Monday, November 29, 2010

Queen of the Sciences

Theology was once called the queen of the sciences. Why did they call it that? There is the idea of a hierarchy of truths. Higher truths are more important. Lower truths must be understood in a way consistent with higher truths. Modern man does not get that. Often they describe it as faith trumping reason. But it isn't that. Both the higher and the lower truths might be arrived at through faith and/or reason. The issue is the big picture is clarifying the small picture. Modern man does not accept that as valid.

Science tends to break things down. It tries to understand things by understanding each component. There are big picture scientific theories but they are more patterns found in observations. If most living material is found to be made up of cells then we construct a cell theory that describes that. But if there are exceptions to the theory. For example, red blood cells have no nucleus or viruses are living and have no cells. Then the cell theory just has to admit exceptions. The cell theory is not a truly higher truth. It is more a way of organizing smaller truths so they can be understood more easily.

The theory of evolution is like that. It can give you a way of understanding and organizing data around extinct species. Scientists that do that sort of thing seem to believe it works well. There are exceptions but the theory remains the most useful way to describe the patterns found in the data. But there are people who want to interpret the data using a higher truth. Fundamentalists tend to want to throw out the whole theory. Scientists don't like that because it is the best theory they have for explaining and predicting observations. You want to use the best theory. If you don't have a better one then come back when you do. Better in this case means more intuitively explaining the data and more accurately predicting new observations.

Catholics don't want to throw out the theory but want to understand the data in terms of higher Catholic truths and especially want to control extrapolations into unproven areas. For example, the tendency to assume physical randomness proves a lack of supernatural design. We have long understood that a fairly random physical event like the death of a particular person on a battlefield does have a supernatural will behind it. The scientific analysis would seem random but we would take the will of God to be a higher truth. So the randomness must be understood in that light. So there has always been this tension and it has always caused some to conclude there is not God. But the problem has  typically been with what God allows to happen. Is it against his nature?. The idea that He could be working His will in this huge amount of data is not the problem. Somehow with evolution it becomes a problem. But logically nothing has changed. The numbers are bigger but God is infinite.

Part of it has to do with the influence of Fundamentalist thinking. Many will say if the scientists are right about evolution then the bible is wrong. They know not all Christians say that but their perception is the biggest names are taking that position. Then the position of Catholics and many evangelicals seems like a sad second choice. We can't take the position we really want so we have to revamp out theory. But that is not it at all. This is the natural Catholic position to be open to development and a better understanding of creation.

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