Some Thoughts on Faith, Science and Reason, Part 1

As I said earlier, the issues of faith, science and reason are my new theological obsession. As a starting point, it seems to me that we need to decide the extent to which a Christian faith even claims to make claims that can be verified by evidence--science or otherwise.

Apparently, there are some who think not. For example, here are some recent comments on this subject at Episcopal Cafe, all by quite thoughtful people with far more theological training than me:

Science and theology are very different disciplines. Science is propositions seeking to be disproven while theology is metaphor seeking affirmation by the heart. Science could disprove all my religious constructs and stories and I would still have faith.

Stating a view of how God operates in the world sounds too much to me like an empirical statement. The phrase "God acts" is, like "God exists," unfalsifiable. Faith is not about propositions. Saying God acts indirectly is, in a sense, playing the same game as saying God acts directly. I would argue that the words "act" and "operate" have gone on a holiday here and that, for purposes of faith, one needn't worry.

Read the entire comment trail here.

Now clearly, there are many aspects of the Christian faith that don't purport to make verifiable statements of fact. Most moral principles clearly fall in this category. But I think, at root, the very heart of Christianity is based on on a belief that events occurred at a particular time and place in the real world--the Resurrection being the critical example--and this is a testable, verifiable fact. It is not metaphor. And it involves God's action in the world.

And the Pope agrees with this view. Here is what he has to say in the foreword to his new book Jesus of Nazareth (I started reading this yesterday, and it is a wonderful book so far):

For it is of the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events. It does not tell stories symbolizing suprahistorical truths, but is based on history, history that took place here on this earth. The factum historicum (historical fact) is not an interchangeable symbolic cipher for biblical truth, but the foundation on which it stands" Et incarnatus est--when we say these words, we acknowledge God's actual entry into real history.

If we push this history aside, christian faith as such disappears and is recast as some other religion. So if history, if facticity in this sense, is an essential dimension of Christian faith, then faith must expose itself to the historical method--indeed, faith itself demands this.

So what does this mean? It means that there are some claims of a biblical faith that are "scientific" or "historical" in nature, and they are subject to scrutiny by secular tools and methods, and we must be prepared to rethink our faith based on the results of these tests.


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