor holds me in absolute awe when I consider the possibility of unpredictable strings of energy as a potenti al Theory of Everything proposed by the likes of Einstein, Hawking, Kaku, and Greene just to name a few. Further, the driving thoughts leading M-Theory are fascinatingly appropriate illustrations and interpretations of the Apostle Paul's theological under standing of "visible and invisible" mentioned throughout his writings. And, it would seem that both of these theories plainly account for the existence of black holes and for an ultimate singularity or "Big Bang" from which our universe began, though my s ource of authority leads me to interpret that singularity as the explosive, unimaginable, inconceivable, infinite, supernatural power of the very word of Jesus Christ Himself who started it all with the phrase, "let there be..." and it was. So I while I am hopeful that such theories hosted honest, raw, naked discussions between people of science and people of faith will humble us all more, I am not hopeful for any discussions between both parties that reduce the other by mockery and thereby r educe themselves to foolishness and intellectual darkness.

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