In a on-going exchange prompted by this post by Jason Kuznicki at Postive Liberty, to which I had responded here, Mr Kuznicki has insisted on the claim that “reason” or science by its dependence on insistence on falsifiability and repeatablilty is valid where religion, which in his mind does not have the same features is not. For example, in a comment to my first essay he writes (concerning how an LED works):
“Where is the light?” I ask.
“You have to see it through faith,” he [ed: the scientist] replies.
“Oh, and how did you learn such things?”
“Someone a very long time ago had a vision about them.”
Now that would be faith in science.
There are just a few things wrong with this analogy.
First, theology (and religion) are not in opposition (necessarily) with science. Philosophy for example, is quite simliar to the practice of theology but I’d be surprised if Mr Kuznicki insisted that statements and arguments made by philosphers must be experimentally verifiable. However statements made by philosophers are in fact subjected to some sort of scrutiny. Philosphers must make careful arguments and back up their arguments with good logic and they carefully examine their assumptions. So too must theologians subject their work to similar rigor. What sort of statements made by philosphers (or theologians) are “falsifiable”, well those which commit logical fallacies.
There is of course two more types of claims made by religion (and theologians). Historical claims are also made. What proof do we have the the man known as Cato really existed? We have accounts, writings, and other historical evidence but perhaps no direct archeological evidence. Is his existence myth or history? Mr Kuznicki would of course (I assume) not insist that Cato didn’t exist because, well, we can’t produce him for examination (or even exhumation expecially as I believe cremation was the practice then). So in the absence of physical corroberation, what are we to do? Historical events, are by there very nature not repeatable, unlike lighting a LED or dropping two unequal weights from a Leaning Tower. Of the key events concerning the origins of Christianity there is a lot of data to look through. There are the four canonical gospels and other writings being uncovered (like the Dead Sea scrolls earlier in the last century) all the time from that (alas now somewhat war torn) region. There are near contemporary (unsympathetic) historians like Josephus. N.T. Wright has written a series (now three with a fourth and more promised) of large but quite readable texts in which he approaches the ministry of Jesus and his Ressurection from both the perspective of a modern trained theologian and first century historian (the series goes under the title Christian Origins and the Question of God and The New Testament and the People of God is the first volume. If anyone is tempted to purchase these volumes form Amazon for perusal plese use get the first two from this page, and thereby toss me some nickels ). From my amateur perspective his historical perspective seemed (like Darwin’s evolution) understandable, explainable (and thankfully free of post-modernist gobbldegook, which also probably explains why it isn’t also full of technical jargon and opaque). Anyhow the point being is that there is solid historical work that has been done supports the thesis that something unique happened that first Easter. But the “what happened” leads us to …
The third aspect of theology involves Mystery. There are indeed aspects of religion demarcated usually farily clearly by the work of those same theologians as being part of the mystery and that logic won’t carry you into or thorugh those waters, as it were. For the Christian mythos that lfundamental mystery ies in the Trniity (not as Mr Kuznicki’s first essay seemed to assume in the Creation story). Now science in quantum mechanics may also have uncovered its own mystery, although QM is only a century old and perhaps in a few dozen centuries more men will know if this mystery (like the Trinity) is assailable or at the core is ultimately impenetrable. Part of the proof is in the pudding. Riding a bike (or if you’re past that stage … counter-steering a bike) takes a leap of faith … but afte the leap well there you are. Likewise it was those benefits as seen by Ms Edith Stein (as described by Alasadair MacIntyre) that persuaded her to make that leap. For physics the results made available by QM are almost uncountable and have made so very much of modern technology possible that the leap of faith is quickly made. But the kernel of mystery remains. But the existence of mystery does not invalidate QM nor religion a priori.
So to recap. Whiel science is defined by repeatablity religion and theology do not depend on the same criteria. Theology (and therefore religion) is something more akin to philosophy and history with a salting of Mystery. It makes truth claims about the Nature of Nature which are pointedly of a different sort than those made by science. That is the questiosn answered by religion and those answered by science have Science answers questiosn like what happens to X if I do Y or the like, very postiivest questisn. Theolgy answers questiosn like what is God and what does that mean to me.
I’d also like to also draw attention, in that Mr Kuznicki’s original article was written about a survey of beliefs in Evolution in America as compared to other countries, that John Mark Reynolds has an interesting rebuttal/fisking of that original article at Eidos which is well worth reading.