Thursday, October 1, 2009

Christianity Is Not Irrational Even if Some Christians Are

Through the perusal of the daily blogs I follow I occasionally see articles which are quite worthy of wincing over.  The author of these efforts makes a statement as a Christian, indicating what they claim is a Christian belief, and not a belief of the individual.  Unfortunately such individuals do not realize in doing so, they are making a "witness" for Christians which is scandalous.  Not scandalous in the sense that Christians need to challenge the world.  Rather I mean scandalous in the sense of "Christians believe that?  What a bunch of idiots!"

Now yes, the foolishness of God is greater than the wisdom of man but I am not speaking of these scandals.  Rather I am speaking of the foolishness of a man which is seen as the foolishness of Christians.

The issue I have is with certain Christians and their approach to science.

Christianity and Science

Historically, Christians have had nothing to fear from science, and indeed many of the earlier scientists were not only Christians, but priests or monks as well.  The idea was that God created the universe, and they sought to come to a greater understanding of the universe God made.

Now, beginning in the so-called "Enlightenment," we had a movement towards emphasizing reason alone, arguing that only that which we could observe could be considered true.  Unfortunately this false reasoning meant that certain scientists who accepted this view fell into the argument from silence fallacy, that because they did not have evidence of a thing it means it must not exist.

This view of science is of course wrong and must be challenged.

Unfortunately, some groups of Christians go the wrong way with this.  They seem to operate under this syllogism:

  1. The Bible is true
  2. Some claims of science contradict the Bible
  3. Therefore Science is false

The problem is the major premise is ambiguous (in what way was it understood to be true?) and the second premise is false.  The conclusion is therefore not shown to be true.

I think this is important to stress because I have seen Christians lose their faith over this.  Once they become convinced Science does contain truth, they look at the second premise and therefore conclude that where Science contradicts the Bible, the Bible must be false… never realizing the problem the whole time was in their own personal interpretation of Scripture.

The Bible is indeed true and inerrant.  However, this does not always mean the individual interpreting it understands it correctly.  [The reason I reject the idea of personal interpretation of Scripture is that I have seen too many contradictory interpretations.]  Some scientists may reach conclusions which contradict either their understanding of the Bible or that of the one reading both the Bible and the writing of the scientist.

The Bible does indeed speak of Creation in a period of seven days, yes.  The Bible also often uses the number seven as a symbol of fulfillment (A Christian who believed God needed seven days to create the universe or that He was exhausted and needed to rest on the seventh day is limiting the power of God).  So a claim that a universe billions of years old contradicts the Bible really requires an investigation whether the one who holds seven literal days is reading the Bible as intended.

In regards to the claims of the scientists out there, the PZ Myers', the Richard Dawkins' and the like who claim that Science doesn't need God, therefore there is no God, what they claim is not claimed on the basic of scientific discovery, but on their own philosophical beliefs which goes beyond what Science itself can claim.

Christians who have faith in God do not need to fear science, though they need to assess the claims of the scientist to investigate whether a claim is based on science or what the scientist claims science teaches.

Christianity and Reason

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said that God is not contrary to reason, though He may be above reason.  I find this to be very profound.  Certain Christians fear a claim that indicates something is against God's nature because they fear it makes God limited.

It is like the dilemma of Socrates in Euthyphro:

"Is the pious (τὸ ὅσιον) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" (10a)

The non Theist often argues that gods are subject to values.  Some Christians argue that Values are because God wills it (which opens up Christians to the question of "What if God told you to kill your child?").

The reasoning Christian recognizes this is a false dilemma.  Thomas Aquinas recognized that something is good because it reflects the good which God is.  Therefore good is neither outside of God, nor arbitrarily chosen by a "cosmic killjoy."

The claim of some Christians, seeking to protect the freedom of God, that God could do evil but chooses not to is based on a misunderstanding of what evil is.  Evil is not a positive force, but an absence of good.  So to say God could do evil is to say that God could be less than perfect.

Moreover this seeking to protect the freedom of God (based on a misunderstanding of how God is free) makes God's constancy and His boundless mercy no longer certain.  Because God could choose evil (under this idea), our only assurance He will not is "Well, He hasn't done it yet."

The Importance of Reason

I am not calling for the Rationalism of the Enlightenment of course.  That was an error based on the assumption that the human mind can know all there is to know.  Let it die recognized as the foolishness it is.

However, I am calling for the recognition that Christians do not need to be afraid of reason or science.  The Catholic Church does not require me to mindlessly follow without thinking.  Rather she calls me to understand what they teach so I might follow the teachings of Christ out of devotion and not because it is an arbitrary rule with no sense to it.

I wonder how many people have walked away from the Christian faith because either they did not understand the reasoning behind it or because they saw an irrational Christian and assumed from this that all Christians were irrational.

The Christian faith is not irrational.  We may not understand a reason for something, but this does not mean no reason exists for it.

If one is a Christian, do not fear reason and science.  If one follows reason and science, do not fear Christianity.  The individual should be certain their own understandings of Christianity or of science are not in error before arguing that either Christianity or science is "wrong."

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