Theologians deal in speculation; they call it revelation

By Sonny Scott

The grandson was going on about his biology test. I was only half listening until I realized that he was criticizing the structure of a question about the data of most importance to the evolution of a cell. He was pronouncing “evolution” with a degree of contempt reminiscent of Rebels saying, “Jackie Sherrill.” He went on to chortle at the chutzpa of a classmate who purportedly penciled in: “Choice E: God!”

I usually let such inanity slide, but I had just been reading about the lamentable performance of American students in international science and math competitions, and I was irritable. I heard myself snapping, “You pay attention to your teachers, and don’t be making an ass of yourself about something you don’t understand!” He seemed taken aback, but it was time for me to leave for work. I owe him and explanation, so – herewith.

“I know where you absorbed such a willful ignorance of the scientific approach to knowledge, my dear boy. To my deep regret and chagrin, it is from the religious community. I have endured dozens of inane sermons over the years that were nothing more than emotional rants against science by speakers who were either ignorant of the scientific method, or chose to misrepresent it because they perceived it a threat to their world view. None of these contributed any spiritual insight, nor contained a scintilla of intellectual rigor.

“With all due respect to those whose misapprehensions may have colored your thinking, be still a moment and listen to me. The goals of the scientist and of the theologian are exactly the same – viz., TRUTH. Their approaches differ. The theologian deals in speculation, which he dubs ‘revelation’ to lend an aura of authority. He is limited to the rules of logic and language and the discipline of rhetoric in honing his ideas and defending them against those of his peers. The scientist, too, speculates, but his speculations are limited to those propositions which can be formulated as testable hypothesis. His speculations will be tried by observation and/or controlled experiment. If found wanting, the scientific hypothesis will be modified or abandoned. Science is self-correcting, while theology remains at the speculative stage.

“Think of the theological models widely accepted until modern times: flat earth, three-tiered creation with the stars attached to a dome capping it all, geocentric solar system, demonology, totems, etc. Galileo was condemned by the Church for his hypothesis that the earth moves about the sun – saving his life only by recanting. Philosophers have incurred the wrath of theologians for such arcane ideas as that of a line being composed of discrete points! The fear of the simple-minded and the arrogance of the powerful know no bounds.

“In spite of what you may have heard from those threatened by science, the body of evidence demands that evolution be considered. Is the process completely understood, or the mechanics of the model fully developed? No, but you can be sure that if observation and experiment fail to sustain the models, they will be revised or abandoned. The scientific process will confirm or deny, and the march toward truth will proceed heedless of the minions of theological schools standing astride the tracks of progress yelling, ‘Stop!’ (Thanks, Wm. F. Buckley.)

“Not all theologians are bothered by evolution – including some Christians. Roman Catholics (perhaps chastened by their Galileo episode) don’t seem to be bothered by the idea that their God may be bigger than the (presumed) capstone of His creation. It is among Protestants, especially of the American fundamental variety, that a human-scaled god playing mud pies in the Garden of Eden is considered a sine qua non of faith.

“None of this is to say that Protestant Christianity is without merit, or to deny its contributions to western institutions. It is to say that picking a model of existence based upon traditional beliefs and legends, and defending it against science and rationality is a waste of time, and an embarrassment to the faithful. I blush for those too nescient to blush for themselves.

“Now, beloved grandson, your parents are working hard and paying taxes to give you the advantage of a good education. Do your part by keeping your mind and ears open while occasionally closing your mouth. Remember, odds are better than even that your science teacher knows more about his subject than you and your smart-mouthed buddies.”

SONNY SCOTT is a Chickasaw County resident and a community columnist. Contact him at sonnyscott@yahoo.com.

  • FrereJocques

    Totally agree with you, Mr. Scott, but in MS your statement faces an uphill battle. Far too many “Country Preachers” still hold sway with their “Olde Tyme Relijun”. And then they elect their Politishuns that support their outdated beliefs.

    And then they wonder why MS is at the bottom of the list of quality education in this nation.

    • Bob Spencer

      Sad to say, “Brother Jack”, you are right. We have too many churches where the message is “Fear God” instead of “Love God” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” They must think they need the factor of fear to insure attendance and tithe instead of understand the message that Jesus taught.

  • http://www.undergroundparadigm.com Carolyn Reeves

    Sonny Scott’s commentary in the July 13 issue of the Daily
    Journal presented a common view of science and religion that science has had to
    fight to gain freedom from the bondages of dogmatic religious beliefs. Perhaps it should be noted first of all that
    the scientific revolution could only have flourished in cultures where God and
    His creation were viewed as orderly and unchanging. We find no science in
    cultures where people believe in capricious spirits.

    Early scientists, such as Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and
    others who held Christian worldviews, developed methods that eliminated
    superstitious beliefs and biased opinions of researchers. Futhermore, they
    referred only to natural processes to explain their findings, although in their
    personal journals, they often praised God for the order and precision they
    discovered in nature. So, rather than
    finding their religious beliefs a stumbling block, it actually enhanced their
    research.

    The scientists mentioned above did their research in the
    area of operational sciences where they tried to understand and explain how
    things in nature operated.

    Operational scientists adhered to two principles as they
    conducted their research. They used empirical methods and they only referred to
    natural processes in their explanations. In other words, these Christian
    scientists did not refer to supernatural processes to explain their findings
    about how things operate in nature.

    The question Scott’s grandson was referring to was in a
    different area, known as historical sciences. Historical scientists try to
    reconstruct the past history of the earth and the universe. They used whatever clues were available and
    tried to figure out what happened in the past. Many of their hypotheses could
    not be tested with controlled experiments and other empirical testing methods,
    because past events are often unrepeatable. This meant that their conclusions
    were sometimes supported by little actual evidence, and a number of assumptions
    had to be made.

    Consequently, historical
    scientists, such as Charles Darwin, decided to adopt the same methods used by
    operational scientists. They also insisted
    on referring only to natural processes, even though the only other logical
    explanation for the origin of life was a supernatural creation.

    Evolutionists believed they could trace the evolutionary history
    of the world all the way back to apelike animals to reptiles, to water-breathing
    animals, and to the first living ancestor cells. By combining both operational
    and historical sciences into one field, they were able to limit all scientific
    explanations to natural processes.
    Therefore, everything related to a supernatural origin came to be eliminated
    as false or irrelevant. The acceptance
    of evolution is as much about maintaining the philosophy of naturalism as it is
    about evidence.

    Perhaps Scott’s grandson didn’t choose the wisest way to
    express his opposition to naturalistic evolution, but he was not wrong to express
    his belief that a supernatural creation is a legitimate possibility.