By: Mark Swint
I know I have declared this blog to be dedicated to exploring biblical claims with a scientific eye but I think a brief diversion from that goal is warranted this week.
I was watching a discussion on climate change and global warming issues on FOX News (which I actually DO think is fairly fair and balanced). To my great surprise however, the issue somehow got turned around to a discussion of how religion and climate skeptics went hand in hand and scientists (read, anti religionists) and AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) were similarly connected.
I did not know that the increasingly controversial AGW claims were merely another face of the Science/Religion disconnect. In fact, I do not think they are and I have still to find out how the participants in the aforementioned discussion got to that point.
What really got me though was a statement, issued matter-of-factly, by the moderator who said, without the slightest degree of hesitation, “Of course, science is the enemy of religion”. Those of you who have read my posts can well imagine how I feel about this proposition. To say that I categorically disagree with this position goes without saying but I feel that I must respond a few thoughts and I beg your indulgence and patience. I promise to be short and will try to be interesting.
A calm and dispassionate look at scriptural claims, edicts and prophecies, free from individual dogmas and biases – or from impassioned preachings of sincere and fervent ministers and priests, can be quite revealing.
Specifically, let’s look at Moses, since he alone is responsible for the first five books (or Pentateuch) of the Bible including Genesis, which gives us the most complete biblical account of the creation and early days of the Earth and it’s early inhabitants. Moses, while certainly well educated in Egypt, was nevertheless basically a desert dwelling Bedouin! Oh don’t be confused by the term; Bedouin is a perfectly good description of the desert roaming lifestyle of those who chose to remove themselves from the cities and wander throughout the land herding sheep and goats, living in tents and using camels – regardless of their ethnic or genetic heritage.
Anyway, back to the point. Moses, while certainly well educated, was not well educated in things about which there was no knowledge in those days. No one,(at least from the records we have, had any full accounting of the creation, or at least how or why it was created (We do now have various versions of the ‘book of Enoch’ and a few other ancient manuscripts that have come to light in the last century that do wander into similar territory previously occupied only by Moses). But, we must be careful not to place too much burden of proof on Moses for the things he wrote. You see, Moses NEVER claimed to know or say HOW or WHY the elements of the creation he wrote about came to pass nor did he ever say that the seven creative periods he called days were the only periods of the creation, (in fact in the Haggadah we find that early Jews used over twenty creative periods to recount the creation story). You see, Moses was only an observer; He was a reporter, simply stating facts that were revealed to him or shown to him. The method or means is really immaterial. According to his writings he was shown the creation in a vision and the record he left in Genesis is an account of what he saw. Nowhere in that record does he say how or why the events he recorded came to pass – only that they did occur. He gave us the WHAT (the exoteric) of the creation without giving us the WHY (the esoteric – see my previous post “Exoteric and Esoteric knowledge).
When Moses said that the waters were gathered together and the dry land appeared he apparently had no idea HOW that happened, only that it did. He did not know that 4,000 years later scientists would figure out the theory of Plate Tectonics which would, in fact, tell us how the event that Moses observed came to pass.
This is how science has worked for as long as there have been scientists, and before them, natural philosophers. The world was full of people who made observations of things that incontrovertibly were, but about which nobody could explain. This is how it always has been. The very first inhabitants on this planet saw and realized that birds could fly. This was a truth and nobody denied it. Neither could anybody explain how birds flew, they only knew that they did. It was millennia before people figured out the science of aerodynamics and at last could explain how birds flew. Their discoveries did not change anything about the truth that birds fly but did at last provide the explanation about how they fly so that we could no more wonder about something we knew to be true.
This is and always has been the purpose and place of science in our life. Everything about this earth was, at first, a mystery. Early people watched in awe and horror as normally solid and still mountains suddenly erupted and spewed fire and death with the lava that flowed out of their great gaping maws. Lightning flashed from the sky and started fires and killed people and animals – nobody knew how or why but it surely did! The sun came up each day and set each night. So too the moon, except that it changed through the month being sometimes full, crescent, waxing and waning. It even disappeared for a day or two each month. The stars also traveled across the sky each night and then there were a few that wandered against the otherwise fixed and steady star field. All these things and more caused wonder and fell to the scientists to explain. The function of science is to give us the esoteric knowledge and understanding of the things that we can observe on our own.
Why was I so incensed over the statement that science is the enemy of religion? Because in my world the scriptures exists to tell me, and all of us, what is what. The bible is a collection of statements of things as they are and as they were. It tells me who I am and who created me (or my spirit if you like). But, nowhere in the Bible can I find the declaration that it’s purpose or intent is to tell me how and why these things are. It, in essence, says to me, “look I will tell you what happened and what is what and leave it to you to decide, first, do you need to know how it is so and, second, if you do then leave you free to explore, experiment, seek and search unto you find out how it is so.
Now, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that among us believers there are those who adopt a very strict and very narrow interpretation of the things that Moses and others said. This is certainly the privilege of any and all who choose to exercise a degree of faith. But, any reasonable person must admit that two or more very sincere and equally studious scriptorians can disagree and argue interpretations on the same scriptural passages – so why can’t we acknowledge that there can be incorrect theology, just as in disciplined science there are equally rancorous disagreements and debates and scientists can be wrong? Indeed, the very foundation of the scientific method is that one researcher or theoretician issues an hypothesis and then stands back while every other scientist tries to disprove it. Only when the best minds in the scientific discipline have exhausted their best efforts to disprove a theory without success is a theory then deemed valid and true.
Certainly there exists bad theology just as there has always existed incorrect science. I submit that science is only an enemy to bad religion just as correctly interpreted revealed truth is an enemy to bad science. I believe absolutely that good science is the partner of good theology and will, in time, prove to be a good and close friend of the believer.
Of course faith, in both science and religion is the first and most important element in our continuing journey on our quest for understanding and truth but let us not make science or theology mutually exclusive of each other, for if we do we stand to miss out
on the richest parts of both.