Monday, September 5, 2011

Truth and Truths

Even today, many commonly-held tenets of natural science are merely theories, not certainties. This is not the case with the catholic faith, which is a certainty...  I gleaned that little sentence from a post about religion and faith from the traditionalist SSPX but it is a gem and it puts in stark contrast the perspectives of faith and the secular world. 

The secular world views the faith as the speculation and science as the truth.  It absolutely reverses the approach stated in the first sentence of this post.  I am not anti-science.  I do not have my head in the sand.  I believe that our children should be taught all the current and past theories of the universe and its origins and I do not believe that science teachers should teach religion in public schools (though I do believe that the texts should reflect the fact for the vast majority of human history it was sufficient to say that God created all things as they are).  However, what science classes too often pass to us as certain fact is, indeed, the current speculation and educated guesses of a people looking at what is and trying to find out where it came from.  I wish there was some intellectual honesty here.  Though we speak of the ancient age of the universe, we do not have solid fact to back this up.  Though we speak of evolution (here speaking from one species into another), this has not been observed and is an educated guess.  Christians do not have to disparage what science speculates.  We as people do the best we can with what is before us and, apart from Scripture and Christ, the best we have are the speculations of science as they have evolved to the present state.  But neither do Christians need to accept the false dichotomy of factual truth espoused by science and the religious speculations of the faith.

I am speaking to Christians here and not to the scientific community.  Your faith is not speculation and science is not established fact.  The catholic faith is the truest of truth.  Period.  And while I appreciate the finer points of apologetics with the secular, unbelieving world, yet, within the Church, we do not need to be apologetic.  We need to speak forthrightly of the nature of the truth that reached its fullness and culmination in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The catholic faith is certainty.  Period.  I do not mind the world outside the Church challenging this point.  I understand and expect this.  But it is entirely troublesome that within the Church we treat dogma as if it were the speculation of the scientist or archeologist instead of the revealed truth for what it is.  It is a sad fact today that the reason many folks within the Church are having trouble maintaining their faith is that too many teachers within the Church treat Scripture as mythology, the Bible as if it were a book of what ifs (mostly morality), and science as the square to which the catholic faith must be trued.

Just a complaint about the way those within the Church treat doctrine and Scripture and the speculations and informed guesses of science.  As St. Augustine warns us, "not to make rash assertions, or to assert what is not known as known,” so we must be careful not to assert science as factual truth and the religious truth as somehow less than factual.  What God has revealed of Himself to us in Scripture is the most truthful truth we know.  Christians should not forget this!


Segfault Reloaded said...

Pastor Peters,

Not to disagree with your post about science (posting as one who earns his daily bread as a scientist) but the theory of evolution requires death from the beginning. So we can only reconcile this so far with the Gospel.

Your main point should be well taken by all Christians: we don't have facts. Facts are based on measurements. Unless you can measure and predict future measurements, you are not working with a scientific result. Since, as we read in Job, no one was there to make any measurements, any statements about the origin of the universe must be either faith or speculation.

To quote Peter Jennings (perhaps not accurately), "not everything a scientist says is science."


John McDermott
Arlington, Virginia

Dr.D said...

There is a growing problem within the Church of clergy who no longer believe the Christian faith. This is particularly a problem in Europe, but it is coming in America as well.

These clergy, often older, are essentially trapped in their positions because they are not prepared educationally for any other sort of work, so they continue on, leading worship services that they no longer believe in themselves. In most cases, this is kept from their parishioners, but at times they "come out" and lead their entire congregations astray.

Particularly when the pastor makes public his unbelief and is allowed to continue on in his position, the spiritual life of the parish simply dies, the means of grace vanishes from their midst when the people cease to believe. This is happening, in veiled or open forms all around us.

Father D+

Carl Vehse said...

"Even today, many commonly-held tenets of natural science are merely theories, not certainties."

All commonly-held "tenets" of science are theories. Science does not prove anything; scientific measurements increase or decrease the probability that a scientific theory may be useful as a basis for understanding and prediction. Science uses a Bayesian approach; this is why extraordinary claims (hypotheses) require extraordinary evidence. It is in mathematics where one deals with "proofs," and even there, Kurt Gödel (baptized, but not in later life, a Lutheran) put constraints on proofs with his Incompleteness Theorem.

Carl Vehse said...

"I believe that our children should be taught all the current and past theories of the universe and its origins"

This is probably not even practical for someone getting a master's degree in the history of science. And it is even less practical in grade school or high school when a teacher may have only had a few college courses in basic science, chemistry, physics, astronomy, biology, history, and mathematics.

"However, what science classes too often pass to us as certain fact is, indeed, the current speculation and educated guesses of a people looking at what is and trying to find out where it came from."

Elementary and high school teachers should not pass on scientific theories as facts but it is doubtful whether they have the time in science classes to explain scientific history or in history classes to explain historical science. Two short examples:

1. In high school chemistry class I was taught inert gases (e.g., krypton, xenon) don't form compounds, and less than four years later, as a college chemistry major I visited a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory who let me hold a small vial of a stable xenon crystalline compound, one of many compounds he had made with "inert gases."

2. In graduate school I learned that the BCS (John Bardeen, Leon Cooper, and Robert Schrieffer) theory was a well-tested (and Nobel prize-winning) explanation of superconductivity. A few years later, after two scientists were awarded Nobel prizes for developing superconductors that violated the BCS Theory, I was a state science fair judge viewing some high school projects where students prepared and made measurements on their own high-temperature superconductors.

Students today will likely have similar stories about what they were taught and what they eventually learned later on in their lives.

Carl Vehse said...

"Though we speak of the ancient age of the universe, we do not have solid fact to back this up."

Again, scientific "solid facts" are not "facts" but rather evidences from scientific measurements that come with some amount of uncertainty and measurement error. However, even with such uncertainties there is a tremendous amount of scientific evidence from astrophysical, nuclear, geological, and other sciences that the universe appears to be billions of years old. Oklo is one example here on earth. This doesn't mean that the universe is billions of years old, but that it simply looks billions of years old when examined by the same scientific methods used when you fly in an airplane, talk on a cellphone, check your GPS, watch TV, or rely on the various complex instruments your doctor uses for various medical diagnosis and treatments.

Some people (including scientists) have develop hypotheses that these "apparent ages" can be explained to have occurred in only a few thousand years because of changes in certain fundamental physical constants or the occurances of special phenomena in nature during those thousands of years. However, such hypotheses face the Bayesian "gauntlet" where extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Terry Maher said...

Insofar as all of this is really about maintaining that Genesis teaches creation in six 24 hour days, and that there was no death before the Fall, it's just silly. The bad science of theologians is as ridiculous as the bad theology of scientists, and they ought to just stop reading each other's fields as if they were their own; wrt to theologians, quit reading Genesis like it's a scientific treatise from God.

Augustine was of the opinion that what is now taken to be the "literal" reading of Genesis is not even the literal reading of Genesis, and that physical death is not a consequence of the Fall.

Haven't beard any one call him a heretic or modernist yet.

Anonymous said...

Augustine was a man (fallible).

Didn't he also (along with most of his time) believe the world to be flat?

Terry Maher said...

A flat earth is necessary to the description in Genesis if it is to be taken "literally" -- there cannot be morning and evening defining a day for the whole earth if it's a sphere, since morning and evening do not happen at the same time in all points of the sphere -- and that the universe is not geocentric was once held to be a threat to the Christian faith which if not true everything else unravels. Not to mention earthly morning and evening happen only on earth and are meaningless as temporal definitions universally. Or that since Scripture says the earth cannot be moved, therefore it does not move.

Yet some Christians engage in the same sort of nonsense now. Reminds me of the early days of spaceflight, when some Christians were sure it would provoke flooding since it will poke holes in the "firmament" separating the waters above from those below.

If you don't believe in a flat earth, thank science. At one time the same dire warnings from the church sounded against the idea that the earth is round and moves, but who to-day would argue that? Christianity is no more threatened by modern science than by earlier discoveries that the earth is round and does move.

One interesting discussion on some of this is found at