WHAT IS TRUTH? - 2
Guest post by my friend John Kulp
Guest post by my friend John Kulp
I started the below as a comment to your “truth” blog, but it got so long that I decided to send it as an email instead. The first part you have heard from me before, but please bear through it again as context for my comments on scientific truth and the bible. Your posts stretch my mind, I may be a heretic on this one, and I hope to hear your comments.
I will suggest that there are at least 3 important questions in correlating science, truth and the bible. What is truth? What is Science? And what point of view does the Bible come from in the field of science?
Having held the title of senior scientist at one point in my career, and having known several University professors and PhD's in science who loved to discuss the philosophy of science, I will add my (their) answer to the second question.
Definition of Science: Science is the construction and refinement of mathematical and conceptual models of observed physical phenomena; where the validity of a model is measured by how accurately the model predicts future events.
The repeatability of observation of physical phenomena gives me an intuitive sense that physical truth does exist, so I reject the postmodern view (that truth does not exist). However, in science I am a philosophical anti-realist holding the view that physical truth (which does exist) cannot be known in a fixed and immutable way. That kind of knowledge would, by definition, make a current descriptive model exempt from future challenge and improvement, and no scientific model is ever exempt from challenge and improvement. Haldane said it well, that "the universe is not simply more complex than we understand, it is more complex than we can understand".
In theology, conversely, I am a classical realist. By faith I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God who came to earth to die on the cross to reconcile me to himself, opening the door for me to have a personal relationship with the creator of the universe. I believe this to be truth, fixed and immutable. This truth, for people of faith like me, is exempt from from challenge and improvement in a way that no law of science has ever been or ever will be.
These concepts are difficult and rarely understood but they are, in my opinion, the real conflict when people try to merge faith and science. One is immutable and unchanging; the other is dynamic with improvement of every current scientific model being the explicit goal of the discipline of science.
Now on to question 3, what point of view does the bible come from in the field of science?
I will suggest that the writers of the bible, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, did just what we do today, and just what writers have always done. And that it was done for the same reason.
My pastor speaks about the “DNA of our church”. That has clear meaning to each of us. He is talking about who we are on the inside, our foundational building blocks, our blueprint for operation. However, if a pastor in the early 1900’s had stood up and spoken about the DNA of the church, the audience would have been bewildered. What is this guy talking about? If he had given a late 20th century scientific explanation of DNA, they would have terminated him for being out of his mind.
Conversely, if we could look 100 years into the future we would certainly see a scientific concept of DNA that is very different than ours today. The scientific models which describe DNA today will have been drastically modified. If a minister in that world spoke about the DNA of his church, it would likely mean something completely different than it does here today.
So what is going on here? Our pastor, and every other pastor, and virtually every writer outside of science fiction (including Bill Ball) uses language that is based on the current day scientific understanding of his or her readers. Anything else would be at best meaningless and at worst confusing. This is how man has written for the entire history of man; in the context of current science. Anything else will not be understood by current readers.
And, since science is dynamic, the differences are related to time and not related to the concept of truth or falsehood. The older writings simply use more rudimentary models of science and later writings simply use more advanced models of science. People of the distant future will certainly continue this advance, looking back at today's writings on science as being “primitive” models.
I will add here that there is a gigantic and very important difference between early scientific models and myth. The sun and moon and stars moving through the sky was a legitimate scientific observation, and an earth centered universe was a reasonable early science model based on that observation. Myths like the buddhist description of the earth being carried on two elephants causing earthquakes when they get out of step, are a very different thing. They are silly by comparison.
So when John writes in Revelation about stars being small objects that can fall to the earth or into the seas of the earth we don’t have to twist like a pretzel to come up with some explanation to use in a futile attempt to go to war against science. The explanation is simply that the current science when John wrote Revelation was that stars were small objects in the sky (a reasonable 1st century model based on 1st century observation capability). If he had written that those tiny stars up there were really distant suns, many times larger than the earth people would have rejected the spiritual truths he wrote about because of his crazy theory about massive stars.
When Moses writes about the sun and moon and stars moving through the sky around the earth we don’t have to twist like a pretzel and come up with some stretched logic to align that view with Galileo’s model based on his observations of the moons of Jupiter. The explanation is simply that the current science when Moses wrote Genesis was the model that those objects moved through the sky around the earth (it was a reasonable early scientific model based on valid observation). If he had described it using Galileo’s or later more accurate models, he would have been ignored as a crazy person.
Virtually every writing in human history, other than myth, is written in the context of current scientific models at the time of writing. Is it such a stretch to think that the writers of the bible did the same, simply because readers at the time of writing (and for hundreds of years beyond) would not have understood anything else?