Re: Fragility and tendentiousness

From: Dr. Blake Nelson (
Date: Thu Sep 18 2003 - 23:56:32 EDT

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    In writing, I made an overstatement to simplify what I
    was trying to get across. Hopefully not to belabor it
    much basically there are some aspects of science that
    overlap with what religions talk about. First, I was
    referring mainly to scientism. When properly
    understood, science has a particular, limited sphere
    of inquiry.

    Second, the first thing that really has to be
    discerned is whether the religion is making scientific
    claims or in the absence of anything better people are
    using religious understandings to try to explain
    things about the world.

    For example, Genesis is discussed by lots of atheists
    and many christians as if it were meant to be a
    scientific, historical description of creation. This,
    of course, is problematic from a couple respects.
    First, it is not treated in that literal sense in
    Judaism and its treatment in christian theology varies
    considerably. Second, in terms of using it to attack
    christianity, it simply fails because christianity's
    crux is, of course, Jesus and the cross, not Genesis.
    The Hebrew scriptures are informative, for among other
    reasons, they are the scriptures that Jesus and His
    followers were familiar with. But, I would agree with
    George that Genesis, indeed all of the Bible, must be
    read in light of that which is uniquely Christian --
    Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. A scientific critique
    of Genesis, both misses the point that it is not
    uniformly understood by christians (or Jews) to be a
    scientific description and for christians, Genesis is
    important only in relation to Jesus. So, while
    science can tell us that Genesis could not be read as
    a literal scientific account, most christian theology
    is not predicated on it being a literal scientific

    When dealing with the gospel witness to Jesus,
    science, in terms of the hard sciences, has little to
    say. Science, for example, cannot rule out the
    miraculous -- which is often poorly defined in the
    question of miracles since christian scriptures
    describe some natural phenomena as miracles in the
    context of their occurrence. Miracles do not
    necessarily presuppose supernaturalism, but science
    likewise cannot rule out supernaturalism.

    To the extent that science authors try to do so, like
    Sagan's Demon Haunted World, again, they largely miss
    the point by going for folk religion rather than
    dealing more broadly with the philosophical and
    metaphysical questions that underpin a proper
    understanding of the questions, etc.

    Likewise, religious practice and its effect on
    individuals is only partially and indirectly subject
    to scientific investigation. Its results are often
    interesting such as the fair amount of psychological
    work that has been done on religious belief and
    behavior. These data, like so many, are of course
    open to all sorts of interpretations depending on
    presuppositions. Science does not provide, in most
    cases (if any), a basis for determining which
    presupposition is the correct since those again are
    beyond the realm of science, not being subject to
    empirical testing, etc.

    For brevity, I won't get into other areas, but my
    overarching point here is that I think there is
    general confusion on what a scientific worldview means
    and what christianity's worldview is and how the two
    do not conflict with one another and science cannot be
    the arbiter, without other presuppositions that aren't
    "scientific", about most aspects of religion.

    BTW, to clarify the arational point, it doesn't even
    have to be an emotive or an affective disposition.
    There just isn't a "rational" way to make some choices
    in the sense of their being a way to measure or
    compare them on a particular scale. For example, if
    you're in occupied France in 1943, is there a
    "rational" way to choose between staying at home so
    one can care for an 80 year old infirmed grandmother
    or joining the French resistance to fight the Nazi
    occupation. In the sense of "rationalistic" no. To
    choose one over the other is to make a choice between
    particular competing values and while that is rational
    in being reasoned, it is not rational in the way that
    most people who try to use the term (why do so many
    atheist organizations have rational or reason in their
    name?) in a particular sense. But then again, neither
    is most of their behavior either. Fundamentally,
    whether it is "rational" to believe is a non-question.
     There is certainly reasoned belief, but to believe in
    christianity, for example, is also a choice to believe
    in a particular set of values that, as the New
    Testament and experience makes abundantly clear, are
    often at odds with prevalent cultural values of
    various times and places.

    --- Steve Petermann <> wrote:
    > >>>>>>>>>>>
    > I am all for people thinking critically
    > about what science means and does and what it
    > doesn't.
    > It is only in bad theology or ignorance of theology
    > that a scientific worldview has much of anything to
    > say about religion.
    > <<<<<<<<<<
    > That sounds just as prejudicial as a scientism.
    > Surely science has
    > something to tell us about how the cosmos unfolds.
    > When religion does the
    > same thing then there can either be a conflict or
    > partnership.
    > Steve Petermann

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