Coexisting Contradictions

I took my daughter to the library yesterday.  We go to the library at least once a week, sometimes more.  During these trips, I commonly see cars in the library parking lot which have bumper stickers that make political and/or religious statements.  Yesterday, I saw this one:

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This is just one of many times I have seen someone have both a “coexist” bumper sticker and a bumper sticker attacking the Christian faith on their car.  Twice I have seen people who have the coexist sticker on the right (it’s always on the right) and the “Darwin fish” on the left.  Once I saw someone with the coexist sticker on the right and a “fish and chips” emblem on the left.

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On all these occasions, I said to myself, “I don’t think these people understand the coexist concept.”  Indeed, you can’t call for coexistence on the right side of your car while simultaneously taking a shot at the world’s largest worldview on the left side of your car.  Taking shots at anyone’s worldview is not coexistence.  It is aggression and it had no place in civil society.

(BTW, I’m all for coexistence if by that you mean, “Let’s not kill those who don’t share our faiths and philosophies.”  I’m against coexistence if by that you mean, “Let’s not take our faiths and philosophies seriously.”  Unfortunately, I tend to think most people who put this emblem on their car mean the latter.)

(Another btw: I’ve always wished someone would make the coexist symbol out of sports logos rather than religious icons.  The Cincinnati Reds “C” could be the “c”, etc.  I’ve always wondered what reaction that would get.  Unfortunately, this is the closest I could find to that.)

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This particular bumper sticker duo, though, reveals a different problem.  I don’t know what to call this problem.  I think of it kind of like the observer effect in physics, the fact that just observing reality affects our reality, an effect that many people create without being aware of creating it (I thought I learned a different name for this or a similar scientific principle, but if I did I forgot it).  This problem isn’t exactly the same as that effect, but it shares the similar idea.  It is people voicing or holding to a philosophy without realizing that their philosophy could contradict their voice or holding to it.

Let me explain using the bumper sticker above.  The owner of that car is challenging people (I tend to think he/she is challenging Christian or faithful people, but I admit that’s an assumption) not to believe everything they think (and, yes, I get the joke, but there is a serious assertion there).  The owner doesn’t seem to realize that the idea that we shouldn’t believe everything we think applies not only to Christian or faithful people but to him/her as well.  If “we” should not believe everything “we” think, then that car owner should likewise not believe everything he/she thinks.  This would include the coexist concept; maybe the car owner shouldn’t believe that just because he/she thought that.  This would also include the idea that we shouldn’t believe everything we think; maybe the car owner shouldn’t believe that just because he/she thought it, either.  It is quite possible that this philosophical tenet is, like so many man-made philosophical tenets, contradictory and thus self-defeating.

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In contrast to that, “what I think” (that is, my Christian faith) isn’t what I think at all.  It is what I have been told, what I have received, what has been revealed to me.  I don’t believe there is a God because I think it.  I think there is a God because Jesus appeared and, after doing great wonders and teaching great truths, said there was.  I don’t believe this God is incredibly good because I think it.  I believe this God is incredibly good because Jesus said He was (because Jesus demonstrated His good character, in fact).  I don’t believe I should repent and avoid sin and have faith because those ideas just same to my mind.  I believe that because Jesus taught that.

So I can coexist as the one bumper sticker calls me to; I’m quite happy to, in fact (even as I remain happy to share my worldview and be kind as I reject the contradictory worldviews people attempt to share with me).  But I can’t take the advice of the second bumper sticker.  It isn’t as solid an idea as it seems to be, and it doesn’t apply to my faith at all.

 

Science Tests Faith

 

Today I listened to an excellent podcast called Speak Life.  The episode I listened to was titled “Is Science The Enemy of Faith?”  It contained a short lecture delivered by a guy named Glen Scrivener.  The lecture was brilliant on several levels.

It started with a story  about a botanist named Betty who analyzed rather than appreciated a rose she had received for Valentine’s Day.  With this, Scrivener was showing that it is possible to understand the inner workings of the universe without understanding what the universe was for.  This is an idea that I’ve been mulling for about 20 years.  The idea first came to me when I saw a rainbow in the sky over Cincinnati during a snowstorm (yes, a snowstorm, not a rainstorm) and I realized that science could explain how that rainbow got there but could never explain why it was there or why it excited me so much.  I wrote a poem about this, in fact.  That poem is now lost, and probably for the better.  But Bettys (or is it Betties?) are still around, and every time I encounter them I feel like Ted Danson in this scene from Gulliver’s Travels:

 

Another great thing Scrivener said in the lecture was “scientism of the gaps”.  There was a question time following his lecture, and someone asked about Christians using “God of the gaps” arguments.  These arguments merely apply God to whatever is unknown, and for that reason they are not regarded very well.  Scrivener in reply said that some scientists are guilty of a similar poor argument he called “scientism of the gaps”.  As the name suggests, this is just applying some scientific principle, such as “natural selection”, or, even worse, some scientific fact which simply has not been discovered yet, to whatever is unknown.  I had never heard that phrase “scientism of the gaps” before, but I had encountered this type of thinking.  I particularly encountered it when I wrote a paper on the Cambrian Explosion in grad school.  At that time, I ran across this video:

Professor Valentine there states that there “must have been” the kind of biological build-up Darwinian evolution requires, and he admits that there is no evidence for that build-up, but still concludes that such a build-up is “probably right” and “must have been”.  I just don’t see the qualitative difference between saying something like that and saying something is because “God made it that way”.  It does seem like scientism in the gaps to me, and it seems as poor as God in the gaps.

More than anything, though, this podcast reminded me of a TV special that aired on Fox during my final year of Bible college.  The special was called Signs From God: Science Tests Faith and was hosted by Giselle Fernandez.

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For some reason I thought this was called “Science Vs Faith” and was hosted by Soledad O’Brien, which is why it took me forever to find.

I remember the special being promoted less as “science tests faith” and more like “science versus faith”.  And I remember thinking at the time, “What science?”  I probably could have also asked, “What faith?” as the “signs from God” being tested were not signs I would have based any of my faith upon.  Indeed, while the general consensus seems to be that all science is against all faith, a quick survey of the many branches of science shows that this is not close to being true.

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Not even close to being exhaustive, but the best I could do in the space I had.

Does geology argue against faith in any degree?  Or forensics?  Physics?  What about math?  Computer science?  Political science?  None of them do.  In fact, no true scientific fact (that is, an observation of the natural world) can argue against faith, and no scientific field does, either.  Rather, as Scrivener says in the podcast, what really argues against the faith (or tries to argue against it) is a scientific philosophy, a worldview or even religion which uses science and looks like a science and influences science but is not itself a science.  You can also call it naturalism, materialism, philosophical materialism, etc.  But you really can’t call it science.  It isn’t.

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That, as Alvin Plantiga says, is where the conflict really lies, what the conflict really is.  It is not science versus faith.  It is scientism versus faith.  It is not a conflict of “fact versus myth”, as some would like to present it.  It is a conflict of one worldview against another.

Scrivener ably defended my worldview in his lecture.  He left lots of room for true science (observation of nature) as well (indeed, based on his comments, there were lots of Christian scientists in the room with him).  He showed that science is not and really cannot be the enemy of The Faith and vice versa.  And I completely agree.