February 6, 2014

The Role of Reason in Religion, Briefly

Over at Facebook there's a discussion raging about the recent debate between Bill Nye "the Science Guy" and Ken Ham of the "Creation Museum." Some have given the palm to one or the other, or the palm to the face, as in "Why did Nye agree to this and dignify young earth creationism as if it were science?" However, I think the most instructive thing about the debate is that it displays the difference not between science and religion (which is why it may have been unwise for Nye to engage in it) but the difference between science and phoney science, and between true religion and mere dogged belief, what is sometimes called fideism. Ham is guilty of both phoney science and false belief. Does that sound harsh? Let me say more...

The most telling point in the "debate" came when both interlocutors were asked what sort of evidence might change their minds about Evolution or Young Earth Creationism respectively. Nye gave a list of possible pieces of evidence and said that were they presented he would have to change his view. Ham hemmed and hawed a bit, but essentially said that no evidence could cause him to change his beliefs. That is the problem with his view in a nutshell. His "truth" is unrelated to any "facts." And that's neither science nor religion, but folly.

For facts can stand without "truth" but "truth" cannot stand without facts. A faith that fails to take account of reality is based not just on a lack of evidence (which is one thing) but a denial of evidence, (which is falsehood). As Hooker said, Scripture is intended to supply those revealed truths that cannot be derived from nature. That means both that truth can be learned from nature, and that "revealed" truth cannot contradict what is learned from nature. It is a matter of a reasonable faith versus a kind of blind acceptance of the false. Ken Ham's statement that no evidence could convince him that his "truth" is mistaken is not Christian doctrine, at least as Hooker understood the interplay of reason and faith, which is how I understand it.

Here's something from a higher authority than me, if you like, though I don't think the level of authority makes it any more true: Pope Benedict XVI stated, "The Catholic Tradition, from the outset, rejected the so-called 'fideism,' which is the desire to believe against reason. Credo quia absurdum (I believe because it is absurd*) is not a formula that interprets the Catholic faith." (General Audience, November 21, 2012)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
* My note: "I believe because it is absurd" is attributed to Tertullian. Though he did indeed go off the rails with his ultimate reliance on private revelation, it is fair to say that this attribution is out of context, as he was employing a rhetorical device to show how the scandal of the cross was not, in fact, a scandal.


John Sims said...

Tobias, you might appreciate this fine piece by wife's pastor from Louisville KY: http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20140207/OPINION04/302070034/1016/OPINION/Joseph-Phelps-Religion-and-science-call-for-dialogue-not-debate

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks, John. A good thoughtful essay. Ultimately the problem is reading poetry as prose, myth as accurate history, parable as journalism. As I added to my comments at FB:

The truth in the two creation stories is only true as it relates to what actually is, that is, to the facts of reality: that the world exists, that it emerges and develops rather than popping into being all at once, and so on. And those bits of the story that do not jibe with reality, I smilingly accept for their charm, but do not hold them to be "true" in any sense. That is the proper approach to poetry -- not to treat it as prose. To give an example: it is not "true" that the first woman was made from a portion of the first man's flesh. That would be a "literal" reading of something intended as poetry. It is true that loneliness is not good, and that the only suitable partner for a human being is another human being. That is reading the poem as a poem, finding its true meaning beneath the outward form of the fable.

There is a wonderful debate in the Talmud about whether the Valley of Dry Bones is a parable or an historical account. One rabbi insists his grandfather was there, and that he still has his phylacteries. Somehow, I doubt it!