News and Commentary

KHAN: Why Seeking Scientific Proof For Religious Realities Is A Fool’s Errand
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Recently, The Atlantic Monthly published an article entitled “A Famous Argument Against Free Will Has Been Debunked.” The article details the latest discoveries in neuroscience regarding the age-old debate between free will and determinism. According to the piece, the available science now suggests that we may, in fact, have free will contrary to the biological determinism impressed upon us by the scientific community for almost a century. And so the debate rages on for yet another millennia, if not till kingdom come.

More importantly, the article illustrates a vital point for those of us who maintain faith as a central aspect of our lives. It’s imperative as people of faith that we do not attempt to corroborate our beliefs with scientific facts or endeavors. Not only is it a fool’s errand, it’s also a detriment to faith itself.

While it may seem intriguing or even somewhat reasonable to buttress our religious beliefs with scientific evidence, it very much runs the risk of delegitimizing the very beliefs we are attempting to prove as empirically true. Nevermind that it can be a theological wild goose chase, scientific theories are disproven all the time. If we seek scientific corroboration for our deeply held religious beliefs those very beliefs run the risk of being disproven as well.

“But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” – C.S. Lewis

An inherent aspect of science is that it remains in a constant state of flux wherein in new discoveries supplant long-held theories in an instant. For example, craniometry was considered a perfectly valid method to scientifically measure human intelligence in the nineteenth century. We know now that it’s bunk and the methods and paradigms employed to reach such conclusions were specious at best.

Regardless, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that some piece of scripture in the Abrahamic traditions seemingly supported the antiquated idea that head size was indicative of intelligence. The instant the scientific theory is rendered obsolete, the scripture is as well. One is, essentially, building exegetical constructs on quicksand.

That doesn’t mean that science cannot provide us with a continued sense of wonderment toward all that God has created nor does it mean that we dismiss scientific truths for the sake of rote, blind dogma. Not at all. What it does entail is that religious truths cannot reside in the lower, earthly strata of the scientific worldview. Simply put, religious truths must supersede them.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Hamlet, William Shakespeare

It also has to be vehemently stated that though we may not find tenable support in science for our religious beliefs, this does not mean, in any way, that we abandon our critical faculties when studying our respective traditions. Faith must be an active pursuit if it’s to maintain its necessary vitality and strength and not be reduced to some dust-covered ornament on a shelf. God gave us both a head and a heart for a reason.

That said, we need to also consider just how hopelessly dogmatic the scientific community continues to be as the defining paradigm for well over a century. In Why Religion Matters, renowned religious scholar Huston Smith drives home this point compellingly:

Among scientists themselves, debates over Darwin rage furiously, fueled by comments such as Fred Hoyle’s now-famous assertion that the chance of natural selection’s producing even an enzyme is on order of a tornado’s roaring through a junkyard and coming up with a Boeing 747. But when religion enters the picture, scientists close ranks in supporting Darwinism…Michael Ruse of the University of Guelph — a self-confessed bulldog for Darwinism — puts this colonization of theology by biology when he charges his fellow Darwinists with behaving as if Darwinism were a religion. (Why Religion Matters, p. 77)

While religious traditions continue to be maligned as antiquated and dogmatic pursuits, particularly by younger generations, they are completely unaware of just how dogmatically suspect many of their own current conclusions can be.

Smith continues:

Rustum Roy, a materials scientist at Pennsylvania State, goes further. Half seriously, he has threatened to sue the National Science Foundation for violating the separation of church and state in funding branches of science that turned themselves into religions…we have the curious spectacle of [Darwinism] colonizing not only theology but biology as well. (Why Religion Matters, p. 77)

While it may be intriguing to find parallels between our religious beliefs and all that science offers and continues to discover, it’s an unwise pursuit outside of some mild curiosity. Science is limited and reductive in scope and simply cannot grasp the awe, grandeur, and transcendence faith and God encompass beyond measure.