Friday, March 20, 2009

Faith and Reason, Religion and Science

'Everybody knows' that faith and reason, religion and science, get together about as well as mongoose and cobra.

Everybody's wrong.

I Can't Ignore Reason: I'm a Catholic

There's some long, possibly-boring, stuff toward the end of this post: mostly quotes from a document I found in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' archives. Like most of the Catholic Church's working documents, it's long, detailed, quite academic, and nowhere near as exciting as, say, a Steven King novel.

The point was, that faith and reason are both part of the skill set that people have, and that it's okay to use both.

Strike that.

We're supposed to use both.

The Catechism starts discussing faith and reason (not faith vs. reason) pretty quick:
"Man's faculties make him capable of coming to a knowledge of the existence of a personal God. But for man to be able to enter into real intimacy with him, God willed both to reveal himself to man and to give him the grace of being able to welcome this revelation in faith. The proofs of God's existence, however, can predispose one to faith and help one to see that faith is not opposed to reason."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 35)

Darwin and Huxley vs. Ussher and Carlyle

Sounds like a pro wrestling tag-team match, doesn't it?

That comparison isn't as wide of the mark as it might seem. Britain of the Victorian age was going through very interesting times. The Industrial Revolution was going full steam ahead, making life better - or different, at any rate. Some people didn't like the changes, some did.

Then there was Charles Darwin, who noticed some facts about the natural world, and put them together in a new way. He decided that the world hadn't always been exactly the way it was right then, and that animals had changed, systematically, over time.

The idea of Natural Selection caught on. Aldous Huxley was one of the supporters of the notion, as I recall.

The long and short of it was somehow the idea that things in this world change got linked - tightly - to the idea that God doesn't exist. I can see the Victorians' point. There isn't a one-to-one match between what Darwin said was happening, and a strictly literal, no-poetry-allowed, reading of Genesis.

Over a century later, I'm still running into the people who are fervently convinced that Genesis is exactly, literally, true - just the way Reverend whoever says it is.

And I run into people who are convinced that, because there's substantial evidence that the world is more than about 6,000 years old, and has changed a bit along the way, God doesn't exist.

Of course, the ardent followers of Reverend whoever are convinced that Evolution is Bad and Wrong and Mustn't Be So. They're not all intellectually challenged: some are quite interested in, and aware of, sciences like astronomy.

What If Darwin Had Been an Astronomer?

Let's say that, instead of a naturalist, Darwin was an astronomer, and that in the late 19th century he demonstrated that the Moon has no atmosphere to speak of.

Philosophers, and later scientists, have studied the Moon for millennia. Those who thought it was a sphere (or a disk), assumed that it wasn't all that different from Earth. That's why the plains of the Moon are called mare, or seas. Strong evidence that there was no appreciable atmosphere would have forced astronomers to abandon that model. As, in fact, astronomers did.

Interestingly, I have yet to run into a fundamentalist who has a problem with the idea of an airless Moon.

But we're still in the imaginary 'Darwin was an astronomer' world. Darwin's research would be discussed, analyzed, derided, and finally accepted by other astronomers. Facts are facts and, after a decent period of denial and fuss, scientists accept them, and change their minds.

Meanwhile, serious thinkers of this alternate Victorian age were popularizing a bold, new, and very 'scientific' idea:

The moon has no atmosphere,
therefore God doesn't exist.

It's "obvious."

The Bible quite clearly says "God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying: 'Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.' " (Genesis 1:27-28)

See? The word "earth" isn't capitalized, so it's referring to ground, soil, dirt: not the planet we're standing on. And since people who believe the Bible thought that the Moon had soil, and water, and quite possibly life, they thought that they could walk around on the Moon, just like earth.

Logically, since the Moon has no air, and people can't live there, God doesn't exist.

Silly? I think so. I doubt that anyone would take what I just wrote seriously. At least, I hope not. But, I'm not a 19th century writer with the gift of gab, playing to intellectual fashions of the day.

I think there's a good chance, in this imaginary Victorian age, that very sincere 'Bible-believing' people would decide that the world had to be exactly the way it was, as described in Genesis. By the mid-20th century, they'd have very imaginative explanations for what astronomers were seeing. What they'd do after the moon landings, I don't know. My guess is that they'd decide that the whole Apollo program was a hoax.

Which, in the real world, some people do believe: but not for that reason.

Darwin Was a Naturalist

In the real world, we had the idea of natural selection linked with secularism. And, more than a century after Darwin did his thing, we've got many if not most people, in American at least, believing that faith and reason are mutually contradictory.

That's a pity.

I'll be posting on this general topic again. It's quite possible that you won't agree with me: at least, not entirely. I acknowledge that. What you want to believe is true is your affair. I do, though, intend to pass along what some of the greatest minds of the northwestern part of Eurasia have found, over the last two millennia. 26 centuries, if you go back to when the Pentateuch was converted into writing. But I'm getting into the next post's topic now.

Related post:
Background:

The world wasn't always like Victorian England, or parts of 20th century America. People have not, from the foundations of the world, been divided into:
  • Bible-thumping anti-intellectuals
  • Prim devotees of what they think is Reason and Rationality
    • Who would obliterate any consciously religious thought that appeared
Humanity wasn't divided that way in Victorian England, either: but the proper sort of person may not have recognized that.

Something I found in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' archive had quite a bit to say on the subject, including these brief (no kidding) excerpts. At these points, "they" are the holy fathers, the people who founded the church.
"The 'Ratio Fundamentalist' stresses that professors and students must adhere with complete fidelity to the word of God in Sacred Scripture and in tradition, and draw its living meaning 'first of all from the works of the holy fathers.' They are to be highly valued because 'their work belongs to the living tradition of the church to which, through providential provision, they have made contributions of lasting value in eras that were more favorable to the synthesis of faith and reason.'..."

"As 'theologians,' they did not make use of the resources of reason only but, more properly, also of the religious resources gained through their affective existential knowledge, anchored in intimate union with Christ, nourished by prayer and sustained by grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In their attitudes as theologians and pastors they showed to a marked degree their deep sense of mystery and their experience of the divine that protected them from the ever recurring temptations both of exaggerated rationalism or of a flat and resigned fideism...."
("Instruction on the Study of the Fathers of the Church in the Formation of Priests," 2, d, 1, via USCCB) (emphasis mine)

Holy Fathers? What am I, a Male Chauvinist Pig?

Since I'm a devout Catholic, and don't agree with acolytes of Gloria Steinem, yes. But I'm okay with that.

And, no: the Church doesn't (really!) oppress women. Mary told Jesus when to perform his first miracle (keeping the party going at Cana - it's in John 2), and Saint Catherine of Siena is one of the Doctors of the Church. "Doctor of the Church" - that's one of the major intellectual heavy hitters who helped put together what we know about the Word of God and other matters of interest to followers of The Christ.

Ussher? Carlyle?

Bishop Ussher is the fellow who decided that the world began at a particular time of day, on a particular date, in the year 4004 B.C., and that there wasn't anything before that. I've written about him before.

Thomas Carlyle is a "Scottish historian, critic, and sociological writer...." who has been called a fundamentalist. "The father was stern, irascible, a puritan of the puritans, but withal a man of rigid probity and strength of character...." At Edinburgh
"...he began to suffer agonies from a gastric complaint which continued to torment him all his life, and may well have played a large part in shaping the rugged, rude fabric of his philosophy...."

"...No coherent body of philosophy can be extracted from his teachings: it is rather as a prophet and a seer that he has his place. He was blind to the greatest phenomenon of his age — the rise of science as an interpreter of the universe — and spoke insultingly of Darwin. Formal economics also incurred his censure. His theological attitude is hardest of all to define...."

In sum, "'Carlyle's genius,' wrote Hector Macpherson, 'was many-sided. He touched and ennobled the national life at all points. He lifted a whole generation of young men out of the stagnating atmosphere of materialism and dead orthodoxy into the region of the ideal. With the Master of Balliol, we believe that "no English writer has done more to elevate and purify our ideas of life and to make us conscious that the things of the spirit are real, and that in the last resort there is no other reality." ' "
Nuff said.

(Quotes about Carlyle from "Thomas Carlyle: Biography" extract from British Authors of the Nineteenth Century, 115-118, at The Victorian Web)

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.