Saturday, December 14, 2019

Science and Theology Both Require Faith!

Science is the study of nature. Theology is the study of God. It is a common teaching and belief that since nature is the material world and God is immaterial, science and theology embody two totally different ways of knowing and represent, as biologist Stephen Jay Gould taught, “two completely different, non-overlapping magisteria.” In her book, Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey explains that our culture has separated "truth" into two categories. Theology fits in one category which is subjective and unverifiable. The other category is considered to be verifiable: hard, factual, scientific knowledge.[1] The more I study science and the more I study theology, the more I find that the two categories actually overlap. There is absolutely no need to keep them separated; in fact, science itself depends on the understanding of nature ascribed by the Judeo-Christian worldview.

Both science and theology are concerned with knowing the truth about the world; both study the handiwork of God. One studies God’s inspired writings and attempts to interpret their meaning, while the other studies God’s creation and tries to make sense of it. Both use remarkably similar techniques! The Reverend Doctor John Polkinghorne, who has a doctorate in physics and is also ordained as an Anglican priest, notices the similarities between his two disciplines and states, “Theology, as much as science, must appeal to motivated belief arising from interpreted experience.”[2]

Both Christianity and science require faith. Both begin with presuppositions and assumptions that cannot be proven, both require intellectual acceptance of reasons supporting a particular belief or idea, both place trust in another person’s credibility, and both require a commitment leading to some form of life change.[3] Max Planck, the father of quantum theory, understood that the process of science requires several assumptions.

Science demands also the believing spirit. Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith. It is a quality which the scientist cannot dispense with.[4]

Faith – the Biblical definition more aptly worded as “trust”- is required by both disciplines.  Science and theology both surrender to assumptions that cannot be proven using empirical facts and instead depend on knowledge and reasons which are presupposed.

It has gone too little noticed that scientists are in a parallel situation to that of Christians: they also act in faith. As we have seen, the sciences have the common-sense presuppositions at their very foundation and cannot function without them. Moreover, the sciences cannot provide justification for these presuppositions, as scientists’ methods are already based on these presuppositions. Scientists, whether they realize it or not, trust that some other domain of knowledge outside the sciences has provided an appropriate justification or motivation for this common-sense foundation of scientific inquiry. Scientists have a faith commitment - a stance of trust – toward these common-sense presuppositions. This is a stock of knowledge scientists count on to do their work.[5]

Chapter 3 of Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins by Robert C. Bishop, et al., discusses the assumptions that are necessary to even begin to do science.[6] Scientists must assume that the external world actually exists, that our senses are reliable to provide us with information about that external world, and that we can use reason to think about the external world. These activities require that our minds be independent from the natural world! The process of science also assumes that nature is intelligible to our minds (which again requires that our minds be separate from the material world!) and we must also assume that nature behaves uniformly and consistently. The Judeo-Christian world view stands alone as the only one which is consistent with these assumptions and also provides grounding for why these assumptions can be made in the first place.
The very idea of searching out and discovering laws of nature presupposes this kind of uniformity to creation, and this is exactly the kind of world we might expect based on the [Christian] doctrine of creation’s insistence on functional integrity and the ministerial nature of creation.[7]

Both science and theology also assume that there is a single “truth” to discover; a truth about God as well as a truth about nature. Since we are never going to be able to collect all of the possible facts and evidence, absolute certainty about nature and about God will never be accomplished – but we still trust our discoveries as truth in the sense that what is discovered corresponds with reality.

Both disciplines look at evidence to determine an explanation for that evidence, and then both test the explanation by seeing if new evidence will fit with that description. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, describes the process of “doing theology”:  
1. Find all verses in the Bible relevant to the topic you want to study. 
2. Summarize the points made in the relevant versus.  
3. Summarize the teachings of the relevant versus into one or more points about that subject.  
4. Compare your summary to other writings on the subject and/or talk with others in the church about your summary.  
5. If your views are radically different from others writings on the subject, then you will need more evidence to modify or strengthen your position.  
When doing systematic theology, Grudem states:

…we are free to use our reasoning abilities to draw deductions from any passage of Scripture so long as these deductions do not contradict the clear teaching of some other passage of Scripture.[8]

Compare the above steps for “doing theology” to the commonly accepted steps for “doing science”:  
1. Collect relevant evidence.  
2. Evaluate (summarize) your evidence.  
3. Formulate a conclusion (one or two main points) based on your evidence.  
4. Submit your conclusions to a peer review process (allow others to compare your work).  
5. If your conclusions disagree with others, collect more evidence to either strengthen or modify your conclusion. 

Both depend on human interpretation of evidence. Science uses a peer review process and reproducible experiments to test the explanations. Theology uses peer review as well; others in the church cross check explanations with the latest research on the earliest recoverable Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts. Both use something a bit different as evidence, but the process to evaluate the evidence is very much the same. Both also refer to past experts for help, as Newton and Maxwell are part of any standard science text just as much as Augustine and Aquinas are part of a theology text; both areas have their accepted doctrines. Obviously, science and theology are studying different areas and usually are asking different types of questions (as they should, since they are different disciplines), but the process of science and the process of theology are very much in harmony, and both use hard, factual knowledge.

Modern science itself was born out of Christianity because reasoning and using evidence is what Christians did! To the early Christians, faith was believing because of the evidence.  Christianity, as described in the Bible, is itself “scientific” as it is historically based on evidence, testing, reason, and logic. Jesus continuously gave concrete examples and signs. In Mark 2, Jesus says he healed so that you may believe; he gave signs to show that he was the Christ. He was not afraid to show physical evidence to Thomas. In Acts, Paul reasonswith non-believers and Peter reminds people of the evidence they saw. John’s entire gospel is an evidential apologetic and explains his faith in his first epistle:

He opens his letter with the evidence of his own eyewitness encounter with Christ. Notice how many senses he appeals to:
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled concerning the Word of Life, and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us, what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also…
Then he closes his letter like this:
And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.
To John, faith wasn't a blind leap. It wasn't wishing on a star. It was grounded in evidence that led to knowledge. It was certain.[9]

The New Testament furnishes its readers with evidence of its claims and implores them to investigate what has been written. Faith, as described in the Bible, is based on evidence and reason—not merely a blind, subjective leap.  

The Biblical authors repeatedly encouraged their readers to search the evidence to investigate the claims of Christianity (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 and 1 John 4:1) so they could be convinced of the truth of these claims (Romans 14:5, 2 Timothy 1:8-12 and 2 Timothy 3:14). This encouragement is consistent with the notion that the evidence will lead us to a rational conclusion about the nature of Jesus. In fact, Jesus also encouraged his followers to consider the evidence he provided about his deity (John 14:11 and Acts 1:2-3). Christian faith is not blind. Instead, the Christian faith encourages investigation related to Jesus and to the world around us.[10]

If you really want to understand the world and the true nature of reality, you must not limit yourself to only one domain.  There is no reason why they can’t go hand in hand, as they have historically done.  Both science and Christian Theology can teach you truth and each can enhance the other; showing you two different symbiotic aspects of the universe. You can approach both Christianity and science using evidence, reason and logic.  When you do, you will discover how much they complement and enhance each other.  In Romans, we are told to look at nature to learn things about God, while knowing about the Creator can give us a different perspective on the creation.  As Rev. Dr. Polkinghorne says it:

…science describes only one dimension of the many-layered reality within which we live, restricting itself to the impersonal and general, and bracketing out the personal and unique.[11]

If interpreted experience is to be the basis of our understanding reality, then our concept of the nature of reality must be sufficiently extensive to be able to accommodate the richness of our experience.[12]

[1] Nancy R. Pearcey, Total Truth, Crossway Books, 2005
[2] John Polkinghorne, Quantum Physics and Theology, Yale University Press, 2007.
[3] Robert C. Bishop, Larry L. Funck, Raymond J. Lewis, Stephen O. Moshier, and John H. Walton, Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins, 2018, page 52
[4] Max Planck, Where is Science Going, W.W. Norton, 1932, page 214
[5] Robert C. Bishop, Larry L. Funck, Raymond J. Lewis, Stephen O. Moshier, and John H. Walton, Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins, 2018, page 50
[6] ibid
[7] ibid, page 44
[8] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994.
[9] Gregory Koukl, Stand to Reason, Solid Ground, February 2000.
[11] John Polkinghorne, Exploring Reality, Yale University Press, 2005.
[12] Ibid.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Is the “Brute Reality” God, the Universe, or The Laws of Physics?

For thousands of years, the prevailing scientific view was that the universe was eternal – that it had always been here; that it was static and unchanging.  During those thousands of years, the Bible stood in direct opposition to that idea; teaching that the universe had a beginning and that God had existed eternally.  Since the 1960’s, the prevailing scientific view has been that the universe did indeed have a beginning; this has been used by Christian apologists as one piece of evidence that God does exist. 

This ultimate question of what has existed eternally is discussed by Jeff Zweerink near the end of his book, Escaping The Beginning.[1] The “brute reality” must either be God, the Universe, or a new eternal entity, proposed recently by Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking, the “Laws of Physics.”

Is the Universe Eternal?

This is a popular choice for the brute reality based on the success we have had finding purely natural explanations for phenomena.  Since inflation almost certainly happened, the universe is much larger than we can imagine or observe. If our current understanding of the mechanism for inflation is correct, then bubble universes exist and the Big Bang marks the beginning of space, matter, and time in our universe only.[2] Is it possible that inflation has been going on forever creating bubble universes and ours is only one of many universes? According to Arizona State Physicist Paul Davies, for eternal inflation to be the reality, there has to be some sort of universe generating mechanism which itself must to be exceedingly fine-tuned; the level of fine-tuning needed for this requires an explanation. The pre-inflationary patch of space which became our universe had exceedingly low entropy; what is the source of the quantum and gravitation laws that govern this? What is the source of the structure of space-time that allows this? These requirements make it more reasonable that the “brute reality” be something outside of the universe, such as God or the “Laws of Physics”.

Are the Laws of Physics Eternal?

Hawking and Krauss both agree that the universe had a beginning. Both of their proposed mechanisms for the beginning of the universe have theoretical backing and contain ideas anchored in known physics – but both also contain huge extrapolations from the known physics.[3] For Hawking and Krauss to be correct, the laws of physics must exist outside of space and time and must be eternal, and therefore must be self-existent.  The laws of physics must exist independently of anything physical and are prescriptive; therefore they have the power to create.[4] On this view, our ability to think and reason must also have emerged through a purely naturalistic process. The laws of physics must then be conscious in order to provide other entities with consciousness. A closer inspection of Hawking and Krauss show that the laws of physics producing the universe have similar attributes to those Christianity ascribes to God.[5]  Self-existent, causative, and conscious: If the “Laws of Physics” are the eternal entity they sure sound a lot like the common description of God.

Is God Eternal?

The God of the Bible has all the necessary attributes to explain the existence of the universe. The Biblical description of the universe and its creation matches all the essential features of all the Big Bang models:  constant laws of physics, expanding universe, increasing entropy, a beginning.[6] Experience has taught us that laws require a law-giver; if the universe is governed by laws, then it is reasonable to conclude that those laws were prescribed by a mind – especially since the properties of those laws begin to sound exactly like the Biblical God. In support of this premise is modeling work done in an area of theoretical physics called “Causal Dynamical Triangulation.” This work has demonstrated that causality is a necessary component of a stable, four-dimensional universe.[7] In other words, something beyond space and time encoded cause and effect into the very fabric of space-time.[8]

Many other areas of study – not only in science – make the conclusion of God as the eternal entity the most reasonable conclusion. We find information embedded in life.  We find that we are conscious and are able to study and understand the universe.  We find that mathematics is able to describe nature. We trust in our minds to think rationally and make reasonable conclusions. We have a sense that objective moral laws and duties actually exist. Evidence from philosophy, history, archaeology, and Biblical textual criticism also give support to the reasonable conclusion that the God of the Bible is the “brute reality” that has existed eternally. 

[1] Jeff Zweerink, Escaping the Beginning, Reasons To Believe, 2019, pages 158-160
[2] ibid, page 103
[3] ibid, page 141
[4] ibid, page 145
[5] ibid
[6] ibid, page 150
[7] ibid, page 50
[8] ibid