(urth) "Observants"

Dan'l Danehy-Oakes danldo at gmail.com
Wed Apr 19 13:30:27 PDT 2006


It seems to me that your use of the term "observants" is ... well,
a little narrow. It is possible both to be an observant Christian and
to subscribe to the findings of modern evolutionary biology (including
its psychological implications).

I consider myself an observant Christian. (Sp: an adult convert to
the Church of Rome.) But I have no argument with any of the
_scientific_ observations of Richard Dawkins, et al.; in fact, I read
enough in the subject that I feel well-enough informed to "take
sides" (preferring Dawkins' interpretations, in general, to those of
the late Stephen Jay Gould).

The Catholic church, a while back, declared that -- though it is not
heretical to believe in literal 7-day creation -- it _is_ heretical to
_insist_ upon it, because it attempts to put limitations on God's
options in _how_ He chose to create the universe.

> Yes, Faith is one place to start from...but I said: to observants all such
> sources of first principles are matters of Faith of one sect or another.

For any position, your first principles are taken on faith. Ultimately,
you come down to unprovable assumptions, if they are only things
like "I exist" and "the data my senses feed me are reliable within
certain limits."

> My point is that observants (as I'll persist in calling them although I
> realize many secular-minded people attend church regularly and many
> who do not attend still believe in revealed Truth) believe Faith and Reason
> will *validate*, not merely complement, each other...that they both exist
> equally in the *objective* world, as do "means and motive" to
> criminal investigator. Their Faith IS a continuous intellectual
> endeavor.

We part company here.

Seven-day creationists do _not_ value faith and reason equally; they
insist that reason must be the handmaid of faith, and that all
Observable Facts must be interpreted to align with (their version of)
Revealed Truth.

This is why I describe your use of the word "observants" as "narrow."
It seems to me that by "observant" you mean only those who treat
faith and reason in this manner.

There is an alternative approach: I believe in Revealed Truth.

I also believe in Observable Facts.

When they seem to be in conflict, it means that I have
misunderstood one or both of them; and this is where Reason
complements Faith. Faith will not allow me to discard a Revealed
Truth because it is inconvenient or incompatible with Observable
Fact; Reason will not allow me to discard an Observable Fact
because it is inconvenient or incompatible with Revealed Truth.

To maintain integrity, I have to understand both in such a way that
I reject neither, and yet resolve _apparent_ contradictions.

It isn't always easy. In fact, I suspect that the difficulties it
presents are one reason why so many people _do_ take refuge
in Fundamentalism, Literalism, etc.

> Heh, heh, heh. I've heard many secular scientists *remind* us that
> science does not ascribe absolute truth to its theories...but only when
> comparing it favorably to religion. As a voracious reader of popular
> scientific literature, I am pretty certain that that caveat is not
> mentioned otherwise.

I'd start by having a look at Feynman's lovely little book QED. Feynman
describes _exactly_ the evidence that makes QED the best-supported
theory (at that time) in the history of science ... and goes on to add that
the next decimal place of observational detail _could_ derail it.

Not bad for a guy who won a Nobel for that particular theory.

This isn't to say that many scientists aren't arrogant (I've certainly
picked over that ground before, esp. as regards the Dawkinsite
"bright" business). But "science" -- as opposed to _scientists_,
who are as human as you, me, and Chris -- in its proper form
_always_ doubts its theories.

That's what experiments are _for_: trying to find conditions for
which the current best theory is insufficient.

> I've yet to read an article by a scientist (I might have missed it) in which
> any consideration is given to the fact that scientists themselves (the
> fields they study, the conclusions they draw, and the overall scientific
> consensus at any given time) are as subject to environmental pressures
> and natural selection as the colors on a butterflies wings.

As such: nor do I. But what I do see a fair amount is "more experiments
will be needed to establish this." This is very much an appeal to the
ecosystem (fund more experiments!) -- but also an acknowledgement
that the study _is_ limited in scope by, yes, the conditions of the
scientific ecosystem: if only the finite capacity of a given niche's
inhabitant to "complete" a study of a subject.

> [B]oth name Neitzche as the one who irretreivably stripped human
> understanding of its pretenses. Schaeffer said he "crossed the line of
> despair".

I'm also something of a Nietszche fan.

Nietszche was very much "of his time." He was hugely influenced by
the arrogance of the Victorian scientific establishment, and particularly
their tendency to think they'd done away with God.

Nietszche _wanted_ there to be a God. But -- in the light of the work
of Darwin and Kelvin and many others -- he _couldn't_ believe, at least
not in the Christian sense.

He spent his later active years raging against God for the sin of not

(Read the passage in _Thus Spoke Zarathustra_ -- slightly modified,
it was also the end of _The Gay Science_ -- in which Nietzsche
announced the "Death of God." It's fascinating, because the part
nobody quotes very much is that "we ourselves have committed this
monstrous crime." This puts a whole different spin on it--)


I do not fear Satan half so much as I fear those who fear him.
                        -- St Teresa of Avila

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