Monday, May 25, 2009

"Angels & Demons" Part One - Science and Faith

Interesting movie. I never read the book - reading The DaVinci Code was enough for me. But the movie is entertaining. Implausible, silly, bubblegum fiction - yes, yes, and yes. But entertaining nonetheless. No spoliers here - I won't give away the ending.

There are two relatively important (at least to me) discussion points that arise out of the movie. In this blog, I want to deal with the first: What is the relationship between science and faith? In my next blog, I will address the second: What should we make of movies (and novels) that massacre historical fact in the telling?

I get Jim Denison's daily blog, and he is dealing with the first subject this week. I will try not to hijack his thoughts.

To cut to the chase, I don't get the supposed conflict. Oh, I understand that those who believe that the Bible is a literal science textbook are left in a quandary to explain any number of things, but since I believe the Bible is the biography of God and tells the (true) story of God's interaction with (certain) people and God's message for (all) people, the supposed science/religion dichotomy fails to ring true.

This movie uses the claim that Christianity is anti-science as a jumping off place. In fact, I believe that Christianity is and should be, in part, a celebration of science. To me, each new scientific discovery is a revelation of something else that God is doing and has done. To be elementary, the understanding of photosynthesis does not not eliminate the role of the divine. My fourth grader can tell you about the water cycle - that does not diminish her understanding that God sends the rain.

The typical battlefield - evolution - is particularly unsatisfactory as a declaration that science and religion are at war. Taking atheistic evolutionary theory at its extreme, one still has to find a starting place, an initial cell, a big bang. The spontaneous advent of life is no harder to believe - no more an act of faith - than is the existence outside of time of the eternal Creator. We can disagree about what a "day" is. We can debate about "how" God created. But to conclude that the evolutionary evidence means that the religious understanding of God is somehow "wrong" is a jump that simply need not be made.

The attack on technology from religious grounds is understandable when seen through the eyes of the victims of technology's misuse. But the same logic would say that human speech should not be used and promoted, since the tongue can be a vicious and wounding weapon. Is it not more persuasive to understand advances in technology as human exercises of the brains God has given, as potentially, if not always actually, victorious steps to conquer hurdles that God wants us to leap?

When we learned that the earth is not the center of the universe, Christianity did not fall under its own weight. What fell was the orthodoxy of the day.

And there, maybe, is the answer. The fight is not between science and faith but rather between science and "religion." If our religion depends more on manmade rules and assumptions to create standards than on Godmade revelations and declarations, it stands to reason that God will undercut that religion with yet more declarations and revelations. If those revelations are found by unbelieving scientists, anthropologists, and historians, does that mean that it is not God doing the speaking?

I believe that science - like the tongue, like our emotions, like our desires - must be harnessed. If it is not, it can be used for the most unChristian of expressions - just as can our tongues, our emotions, and our desires.

But for the church to run from science in the name of doctrinal purity is to decide that we know all there is to know. It is the height of arrogance... It is our Babel.

And for science to declare that it has shown up Christianity, has unmasked the truly religious thought, has exposed the fallacies of the church - this is just as arrogant. Pick your scientific theory, rule, or hypothesis and follow it backwards with "why" questions, and you will eventually get to "I don't know." Anybody who has raised a three-year-old can tell you that.

And if we do not know, if we cannot know, then we are left with only one thing. We call that faith.

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