Pascal Explains How to Reconcile Science and Scripture


(Jay Johnson) #1

Just for fun, here is an often overlooked passage from Blaise Pascal’s Provincial Letters that speaks directly to the question of how to reconcile science and faith. The conclusion in italics at the end is my own, in case you were confused.

LETTER XVIII

TO THE REVEREND FATHER ANNAT, JESUIT

March 24, 1657

In what way, then, are we to learn the truth of facts? It must be by the eyes, father, which are the legitimate judges of such matters, as reason is the proper judge of things natural and intelligible, and faith of things supernatural and revealed. For, since you will force me into this discussion, you must allow me to tell you that, according to the sentiments of the two greatest doctors of the Church, St. Augustine and St. Thomas, these three principles of our knowledge, the senses, reason, and faith, have each their separate objects and their own degrees of certainty. And as God has been pleased to employ the intervention of the senses to give entrance to faith (for "faith cometh by hearing"), it follows, that so far from faith destroying the certainty of the senses, to call in question the faithful report of the senses would lead to the destruction of faith….

We conclude, therefore, from this, that whatever the proposition may be that is submitted to our examination, we must first determine its nature, to ascertain to which of those three principles it ought to be referred. If it relate to a supernatural truth, we must judge of it neither by the senses nor by reason, but by Scripture and the decisions of the Church. Should it concern an unrevealed truth and something within the reach of natural reason, reason must be its proper judge. And if it embrace a point of fact, we must yield to the testimony of the senses, to which it naturally belongs to take cognizance of such matters.

So general is this rule that, according to St. Augustine and St. Thomas, when we meet with a passage even in the Scripture, the literal meaning of which, at first sight, appears contrary to what the senses or reason are certainly persuaded of, we must not attempt to reject their testimony in this case, and yield them up to the authority of that apparent sense of the Scripture, but we must interpret the Scripture, and seek out therein another sense agreeable to that sensible truth; because, the Word of God being infallible in the facts which it records, and the information of the senses and of reason, acting in their sphere, being certain also, it follows that there must be an agreement between these two sources of knowledge. And as Scripture may be interpreted in different ways, whereas the testimony of the senses is uniform, we must in these matters adopt as the true interpretation of Scripture that view which corresponds with the faithful report of the senses. "Two things," says St. Thomas, "must be observed, according to the doctrine of St. Augustine: first, That Scripture has always one true sense; and secondly, That as it may receive various senses, when we have discovered one which reason plainly teaches to be false, we must not persist in maintaining that this is the natural sense, but search out another with which reason will agree.”

… An opposite mode of treatment, so far from procuring respect to the Scripture, would only expose it to the contempt of infidels; because, as St. Augustine says, "when they found that we believed, on the authority of Scripture, in things which they assuredly knew to be false, they would laugh at our credulity with regard to its more recondite truths, such as the resurrection of the dead and eternal life." "And by this means," adds St. Thomas, "we should render our religion contemptible in their eyes, and shut up its entrance into their minds.”

… Matters of fact can only be proved by the senses.… Not all the powers on earth can, by the force of authority, persuade us of a point of fact, any more than they can alter it; for nothing can make that to be not which really is.… It was to equally little purpose that you obtained against Galileo a decree from Rome condemning his opinion respecting the motion of the earth (note: 1633, 24 years prior). It will never be proved by such an argument as this that the earth remains stationary; and if it can be demonstrated by sure observation that it is the earth and not the sun that revolves, the efforts and arguments of all mankind put together will not hinder our planet from revolving, nor hinder themselves from revolving along with her.

Jay says: “Similarly, if it can be demonstrated by sure observation that the earth is billions of years old and humanity the product of evolution, the efforts and arguments of all fundamentalists put together will not hinder our planet from being old, nor hinder themselves from being related to all life upon her.”


(Tim) #2

So the point is fundamentalist are wrong about Scripture because they rely too much on Scripture?

If all the world decided to strive against God, it will not change God’s mind to destroy it.

The point of Scripture is not to prove science and the senses are wrong. The point of Scripture is to provide humans with a history of God’s interaction. If we have accepted that God does not intervene nor interact with humans in any productive way, ie Scripture at odds with what is actually observed, then we are past the point of needing Scripture or God.

Saying that indicates those closest to the received Scriptures, who refuse to give up on the infallible Scriptures, who may be wrong in their interpretation, are now both alienated from Scripture and reality.


(Jay Johnson) closed #3

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