Saturday, January 20, 2018

TTT #2  The Better We Know God, the Broader and Deeper Will Be Our Understanding of the Universe and Everything in It

Ten days ago I posted the first of 30 articles of my not-yet-published book titled “Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now” (abbreviated as TTT). This article presents the gist of the second chapter, which is closely related to the first chapter but does not require prior reading of that opening chapter.
An Important Question
Many people seem to think that embracing a religious faith narrows one’s understanding of the world. Some people have even jettisoned religion because they wanted a broader worldview. Such people have viewed belief in God as a straitjacket that limits thought about the world in which we live. But are such views well founded?
It cannot be denied that some types of religion do limit exploration of, and acceptance of, a more comprehensive view of the universe than that has traditionally been held. There has long been, for example,  an anti-intellectual bias among some Christians. Such a position, though, is clearly a perversion of what Christianity is, or at least should be.
The Answer of the Early Scientists
Many people have held the widespread perception that “warfare” between science and religion has persisted through the centuries. But investigation into the true nature of the situation reveals that most of the early scientists in the Western world were people of deep faith in God.
As most of you know well, Nicholas Copernicus initiated a massive change in how people understand the nature of the universe. The Polish-born Copernicus (1473-1543) was a first-class astronomer, but he was also a Catholic cleric and an ardent believer in God.
The striking painting below is titled “Astronomer Copernicus: Conversation with God.” It is an 1873 work of the prominent Polish painter Jan Matejko.  
Is Theology the “Queen of the Sciences”?
There was a time, long ago, when theology was widely considered to be the “queen of the sciences.” It was so called because if God is the creator and sustainer of the entire universe from the beginning to the present and on into the vast future, there is nothing that is not related to God.
So theology, the study of God, must include everything since everything is related to God.
Because of various misunderstandings of God – mostly because of parochial views that failed to grasp the greatness of God  and because of a growing secularization which grew partly as a reaction against the narrowness into which religion had fallen, theology gradually lost its place as the “queen of the sciences.”
Now theology is even seen by many in the academic world as an unwanted stepchild.
Nevertheless, the attempt to know God includes the desire to know everything related to God – and as we have seen, the physical sciences were developed as a means not just to understand the universe better but also as a means to know God better. Thus, the study of God includes the theology of science and the theology of nature.
Rightly understood, the idea of theology as the “queen” of our human quest for understanding the universe is a claim worth taking seriously.
God and the Basic Virtues
In both Western and Eastern societies, truth, beauty, and goodness have long been understood as basic virtues. If we accept the “true thing” explicated in the first chapter, then we can consider the likelihood that God is the basis for all truth, beauty, and goodness.
So, it seems clear that the better we know God, the broader and deeper will be our understanding of the universe and everything in it.

[To read the five-page chapter of TTT #2, please click on this link.]

13 comments:

  1. Excellent is All I can say-NO comment your Blog speaks for itself!

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  2. Thanks, John Tim. You might find the next TTT article, which I plan to post on Jan. 30, to be a bit more controversial.

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  3. I've always felt faith in the existence of a Creator-God should expand our approach in the study of the universe instead of limit it. Depending solely upon the five senses can be limiting when it is easy to think of concepts which we take as real but cannot be measured in a laboratory. The various physical sciences offer us the opportunity to explore the how and when of creation. In such fashion we are allowed to join in the creation process itself. Is that not a part of the Creator-God's original commandment to "have dominion over and subdue"? We still need to learn how to do that without abusing creation.

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    1. Thanks, Tom, for your comments.

      Your opening sentences amplify the point I am trying to make. True faith in God makes possible the expansion of our understanding of the universe by including and encouraging the scientific study of the natural world.

      On the other hand, scientism restricts our understanding of reality by excluding belief in God and the "supernatural" = non-physical world.

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  4. Many tribes of the world who are not deeply educated in science or religion still have legends of the Creator. Some even specific legends of Nuah and his family (via Japhu)being saved from a devastating flood, and offer ritual sacrifice to the Creator. Some of the tribes I grew up around had the former legends. Being out in wild creation and viewing the heavens gave me awe, and were in seeking God. Thankfully, the Christian school I attended gave focus to the science and mathematics of the world we live in. I am also thankful for the Catholic priests who would like me go on hikes with them out to observe God's handiwork. They were very instrumental in me finding Christ.

    Although we will never know Him in full, our minds do have means of seeking the Creator out, from science and legend, and personally knowing Him in part. I am grateful to have had good professors who taught the sciences in the state schools (some even pointing to the creator), in addition to those who were atheist (but really offered no proof for their beliefs).

    It is all so fascinating!

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  5. On Saturday morning, local Thinking Friend Vern Barnet sent the following comments and gave permission for me to post them here:

    "I really like you speaking (it is too rarely said) of theology as the Queen of the sciences. ('Science is an unacknowledged religious activity, and accountable to religion.')

    "But, Leroy, I worry that you maybe fail to step back enough from the perversions of the Enlightenment to see that the beautiful and faithful spirit of folks like Copernicus became unwittingly part of literalization and rationalization of faith."

    Vern also provided this link to notes on "Has Science Eclipsed Religion?", a talk he gave last October: http://www.cres.org/programs2017.htm#171028ScienceReligion

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Vern -- and I read with great interest the notes you linked to.

      I fully agree that "religion's power" (which I would rather call "the power of religious faith") has been "obscured by secularism" (and especially by scientism, it seems to me).

      And I agree with your emphasis on the mytic and metaphorical aspects of Christian faith over against the literalism that has infected much of Christianity, including Isaac Newton's over-emphasis on the literal interpretation of the Bible. (But, we have to realize, it was the still the 17th century when he was doing that.)

      I had trouble following/agreeing, though, with what you said about Communion in your talk -- but perhaps that is a topic that we need to discuss later.

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  6. Also, local Thinking Friend Don Pepper wrote,

    "I have read TTT Ch#2 for the second time and I'm still baffled by [these] sentences":

    The providence of God cannot be seen in each and every aspect of the evolving universe. That process must be seen as a spiral as opposed to a steady ascending straight line.

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    1. Thanks, Don, for not only reading the blog article but also the chapter (twice!) as well.

      I am sorry I did not make the point clearer in the paragraph you referenced. It was written in light of the strong emphasis on "intelligent design" in some circles.

      If the evolving world is all the direct work of the omniscient and all-powerful God, why do there seems to be "mistakes" or dead-ends or so many surds included in the process? There is so much that doesn't seem to be the result of "intelligent design" that some Christian thinkers oppose the use of that concept.

      I want to have it both ways and recognize both providence (God's work) in creation and also freedom (randomness) in the evolutionary process.

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  7. Well, I came back to see if I had any responses, and found my post disappeared again. So let me try again:

    While ideally a mutually profitable relationship between science and religion seems both good and achievable, in practice it has been fiendishly difficult. Consider the case of biologist Edward O. Wilson, who grew up a Baptist, and went on to become the world's foremost expert on ants. He was the living embodiment of the command in Proverbs 6:6-8, "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest." Yet he left the Christian community behind, and found his faith in something he called "scientific humanism." Science and religion are both such powerful forces that it is difficult to wrap our minds around both at once. Especially if we start out by presupposing what the combination should look like. Somehow we have to leave science free to be science, and religion free to be religion, and find a way to respect whatever combination the two create.

    My own personal pilgrimage of faith has lead me to what, for want of a better term, I call "religious humanism." At its core this means that I have to allow science to examine faith in a way that looks at faith as a system of metaphors, rather than metaphysics. The metaphors are important, and I remain a practicing Christian. Still, what we call metaphysics is just the stories we have told ourselves to explain our religious experiences. Science can tell us a great deal about our experiences, and the genesis of our experiences. This in no way undermines the experiences, any more than studying music would undermine our appreciation of a Beethoven symphony. It will, however, profoundly alter the theology we base on our reading of the Bible and on our experience of God. I undertake this as a personal pilgrimage, because I find that few people can accept this path. So I share the way, and the experiences, as we each find our own way to God.

    The only way we can make theology big enough to once again be the queen of the sciences is to make theology so big that we no longer can say quite what it is. Understood in that way, I can see great value in such a, shall we say, metatheology. E. O. Wilson himself in his 1998 book "Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge" was, I believe, in a secular way trying to do the same thing. Are we ready to dream so large we let Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and even atheists join us in the pilgrimage? Are we willing to face the full power of science as it unlocks many of the Bible's secrets as we let higher criticism scan it mysteries even as lower criticism clarifies the literal text? Fundamentalists see theology as a great block of ice, that will shatter if it is changed. Moderates see a glass of ice water, pleasing to drink, but still filled with ice. Science sees hot steam powering a loud whistle. My metaphor is the mist rising from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:6), or as some translations put it, "a stream would rise from the earth." Nothing like a little mystery in a creation myth! My point is that little if any life is found in either ice or boiling steam, it is the cool water where it thrives. It is in the cup of cold water that Jesus presents as one our most potent symbols.

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    1. Thanks for posting your comments again, Craig.

      I don't know what happens here. I thought I posted Vern Barnet's comments yesterday, but I didn't find them earlier this afternoon -- nor were your comments here.

      I will try to make some response to the content of what you wrote later -- but, again, thanks for your persistence.

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    2. Thanks again for your substantial comments, Craig.

      I'm afraid I know too little about E.O. Wilson to comment specifically about him. (I think he has been to Jewell, but I did not got to hear him there.) But I fully agree with your statement that "we have to leave science free to be science, and religion free to be religion."

      That is what some Christian scholars have emphasized -- such as Eric Rust, who was my major professor in graduate school. He started out studying science and then switched to theology and is the author of a fine book titled "Science and Faith: Toward a Theological Understanding of Nature" (1967). (He was working on this book when I was taking his seminars in grad school.)

      Two other Englishmen who have advanced degrees in both science and theology and whom I have read (and heard the former speak) are John Polkinghorne (b. 1930) and Alister McGrath (b. 1953). They also do as you suggested should be done, it seems to me.

      I have a bit of trouble with your second paragraph, but I won't get into that now.

      In reference to your last paragraph, I like what you creatively wrote about ice, steam, and cold water. Even though I am not sure what you have in mind in writing about allowing "the full power of science" to unlock many of the Bible's secrets, I do say Yes to the prior question, "Are we ready to dream so large we let Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and even atheists join us in the pilgrimage?" This is the position of Brian McLaren in his book "The Great Spiritual Migration" (2016), which I led a discussion of for three months at church last fall.

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  8. Here are significant comments received today from a Thinking Friend in the Deep South:

    "For me the question is why so many religious people fear truth in science and other disciplines. I find it prevalent in my area of the country. Evolution is seen as a denial of god, etc.

    "The other question is why so many Christian people fear progressive moves in our society and back a man like Trump whose life is a denial of basic Christian compassion and teachings. I find the 'Christian bubble' one of the main reasons for the rise of the noneers and agnostics in our era. Honest facing of the problems of our time is met with heated attacks by the leading religious leaders in my area. Their churches are the ones growing, not those seeking a more open questioning.

    "I guess in sum what i am finding as I just turn 83, is I find less and less hope in the churches I see."

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