Sunday, January 20, 2008

O noes, not miracles!

Thanks to olvlzl, we have this for our edification and entertainment, and it is simply too good to leave in comments alone:

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.
The article (if you haven't read it yet, stop, do so, and come back) is about Carl Sagan's book A Demon Haunted World. As I've mentioned before, I'm not exactly a fan of the late Dr. Sagan's reasoning on this point, although I was (full confession) a huge fan of "Cosmos." I would not characterize Richard Lewontin as "fan" or "not-fan," but he is a very clear headed thinker who recognizes that reason, like all other forms of human thought, has its strengths and its weaknesses, and above all, has its limits. And when reason becomes a substitute for truth, a shortcut, if you will, all it yields is truthiness.

My seminary professors, interestingly enough, were as anxious to dispossess of us our trust (i.e., faith) in miracles as Dr. Sagan would have been. Their goal, however, was not to make us scientists, but to loosen our reliance on that which could not be established. I went 'round and 'round with my professors because I realized precisely what Lewis Beck did: if I confess a belief in the Creator of the Universe, how can I reject any belief in miracles? On the other hand, even the author of the Gospel of John realized there are miracles, and there are miracles. And are we looking at what is miraculous, or are we looking for signs that confirm our preferences, our prejudices, if you will? Reason is a wonderful thing, but do we realize that, even if it is not a formal system, it is still closed? That it can generate questions which it cannot answer?

Conscientious and wholly admirable popularizers of science like Carl Sagan use both rhetoric and expertise to form the mind of masses because they believe, like the Evangelist John, that the truth shall make you free. But they are wrong. It is not the truth that makes you free. It is your possession of the power to discover the truth. Our dilemma is that we do not know how to provide that power.
Funny coincidence; I've been working on a post about John's gospel. It's about providing just that power; the power to discover the truth. Which is not to say that gospel contains, or even reveals, truth. But it raises some very interesting questions about the nature of truth; more interesting than, so far, I've been willing to give it credit for.

Like I said, this is gonna be fun!

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