Faith and Science

I’ve recently been “auditing” a course over at iTunes U called the Historical Jesus. In the lecture I listened to last night, Thomas Sheehan, the Stanford professor teaching the course, mentioned that there is a marked difference between the existential impact of Jesus and the scientific historical impact of Jesus.

This is an absolutely great point.OldMan1.jpg

Since science and the scientific method have gained such an acceptance in our world, many religious individuals have set out to try and prove their point using scientific methods. Often, this is meant to try and “prove” their religion in the same way that science “proves” certain aspects of our world such as the existence of atoms and the behavior of light in a vacuum.

Most notably, for example, are fundamentalist Christians such as Lee Strobel and Hank Hanegraaff who have tried to prove the historicity of the Bible in the same way that the historicity of other ancient events and texts are proven … or so they say. The truth to the matter is that the historical and high-level criticism given to other texts and events is often snubbed by the mainstream evangelical community because its methods paint a different picture of Jesus than the Bible and tradition do.

JapWheel1.jpgIs that such a bad thing, though? Why does it matter if the earth was created in seven days in a literal sense? Why would it matter if Jesus actually told the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more”?

These stories are communicating a message that we are free to interpret and create meaning for ourselves and our communities regardless of the actual event taking place. The Garden of Eden is a beautiful story that we can use to communicate the great questions of evil and existence around us. Trying to turn this into the basis for a perspective on cosmology is a huge mistake. While the story of the woman caught in adultery almost certainly did not take place from a historical perspective, it communicates a message of love and compassion that we would do well to follow today.

My point is that the real meat of faith rests not in trying to prove its truth via the scientific method (or some fundamental facsimile thereof), but to internalize its message and apply the applicable principles to our own existence.

Anyone who claims to have had a religious experience knows that this cannot be explained scientifically. If the most impactful and meaningful experiences take place outside the realm of objective observation, why try to cheapen them?

Of course, this means that we might have to accept everyone’s religious persuasions (or lack thereof) as being at least plausibly valuable, but what’s wrong with that?


About johnnywey

Welcome to A Regular Expression. This blog is designed to reflect my thoughts on life, music, software design, Apple, faith, philosophy, and whatever else I can think of.

Posted on January 24, 2008, in Spirituality. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I agree with your main point, and having to have something proven via the scientific method pretty much takes faith out of the equation anyways, doesn’t it? I mean, is faith really faith if we feel we have to prove it to be able to believe?

    For me I choose to believe, not because I have researched all the ins and outs and all the possible viewpoints, but because “I know the one in whom I have believed” (2 Tim 1:12). I know Christ, I have Him living inside of me, I hear His thoughts, I feel His presence, I see His hand working around me, I experience miracles that I know are beyond coincidence and could only be the work of God in my life and those around me. That is why I CHOOSE to believe. Because I have experienced the reality of Christ and God the father in my life. I need no scientific proof, I have something better.

    That’s not to say I haven’t researched the ins and outs, because I have done a bit of research to that effect on many controversial subjects regarding the “Historical Jesus” and who He was, and that research has it’s use, but does not affect my faith, because nothing MAN can tell me will change what I already know that GOD has told me.

    But, just for grins and a little scientific method ;-) I do know that Tom Sheehan happens to be a fellow of the group called “The Jesus Seminar”, and I recently read an aritcle by someone I believe to be a credible scholar that explains why their work is just as biased and tainted by their own worldview (a naturalistic one), as they claim that people like Hank Hanegraaf and Lee Strobel are. The main point of the paper is not to dismiss the Jesus Seminar, but rather to discuss the veracity of the resurrection accounts in the gospels. BUT, it does give a slightly different view on the work of the scholars that are part of the Jesus Seminar.

    Here is the link:

    Some other very credible scholars with far better worldly credentials than Hank Hanegraaf or Lee Strobel that have criticized the work of the Jesus Seminar are listed below. Their work is definitely worth looking into. Google them and you will find info about their writings and their credentials.

    Ben Witherington III
    Richard B. Hays
    Gregory A. Boyd
    N.T. Wright
    William Lane Craig
    Craig L. Blomberg
    Darrell L. Bock
    Edwin M. Yamauchi

    Just adding to the conversation!

  2. Nate,

    I appreciate your input! I agree that the crux of faith has to be the personal relationship / experience. I think that inputting objective scientific observation into faith cheapens it.

    As far as Sheehan is concerned, I spent a good chunk of time trying to disprove him and his fellow JS scholars in the late 90s / early 2000s. Only recently have I been a bit more open to his criticisms of the fundamentalist interpretation of historical evidence. I don’t agree with everything he says (his interpretation of Philippians 2, for example, is obviously off), but I appreciate the effort that he has put into his research and the intellectual honesty that he adds to the discussion.

    I’ve read much of Craig and Boyd, and a little of Wright and Hays as well. I’ll definitely look into the other names on the list.

    There is a great deal of “space” to discuss these sorts of things when an agenda is taken out of the picture. I love history and its various interpretations, but now that I’ve removed that from my faith, I feel as though I am able to enjoy it more objectively and honestly than I did when I was simply trying to help validate my faith by it.

    Thanks for the input! You rock!

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