Sunday, April 22, 2012

Does the Tail Wag the Dog?

A must read for everyone, particularly in our present troubled world, is the recent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. No doubt, you will find many discussions prompted by this book in my future blogs. I have also been following conversations on the Scot McKnight blog site, The Jesus Creed, concerning theistic evolution, the crux of which is the question: Is science the dog or the dog's tail [my words, not theirs]? The Bonhoeffer biography quoted an excerpt from Goebbels' private diary concerning some of Hitler's perspectives on the subject of science and the church I felt extremely informative to the whole issue of science and theology--particularly from the standpoint of the question most recently raised in the discussion on Scot's blog: Is theology the queen of all sciences? Or in my parlance: Does the dog wag its tail, or is it the other way around?

 Here's what Goebbels recorded Hitler to say:

"It is simply incomprehensible how anybody can consider the Christian doctrine of redemption as a guide for the difficult life of today. The Fuehrer cited a number of exceptionally drastic and in part even grotesque examples.... Whereas the most learned and wisest scientists struggle for a whole lifetime to study but one of the mysterious laws of nature, a little country priest from Bavaria is in the position to decide the matter on the basis for his religious knowledge. One can regard such a disgusting performance only with distain. A church that does not keep step with modern scientific knowledge is doomed. It may take quite a while, but it is bound finally to happen. Anybody who is firmly rooted in daily life and who can only faintly imagine the mystic secrets of nature, will naturally be extremely modest about the universe. The clerics, however, who have not caught a breadth of such modesty, evidence a sovereign opinionated attitude toward questions of the universe."

Here's how I use it to answer the question regarding theology as the queen of science:

We see a Trojan horse in Hitler's opinions: the horse being this grandiose notion of humility that the crackpot Bavarian priest had long since abandoned to his narrow-minded hubris. But what's inside the horse is an even "grander"--and I use the term loosely--arrogance: that science will ultimately determine all thought and will therefore be the doom of the church. Hitler certainly didn't see theology as the queen of anything except maybe weakness.

And what was the outcome when science was released from the authority of the love and holiness of God (what I would call keeping theology queen or king of all thought)? We see that Hitler and his henchmen systematically began eliminating everything from the German society that had kept it weak and inefficient. This was Darwinism at its best; from a pure scientific materialism, which is science free of theological constraints, Hitler was completely right (even this word has imported theological content, sorry) in what he did. If one wants to subject all knowledge and thought to the litmus of science then you will get Hitler, and one better not complain about it because at least Hitler lived his worldview.

No doubt I will be viewed by the Einsteins of the world as a crackpot and a reactionary. Actually I am a practitioner of the feedback approach to growing in my faith. By this I mean I openly consider all new evidence, scientific or not, to better understand God's revelation to us and what it means to be a kingdom dweller. Indeed, I wouldn't be engaged in this "conversation" if it wasn't for the fact the famous scientist, Francis Collins, makes some compelling arguments for evolution in his book, The Language of God. When I first started engaging in Scot's blog I was vilified (not by Scot or the person, RJS, who has actually been posting the blog on his site) in so many words for being narrow-minded and shutting down the conversation, when in reality I was and still am trying to focus the conversation on what it needs to be. I am no great scientist of the category of RJS, who is a Professor of Physical Chemistry, and Collins. But I will point out that it wasn't science that brought Collins to Christ but the realities of a transcendent morality and his own inescapable sinfulness; both of which science is completely silent, but theology speaks volumes. Furthermore, as I have said before, I do think Collins, whom I do admire, places too much importance on science when he makes statements like "I cannot believe God would put junk DNA in the genome...."[not an exact quotation] That's hubris! Whenever we start to tell God what is reasonable or not is arrogance--and I say the same to dogmatic theologians who make the same type arguments. Interestingly, Collins made these comments in 2006, I understand that there is now data to suggest the so-called junk DNA is not really junk (I could be wrong because I haven't investigated these new claims).

I have been studying science since the seventh grade. When my wife was sifting through all my old lab equipment, she found my notebook where I wrote down my observations of protozoa and ideas to transfer the nuclei from one species to another. She found a paper I had written in the eighth grade on bacteriophages; when she discovered I wrote it for my own amusement, she became a little worried. :) Until my Junior year of college I was a hard core microbiologist (I went on to become an organic chemist); in fact, the department head had me teach the microbiology course until they could secure a professor for the course. I also remember the required debate between the evolutionists and the creationists at the end of the evolution course I took in 1975. What a circus! Later, I spoke with my evolution professor in private, where he admitted that there really had been a flood as described in the Bible. I asked him why he didn't consider other things the Bible teaches. He said, "Well, I can't do that?" I asked, "Why?" And he answered, "Because I'm a scientist." Once again, science trumped theology at the expense of truth.

The battle I've been fighting since my college days has been against the idea that life is a chance event, which is the faith statement--whether they are willing to admit it or not--of all atheists. Okay, now the argument is where does evolution fit in since we all know that God used it to create the biosphere. We came to this point, didn't we, because theology informed the science? So isn't theology the queen of all science and thought?

At this point I don't care. May I remind us that Jesus said, "Unless you come to me like a child you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." And "I thank you Father that you choose to reveal these things to children..." And "If you love me, you will do what I say." And "If you save your own life, you will lose it...." And "Come to me all who weary and heavy burdened and learn from me...." And "What does it matter, you follow me." And "I am the way the truth and the life..." And "Without me you can do nothing...." And "Seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things will be added unto you..." And when someone asked Jesus if only a few would be saved, what did he say? Did he say, only those who have figured out how I made the universe, and have learned how not to look foolish before their peers, and who see science as supreme and governor of all thought, wisdom, and knowledge, such as these are those who will be saved? Not hardly. It won't be the people who get all the concepts correct and rally around his moralism and shout "Preach it, brother!" who shall be saved, but everyone who seeks to please him by loving him first by obeying him and so love others as he loved them who shall know Christ and be known by him, and so enter his kingdom through the narrow door.

The Gospel is this: Jesus is King because He is alive, and salvation is to serve King Jesus in His kingdom by faith alone (believe, trust, and obey). And the work of the kingdom is to be a light unto the Gentiles so that salvation can be brought to all the earth.

So what is the value of science? In the new earth and heaven, where God dwells with us as we with Him in holiness and love and we do what we were created to do--to be stewards of the cosmos--I believe science will play a pivotal role. We will be learning about the properties and laws of the universe so we can properly discharge our duties. But such learning will no longer be fettered by pride, biases, darkness of a fallen nature, etc, rather it will be held subject to holiness and driven by God's love, and therefore remain true and complete knowledge. Therefore, we should strive, today as true dwellers of the Kingdom of God--that I might add is now and forever shall be--to practice and speak of science always in subjection to the tension of holiness and love; this is God's world, so, yes, theology is the queen of all sciences. The dog wags his tail.


Jeff said...

Thanks Bruce - just what I needed to hear! Read you blog tonight after a very trying "church" meeting and I think it helped me to understand some of the "Christians" I was attacked by. As a Kingdom dweller I have a responsibility to be an honest participant in my worldly dealings. When I advocate a course or an action I am advocating what I feel Christ would want from me. However, many of the people I encounter are not honest actors - they have hidden agendas and deal in lies and are driven by their personal wishes or ego. I think that is the problem you are seeing with so called "scientists" you have been debating. You are an honest kingdom dweller and they are using whatever they have to "win" and don't care about the truth. Sadly, outside the Kingdom nobody wins; inside everybody wins!