The Joy of Being Unscientific

I write so much about science on this blog that it’s quite possible to get the idea that I think science is the major way of knowing, and certainly the most important one. But in my day to day life I deal mostly with things that are not precisely scientific. Science tells me how an aircraft flies, but it won’t tell me which relative I should visit making use of that wonderful technology. Now that’s not a weakness of science, and more than “useless for pounding nails” is a weakness of a saw. But it’s easy to confuse, especially in religion

This was brought to my attention this weak by a footnote in the Foreword and Acknowledgements to Raymond E. Brown’s An Introduction to the New Testament. Brown is discussing his intentions with regard to what he will cover and mentions the difficulties inherent in the fact that the gospel writers reflect different pictures of Jesus as seen and passed on by his followers. He states his intent to look at the extant accounts rather than historical reconstructions for purposes of his introductory work. Then in a footnote he says:

For those who believe in providence, this indirect and not totally consistent witness to Jesus would have been a vehicle chosen by God–something forgotten by those who spend their efforts “improving” on it by harmonizing the gospels. [page ix, note 4]

You see, faith is not particularly scientific. I don’t mean there’s no evidence for elements of the faith. I don’t mean that we have to abandon all rationality for faith. But faith is not about structure. As a Christian, when I look at the Bible, this is blazingly obvious. The Bible doesn’t provide either systematic theology or scientific detail and accuracy.

Then come the gospels. It seems to me that the person of Jesus is so central to Christians that I should want to know as much as I can about him. And then I look at the gospels and I find that I don’t get things that Jesus wrote, or even things that scribes recorded while he was living. Instead I only get to see him reflected in his followers. That doesn’t mean that I know nothing at all about him–it simply means that I don’t have what I would choose to have, if I had the choice.

But then I realize that this is just one of many ways in which God seems to do things using methods I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t choose. In fact, though you’ve seen many arguments I’ve made in favor of the theory of evolution, I have to say it’s not the way I would have chosen to do things. Come to think of it, God’s response to human evil doesn’t entirely make sense to me.

Here it is Christmas and we celebrate the way that God sent a baby to deal with the sin problem. Logic? Science? It apparently doesn’t work that way. I’d be counting the legions of angels and figuring out strategy.

And if there’s information that people need to know, why couldn’t it be set out in the form of an encyclopedia, for example. There’d be nice annotated entries on homosexuality and eschatology, and there’d be footnotes telling us which commands are eternal and which are just temporary.

But apparently that is not the plan. The plan seems to be about relationships much more than about rules, more about learning to live and make decisions than about having them made for us, and more about discovery than about knowing.

Now there are scientific elements to theology and Biblical studies, in archeology, linguistics, paleography, and various historical studies. But this little footnote served to remind me that my faith is not mostly about those things–it’s about relationships. It’s not about how the aircraft flies. It’s about who I’m going to visit by making use of it.

PS: In case you think I’ve blogged very little for Christmas and advent, check this Christmas story on my Jevlir Caravansary blog, this devotional from my wife on her devotional blog or my contribution to her devotional list God With Us.

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5 Comments

  1. When you make the analogy to choosing where to go in the airplane, you seem to be suggesting that it’s a matter of personal choice to believe whether God exists. Is this interpretation correct? If so, isn’t that getting a bit close to the old creationist canard about “different ways of looking at the same evidence”?

    Happy Yuletide!

  2. Actually I wasn’t addressing believing in God or not. I was addressing the choice to enter into a relationship with God and how one discovers information about God if one does believe.

    Your question seems relevant however, even if I didn’t address it. I think there is some aspect of choice in what one believes, in the sense that one chooses where to look. Kurt Wise, for example, sees evidence in the natural world for evolution, yet chooses to regard the Biblical evidence (in the way he interprets it) as more important. I think that choice can be critiqued, however. Different ways of looking at evidence are not necessarily equal.

    I feel several posts coming on … but they’ll have to wait till after Christmas.

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