According to the Gospel of Greed

According to the Gospel of Greed

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep…

But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness…”

I have been working as the general editor for a new book titled Defining Deception by Costi Hinn and Anthony Wood published by SCSPress. This book speaks to the dangers of the prosperty gospel and leaders like Benny Hinn and Bill Johnson who seek prosperity through distortion of biblical truth.

As I read through this book, I am reminded so much of my days at Oral Roberts University and the deception I witnessed first hand—all in the name of greed.

Isn’t it funny how God’s path to financial prosperity always goes straight through the bank account of some TV preacher? The issue is not whether these folks have broken the laws of Government. Even if their actions are perfectly legal, I find them immoral. Not because they have made income from serving the Lord, but because they have done so using manipulation and deceit. I have personally sat and listened to many of these people tell listeners that they cannot be blessed by God unless they send in donations to their specific ministry. I have sat and heard them tell little old ladies that their children or grandchildren will not be saved unless they purchase the prayers of the televangelist. These modern deceivers have reinvented the same Roman Catholic practice of selling indulgences to receive the “blessing” that we Protestants rebelled against 500 years ago. The Scriptures are right… a dog will return to his vomit.

Let me tell you with some authority that a prayer hanky with the sweat of Benny Hinn will not bring any spiritual blessings–no matter how much you paid for it–and Bibles branded with the name of a TV preacher, and enhanced with their special teachings, will not contain any special revelation from God.

During the Dark Ages, the Popes built their Cathedrals on the backs of the peasants who starved their way into the Kingdom while the Popes ate well.  Today there is no less shame for these “spiritual entrepreneurs” who have built their personal wealth on the backs of the spiritually weak, the poor, and emotionally distraught–God is grieved and angered!

But it is not enough to look at these few examples and think there is no guilt laid at the feet of the rest of the Church. Look inward my friends. Look at the practices of your own church, your own pastors, and your own leaders. Leaders, examine your own hearts and deeds. The American Church is in desperate need of another Reformation and I for one am ready to see it come!

Jesus said, to them,

Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.

Jesus also warns us

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. “But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? “And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Paul warned the church of Ephesus, and us,

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.”

and again to the church in Colossee

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience…

The book, Defining Deception, is a great starting point to get informed. I pray anyone consumed by these messengers of a false Gospel will find freedom in the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When Love Conquers Compassion

When Love Conquers Compassion

“Unless you suffer the pain
of spiritual discipline
you will suffer the pain
of spiritual defeat.”

– Ian Gardner

She walks her son down the long hospital hallway. People scurry about and take no notice of the suffering mother and child. Mattie holds firmly to his mom; in part to keep his balance, but mostly he wants to feel her warm hands in his own. “I’m tired mom. Please, I want to sit down;” but she does not let her son stop. He has to keep walking. He must exercise his limbs or his body will not heal. Only two days earlier Mattie was burned when a pot of boiling water was knocked from the stove; severely injuring his arm and leg. Pain now fills Mattie’s three-year-old body, but his mother’s love must force her son to walk. It takes every ounce of strength to resist the urge to pick up her son, to hold him, to comfort him, and to let him sit in his little red wagon. If Mattie is to recover from his burns, love must conquer compassion. Holding back her tears, a mother’s love must force her son to experience suffering. For Mattie, healing is on the other side of pain.

Where are you along life’s path? Do you hurt? Does no one stop to notice your pain? In the darkest moments, you cry out to your god, “Where are you now! If you are real… if you are really loving… Where are you now when I need you the most!” Anger is a constant companion. Sorrow seems like the only escape from depression.

Only when your “god” becomes Father will you understand. Only when you experience a love that forces you to walk will you know rest. You must pass through the agony before the ultimate healing comes. Step after painful step; hold firm to the warm hand of the Father and know true love that conquers compassion.

This post is featured in my book, “More Than Cake” as one of the 52 team devotionals that take on issues of church, culture, and theology in a way that will engage your team in a full-orbed discussion of missional community. Get copies today for every member of your team!

Should anyone accused of sexual harassment be allowed to hold public office?

Should anyone accused of sexual harassment be allowed to hold public office?

Should anyone accused of sexual harassment be allowed to hold public office? This is a question Americans are addressing in, what I hope, will be a meaningful way. The downfall of the powerful Hollywood figure, Harvey Weinstein, has unleashed an avalanche of accusations from women who claim abuse by men in power (not to forget the men who have come forward claiming abuse by both women and gay men). Our once hidden views of sexual harassment are being exposed as we see how different Americans respond to accusations against their favorite politicians. Sadly, many people are willing to attack, or support, the accused based upon their perceived political advantage more than they are willing to support the women out of genuine compassion or concern for justice.

Most Americans are familiar with the recent charges against Republican politicians like Roy Moore alongside charges against Democratic leaders like John Conyers and Al Franken. Looking back to the 2016 election, Americans were given the terrible choice between Donald Trump, who had groped women, and Hilary Clinton who vilified the women who had accused her husband President Bill Clinton of rape.. Another case that did not receive much national attention was when the Democratic Mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner stepped down in 2013 amidst admitted charges of sexual assault. Most disturbing to me was that several local political groups defended Filner saying, “even if he assaulted these women, I’ll support him because he has always been a supporter of our cause.” This is my paraphrase of what I heard here locally at the time, but it illustrates a much bigger problem. According to reports, Democrats knew of Filner’s abusive behaviors for decades, but kept silent because they shared his political ideology. This brings up the serious question for both Democrats and Republicans, “Do we really care about the women who are sexually harassed and assaulted, or do we only care about how we can use their pain to gain more power?”

How then should we answers these questions of ethics? Looking back to my recent post, “Is,” “Ought,” and “Will be”… in search of meaning, I want to frame the original question using the following image:

The primary question being asked in our newspapers and around the office cooler is:

#1. Should anyone accused of sexual harassment be allowed to hold public office?

This is a question of applied ethics. However, we cannot answer this question without first asking a question pertaining to our normative ethics:

#2. Is it right to impose my own ethical standard on others through politics?

Both questions #1 & #2 lie within the “ought” (a description of what we would like to world to look like). We, as a nation, are trying to decide what is acceptable behavior and what behaviors disqualify someone from holding political office. To properly address these “ought” questions, we first need to move into the realm of “is.” Is there a truth that is universal that can guide our decisions? Is there any way we can know this truth? Question #1 is really a question of ethical meaning and that leads us into the realm of epistemological meaning through metaethics (epistemological ethics) where we must ask ourselves the following:

#3. How is sexual harassment defined? 
Does the Bible give moral knowledge that applies?

The challenge as I see it is that the general discourse has yet to leave the arena of politics (applied ethics) and move into the arena of metaethics where we take the time to define our terms. How can we ever hope to have a meaningful dialogue when we are unwilling to even define our terms? But the challenge gets bigger. We cannot answer question #3 until we address the question of metaphysics which undergirds our epistemology. This brings us to the most fundamental question:

#4. Are men and women ontologically equal? On what basis is value ascribed?

Here is the key question of origin that everyone must answer before they can consistently answer the questions of meaning. If I were to craft my own answer to this set of questions, it would go something like this:

Sexual assault is morally wrong. Women are not helped by politicians or pundits or entertainers who use victims as tools to gain political power. Women are not toys. Any politician guilty of sexual harassment or assault while in office should not be allowed to keep their position of power. Any politician who defends the guilty party is devaluing the victim to keep their power and should not be trusted to hold political office. I make this conclusion because I believe that women are humans of supreme value, equal to men, made in the image of God, and therefore should always be treated with respect.

The use of the image above makes it clear that no one can have a consistent answer to questions #1 and #2 unless they have solid answers to questions #3 and #4. My answer is rooted in a Christian worldview, but how will other Christians answer the question? How will atheists answer the question in a way that makes their answer consistent and universal?

The questions presented in the image above are a work in progress so feel free to share your own answers or revised version of the questions. I would love to hear from you as we, as a nation, seek to address the problems of sexual harassment and sexual abuse and answer the question, Should anyone accused of sexual harassment be allowed to hold public office?

“Is,” “Ought,” and “Will be”… in search of meaning

“Is,” “Ought,” and “Will be”… in search of meaning

As our culture continues to fracture, we find fewer and fewer significant answers to the questions that matter most. One of the formative thinkers in my life is Ravi Zacharias who says there are four main questions of life.

Origin—Where did I come from?

Meaning—Why am I here?

Morality—How should I live?

Destiny—Where am I headed?

Beyond these questions, I have often wondered, how do they connect? In my conversations with people over the decades, I have come to believe that you cannot answer one of these without trying to answer all of them. In my study of epistemology, my colleague Ward Crocker (founder of Family Apologia), has inspired me to think more deeply about this topic. In our numerous discussions, he brought to my attention some writings by my former colleague, Christopher Cone who has written extensively on the topic of epistemology and metaphysics..The graphic below is Cone’s effort (as a presuppositionalist) to connect these basic questions. Cone writes:

© 2011-2017 Christopher Cone

There are four major areas of philosophical inquiry that make up the basic components of worldview: epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and socio-political philosophy. Epistemology (the study of knowledge) addresses the question of how can know what is true and what is not. Metaphysics (the study of reality) addresses the question of what exists. Ethics (the study of what should be done) addresses the question of what we should do in light of what reality is. Socio-political philosophy (the study of ethics on a societal scale) addresses the question of how communities and society should behave.

The Components of Worldview Chart illustrates a logical ordering of these topics of inquiry. The arrow on the far right indicates that we begin at the bottom and move toward the top. We can’t address socio-political issues until we deal with ethics, we can’t handle ethics until we answer questions of metaphysics, and we can’t answer the metaphysics questions until we address the epistemological ones.

I appreciate Cone’s approach, but am unconvinced that we must begin with epistemology. I think there is another approach to Hume’s IS/OUGHT problem (a.k.a., the naturalistic falacy). I think most people begin with Ravi Zacharias’ basic questions of Origin, Meaning, Morality and Destiny which don’t always begin with epistemology. Science itself begins this search with sense-experience. In teaching my graduate students, I developed the following graphic that integrates all of the concepts above with some of my own ideas.

This is a work in progress, and I am sharing it today looking for your insights and ideas. The key aspects to my illustration are that we approach the “Is“, “Ought“, and “Will be” in four main categories:

  1. Origin
  2. Meaning
  3. Morality
  4. Destiny

These categories bridge the gap between Metaphysics, Epistemology and Ethics and treat them more as a web of integrated thought rather than a liner progression. Within these four categories I see six basic questions of life which help us connect our thoughts with this broader philosophical concepts:

  1. How did I come into being?
  2. What is purpose in life?
  3. What is the right thing to do?
  4. How can I fulfill my purpose?
  5. How ill my legacy be judged?
  6. What happens when I die?

In teaching my graduate course in Ethics, I refocus the above illustration as follows:

Here the emphasis is on Metaethics, Normative and Applied ethics. With this shift in focus, the six basic questions get a bit of a rewrite as well.

 

  1. How do we/I come into being?
  2. How can we/I know what is right?
  3. What is the right thing for me/us to do?
  4. What must we/I do now?
  5. How will our/my legacy be judged?
  6. What happens when we/I die?

Notice here that the questions bring into the discussion answers that are targeted at both the individual and the larger society. How many of these questions can be answered purely on the individual level and how many can be answered universally?

So again, this post is just a rough sketch of the ideas I unpack over many hours of lecture, but enough content, I hope, to give an idea of where I am taking these concepts so that you can give some feedback.

  • What are the strengths of this illustration?
  • What are some weaknesses?
  • What ideas have I missed?

All ideas are welcome as I refine my thinking.

Max Planck on Ethics & the Need for Scientific Realism

Max Planck on Ethics & the Need for Scientific Realism

My introduction to the legendary physicist Max Planck was decades ago during my undergraduate studies in thermodynamics. Through his work across the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Planck deduced a universal constant ‘h’ for the distribution of  energy emitted from a blackbody. What came to be known as Planck’s constant forever changed scientific perceptions of the natural world. His work was a foundational precursor to modern quantum theory and marked the “end of the mechanical age in science, and the opening of a new era.”[1]

Today, in my study of science and religion, I am discovering that what made Planck such a great physicist was also his understanding of philosophy. In his 1932 book, Where is Science Going?, Planck laments the crisis of history that he observed overwhelming every branch of “spiritual and material civilization” and corrupting“the general attitude towards fundamental values in personal and social life.”[2] Some people saw this change as positive progress while others believed it marked the end of civilization. This skepticism, Planck notes, first took root in religious fields—eroding the moral systems of society—and evenly burrowed its way into the sciences such that, “There is scarcely a scientific axiom that is not nowadays denied by somebody. And at the same time almost any nonsensical theory that may be put forward in the name of science would be almost sure to find believers and disciples somewhere or other.”[3]

More than 70 years later, Planck’s lament rings familiar as many wonder, as he did then, if “there is any rock of truth left on which we can take our stand and feel sure that it is unassailable and that it will hold firm against the storm of skepticism raging around it”[4] Every generation has its share dystopian acolytes, yet Planck’s concern seems keenly prophetic in depicting the state of the modern mind.

Planck’s chief concern in science was the trend among respectable institutions to reject the principle of causality which was, prior to his time, universally accepted and a foundational assumption for research. Specifically, Planck opposed scientific positivism which denied the reality of the outside world. Planck shared common ground with positivists in seeing the individual’s sense-perception of the outside world as the starting point for all scientific knowledge .[5] Einstien in his intoruction to the book summarizes this idea well:

Thus the supreme task of the physicist is the discovery of the most general elementary laws from which the world-picture can be deduced logically. But there is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance and this Einfuehlung is developed by experience.[6]

Recognizing this shared epistemolgical starting point, but the positivist was not willing to go any further. Planck rightly saw the danger in the positivist’s rejection of a reality outside one’s own personal experience. The following is the example he used to illustrate the dilemma:

Our daily habits of speech make it rather difficult for us to observe the strict positivist rule. In ordinary life when we speak of an outer object—a table, for instance—we mean something that is different from the table as actually observed by physical science. We can see the table and we can touch it and we can try its firmness by leaning on it and its hardness and if we give it a thump with our knuckles we shall feel a hurt. In the light of positivist science the table is nothing more than a complex of these sensory perceptions and we have merely got into the habit of associating them with the word table. Remove these sensory perceptions and absolutely nothing remains. In the positivist theory we must entirely ignore everything beyond what is registered by the senses and therefore we are impregnable in this clearly defined realm. For the positivist, to ask what a table in reality is has no meaning whatsoever; and this is so with our other physical concepts.[7]

The ultimate danger of positivism was its denial of scientific realism and of any objective reality outside experience. If this is true, Planck argues, then the entire scientific revolution is rendered meaningless because both Ptolemy’s earth-centered universe and Copernicus’ heliocentrism are equally valid. “They are merely two different ways of making a mental construction out of sensory reactions to some outer phenomena; but they have no more right to be looked upon as scientifically significant than the mental construction which the mystic or poet may make out of his sensory impressions when face to face with nature.”[8] Thus, the positivist is left with no way to meaningfully observe nature and must consequently reject any esthetic or ethical standard.[9]

The positivist philosophy is impotent to make sense of everyday experiences. For example, when a stick is placed into a glass half filled with water, what do we observe? The length submerged appears bent. But is any trained observer tricked by their eyes into thinking the stick is truly bent? No. They recognize the law of refraction is at work and the appearance of a bent stick is a deception of the eye. Experience then is falsifiable. Reality exists outside experience if we only have a way to determine that reality. However, the positivist is not so lucky. “The positivist will not allow us to conclude anything. We have a sensory impression of the part of the stick that is in water and a contiguous sensory impression of the part that is in air; but we have no right to say anything about the stick itself.”[10]

Planck’s illustration reminds me of the old scientific riddle, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” As a trained acoustician, my first response is to answer “the tree does make a noise, but does not make a sound.” But this is a purely materialistic interpretation of this question. A noise is the production of energy waves when the tree strikes the ground, but only becomes sound if there is someone to hear it. But there is a deeper metaphysical truth exposed by this question I had not considered prior to reading Planck. The question really asks, “does anything exist outside of observational experience?” “Can the sound exist for me, but not for you?” How a person answers this question exposes them as either a scientific positivist or scientific realist. In denying any external reality, the positivist has no way to discern any truth outside of personal sense experience. Even more destructive, the positivist is left in isolation with no way to share in the experience of others.

When we come from the animal world to the world of human beings we find the positivist scientists making a clear distinction between one’s own impressions and the impressions of others. One’s own impressions are the sole reality and they are realities only for oneself… But, in the strict positivist view, we have no reliable knowledge whatsoever of other people’s impressions. Because they are not a direct sensory perception, they do not furnish a basis for the certainty of our knowledge.[11]

Positivist logic has continued to creep its way into the foundation of Western culture and today we can observe the deleterious consequence in our isolationist—even narcissistic—ethics as predicted by Planck. The everyday positivist of our time concludes:

  • If I can feel only my pain, then only my pain exists.
  • If I self-identify as female, then no one can deny my feeling because there is no biological reality to constrain me.
  • If I feel like aborting my baby, then the feelings of others do not exist in my reality and any choice I make is justified.
  • If I am offended by your actions, your feelings or intentions do not matter because only my feelings can determine my truth.
  • If my heart tells me something is good, then there is no external reality to contradict my feelings or tell me my actions are bad.
  • If a man is not a woman, then he cannot speak to a “woman’s issue” because he cannot “know” her experience.

Positivism leaves us stranded on our own island of reality; impotent to exchange ideas or speak to the experience of others because there is no common reality outside of us to govern that exchange. Given this challenge, how then must we respond? Planck makes the choice for scientists clear:

So we are faced with the alternative of either renouncing the idea of a comprehensive science, which will hardly be agreed to even by the most extreme positivist, or to admit a compromise and allow the experiences of others to enter into the groundwork of scientific knowledge. But we should thereby, strictly speaking, give up our original standpoint, namely, that only primary data constituted a reliable basis of scientific truth.[12]

So then, if we accept all sense perception as absolute we cannot deny the validity of any scientific experiment. To every researcher, their own experience is truth and theoretical physics is excluded from knowledge. If science rests solely on the foundation of isolated experience, then the dependability of science is lost. But, if we choose to accept the reports of others as knowledge (scientific data) we break the chain of logic in scientific positivism.

Now, having poisoned the roots of scientific positivism, Planck moves into the realm of the metaphysical. If sense-perception is a starting point, but not the end of science, we must have a way to determine the validity of experience outside our own. That is, we must accept a scientific realism that exists outside of individual perceptions, feelings, and emotions. The two pillars of realism he outlines are: “(1) There is a real outer world which exists independently of our act of knowing) and, (2) The real outer world is not directly knowable.”

On the surface, these two statements appear in contradiction. But together they make the case that scientific knowledge is only partial and corrigible and it must interact with other disciplines, such as philosophy and theology, to make any sense of the real world. Every new scientific discovery only unveils a new realm to be discovered. The goal of science is unobtainable as it can never reach the metaphysical.

How will you determine the truth that exists outside you own experience?

That is the question Planck evokes in the mind of the reader. For me, the answer lies in the warranted true belief in the external reality of God who speaks to us through his word: the Christian Bible, the Holy Spirit, the living Christ and the manifest church. In humility, I accept scientific realism and through my faith seek to find a way to engage with others and learn from their experiences. To that end, I leave you with this poem by Planck.

“Was Du gefflueckt, was ich gefflueckt

Das wollen wir verbinden

Und weil sich eins zum andern schickt

Den schoensten Kranz draus winden.”[13]


FOOTNOTES

[1] Max Planck, Where is science going?, trans. James Vincent Murphy, First ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1932), 17.

[2] Ibid., 64.

[3] Ibid., 65.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 66.

[6] Ibid., 10.

[7] Ibid., 69.

[8] Ibid., 71.

[9] Ibid., 73.

[10] Ibid., 74.

[11] Ibid., 76.

[12] Ibid., 77.

[13] Ibid., 36.

 

 

Science and Religion: An Introduction to John Polkinghorne

Science and Religion: An Introduction to John Polkinghorne

The late 20th century saw renewed interest in the interaction between science and religion.[1] Galileo and Newton believed religion mattered to their scientific exploration of God’s two great books: nature and scripture. The works of Ian Barbour and Anthony Peacocke have advanced a framework for meaningful cross-discipline dialogue in the fields of philosophy, creation and natural theology. While progress has been made to resolve complex difficulties, there remain unsettled challenges in need of intellectual engagement from practitioners of both scientific and religious studies. Physicist turned Anglican priest, John Polkinghorne, laments the invasive role the media and populist science have played in promoting the “myth of the light of pure scientific truth confronting the darkness of obstructionist religious error.[2]” In point of fact, science and theology have more in common than popular sentiment will allow. To counter these superficial notions, there is a need for thoughtful scientists and theologians to eschew common hostility and pursue intellectual discourse. The scientist must rise above reductionist philosophy and the Christian must avoid fideism.[3]

What follows is a quick introduction to the thoughts of Polkinghorne on how science and religion can interact in a meaningful way. According to Plkinghorne, here are some things to consider as the dialogue unfolds.

  1. Prioritize the recent thoughts of modern science.[4]
  2. Avoid the “semantic danger of transferring terms across disciplines.”[5]
  3. Tolerance, acceptance, dialogic engagement with those who venture outside their expertise to undertake the risk of interdisciplinary study.[6]
  4. A mutual understanding of methodical preferences expressed in semantics; the common “Bottomup” language of scientists (vis-à-vis, analogia entis) vs. the common “Topdown” language of the theologian (vis-à-vis, analogia fidei).[7]
  5. Understanding, for the scientist, increases with time and ultimately supplants past achievements.[8] Understanding, for the theologian, grows only as it remains grounded in the past; advancing terminology, but maintaining the substance of historic [9]
  6. Science is fundamentally concerned with the ‘how’ and theology with the ‘why,’ yet share a critical realist approach to knowledge.[10]
  7. The increasing role of holistic thought in science has a direct corollary to the insight of theology.[11] Therefore, theology can work in concert with scientific insight.[12]

The goal of interdisciplinary dialogue is not a scientific takeover of religion or a religious takeover of science. Each discipline must interact and resist the inclination to suborn the authority of the other. Polkinghorne concludes that the theologian must pursue the path of consonance which seeks to espouse a theology informed by science, but which reserves the right, along with the scientist, to “retain those categories which its experience has determined that it shall use, however counterintuitive they may be.[13]” Only with this approach can science and theology work together to “tackle the moral problems posed by the growth of science.[14]

The ethical snare for the scientist is to get so caught up in the excitement of research that there is never time to ask where it is going and to what end. Not everything that can be done should be done. The technological imperative must be tempered by the moral imperative. All new discoveries are ”falls upward,” the enlarged powers thus obtained containing the potential both for good and for ill.[15]

Both science and theology share a critical realistic approach of intellectual inquiry that tries to make sense of experience in the search for truth.[16] For the scientist, asserts Polkinghorne, there is a recognition that the search for truth is both partial and corrigible. The results of scientific exploration provide a probable but not absolute answer.[17] This understanding stands at the core of Polkinghorne’s critical realist approach to ontology. To be certain, philosophers employ second-order reflections that question the ability of science to expose reality through first-order experimentation. Recognizing these delimiters, With an eye toward continuing interdisciplinary dialogue, Polkinghorne outlines the epistemological character of the scientific method.

  1. Individuals can remain amenable on some localized ideas without the expectation that everything within a proposed as right or acceptable.[18]
  2. There is no universal scientific method, but a variety of methodologies that rely on nonempirical methodologies and therefore must remain open to correction.[19]
  3. Theoretical prediction and experimental fact are inextricably linked in the scientific method such that all facts are interpreted facts.[20]
  4. As illustrated in the Heisenberg principle of uncertainty, there is no uniform epistemology.[21]
  5. Social factors may impact the pace of scientific pursuit, but will not ultimately change the character of the knowledge discovered.[22]
  6. Scientific realism “is a contingent fact about the relation between our epistemological power and the ontology of our world” and provides the best approach for doing science without imposing any metaphysical necessity on all possible worlds.[23]

Polkinghorne’s scientific realism is a direct corollary to his theological realism that seeks clarity of knowledge but understands the limitations of a finite mind exploring an infinite God.

While the resolute sceptic can never be defeated in logical argument, neither can the epistemologically optimistic who decline to despair of gaining verisimilitudinous knowledge of reality. It is the instinct of a scientist to encourage a trusting attitude towards those insights that afford a satisfying basis for understanding what is going on… As a passionate believer in the ultimate integrity and unity of all knowledge, I wish to extend my realist stance beyond science to encompass, among many other fields of enquiry theological reflection on our encounter with the divine. I take as my motto for that endeavour the remarkable words of Bernard Longergan: “God is the unrestricted act of understanding, the eternal rapture, glimpsed in every Archimedean cry of Eureka.”8 The search for truth through and through is ultimately the search for God.

Ultimately, science and religion are fundamentally similar in kind but differ only in their “degree of power of empirical interrogation which these various investigations enjoy.[24]” There is a shared circularity of reason accompanied by the paradox of direct encounter that will never lead to anything more than a partial understanding of an ineffable truth. The image of God in man is the source for our drive for scientific exploration. Therefore, we can have a hope that both science and theology, within their unique domains, can achieve a knowledge that is partial but reflects an ontological reality that is understandable through reasoned dialogue.

Recommended Reading

If you are new to Polkinghorne and want to learn more, here are some suggested books to get you started.

Belief in God in an Age of Science

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John Polkinghorne is a major figure in today’s debates over the compatibility of science and religion. Internationally known as both a theoretical physicist and a theologian—the only ordained member of the Royal Society—Polkinghorne brings unique qualifications to his inquiry into the possibilities of believing in God in an age of science. In this thought-provoking book, the author focuses on the collegiality between science and theology, contending that these “intellectual cousins” are both concerned with interpreted experience and with the quest for truth about reality. He argues eloquently that scientific and theological inquiries are parallel.

The book begins with a discussion of what belief in God can mean in our times. Polkinghorne explores a new natural theology and emphasizes the importance of moral and aesthetic experience and the human intuition of value and hope. In other chapters, he compares science’s struggle to understand the nature of light with Christian theology’s struggle to understand the nature of Christ. He addresses the question, Does God act in the physical world? And he extends his ideas about the role of chaos theory, surveys the prospects for future dialogue between scientific and theological thinkers, and defends a critical realist understanding of the activities of both disciplines. Polkinghorne concludes with a consideration of the nature of mathematical truths and the links between the complementary realities of physical and mental experience.

Science and Religion in Quest of Truth

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John Polkinghorne, an international figure known both for his contributions to the field of theoretical elementary particle physics and for his work as a theologian, has over the years filled a bookshelf with writings devoted to specific topics in science and religion. In this new book, he undertakes for the first time a survey of all the major issues at the intersection of science and religion, concentrating on what he considers the essential insights for each. Clearly and without assuming prior knowledge, he addresses causality, cosmology, evolution, consciousness, natural theology, divine providence, revelation, and scripture. Each chapter also provides references to his other books in which more detailed treatments of specific issues can be found.

For those who are new to what Polkinghorne calls “one of the most significant interdisciplinary interactions of our time,” this volume serves as an excellent introduction. For readers already familiar with John Polkinghorne’s books, this latest is a welcome reminder of the breadth of his thought and the subtlety of his approach in the quest for truthful understanding.


Footnotes

[1] Polkinghorne pinpoints 1966 and the publication of Ian Barbour’s “Issues in Science and Religion” as the demarcation of when this modern period of increased interaction began. J. C. Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), 76-77, Digital, WorldCat.org.

[2] Ibid., 77. Polkinghorne is here critical of what he characterizes as the “facile triumphalism” of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett that has perverted the secular academy.

[3] Ibid., 80.

[4] Ibid., 81. Polkinghorne makes an interesting observation that Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein reflect the “last of the ancients” who do not reflect the insight of the modern scientific world.

[5] Ibid., 82.

[6] Ibid., 83.

[7] Ibid., 84-85. This difference in approach, however, does not mean the scientist and theologian cannot meet together with a common understanding. Pearcy and Thaxton’s research observe that pre-modern scientists used a Topdown approach in their conception of natural order. Early scientists held an a priori assumption of nature’s order based on God’s revealed nature, “The early scientists did not argue that the world was lawfully ordered, and therefore there must be a rational God. Instead, they argued that there was a rational God, and therefore the world must be lawfully ordered.” Nancy Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy, Turning point Christian worldview series (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1994), 26-27.

[8] This tendency within science may be one reason modern scientists disclaim the role of Christian theology in many of its fundamental presuppositions. If so, then exposing this tendency may help open more paths of dialog.

[9] Polkinghorne, 87.

[10] Ibid., 99.

[11] Ibid., 98.

[12] J. C. Polkinghorne, Science and Theology: An Introduction (London: SPCK, 1998), 2.

[13] Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science, 86.

[14] Ibid., 91.

[15] Ibid., 92.

[16] Ibid., 98.

[17] Ibid., 104. Polkinghorne makes special note of David Hume’s criticism of the method of induction.

[18] Ibid., 105.

[19] Ibid., 106.

[20] Ibid., 107.

[21] Ibid., 108.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., 109.

[24] Ibid., 114.

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