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Monday, June 20, 2005

Science of Theology, Religion of Physics: Part II

As was pointed out in the previous essay, neither Eastern mysticism nor any other religious worldview except Christianity was amenable to the development of science. While it is easy to identify isolated accomplishments in non-Christian cultures - individual Indians and Arabs made important discoveries in mathematics and medicine, for instance - each of these accomplishments was due primarily to the spark of an individually brilliant mind. Never do we see the in these cultures the detailed study of reality that the culture of Western Europe developed and accomplished.

India, Arabia, China - these civilizations did not lack the intellect for scientific work, they lacked the outlook for it. The outlook lacked because the worldviews that permeated their cultures insisted on points that science must explicitly deny. These cultures all insisted the world cannot be accurately perceived through the senses, that only intuition is a reliable guide. Science, on the other hand, insists the world can be accurately perceived both through the senses and through tools that extend the reach of those senses. Intuition is a fallible tool, the senses, as used through the tools that extend their reach, are infallible.

Thus, because Eastern mystics insist “...the world is not as you perceive through the senses. Reality can only be perceived through the intuition,” for such an Eastern mystic, it would not matter if tools to extend the senses were developed and used - the senses are still fooled. The study of reality that is science is, for such a worldview, simply a fool’s game.

Christianity sees things quite differently. Precisely because it insists that God made Himself sensible in the Incarnation, it necessarily insists that the material world does not and cannot lie. If it could lie, the Incarnation could be false. The Incarnation cannot be false, therefore reality cannot lie.

Only the Christian worldview insisted on the central importance of sensory perception to faith. As the Apostle John insisted, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, of the word of life. For the life was manifested: and we have seen and do bear witness and declare unto you the life eternal, which was with the Father and hath appeared to us. That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you: that you also may have fellowship with us and our fellowship may be with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3). Note how emphatic John is on the importance of sensory perception to identifying truth: he heard, he saw, his hands handled. Sensory perception is even called the basis for Christian faith and fellowship. The phrase “reality exists” is an essentially Judeo-Christian religious phrase.

Unfortunately, the truth of this statement is lost because the meaning of one word has been lost. We no longer really understand what “faith” means. If asked for a definition of “faith,” many people today will quote St. Paul, “Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). This seems to be distinctly at odds with science, in which evidence must be seen in order to constitute evidence. What few realize is how badly this phrase has been misunderstood. The Apostle did not mean to tell us that we should embrace faith blindly. Rather, he meant to tell us that faith is formed by facts.

The problem lies precisely in the fact that too many Christians emphasize the second half of the phrase at the expense of the first. Faith is the substance of things hoped for. Hope is based in facts. Every time you order a hamburger at the local McDonald’s, you have made an act of faith. Consider: you entered the parking lot only because the sign said the people in the building served food. Once inside, you see a menu listing food items, tables for the consumption of food, napkins, forks, soda machines while the smell of cooking meat and frying potatoes wafts through the air. The man behind the counter asks what you would like to eat. The facts evince the possibility of food.

Do you know that you will be given edible food if you order? No, you don’t. Perhaps it is all an elaborate hoax. Or perhaps the cook is sick, the food tainted, or the last burger just sold to the previous customer and the counter person is yet unaware of the fact. But the facts give you hope, so you place your order. This is an act of faith – you haven’t yet seen the hamburger that will ultimately be given to you, but you have a lot of sensory evidence and previous experience upon which to base your hope. Your act of faith is based on the substance of hopeful facts, it is an act made on evidence as yet unseen. Your scientific hypothesis - they will give me food - is about to be tested against reality.

As we can see, faith is never blind. The idea that it is grows out of a serious misunderstanding, the embrace of a central principle of Eastern mysticism: “reason is the whore of the devil.” The phrase is from Martin Luther’s Table Talk. When taken in conjunction with Luther’s theory of total corruption, it constitutes an inelegant summary of the principle that reality is an illusion.

Because science must necessarily reject the idea that reality is an illusion, science must necessarily reject the idea of Protestant Christianity. The scientific worldview developed in Catholic Europe just before the Reformation. It is important to realize that Protestant Christian thought never made and has still not made, a complete break from its Catholic roots. Syncretist from the beginning, Protestant theology happily embraced simultaneously contradictory principles. Thus, it was able to simultaneously embrace scientific techniques while proclaiming a worldview that was actually at odds with what science insisted on – the centrality of the senses and of rationality to truth.

As a result, the sciences that grew on Protestant soils of Germany, England and America became increasingly out of step with the culture. Science insisted on rationality, Protestantism insisted “reason is the whore of the devil.” Science insisted on the importance of the senses, Protestantism insisted the sensory sacramental system was useless. The only point of contact was an elevation of literacy in both, but this emphasis merely exacerbated the disjunction between rational science and irrational Protestant religion. Mistaking the part (Protestantism) for the whole (Catholicism), science rejected Christianity whole and entire. As a result, it cut away its own rationale for being.

The next essay will examine exactly how this happened.

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