Thursday, September 27, 2007

Science and Faith

Here's something I posted on xanga in response to one of xanga's creators' posts. He asked what people's view was on the relation between science and faith, and I wrote this post in response. It gets cut off because it was just a response to to his post, and I don't think it should be any longer than it already is. Anyway, here's what I wrote:

"From my perspective, science and faith both strive ultimately after the same thing: truth. Or at least, I believe they should. Thus I think conflicts between science and faith usually have their roots in either bad science or bad faith. Now, by bad faith or bad science I don't mean something that's unpopular or that someone doesn't like, but rather a truth claim derived from one or the other that isn't actually true (so you could say that I believe in absolute truth, to some extent).

For example, one perceived conflict is that many Christians think the Earth was created 6000 years ago because of how they interpret writings in the Bible, while science shows us heaps of evidence that the Earth was formed 4-something billion years ago (or whatever it is... something around there) and that the Universe began 13 or something billion years ago. Obviously, a conflict. But there is also a number of Christians who don't believe that the Bible teaches that the Earth was formed 6000 years ago, and, I believe (and am sure almost all thinking Christians will agree), the main tenants of Christianity are not threatened whatever one believes about the exact time when the Earth was formed. Personally, I believe then that this is a case of "bad faith", or rather a false truth claim put forth by some Christians on the basis of their faith. But like I said, one's faith in Christianity is not seriously threatened either way.

A real problem comes when there are two conflicting truth claims about something vital to the faith, whichever it is (not science, since science's truth claims are by nature fluid). However, these are few and far between. Also, when discussing this sort of real conflict it is important to keep in mind the fallibility of human reason, which applies both to science and to matters of faith. For example, I said that science's truth claims are fluid, meaning they are ALWAYS open to revision if there is sufficient scientific evidence for it. Thus old scientific claims such as the 4 humors of the body and the spontaneous generation of flies have since been discarded in place of new theories. This is continually happening in science, and even "proven scientific fact" is technically open to revision, although usually something given the status of scientific fact has such an overwhelming amount of evidence for it that this rarely happens. At the same time this can be applied to faith, although it is a much trickier nuance than with science. The examples I know best and that I believe are most pertinent are from Christian history in the early days of the church, beginning around ad 200ish and ending I suppose around 800ish or later. It was during this time that many of Christianity's core beliefs were actually formed--or rather I should say that it was during this time that much of basic Christian doctrine was formed.

This is getting way too long so I'll just say there was a lot of debate and eventually some things were decided upon and some things were discarded (questions like "How was Jesus both man and God simultaneously?" and others). In the end I believe one can hold strong ties to faith and strong ties to science, since if both are true they should not conflict, although what to do in a true faith/science conflict (which, as defined above, is rare) is up to the individual. Do you reject faith based on fallible scientific theory? Do you reject a scientific theory that seems so sure to be true on the basis of possibly wrong theology? Where is the line drawn when you stop believing in one or the other? I think these are the important questions in this discussion."

John's post and my comment can be found here.

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