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.
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.
Is 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?