On scientific truth and Christian truth…

In the middle of an article about the way that the religious right have interfered with scientific work in the US, I find a troubling paragraph:

At a time when biology is poised to undergo a fundamental revolution, the US government, arguably the most potent government in the history of the world, is rife with White House appointees who believe that scientific truth and Christian truth cannot be synonymous, and may well be in opposition.

I ask myself – do I believe that scientific truth and Christian truth can be synonymous? My answer – no. I ask myself – do I believe that they may well be in opposition? My answer – yes. The only difference between me and the people from the religious right then, is that we disagree with which ‘truth’ is the more reliable. I stick on the side of the people who test their conclusions and refine their belief systems with reference to evidence – they stick to the side of the people who believe that a magic being sets bushes on fire and turns women into salt.

So the scary bit for me is not that the nutters in power believe that the two are incompatible, but that the assumption is that for reasonable, normal, run-of-the-mill scientists all across America that it’s normal to be able to reconcile meteorology with the concept of rains of blood and biology with people who bring people back from the dead…

23 replies on “On scientific truth and Christian truth…”

A variation of a joke on proof you may like:
An astronomer, physicist, mathematician and a medieval priest are on a train to Scotland. They cross the border and see a black sheep. The astronomer says, ëAh, Scottish sheep are black.í ëNo,í says the physicist. ëAll you can say from that observation is that some Scottish sheep are black.í ëNo,í says the mathematician. ëAll you can say from that observation is that there is at least one sheep in Scotland, at least side of which is black.í
The priest then pipes up, ëI divine from that observation that the sheep was blackened by a dragonís breathí.

Not all Christians believe those stories are all literally true. Some take a large chunk of the bible as metaphor. There are christian “scientists” of whom you should be reasonably frightened, but not all of them.

Well, I just had to pipe up on this one.
While I certainly think that there are plenty of Christians here in the U.S. that have a totally distorted view of reality, truth, and science, I think that you are making some blanket judgements here that aren’t really true.
There are lots of stupid people in the world, and since many people in the world are Christians, there are a lot of stupid (or shall we say, uneducated, or uninformed) Christians.
I am a Christian, but I am also educated and intelligent and willing to think for myself. You make a divide between “scientific truth” and “Christian truth” which is very disturbing to me. There is no such distinction between “scientific truth” and “Christian truth”, there is only truth. To be more specific and general all at once — the rules of logic state that something is either true or false, not both.
There is a set of information that is produced by research, scientific principles, and evidence that is put forth, which I think we can equate to what you refer to as “scientific truth”. The thing is, there are many different assumptions made in science, and many different theories that conflict with one another, and plenty that we just plain don’t know or understand yet. Now, if you take that set of information and boil it down to what we can refer to as “scientific concensus”, the set becomes a lot smaller, but a lot more likely to be “Truth” (notice the big “T”). There is considerably less internal conflict in this smaller set of information, and generally there is much more evidence. Remember, there are *still* people around who believe that the earth is flat, but their group certainly has not formed a scientific concensus 🙂
Similarly, there is a set of information that the Christian world puts forward as “truth”. Not everyone agrees, the Bible is interpreted many different ways, and a lot of this information conflicts both internally, and with information in the scientific set of information above. Now, its a bit more difficult to distill this set of information down to a set based on mutual evidence and consensus, because you can’t prove much in this set of information. However, there are many well-respected theologians and well-expressed “core belief” sets from all the major sects of Christianity. This can be used to come up with some consensus information that is pretty well accepted in the Christian world (there is a God, he had a son named Jesus, people sin, there is a heaven, there is a hell, etc).
So, I have rambled a lot here, so let me see if I can bring this all together. The bottom line is that there are lots of people in this world who decide to bind themselves to understanding the world through only one of the “spheres” above — science or religion. If you marry yourself only to the scientific sphere, there is a lot of Truth (again with the big T) that you are missing out on. If you bind yourself to only the religious sphere, then you are similarly missing out on a lot of Truth!
I believe that the real way to experience and understand life is not to limit yourself such believing only things that scientists tell you or only things that religion tells you. You cannot prefer one sphere over the other. Life is about the search for understaning through Truth. Personally, I do my best to reconcile the two spheres of science and religion to live a more complete life. I can use one to polish the other! Science tells me all about the mechanisms of evolution that God used to create the universe! The Bible tells me *why*. How great is that? Science will never be able to tell me the answers to the “why” questions, but will help me to better appreciate the beauty, logic, and elegance of the universe, and will help me to better understand its Creator.
It frustrates me greatly that Christians get such a bad name because people overgeneralize and criticize things that they do not fully understand.
Bottom line — there is Truth, and it can be known and understood through many methods.

Normally I dislike long comments but I’m just so darned worked up on this issue that I beg your indulgence. I don’t want to retread old ground (plasticbag On the existence of God…), and I am also aware that writers of the calibre of Richard Dawkins and Douglas Adams (to pick my personal favourites) have given voice to similar sentiments far more eloquently than I could ever hope to; but some things need to be said over and over again – after all, there is plenty of evidence that people will believe anything if it is said loud enough and often enough, and surely a perspective that makes sense will find an easier home in people’s minds than something that doesn’t?
I usually try to be nicey-nicey about this issue, but Tom is 100% right here, and points like this one need to be driven home. There seem to be a lot of people who work in scientific areas that seem to have chosen this field simply as a profession, and who happily maintain a fence around their religious beliefs. Christians necessarily believe in a guy who died and then came back from the dead to talk to all of his buddies. I don’t know which of the miracles some Christians apparently take as metaphor, but that is entirely irrelevant: reasonable people should never ever believe some crazy spiel about a guy coming back to life or anyone’s physical remains moving to some ill-defined alternate plane – this is about as far removed from scientific truth as it is possible to get (without going into *shudder* Creationism). It is a tragedy that so many people have been indoctrinated into this craziness, and it is appalling that someone can be a professional scientist and then completely turf all of their methods and standards of evidence out of the window when it comes to their religious beliefs, basically because religion makes them feel nice and fuzzy on the inside.
As far as ‘Truth’ goes, standards of proof appear to be nonexistent these days: I graduated with a BA in Philosophy from a place with a Philosophy course on ‘Evolution: Myth or Theory?‘ – and this from the largest University in the country! This just goes to show that people will accept any kind of crazy claim as meritorious, no matter how wrong it is. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to point out that the only method that has proven even slightly consistent or useful in determining ‘Truth’ is the scientific one: observe, generalise, test. Of course we could ask: ‘what is truth?’ and then we would have to admit that our method is not always right and we do occasionally go the wrong way or misinterpret data, but I challenge anyone to come up with an alternative method for determining truth that makes any kind of sense. Since the whole universe thing seems to make sense without the whole ‘God’ complexity, there is no coherent explanation for leaving it in, other than that ‘I really want it!í and sadly, wanting doesnít make things true. If that’s the way you want to choose what you believe then fine, good luck, but you should consider why you use objective scientific criteria in any circumstances: maybe you might want to cease doing so until you can come up with a some excuse for applying it to some propositions but not to others.
In fact, it amazes me that so many Christians can have the Santa-Claus myth debunked when they are children, and yet go through an entire lifetime without taking a more general lesson about the power of myth and circumstantial evidence from the whole business.
I’m sorry if you choose to believe in god, because you’re just plain wrong – as wrong as someone who chooses to believe that the earth is flat or that there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and for the very same reasons. It may seem like a harsh reality check, but in fact Keats was right – truth really is beautiful – and that is why people should be scientists.

Science starts from zero.
Religion starts from within the zero.
They both get perverted, and the best in both are threatening to how things really are.
The idea that the current administration has any representatives of “Christian thought” in it is laughable. Unless by Christian thought we mean anything anyone thinks or says who calls themself Christian.
The two camps are like football teams. Seemingly in opposition, but playing on the same field, by the same rules, for the same powerful interests behind the scenes.
Religion and science were once the same thing, the division is what’s false; now they’re both incomplete, each lacking the strength of the other.
The world and the universe don’t change because we see them differently, and there’s no one here who sees it all for what it really is.

I don’t care about who is the “right christians” or “perverted christians”
religious is just religious : old mythical stories, legends, and believings , built from book and old tellings and culturals history.
Science is just a TOOL, a way to manage the world : observe, theorize, confront theorie, proove, explain.
Science is not about some stories or whatever believings, it’s about study , theories, to change theory when observation proove it’s false and go on : science is not dogmatic. Dogmatic scientist are _bad_ scientist (they close their mind)
religious and science are NOT opposite side of the same thing, it’s just completely different things. nothing to argue, to compare or to debate.
and if physical science tells you proton and neutron are useful to explain electrical stuff happening, it doesn”t tell you anything about god (or gods) or faery or whatever you want to believe about spiritual things : why I go ? where I go ? from where I go ? why people want to know that ?
science is not about that. so no worry

piffle. if religion was just considered to be myth there’d be no problem, but it’s not – people claim that religious stories are literally true. The point is that applying a scientific eye to religious claims should immediately lead to their rejection of religion. It is bizarre that this doensn’t happen.
Of course religion tries to inhabit the same ground as science: it makes claims as to the nature of the universe, and as to what things can happen. Science exposes these claims as nonsensical, but religious people believe them anyway. Once again I ask you – how can a scientist believe that a guy lay dead for 3 days, came back to life and then bodily disappeared into ‘heaven’? see: it’s nonsense!

Sadly for the ones interested in equating religion with science, Tom, this is a self-correcting problem. Soon afterwards, they have to face increasing costs and diminished efficiency just because they do not have the conceptual tools. Soon thereafter, other countries emerge as research powers, thus advancing further on and developing that tipping point advantage that overturns paradigms. And we will be all buying our medical treatments from a lab in Rio or Shanghai. The problem, as noted above, is self-correcting. How long does the powerful country remain in power when it ceases to be competitive?

Jonathan, If I accept for a minute your idea that there is such a thing as ‘The Truth’ at all, I wonder what made you select religion as the body of thought that best answered the questions about life, the universe and everything that science doesn’t cover? And furthermore, why your particular religion over the vast array on offer?
Surely, if you can weigh up what forms a consensus within the areas science deals with you can do the same for religions? How does Christianity compare to Islam or Buddhism, say, if we’re looking for where world popular opinion lies? And why stop at the religions, after all there are plenty of rational philosophical areas of thought that deal with many of the same areas as religion.
Despite saying that ìthere is no such distinction between scientific truth and christian truthî you then go on to immediately set up a false dichotomy between science and religion; there are many other areas of human thought that can be called upon to draw your personal conclusions about the nature of the universe and your place within it.
Generally speaking I feel that religious people of any denomination are taking the easy way out, opting to choose something that has a nice simple system to explain questions that might concern them, rather than dealing with the questions that arise in their lifes by coming to their own conclusions based upon seriously considering the issue.
I canít accept that someone who has rationally thought about, for example, ëwhy people do bad thingsí can come to the conclusion that ëbecause they are influenced by the devilí is the best answer available.

There’s some entertaining discussion about this on and my own site. We;re in the North East where a fundalmentalist Mt Vardy is funding city academies where creationism is being taught next to evolution and biblical christianity is being infused into each lesson. In America, Christians use Darwinism as shorthand for a secular society and use the education system to attack evolution through Darwinism, an intellectually bankrupt but effective strategy. How distressing that Tony Blair is allowing a similar fundamentalist front to open in Britain.

There are no ‘different’ truths. Only one truth.
Any multiple ways of interpreting truths are just that – interpretations of the truth – even if as you say one interpretation (science) is more believable because it is tested and refined with evidence.
Unfortunately, this evidence, methods of testing and so on – what we call ‘science’, is bounded by our limitations as human beings.
Unconscious unknown – you wont know something you never knew existed unless it makes itself known. You can never seek it, prove it, or disprove it.
Hence, you cannot prove or disprove God – if He exists. Only He can do so.
Do you think just because a large majority of humanity believes in a ‘truth’ observable and tested within our short existence – that is must be so? That because we’ve not proven the hand of God he must not exist? That because humans have not been able to reincarnate it is not possible?
How do you prove this? It is impossible to do.
I would propose to keep our minds open. The truth will be revealed if it will – because if it doesnt – we wont be able to find it anyway.

In that case, you cannot disprove or prove anything. I think at some point we have to agree that we’re all working within the context of ‘human understanding’, of which religion is self-admittedly out of the realm of.
I think the better polish to put on this skin is the following: fine, noone can prove or disprove the existence of God. But we CAN prove the full extent of manipulation of texts of all major religions since they were born without a label and without a mission on day one of their ‘existence’.

Why can’t religious people admit that religions invent wholey fictitious mythologies in which there is not one bit of truth?

The dictionary definition of truth is elastic and human based. It is based on concessus or majority belief.
There is only one Truth. That Truth is Jesus. The Holy Bible says that “He is the way, the truth and the life…” He is the beginning and the end. Before Him there was nothing to be used as a yardstick to determine Truth. He is the first and the last. Everything on earth and in Heaven, under the earth, sea, forests… begins with Him and ends with Him. He is the all in all.
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth and the power of the Highest. JESUS IS TRUTH

Absolutely ridiculous. If you’re going to claim Jesus is truth, then you have to at least cite personal experience, some thing that has happened to you that makes you believe. Saying, “I read a book and the book told me it was true, so it’s true” is just stupid, I’m afraid. Tell you what, I’ll try it on you now – everything I say is true. You on my side now?

The sun’s rays are the knitting needles of life.
Christianity is but a new veneer on the old religions
and mythologies.(Rather like Windows was a veneer
on DOS)
Look on the net for info on virgin conceptions in
ancient beliefs – makes sobering reading.
The Christian Bible has not been added to in approx
2000 years. Has nothing happened in the history of
Christianity in this time? Surely if, as it starts out, it is a history of Christianity then it should
be a work in progress.
The “second coming” is taking rather a long time
don’t you think!?
Whats wrong anyway with saying “I don’t know” with
regard to the origins of the universe and life?
Perhaps we should worship the sun, although it
never responded to the ancients when they tried!
It’s more fun to think and philosophise on life
and the universe.

Secular, and religious Jewish, evidence of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth exists. Trypho, a Jew, was skeptical of Christianity, but he knew Jesus existed and was crucified. Cornelius Tacitus, documented skeptic in many things, recorded that he existed and was crucified by Pontius Pilate. Flavius Josephus writes much about him. He wasn’t a believer, and he documented that Jesus was a doer of miraculous deeds, and was crucified by Pilate at the behest of the Jewish leaders. Even the Talmud can be used to point to the existence of Jesus. Now, for the religious part. Of his apostles and other disciples, many were martyr. Martyr is from the Greek “martus” meaning “witness.” Now, WHY would 10 out of 12 “crazy” men who knew Jesus very well, knew what happened to him, essentially commit suicide by espousing a religion based on the same Jesus, whom they say was crucified, died, was buried, and rose on the third day? No sane man would do that if he didn’t believe the man Jesus was God.

God created science! That’s why science is perfect, from the great expanse of space right down to the workings of the atom. Einstein knew it and so did Darwin and they were 2 of the greatest minds.
Its like when you walk into a house theres no proof that someone built it but the more you look at the details the more you realise, hey this place has been designed, engineered and built.
Now look around my brothers and sisters science has given us a small glimpse at how grand this universe actually is!!!

The assertion that Jesus Christ rose from the dead (or that any other religious miracle occurred) is not rational or irrational by itself. The rationality of this assertion depends on what presuppositions (ASSUMPTIONS about what is true, that are accepted by faith and not because they can be proved) a person holds to.
For example, imagine a person presupposes that there is no god, no spirituality, and nothing beyond what is empirically verifiable. This is an assumption based on blind faith, since it is as impossible to prove that god does not exist as it is to prove that he does exist.
If this is accepted, then the idea that Christ rose from the dead is completely ridiculous. Anyone with high school level biology can tell you that human body does not resurrect.
However, what if a person believes that there is a supreme being, not findable by physical, scientific experiments, who created the world and controls it? This is also an assumption completely based on blind faith, since, as stated before, it is impossible to either prove or disprove the existence of a deity.
If this is held as true, then the Christian resurrection becomes a rational proposition. If a person accepts that there is an all-powerful being who not only created life, but controls it, then it is no great insanity to believe that this god has the power to raise a person from the dead.
So the rationality of the resurrection depends on what a person blindly accepts as true.
The bitter irony of the whole situation is this: the question of which presuppositions are true is of great importance, yet there is no conceivable way to either verify or disprove any of them.
If there is no god, then “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
If there is a god, we should strive to please him so we do not end up in hell.
How should we live our life? It seems to me that there is no way to answer this except to blindly choose a presupposition and then live as if it was true.

You make a good comment Ben and I notice you didn’t actually state wich presumption you chose.
But the fact is that one dosn’t cancel the other. You can still believe in science and the process of science yet believe that God is the creator. And his creation is in perfect harmony with science and the universe. (All things proceed from the Father)
And in may cases God is found as a conclusion, not a presumption. (as in my case)
But as you say there are many peole who go into life with the presumption that there is no God and they are so convinced of this that they miss what is right infront of them. And all eles is chasing the wind…

We see here a plethora of moving lips without one single “truth-fact” on which to hang your hat. Just go your merry way, thinking whatever mythical
clutter you wish, it’s your life; just pay your taxes and quit bickering – there AIN’T an answer to be found, just petty disagreements, none of which SOLVE THE ARGUMENTS!

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