Thoughts on ‘Literality’

Editor’s Note: We received the following comment from David the Older, as part of a running dialog following Clarke’s recent post Terry Mortenson on the Problem of Millions of Years. Due to its length and substance, I decided to publish it as a post in the hope that it will promote thoughtful and charitable dialog on this topic.

_____________

(From David The Older)

A thought on Lyn’s response with regard to “literality.”

Your response to Brother Clarke was very helpful to me in attempting to sort out some things concerning the reading and understanding of Holy Scripture.

First, I want to say that I have no interest in the age of the earth.  To put it another way, I have no interest in the “age of rocks;” I do have an intense interest in the “Rock of Ages.”  And I have an intense interest in truth.

The words “literal” or “literally” occurred six times in your response to Clarke.  None of these six occurrences were within Bible verses.  The word “truth” occurred twice in your post, both times embodied within Bible verses.  That got me to thinking about the word literal (and derivatives thereof) and the word truth (and derivatives thereof) and their place in my personal Bible reading/study as a layfolk (that is, a person without professional or specialized knowledge in a particular subject).

It came to me that I don’t open my Bible and say to myself that I am going to read it literally.  I don’t think to myself now this text must be read, digested, and processed literally.  The literality of Scripture is simply not at the fore of my mind when I read my Bible.  What then is on my mind, if anything?  What then do I say to myself, if anything?  I say to myself something like this, and what is on my mind is something like this, “David, in your old age, read God’s Word, Scripture, for truth, that is, read the Word truthally (a made-up word).”  Truth is the focus of our Sacred Texts as is stated in many biblical passages. For example:

John 17:17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

Ephesians 1:13-14 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit…

John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Indeed, E. J. Young (Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary for 36 years and an Evangelical luminary) entitled his book, which is a “classic … exposition of the biblical doctrine of inspiration,” Thy Word is Truth not Thy Word is Literality.  Allan Harman writes of Young that he “held unswervingly to a high view of Scripture …”  The word literal does not occur in the Bible to my knowledge.  So, I read the Bible firstly and primarily “truthally.”  I want to know what the truth of Scripture is that I might apply that truth in my life to “be conformed to the image of the His Son [Jesus]” as Paul commands in Romans 8:29.

Here is an example of what came to my mind after reading your response to Clarke’s post on Mortenson.  Max Lucado has written many books that Christians find helpful, so I am told.  Actually, I haven’t read any of Lucado’s books for adults.  However, I have devoured his children’s books, some of which are superb.  My favorite Lucado children’s book is You Are Special (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15QuHygLwFU) featuring mythological people including Punchinello, Lucia, Eli, etc.—Lucado’s story is myth.  What do I mean by myth? This.

“Myth is the language of imaginative insight into ultimate reality, which reveals [uncovers]… truth under the form of symbol  …  To know myth, therefore, in the proper sense, is to be initiated into a unique experience of reality [that is, a unique experience of the real/literal].” (Alan Griffiths)

Lucado’s characters are wooden people, call Wemmicks, who were made by Eli the master wood carver.  They live in Wemmicksville.  It is a powerful story/myth/allegory/metaphor/parable (it is not fantasy) about finding our true and abiding identity in a vertical relationship with the Creator God rather than in a horizontal relationship with peers.  Lucado’s narrative is described well by Goodreads:

Max [Lucado] was interested in helping children understand their value – not from the world’s perspective, but from God’s. Wemmicksville is a land created by Eli, the “God” figure of the story. He creates each Wemmick in Wemmicksville uniquely, each with its own look and personality. Each story and video is a new adventure with the citizens of Wemmicksville. Punchinello is the central character, along with his friends Lucia, Splint, and Chip. When Punchinello strays from Eli, he begins to have problems. Only when Punchinello stays close to Eli does he clearly see how to walk through his life in Wemmicksville.

In this heartwarming tale [myth/story], Eli helps Punchinello understand how special he is—no matter what other Wemmicks may think. Children [and adults] will learn a vital lesson—regardless of how the world sees them, God loves each of them just as they are.

Thus, truth can be conveyed to me, to any reader, in either a literal textual genre or in a genre of story/myth/allegory/metaphor/parable, or, further, the text may be both literal and story/myth/allegory/metaphor/parable at one and the same time.  Consider the account of the man who had two prodigal sons in Luke 15.  Luke’s text does not say, that is, does not say, that this is a parable!  The text begins with only this: “And he [Jesus] said, “There was a man who had two sons …”  Nowhere in the narrative does Jesus call this account a parable.  So, should we read this narrative literally or parabolically/metaphorically/mythically/etc?  We really don’t know with certainty whether this narrative is literal or parabolic.  But—Does it make any difference here to the truth value of Jesus’s teaching?  I propose that the truth value in this case, and perhaps in other cases in Scripture, is independent of literary genre.  Now, Alan Griffiths’s definition of myth must be recalled: “Myth [maps] into ultimate reality [that is, a literalness] … To know myth … is to be initiated into a unique experience of reality [that is, a literalness].”  So there is a necessary and essential reciprocal mapping between myth and reality.  This is different than fantasy; I am speaking of myth, not fantasy.

So, distinctions/differences among the ideas of literality, history, story, allegory, metaphor, myth, parable, and language itself may not be quite as simple as I once thought, particularly as we are in pursuit of God’s truth.  The vehicles for conveying truth are varied. And truth may encompass more than one dimension of reality—for example, John 3:6: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” I remember the words of Paul in II Corinthians 4:18:

“… we look not to the things that are seen [e.g., the material, rocks, flesh] but to the things that are unseen [spirit]. For the things that are seen are temporal/transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

For the Christ-follower, there is an abiding reality that is beyond visible, tangible, material phenomena, beyond the “literal.”  I see such a reality in Paul when he says in II Corinthians 12:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter [Why can they not be uttered?—Perhaps, I suggest, to the limitations of language].”

And then there are those lines in the hymn Break Thou the Bread of Life:

“Beyond the sacred page, I seek thee Lord …”

Thanks for challenging me to think carefully concerning the truth value that is embodied in text of our Scriptures, which is inspired (God-breathed) and the final authority in matters of belief and behavior. Evangelicalism (i.e., Christian, biblical orthodoxy) is defined by this commitment to inspiration and authority and a commitment to the historic creeds such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed (as well as perhaps the Statement of Faith of the National Association of Evangelicals)—within these boundaries there is interpretative (hermeneutical) elasticity as evidenced by the multiplicity of conservative, orthodox denominations/traditions and even different views within denominational frameworks.

Postscript from the world of physics related to Paul in II Corinthians 4:18:

HydrogenGasHere is an example from physics bearing on myth and literality and truth value. I will now argue (briefly) that myth in literature is similar to theory in physics. As myth communicates truth in a literary form, so theory communicates truth in physics.  Consider this illustration. If you pass an electrical current through hydrogen gas, a brilliant reddish glow is observed, as shown at the side.  This is the literal appearance of electrically energized hydrogen atoms.  Erwin Schrodinger (Nobel Prize for Physics 1933) asked the proverbial question, “Is there more here than meets the eye?”  That is, is there an unseen reality behind the visible experience (the seen red glow) of energized hydrogen atoms? Schrodinger’s answer to these questions is embodied in his mathematical creation for a hydrogen atom shown below.

SchrodingerEquation

It is an abstract/symbolic “narrative”—that is, it is mythical in that it is a non-material reality generated in the mind that God gave to all men within the bounds of common grace in the creation. Upon solving Schrodinger’s equation one quantitatively generates all the unseen electronic energy states of the hydrogen atom and thus understands that the visible reddish glow is the composite of four electron transitions that release energy in the region of the color spectrum that we can see with our eyes. This is analogous to St. Paul speaking of seen and unseen realities in II Corinthians 4, of which the unseen (non-sensate) reality is the abiding, essential, eternal reality. Furthermore, the complete set of solutions to Schrodinger’s equation provides an elegant explanation for the periodic table of the elements which is foundational to all of chemistry. Physicists are interested in the truth concerning God’s material creation—they want to know the “mind of God” as many have put it. From my perspective God allows human beings created in His image to learn and know the truth of the physical world by both literal and symbolic/mythical/metaphorical pathways. Both pathways are crucial. If there is no literal hydrogen atom, there is no Schrodinger equation. If there is no Schrodinger equation, there is no understanding of the essential, abiding, eternal nature of the hydrogen atom. It may be a serious over-simplification to say that we read our sacred Scriptures literally and leave it at that, just as it is a serious over-simplification to say that we know all about a hydrogen atom by simply observing its sensate, material appearances. There is a reality that is behind the literal both in spiritual world and in the material world, both of these worlds being created by God. For more in this vein it is instructive to read C. S. Lewis’s essay Myth Became Fact in God in the Dock. It is available on the web–katrinageiger.weebly.com/…/myth_became_fact-god_in_the_dock.doc.

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8 responses to “Thoughts on ‘Literality’

  • Lyn Briscoe

    David,

    Like you, I don’t care how old the earth is, and I really hate to debate issues. I’m not the most intelligent person around, and I haven’t studied all of these things like many of you have. I knew when I commented that I would probably be getting in over my head. However, I was willing to jump into the conversation because I do care very much about the way that Believers handle the Word of God, and I care very much about what my teenagers and children are being taught at church.

    I agree with your point that “truth can be conveyed to me, to any reader, in either a literal textual genre or in a genre of story/myth/allegory/metaphor/parable, or, further, the text may be both literal and story/myth/allegory/metaphor/parable at one and the same time.” I’m rather fond of the Wemmicks myself. So yes, we can glean truth from many different sources. But my concern is that Old Earth Creationists and Evolutionary Creationists are trying to make the Bible say something that it does not say. This is alarming to me, especially in light of the ever-increasing hostility toward Christianity in our culture.

    Our culture says that:
    I can believe anything I want to believe as long as I know that your beliefs are just as true as my beliefs.
    Adultery and divorce aren’t a big deal.
    If you don’t like being a boy, you can be a girl.
    Men can marry men and women can marry women.
    Truth is relative.
    It’s OK to murder babies in the womb because convenience and a woman’s right to choose are more important than the baby’s life. And the baby really isn’t a baby until it’s born anyway.

    I want my kids to understand that they need to find out how to deal with the above issues by turning to Scripture to see what God says about each one. They need to know that the Bible is the final authority on how they are to live. But if they are taught that they can make the Bible say whatever they want it to say, then it becomes relative and is no longer truth.

    So let me ask you (and whoever else may be following the conversation) two sincere questions:

    Can you please show me a passage of Scripture that supports the assertion that the world was created in millions of years?

    Can you show me another passage of Scripture that shows that the world could not have been created in six 24 hour days?

    Lyn

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    • John Paine

      Lynn:

      I do appreciate that this topic means so much to you and that you put forth the effort to weigh in. We sincerely wish more people would. A great deal of my own spiritual growth has occurred when I have been challenged by someone who thinks differently than I do. That’s part of the process of personal discipleship. Unfortunately, in our culture we are encouraged to vilify and vanquish those who oppose our ideas—not exactly a model for Christ-followers.

      As you assert, there is inestimable value in using Scripture to challenge our culture. Biblical historian Ray Vander Laan has a wonderful bit of teaching on Matthew 16:18-20 that puts an interesting perspective on Christ’s charge to us to do just that. We have a huge undertaking on our hands, and we have to fight with kindness, compassion, charity, truth and love. Not an easy calling.

      Several years ago, a friend encouraged me to study apologetics. With no interest whatsoever in creationism, I took a course entitled Creation and the Bible from Reasons Institute (a ministry of Reasons To Believe). I went into the course believing that if God wanted to make a young-looking earth He certainly could. I had no problem with that, and truth be told I had little interest.

      But, the course greatly exceeded my expectations. They emphasize charity in arguments and witnessing (per 1 Peter 3:15), and have an extremely high view of Scripture (quite contrary to personal attacks I read by others upon their character and values). One thing that really left an impression was that opposing beliefs and viewpoints were presented at full strength—no filter was applied to point out the weak points or make those who disagree look like their arguments are faulty. We spent a lot of time studying materials that were produced by Answers in Genesis—not in any derogatory way, but as they were intended to be evaluated by their authors. What Reasons To Believe did ingrain is an ethic that Christianity must make sense. That we don’t have to develop torturous harmonizations or fight the idea that science has some sort of anti-biblical bias. We will never have a complete grasp of real physical truth, but science is only the enemy of those who need it to be. Further, if our interpretation of the Bible is in conflict with observable facts, we need to question both science and our interpretation of Scripture. Easier said than done for many of us.

      Young earth adherents will use scientific facts to make their case. So do old earth creationists. So who’s right? Rather than tell people what to think, on Veracity we encourage people to study and form their own conclusions. Unfortunately, I have encountered many believers who don’t want to objectively investigate the age of the earth, but are very quick to throw rocks (pardon the pun) at those whom they think have interpreted Scripture incorrectly. We all need more humility in this regard.

      In direct response to your two questions…first, there are many resources that you can study about the Matter of Days in Genesis, as there are many scientific sources to investigate. You may never come to change your belief as Bill Brendley did, but please don’t deny yourself an opportunity to investigate the truth that we all value. I can assure you firsthand, old earth and young earth creationists can indeed love each other. Secondly, it’s important to premise your questions carefully. Never wanting to hang any hermeneutical principle on one passage of Scripture, you can doubtless find many verses and passages of Scripture to support the idea of an old earth, and that the days of creation could not have been consecutive 24-hour days.

      Even if we never agree, please know that we’re not enemies and that we will both share in the same blessed redemption. Again, I do appreciate your conviction and dedication to upholding Scripture. Thanks for sticking your neck out and commenting!

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Lyn: These are fair questions you have asked. Let me approach it from a different angle than John has, and try to re-summarize what I was trying to say in the previous blog post.

      When I read the several dozen passages in the Bible regarding creation, not just Genesis 1&2, I do not see that the biblical writers were all that concerned about the age of the earth question. For example, in Job 38-39, God can do whatever He wants whenever He wants, so I am cautioned not to try to “pin” God down on the specific details. But what should be clear from the “whole counsel of God” is that God is indeed the Creator and we as humans are created in His image.

      In a nutshell, if God created in six-24 hour periods, then God receives all of the glory. If God created in millions of years, then God receives all of the glory. If God created at one single moment in time, as Saint Augustine argued in the 5th century, then God receives all of the glory. Either way, God receives all of the glory!

      Nevertheless, the question that comes up is this: How do we understand the relationship between what God has said in the Bible with what science tells us? As I have been trying my best to understand Romans 1 and Psalm 19, God has given us not only “special revelation” in terms of the Bible. He has also given us “general revelation” as God’s creation declares His glory to us. The creation gives us knowledge of God that is intelligible, though it is not “saving” knowledge. The study of God’s general revelation is what we can basically call “science.” Scripture, therefore, gives us a Christian basis for doing science, which is why the early Christian astronomer, Johannes Kepler, reasoned that science is best understood as “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” How we go about doing science as Christians and how science relates to Scripture is pretty much at the root of the controversy within the church today, but there are a number of other issues at stake as well.

      A lot more can be said here, but I invite you to share your thoughts. Thank you for your contribution to Veracity.

      Clarke

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  • Bob Briscoe

    I disagree. I don’t think the root of the controversy is, “How we go about doing science…” or even, “ how science relates to Scripture.” I think the root of the controversy lies in how the scientist goes about interpreting scientific facts. And, which scientists we choose to trust.
    One geologist looks at certain scientific facts and concludes that the earth is millions of years old. Another geologist looks at those same facts and concludes that the earth is thousands of years old.
    From what I’ve seen, there are some very brilliant scientists on the young earth side. I simply choose to trust their interpretation of the scientific facts.

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  • Bob Briscoe

    I disagree. I don’t think the root of the controversy is, “How we go about doing science…” or even, “ how science relates to Scripture.” I think the root of the controversy lies in how the scientist goes about interpreting scientific facts. And, which scientists we choose to trust.

    One geologist looks at certain scientific facts and concludes that the earth is millions of years old. Another geologist looks at those same facts and concludes that the earth is thousands of years old.

    From what I’ve seen, there are some very brilliant scientists on the young earth side. I simply choose to trust their interpretation of the scientific facts.

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Hi, Bob! Thanks for visiting and commenting on the Veracity blog.

      I am not sure I understand where our disagreement is. However, I think what you are saying about “trust” really hits the nail on the head.

      It appears that there is a lot of broken trust, or mistrust, between believers with different viewpoints on issues like these today, among scientists and non-scientists alike. Do you have any ideas or suggestions on how trust can be rebuilt or mended today?

      Clarke

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  • David the Older

    Brother Clarke, I am responding to your question in your response (Veracity) of July 23rd, “How do we understand the relationship between what God has said in the Bible with what science tells us?”

    Consider the statement, “When it rains, plants grow; therefore, rain is good.” The first part is natural science; the second part is theology/philosophy/Bible. The first part deals with atoms/molecules constrained by the rules of chemistry and physics; the second part deals with morals, values, and worth. The Bible is not a textbook on science; science is not a textbook on theology/philosophy/Bible.

    The curriculum in a college, Christian or otherwise, is divided into three major areas: humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Religion/theology/bible departments are always listed within the humanities (literature, philosophy, languages, art, music, religion, etc.), as distinguished from the natural sciences (physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology, biology). Psychology, sociology, political science, history, etc. are social sciences. We will not concern ourselves here with social sciences. The social sciences involve volitional (consciousness/choice/free-will) dimensions of human behavior, and it is this which separates them from the natural sciences that focus on the behavior of inanimate material and animate material exclusive of human consciousness. Examples of animate human material behavior not involving consciousness/choice/free-will would be heartbeat, hiccups, digestion, sneezing, and respiration.

    When we take a course in an English department such as Milton’s Paradise Lost (ca. 1660), we do not read Milton’s epic in order to learn astronomy. To learn astronomy we take an astronomy course in a physics department. This is the case even though Milton has many learned, lengthy, and erudite passages focusing on both Ptolemaic and Copernican cosmology. We understand that “… Milton was not a scientist but a theorist [addressing of morality, value, and worth]. He did not contribute to scientific knowledge so much as to an understanding of what new scientific ideas might mean to traditional Christian cosmology.” This is seen when Raphael (the archangel in Book 8:122-23) asks, “What if the Sun/ Be Centre to the World.” More generally, we do not take literature or any other courses in the humanities to learn of natural science. Such is not the purpose/intent of the humanities. Likewise, we do not take physics courses (or other natural sciences to inform ourselves with regard to the enduring themes of literature, including Scripture, such as moral failure, salvation, forgiveness, reconciliation, love, justice, righteousness, hope, community, friendship, family, loyalty, commitment, vision, journey, courage, beauty, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, charity, trust, fidelity, self-sacrifice, wisdom, transcendence, etc.—Scripture, not natural science, informs us with regard to Peggy Lee’s (1969) enduring question, “Is That All There Is?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCRZZC-DH7M)

    My claim here (which is not new) is that the Bible does not address the mechanistic nature of the material creation, mechanistic meaning “of or relating to theories that explain phenomena in purely physical [material] or deterministic terms” and/or “determined by physical [material] processes alone.” That is, the Bible does not address the rules of physics and chemistry (which are embodied in models, formulas, equations, laws, theories, paradigms, conceptual frameworks) that describe and govern the behavior of atoms and molecules of the material world. Thus, it is not possible for there to be a conflict between natural science and biblical revelation. They are two distinct, though God ordained, coordinates of reality something like x and y are two distinct, independent coordinates for doing plane geometry—independent meaning that the x coordinate (vector) cannot be described in terms of the y coordinate (vector) and vice versa. If you think that you have observed a conflict between natural science and the Bible, then you are misunderstanding and/or misrepresenting one or the other or both.

    Genesis 2:7 speaks to my assertion. We read, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (KJV).” Natural science (general revelation) speaks to the “dust” of God’s “very good” creation, dust being atoms, molecules, and such like; the Bible (special revelation) speaks to the “soul” of God’s creation, “soul” being embodied/embedded in those created in “the image of God,” that is, in human beings—soul dealing with the goodness or badness, the rightness or wrongness, the appropriateness or inappropriateness of human behavior. This may sound excessively dualistic, but I don’t see how one can escape a serious operationally/phenomenologically dualistic thrust (how we actually go about living our day-to-day lives) in the Bible as we see in several further passages including in John 3:6, “That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of spirit is spirit,” and in Paul speaking of an “inner man” and an “outer man” in II Corinthians 4:16—”Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day,” and in Matthew 10:28, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body …”

    Here is a final example in the same vein. “By 1938-39 advances in the physics of the nucleus of atoms allowed for the possibility of building atomic bombs of enormous destructive power; two atomic bombs were used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Japan) in August of 1945 with the loss of ca. 200,000 lives.” Here again we see that the first part of the statement is “dust,” that is, physics and chemistry of atoms. The second part of the statement is a question of “soul,” that is, morality, which for a Christian must be addressed within the context of biblical revelation, not in the context of natural/materialistic science. The decision of President Truman to use the bombs was a moral decision, not a scientific decision. So, while natural science and biblical revelation are independent coordinates, they do intersect within the total sphere of human existence. Biblical revelation, “soul,” provides the moral/ethical boundaries within which scientific knowledge is pursued and used; it does not provide mechanistic knowledge of the “dust.” “Dust” is solely within the province of general revelation and common grace. I cannot help but wonder if the hermeneutical framework that some of the faithful bring to biblical text has too much “dust” in it.

    Two helpful books, Clarke, addressing your question from an orthodox Christian perspective are Reason Within the Bounds of Religion by Nicholas Wolderstroff and Whose Community? Which Interpretation?: Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church by Merold Westphal.

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  • John Paine

    From David the Older:
    __________________________

    A few miscellaneous thoughts on science and faith.

    I. John and Clarke, I am grateful for Veracity and the unity that it fosters. I am grateful for your literal reading of and commitment to Psalm 133:1: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity!”

    II. Lyn stated that, “Our culture says that: I can believe anything I want to believe as long as I know that your beliefs are just as true as my beliefs … Truth is relative.” Indeed, moral relativism is anathema to Scripture. For the Christian it is as Ted Koppel stated in his 1987 commencement address at Duke University: “What Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions, they are Commandments. ‘Are’, not were.” Interestingly and not as widely known as it should be, while relativism is a serious force in the humanities and social sciences, relativism is universally rejected within the community of practicing research scientists pursing mechanistic knowledge of the material world. Natural scientists are not relativists! Indeed, there are philosophers of science, functioning within the “humanities,” and sociologists of science, functioning within the “social sciences,” who argue for a culturally conditioned relativity of mechanistic knowledge generated in the natural sciences. However, such “humanities” and “social science” intellectuals/academicians/scholars are treated with scorn, disrespect, and even contempt by practicing research natural scientists. The flavor and intensity of this scorn can be seen from the Sokal Hoax of 1996—”Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” Alan D. Sokal (mathematical physicist) in Social Text. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair)

    In this matter of the non-relativity of natural science, it is instructive and clarifying to consider the words of Steven Weinberg, a self-proclaimed atheist and a 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics co-awardee, on science and truth. In the passage below Weinberg is responding to Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions:

    “… I can’t see any sense in which the increase in scope and accuracy of the hard [e.g., equations and models] parts of our theories is not a cumulative approach to truth.
    “… Kuhn’s view of scientific progress would leave us with a mystery: Why does anyone bother? If one scientific theory is only better than another in its ability to solve the problems that happen to be on our minds today, then why not save ourselves a lot of trouble by putting these problems out of our minds? We don’t study elementary particles because they are intrinsically interesting, like people. They are not—if you have seen one electron, you’ve seen them all. What drives us onward in the work of science is precisely the sense that there are truths out there to be discovered, truths that once discovered will form a permanent part of human knowledge.” (Steven Weinberg in an essay on Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions published in New York Review of Books, Vol XLV, Number 15 (1998).)

    And then there is this thought of Einstein (a rather ill-defined theist of Jewish heritage): “I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details,” and “When I assess a theory, I ask myself if I were God, would I have arranged the universe this way.”(Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times of Einstein, 1971, Avon Books and Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe, 2007, Simon and Schuster, respectively.)

    Natural scientists, theistic or atheistic, are not relativists—philosophically as scientists they belong within the boundaries of “scientific realism.” The world-wide community of natural scientists is strikingly homogeneous and overwhelmingly congenial in the pursuit of mechanistic scientific truth, that is, in the pursuit of “that which is in the mind of God,” putting it literally for some researchers and metaphorically for others.

    Any serious tension between theistic and atheistic natural scientists is not in the area of the physics and chemistry of the material world, it is in the arena of philosophy (or philosophical worldview) as it exists within the bounds of the humanities. Many, but not all, atheistic scientists champion a metaphysics commonly denoted as “philosophical materialism” or just “materialism.” This view holds all of reality to be understood and explained only by atoms and molecules (i.e., material substance) under the rules of physics and chemistry. There are no such things as spirit, soul, consciousness, virtue, altruism, goodness, etc. that is other than the expression of the material, that is, atoms and molecules. It is this non-theistic philosophical position within the category called humanities that is not compatible with the Judaic-Christian worldview embodied in our Sacred Texts, that is, the Bible.

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