The conflict that never was
Tue 29 Nov 2016 10:06:00 AM EET
Category : Blog
Author : Mike
There are certain standard arguments that people have about instances where science and religion apparently clash. I wonder if there is a reason why we have these arguments. Specifically for this blog post, I wonder if there is a reason we do not have other arguments. And I wonder what the world would be like, in some strange, parallel universe, where things had gone differently.
Here is what actually happened:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” Genesis 1:1.
What, then, is creation? What does cosmology have to say of it? What does theology have to say of it? Do the two disagree? Can the two agree? Do the two even relate to each other? People have very heated arguments about this. And people write blogs about it. Not I.
Here is what else actually happened:
“And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures.'’” Genesis 1:20.
What, then, is life? What does biology have to say of it? What does theology have to say of it? Do the two disagree? Can the two agree? Do the two even relate to each other? People have very heated arguments about this. And people write blogs about it. Not I.
Here is what didn’t happen:
“Jesus answered ‘I am the truth’.” John 14:6
What, then, is truth? What do logicians have to say of it? What do theologians have to say of it?
There can, of course, be no agreement. Either logic stands or Christianity stands, but there is no possibility of reconciliation. Any logician knows that truth (or falsity) is a property of statements. That is the definition of a statement. “I am writing a blog” is a statement, and it has the property of being true. “I am writing a blog” is the truth. People, not being statements, are simply incapable of being “The Truth”. What Jesus was at best wrong, but more likely meaningless.
You have to choose a side. Are you with Jesus or with logic. And please understand that logic is, by definition, that which underpins reason and rationality. The battle lines are drawn.
The academy becomes hostile to Christianity, nowhere more so than in the mathematical sciences. Young people, raised in Christian households, go off to study mathematics at university, and have their faith sunk on the rocks of formal logic. Loving parents fret that little Jonny is showing an interest in computing. From there it is only a short step to information theory, from whence - they fear - their poor son will surely embrace atheism. Devout maths professors try in vain to explain to fellow church goers that their research on geometry is really unrelated to interpreting John 14. Suspicion remains as to whether such professors are actually saved.
The origins of the clash are traced back to 19th century Britain, when George Boole first wrote “The Mathematical Analysis of Logic.” More controversial still was his subsequent publication of “The Laws of Thought.” He is hailed as a hero by some for transforming our understanding of logic; reviled and demonised by others for undermining the very foundations of society. In Britain he is honoured with his portrait on the £10 note. In America, legal cases are brought concerning whether his work on calculus can be taught in schools.
In this alternative universe, some people attempt to damp down the flames of conflict by pointing out that, throughout history, Christians have been logicians and logicians have been Christians. They tout famous examples from Thomas Aquinas to Blaise Pascal in order to bolster their case. Such arguments are largely unheeded.
At the same time, both logicians and theologians stoke the public desire for conflict with televised debates. Alfred Tarski writes books on why his definitions of truth demonstrate religion in general and Christian religion in particular to be fatally flawed. He locks horns with Alonzo Church and these academic heavy weights publically go back and forth on the reasonableness – or otherwise – or religion.
In this parallel universe a blog is written about what would happen, in some other world, if people started arguing over Genesis 1 instead of John 14. What a strange blog that would be.