Sunday, July 5, 2009

Truths from Faith?

A few months ago, Jerry Coyne posed a challenge and offered prizes for any takers:

In reading the accommodationist literature of the National Academy of Sciences, the NCSE, the NAS, and theologians like John Haught, John Polkinghorne, etc., I constantly hear that “faith and science are two different ways of understanding the world; each gives us access to different truths.”
Using the Oxford English Dictionary definition of truth given below, please name one truth about the world and/or universe that has been arrived at by faith alone, could not be arrived at by secular reason or science, and that is true in that it is in principle verifiable by all people.
OED: Truth: Conformity with fact; agreement with reality
The incoming answers did not lack for quantity but fell short in quality:
The “truths” that are supposedly found by faith turn out to be nothing more than moral dictums like the Golden Rule. This is not, of course, a truth, but a guide to behavior (and rules like this come from secular ethics as well). Religion is neither constructed in a way to promote the discovery of truth, nor is particularly good at finding it (think of the “truths” of Adam and Eve, the great flood, and the 6,000-year-old universe). And for every Golden Rule, there’s a “truth” like “adulterers should be stoned to death.” Finally, most of the “truths” of different religions are in irreconcilable conflict with one another. Was Jesus the son of God? Christians adamantly agree; Muslims think that anyone holding that belief is doomed to eternal torment. Let me say it again: asserting that science and faith are merely different ways of finding “truth” debases our very notion of what “truth” is.
If faith and science really are two ways of deriving useful truths about the world -- two distinct peas in the same epistemological pod, so to speak -- this challenge should be an easy one. And if they are two equally valid paths to truth, then the refrain that that they are such should come with a brief enumeration of clarifying, illustrative examples.

A few such examples would be which ones, exactly? The challenge remains open.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Faith is more like art than like science. It is, like all art, a way of attaching emotional significance to things. But it cannot be called a reliable means of formulating truths.