Monday, April 25, 2011

Arithmetic, God, and Getting a Grip

Let's say that somebody writes an article about arithmetic and concludes by saying, "because two plus two equals four: God does not exist." I don't think anybody's done that, by the way.

I think very few folks would take "2+2=4, therefore God doesn't exist" seriously. At least, I hope so.

On the other hand, the notion that 'the natural world changes in predictable ways, therefore God doesn't exist' seems to be taken very seriously. In America, at least, and maybe in Western culture as a whole.

I think the notion that 'change disproves God' notion is silly - and that's more-or-less what this post is about.

Headings in this post:

Faith, Reason, and Getting a Grip

I keep running into folks who are convinced that faith and reason are mutually exclusive ideas - that a reasonable person can't have religious beliefs, and that a religious person is, by definition, unreasonable:
"Rational arguments don't usually work on religious people. Otherwise, there wouldn't be religious people."
- Doris Egan
I've discussed that before. (June 19, 2010)

In my experience, folks with 'deeply felt religious beliefs' don't, generally, describe themselves as unreasonable. But, again in my experience, quite a few of the more blatantly 'religious' folks seem convinced that science is opposed to religion - and that religious people can't 'believe in' science.

In a way, they're right, sort of. But they're wrong, sort of.

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I don't 'Believe In' Science - Sort of

I do not 'believe in' science.

Not in the sense that I anchor my hopes for fulfillment on breakthroughs in applied physics and biology: or find the meaning and purpose of existence in studies of the Apex Chert. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (April 23, 2011))

That, in my opinion, would be silly.

I also haven't decided to ignore what's been learned in the last few centuries because it's 'not in the Bible.'

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It's Not in the Bible

Telephones, nylon, and safety glass aren't in the Bible either - but I use them daily. Without feeling pangs of guilt.

I take the Bible very seriously, though. Because I am a practicing Catholic, I believe that the Bible is "...the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit...." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 81)

I'm also pretty well convinced that the Bible is not a "...history text, a science book, or a political manifesto...." ("Bible Is for Catholics," USCCB)

I've discussed why I'm not bothered by contemporary technology before:
Which reminds me: I've got the full teaching authority of "some guy with a blog." Which explains the citations and links to authoritative sources. Other sorts of sources, too - but I try to point out which are 'unofficial.'

Moving on.
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Victorian Gentlemen, Bible-Thumpers, and Me

When I was growing up, the Victorian Age was more recent than it is today. The peculiar sexual mores of the 19th century upper crust in England and America were often highlighted as examples of what not to do. Or reviewed strictly for laughs.

The equally-peculiar (in my opinion) assumptions about the nature of reality that were popular in Victoria's England - those seemed to be taken quite seriously by the 'better sort' of my youth.

Particularly the idea that religion was something for silly, none-too-bright people who didn't know any better.
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God, Creation, and Change

What 'religious' folks seem to go particularly ballistic about is evolution - the idea that living things change over time. In ways that are orderly - or at least in ways that can be studied.

The idea that (boo! hiss!) evolution is anti-religion, anti-God, and all that, is pretty solidly lodged in many minds.

And has been, since 19th-century 'serious thinkers' claimed that orderly change denied the existence of God - and Bible-thumpers of the day decided to that Bishop Ussher was right. I've been over this before:
"...'We know that the truth of human life is infinitely greater than any narrow view that dismisses some lives as disposable. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution,' Pope Benedict pointed out at his inaugural Mass. 'Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.'..." (September, 2005)
That's not inconsistent with what Pope John Paul II said in 1996:
"...Pope John Paul II articulated the church's position most clearly in a 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy for Sciences, saying the theory of evolution is 'more than a hypothesis.'..." (AP, via FOXNews)
(quotes used June 29, 2009)

Introduction to a publication for a science convention at the Holy See:
"Certainly the Church acknowledges that 'with the help of science and technology…, man has extended his mastery over almost the whole of nature', and thus 'he now produces by his own enterprise benefits once looked for from heavenly powers' (Gaudium et Spes, 33). at the same time, Christianity does not posit an inevitable conflict between supernatural faith and scientific progress. The very starting-point of Biblical revelation is the affirmation that God created human beings, endowed them with reason, and set them over all the creatures of the earth. In this way, man has become the steward of creation and God's 'helper'. If we think, for example, of how modern science, by predicting natural phenomena, has contributed to the protection of the environment, the progress of developing nations, the fight against epidemics, and an increase in life expectancy, it becomes clear that there is no conflict between God's providence and human enterprise. Indeed, we could say that the work of predicting, controlling and governing nature, which science today renders more practicable than in the past, is itself a part of the Creator's plan.

"Science, however, while giving generously, gives only what it is meant to give. Man cannot place in science and technology so radical and unconditional a trust as to believe that scientific and technological progress can explain everything and completely fulfil all his existential and spiritual needs. Science cannot replace philosophy and revelation by giving an exhaustive answer to man's most radical questions: questions about the meaning of living and dying, about ultimate values, and about the nature of progress itself."
Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI
to the Members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 6 November 2006."
From "Plenary Session on The Scientific Legacy of the 20th Century" (PDF) (28 October - 1 November 2010)
(quotes used October 30, 2010)
"Science leads to truth about God, humanity, Pope says"
Catholic News Agency (October 28, 2010)

"Science in the 21st century must work for the 'true good of man,' the Pope told a group of scientists Oct. 28. The 'positive outcome' of this century largely depends on it.

"The Holy Father hosted members of the Pontifical Academy for Science in audience at the Vatican. The group is gathered in Rome for the academy's plenary meeting examining 'The Scientific Legacy of the Twentieth Century.'...

"...The task of science, rather, 'was and remains a patient yet passionate search for the truth about the cosmos, about nature and about the constitution of the human being,' said the Pope....

"...The Church 'is convinced that scientific activity ultimately benefits from the recognition of man's spiritual dimension and his quest for ultimate answers that allow for the acknowledgment of a world existing independently from us, which we do not fully understand and which we can only comprehend in so far as we grasp its inherent logic,' he said...."
(quotes used October 30, 2010)
(and see "Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to Participants in the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences" (October 28, 2010))

Then there are Catholics who seem convinced that they should believe what the Pope says only when he supports their preferences. And that is definitely another topic.

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Weaving a Universe

This post got started yesterday, when I did a micro-review in another blog:
Some physicists have a new - and attractively elegant - model for how this universe got started. It's not exactly what the first chapter of Genesis says: but that doesn't bother me. Any more than I'm tormented by Joshual 10:13 not reflecting a Copernican understanding of planetary orbits. Or Luke 17:6 not giving particularly good advice on how to transplant a mulberry tree.

My faith isn't shattered when folks learn something new about this vast, wondrous, creation we live in: in large part because I think that we can learn about God by studying what He's made. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 32)

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Somewhat-related posts:

Since I keep coming back to odd ideas about faith and reason, religion and science, I maintain a link page of related posts in this blog:


Brigid said...

Eh? "not being having particularly good advice on transplanting"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Eh? How's that? Double whammy: using the dialect I'm familiar with - and sloppy editing.

I think I've fixed that sentence. Thanks!

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

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.