On Veracity

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

These days it seems that politicians must choose a narrative and stick to it. I don’t think they want to do this, but, then again, they may. Here’s Sam Brownbeck explaining himself

The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.

I disagree “wholeheartedly” with everything here and am, honestly speaking, stunned by the illogic. Brownbeck claims that “we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason.” He “believes” that “there cannot be any contradiction between the two.” This is pure nonsense. Reason doesn’t require that faith provide substantiation or, as Brownbeck puts it, supplement. He may “believe” that this is true, but reality doesn’t agree. If the color red appears to me on a tree in the form of an apple, I don’t have to believe in the color red to acknowledge the fact. Nor is reason, on the other hand (and this is where Brownbeck’s logic falls short), required as a supplement for faith in The Great Lettuce Head. This last point is what Brownbeck wants but will not say outright. Brownbeck wants science to support the intangible but he won’t say this because it would sound childish. Science and faith are not complimentary. Brownbeck sees this as critique of his faith. I don’t understand why. That an apple is not an orange does not diminish the taste or the essence of either.

Brownbeck claims that science cannot “help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love.” This an absurd statement. Brownbeck supplies no examples of faith helping us to understand anything. Faith has been argued as its own kind of understanding. Here’s what Luther said on the issue

Instead, faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are. Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many words.

Luther argues that faith is a state of being; it’s not something you can control; it’s an external force acting through the human medium. Others would argue that faith is more linked to trust. Others, just to close this, such as Saint Augustine, would argue, that faith is a “form of knowledge” whose authenticity derives from its independence from the observable.

Blest are they who have not seen and have believed

Human suffering can be understood in many ways, even via a method of reasoning, such as “opening one’s eyes” and connecting suffering to “action” like assisting communities in the revitalization of schools and providing care to those who cannot afford the cost of surgery.

To close, here’s Coyne on questions that require the raising of hands:

Suppose we asked a group of Presidential candidates if they believed in the existence of atoms, and a third of them said “no”? That would be a truly appalling show of scientific illiteracy, would it not? And all the more shocking coming from those who aspire to run a technologically sophisticated nation.

Yet something like this happened a week ago during the Republican presidential debate. When the moderator asked nine candidates to raise their hands if they “didn’t believe in evolution,” three hands went into the air—those of Senator Sam Brownback, Governor Mike Huckabee, and Representative Tom Tancredo. Although I am a biologist who has found himself battling creationism frequently throughout his professional life, I was still mortified. Because there is just as much evidence for the fact of evolution as there is for the existence of atoms, anyone raising his hand must have been grossly misinformed.

I don’t know whether to attribute the show of hands to the candidates’ ignorance of the mountain of evidence for evolution, or to a cynical desire to pander to a public that largely rejects evolution (more than half of Americans do). But I do know that it means that our country is in trouble. As science becomes more and more important in dealing with the world’s problems, Americans are falling farther and farther behind in scientific literacy. Among citizens of industrialized nations, Americans rank near the bottom in their understanding of math and science. Over half of all Americans don’t know that the Earth orbits the Sun once a year, and nearly half think that humans once lived, Flintstone-like, alongside dinosaurs.


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