Truth and Meaning, Science and Theology

questioning-genesisIn the Christian world there is much discussion about what the Scientific Theory of Evolution represents to theology:  a challenge, a denial, disproof of God, bad science, truth, or an alternative way of seeing the universe.  For my part having read a fair amount of literature on the topic I place myself in the realm of scientific theism or theistic science.  I believe in God but I do not read the Bible as a scientific text.   I think of science and theology looking at the origins of humanity in the same way that I think of a botanist or chemist considering a rose as versus a poet or lover.   The scientists can give us an exact and absolutely true analysis of creation from a materialist point of view.  However, their truthful analysis does not tell us at all what a rose means to people, or that a rose can have great symbolic meaning, or that there can be a truth behind how the rose is used (a sign of love, appreciation, victory, remembrance), or that beauty itself has value.

As for those Orthodox who like to point out that the Patristic writers tended to read Genesis 1-3 rather literally, I also point out they were not materialistic scientists like we have today.  If we want to read the Patristic fathers as scientists then we have to embrace the science that everything in the universe is composed of fire, water, air and earth and that the human body consists of the four humors, for that is exactly what the Patristic writers believed scientifically – they accepted uncritically the ideas of science, all derived from pagan sources, as absolute truth.  I have to think that they would have equally accepted the ideas of modern science as uncritically because they weren’t writing as scientists but as theologians.

The limits of modern science – since it is based in atheistic materialism – have been noted by many different writers.   One such comment I read recently comes from Mark Schwehn  in his book  EXILES FROM EDEN subtitled “Religion and the Academic Vocation in America.”    Schwehn writes:

atomicbomb“The natural sciences can teach us what we must do if we wish to master life technically, but they cannot and hence should not consider the question of whether it ultimately makes sense to do so.  Jurisprudence can teach us which legal rule or procedure is best for attaining a given purpose but it cannot and should not consider whether there should be such purposes and procedures.  The historical and cultural sciences teach us to understand and interpret literary and social phenomenon but they dare not ask whether any given phenomena is worthwhile.  In sum academicians may clarify values but they dare not promulgate them within the walls of the academy.  They may teach you that if you believe x you must believe y and that if you want a given end you must also want certain inevitable means to it but they may never engage in ultimate questions of meaning without violating their vocational obligations.” 

doublehelixHuman reason can carry us only so far in gaining an understanding of the universe.  At some point pure facts and pure reason fail us in that they cannot convey with absolute certainty meaning, value, right and wrong, or good and bad.  Then humans have to turn their reason to other considerations in how to measure and evaluate the universe.   Some embrace religion.  Of course some then confuse religion with science.  They are not he same thing and do not give us the same sense of true, good and right.   DNA is factual and true but cannot be measured in and of itself in terms of right or wrong, good or evil.  Genetic engineering on the other hand raises questions about the meaning of life, good and evil, right and wrong for now we are using the facts for purposes and these purposes and uses are not mere facts and are not value neutral.  They have implications for all of life, for the future of humanity, for who survives and who doesn’t, for who rules and who is made subject, of who is valued and who isn’t. 

For me the bottom line is that God is true whether or not the Theory of Evolution is true.  Evolution cannot undo the truth about God.   Conversely if Evolution is true it is true whether or not there is a God.  God’s existence cannot undo the truth about the created world.   Science can tell us many things about what we can do in this world, but it cannot tell us whether or not we should do them.  That requires understanding the meaning of life and the truth about good and evil, right or wrong.   We cannot learn that solely from science.