Wouldnt You Love to Know: Towards a Christian View of Reality

(system) #1
According to N.T. Wright, questions of science and religion are symptoms of a much larger problem imbedded in our culture, our politics and our society.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/wouldnt-you-love-to-know-towards-a-christian-view-of-reality

(Brad Kramer) #2

Many thanks to N.T. Wright for allowing us to publish this essay. The author is not available for comments and questions, but you’re welcome to discuss his essay below.

(Nathan Deming) #3

Although NT Wright is a great writer and thinker, I don’t think he’s offered anything here that will be comfort to anyone but believers (no scientist will be convinced by any of this, nor should they be.) The fact is, Christians today start there faith with one fundamental decision - to have faith rather than reason. They can try to reason inside of their faith (as NT Wright does here) and give reason to their faith, but it doesn’t change the fact that with our current scientific understanding faith is unreasonable…that is, it’s about as reasonable to believe in the existence of aliens or unicorns as it is to believe in the validity of a virgin birth or the resurrection.

Thomas Paine argued in 1795 that his critics (priests, theologians) had nothing to defend against his attacks on the Bible except the Bible itself - three centuries later, some people are still having the same circular conversation, unable to stand on anything stronger. No scientific or archaeological discovery in the centuries between him and us have proven any extraordinary claim of the bible - in fact, they seem to continually dismantle them (from the reality of evolution and an old earth, to the zero archaeological evidence that the Jewish people were ever even in Egypt.)

No matter how well you articulate it, it’s still an argument of faith over observation and reason…and that places faith in fundamental opposition to reality. You can’t say “supernatural events are the times when God intervenes” - because you’re admitting that supernatural events can’t happen with our scientific understanding of the world.

(Doug B) #4

Brilliant, thanks for sharing! I agree with Dr. Wright that Enlightenment misinterpretation of the 17th century scientific revolution is the cultural topic to be discussed in the church. I hear lots about individualism and consumerism–problems no doubt. However, do they rise to the same level: I don’t think so.

I’d also agree with Prof. Herbert Butterfield who said that we are not only a scientific culture but a historical one. And it is culturally shaped expectations of history that also mislead our Bible interpretation. And what is our current view of history other than something recorded on a smartphone? Some neo-version of what historians used to call technical history. This expectation won’t be satisfied with good Bible interpretation. The Bible will not fulfill the expectations of the world, and this shouldn’t surprise us.

(James Stump) #5

Thanks, Nathan, for your comment. You say:

I’d suggest it is more complicated than this for all people of faith I know. They don’t sit down and decide, “shall I believe by faith, or shall I not?” Rather, faith becomes a way of looking at the world and interpreting experience. I’m particularly fond of the quote in the sidebar of this blog, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” -C. S. Lewis

So faith is not (as most atheist writers claim), believing something without any evidence. It is much more like (though not exactly like) allegiance or commitment to a political party. That makes certain facts stand out more. And refuting the entire position itself is not as easy as giving one piece of evidence.

I’d be curious to hear your reply.

(Nathan Deming) #6

Hi James,

Thanks for the reply, I’ll try and respond in the best way I can!

I agree 100%, but I don’t think that changes what I first said - there is ultimately only one logical bottleneck to the faith experience, the main bridge that has to be crossed: “Do I believe this because I believe it or whether or not it is true?” I’m convinced that all other arguments for or against the reality of the Bible or the Christian God are irrelevant, because no matter how complicated your origins of faith are - an experience you had, the strength of faith of someone you trust, a powerful life events - none of these offer anybody outside of Christianity a compelling argument for faith besides the attraction of faith itself - a pledge against discovery and critical thinking (wherever they may lead) and to adhere to one set of ideas, like your political party metaphor. (It should be noted that the political party metaphor doesn’t require it’s members to believe anything supernatural in order to be a member of the party…and sort of lays bear the problem: even if everyone on earth were a Christian, it wouldn’t change for one instant whether or not Christianity is real.)

Since I was once a Christian and now am not I’ve come to see Christianity - and any strong worldview - as an operating system like a Mac or a PC. My brain is a computer, so to speak - processing the world, interacting with it - but whatever operating system I have installed will affect how I see the world. It doesn’t necessarily change the external world (no worldview can), just how I perceive it. With the Christian operating system installed you see events in Christian terms - let’s say you get the job you wanted, it’s an answered prayer, if you don’t, then it wasn’t meant to be. Outside of my emotional experiences, neither of these outcomes would’ve proved a divine presence because they didn’t require a divine presence to happen (an employer didn’t want me, etc). However, the way my faith interprets the situation is to read in a divine presence that wasn’t necessarily there - and later refer to that as evidence of your faith (surely you’re not chasing after windmills?).

The point is we all have our own operating systems for interpreting our lives, and the mere fact that we do doesn’t necessarily prove the validity of some of the interpretations. A Muslim could have the same job scenario, and thank Allah, but many Christians would believe he is deceived. Doesn’t the mere fact that somebody of a completely different faith can have the same reaction to the situation only in evidence of their god demonstrate that these personal interactions with God are merely subjective?

But, practically speaking, I didn’t mean to imply that every Christian sits down and decides to believe extraordinary things for the sake of it - faith certainly doesn’t feel like a simple decision, but I believe it is one, like a wedding vow: marriage isn’t enshrined on a wedding day, it’s renewed every day by the simple and fundamental decision to love your spouse and maintain the marriage. So although how we come to and experience faith is very complicated - much more than a simple “Do you believe” decision made one day, rather it’s shaped by friendships, your community, life events, moments of epiphany, moments of loss, etc. - there’s still a fundamental question behind every argument for or affirmation of faith: am I willing to believe this in spite of all other evidence? This has to be renewed daily, whether consciously or not, because real life simply doesn’t bear obvious evidence for the Christian faith.

First, let me just say I am not against a belief in God (although I am an atheist). I think it’s much harder to argue totally against some higher power - however, I think it’s really easy and safe to say that the central Christian claims - the important ones, the ones that make you a Christian and not just a theist - rest on bad evidence. Not “no evidence”, just bad evidence. The Bible is evidence, and your personal story is evidence, and your spouse’s, and your parents’, and your pastor’s - this is all evidence for the Christian story, and that’s important to note.

However, the whole point I’m trying to make is that this is the best evidence there is for Christianity being true. There is no verifiable, undeniable scientific explanation for Christianity or that many (if any) of the major events of the Bible actually happened. Although you may have experienced a powerful sense of purpose after becoming a Christian, and so have many people you love and trust - it doesn’t make it any more true. The mere fact that there are Muslims or Jewish people with the same feeling of spirituality and belonging in their religion reveals this to be true. I’m guessing you believe they are misled, believing on bad evidence - in fact, the same amount of evidence that you have. They’ve just got the “Jewish” operating system installed, or the “Muslim” one.

There is no more evidence for Jesus rising than there is for Mohommed receiving the Koran from angels - except that both events changed the world, and a billion people follow each. Harry Potter also sold millions of copies and changed the world, but it doesn’t make Voldemort any more real.

Which brings me back to my main point - in an age of scientific understanding, when great truths about earth’s history can be revealed, and the inside of an atom can be mapped, Christians are faced with one fundamental question, outside of the noise of all other ups and downs in their faith - “Do I believe this, despite the lack of good evidence?”

Let’s say you could be, today, introduced to irrefutable evidence that the entire Christian religion is a myth - maybe scientists invent a time travel machine, and you see the Christian religion starting in a dubious way similar to Joseph Smith and Mormonism. Whatever it is, it’s obvious the whole story of Jesus as god is fabricated. Would you lose your faith?

If you’re answer is “No”, I think you’ve revealed something about faith. It’s unreasonable, even in the face of perfect evidence. Obviously this kind of perfect evidence doesn’t exist, but we have plenty of evidence that already suggests this, and no evidence that suggests otherwise.

With this kind of faith you’re no longer looking at the world critically, but clinging to one operating system over all others for no other reason besides loyalty.

Hope that makes sense. Happy to receive a reply!

(Dr. Ted Davis) #7

If you are interesting in seeing why scientifically-trained Christians (including an historian such as myself, who has a degree in physics) don’t agree with your generalization here, Nathan, you might read a BL series about and from physicist John Polkinghorne–who has written many books about science, including this bestseller: https://www.amazon.com/Quantum-World-John-C-Polkinghorne/dp/B0017GW8EM/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1481067909&sr=1-2&keywords=polkinghorne+quantum+world

The series, called “Searching for Motivated Belief,” speaks directly against your generalization. If you get a chance to browse or read it, please offer an impression or two here.

Here’s the URL: http://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/searching-for-motivated-belief-understanding-john-polkinghorne-part-1

(Mervin Bitikofer) #8

Hi, Nathan, I hope you don’t mind my butting in here. You wrote:

I’m intrigued by your analogy of operating systems and think it rather insightful. I think you are spot on that we all have one (I think you conceded that somewhere in there … I’m finger typing this response on a small device in a coffee shop, so this reply may not be as long as is warranted for now). Anyway, I suggest that you misunderstand Wright’s agenda (at least imo and on the strength of my own single reading of his excellent article just now – so I may be in danger of the same). But knowing Wright as I do from some of his other published work, I’m pretty sure he isn’t embarking here on just another tired program of trying to convince atheists on their own terms about this or that bit of orthodoxy. In fact, one could say (and i do) that this speech is a brilliant critique of the very operating system that you have now adopted for yourself and he highlights for us the increasing bankruptsy of that very operating system (essentually Scientism) and more importantly gives us [Christians – his intended audience I’m pretty sure] a positive call to step beyond these tired fundamentalisms toward living a life of love – specifically Christ’s love.

To use your parlance, he’s offering a badly needed system upgrade that is needed to rejuvinate systems that, while good, have become weighed down with a whole lot of malware.

signing off for now …gotta run!

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #9

Thank you for the essay by N. T. Wright, but sadly he fails to address the primary problem. The primary problem behind Western dualism Western dualism, How can we expect the false dualisms to be resolved if we believe them to be basically true.

On the other hand Wright does not discuss just the dualism between science and theology, but also philosophy to create a tri-ism, which is the only way to begin to resolve it. However as I have said traditional dualistic philosophy cannot solve the problem of dualism.

To solve the mind/body problem I offer body/mind/spirit. Although this has a strong foundation in the NT but people in BioLogos reject it.

I will use another triune model loosely based on Plato. He saw three types of people in his Republic, Ordinary Working class, who do the work, the Middle Class who manage the economy, and the Upper Class, who he deemed to be ruling philosophers.

My three groups Doers, Thinkers, and Spiritual Guides. One point is that everyone needs to be a doer and a thinker and be firmly grounded morally and spiritually. On the other hand most people consider themselves primarily Doers. Many other consider themselves primarily thinkers or intellectuals. Some are willing to act as Spiritual Guides to lead [God’s] people politically and spiritually to God’s Kingdom.

In a democratic world which is God’s Kingdom, there are no separate classes, but everyone works together as a team. The problem with this world is too many people want to be Boss and many others do not want to accept responsibility.

I see the conflict today in US society is not between science and theology, but between the Doers and the Thinkers. Many Doers have lost economic ground to the Thinkers and feel that they have lost the Cultural War to them. This leaves their Spiritual Life.

Sadly many Conservative spiritual leaders have failed their flock. Too many conservative Christians seek scape goats such as minorities and thinkers to blame for their situation instead of good theology and God’s will. Poorer Doers do not seem to see that rich Doers were taking advantage of them by convincing them to cut their taxes in the hope that they will benefit from their wealth.

Doers and Thinkers need to work together, not to fight. It is the Spiritual Guides who need to bring people together and facilitate this cooperation. False Spiritual Guides in the church and politics who encourage division will reap their own appropriate rewards.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #10

@Nathan_Deming wrote:

Which brings me back to my main point - in an age of scientific understanding, when great truths about earth’s history can be revealed, and the inside of an atom can be mapped, Christians are faced with one fundamental question, outside of the noise of all other ups and downs in their faith - “Do I believe this, despite the lack of good evidence?”

In this age of scientific understanding the fact that the universe has a Beginning found in Gen 1:1 has been confirmed. Thus it seems that science is not moving away from evidence that God does not exist, but toward evidence that God does exist.

Does science prove that God created the universe? No, science does not say what was before the Beginning besides absolutely nothing, no time, no matter, no energy, no space. What that indicates is 1) Science cannot prove or disprove everything, only the physical, and not everything is physical. 2) The universe did not create itself, since nothing can come from nothing, which seems to indicate that it must have has a metaphysical origin, or as humans say it must have been created by God, Who is beyond time and space.

Do humans have an operating system? I will agree to that. Christians believe that all humans, male and female, are created in the image of God. This is important because it means that all humans, be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, or what have you, have the same basic human operating system, so we can live together in peace and harmony, particularly if we can agree on a common faith operating system that meets our common human needs.

Each faith maintains that theirs is the best, but that cannot be true and does not appear to be true. Thus it is our responsibility to determine which faith is the best operating system for all persons so we can best live in peace and Love with all God’s people. I am sure that N.T. Wright would say that Christianity is best and I agree. If you have another opinion please share.

(George Brooks) #11


Roger, since the people who reject your triune analysis are just rejecting it on a personal basis, do you really think that nobody who supports BioLogos supports your triune position?

But as to your other statement: "I see the conflict today in US society is not between science and theology, but between the Doers and the Thinkers. "

Somehow this misses the mark.

If you had a monthly magazine called Doers versus Thinkers … I don’t think you would come anywhere near the heart of the conflict that BioLogos is working upon.

(Phil) #12

Thank you for sharing this post. I finally had the time to read through it, and am touched by Wright’s ability to step back and see the big picture, when we often pick apart the details.
I am looking forward to seeing Wright as well as many of you here on the forum in Houston.

(Nathan Deming) #13

Interesting reply! I hope it’s ok for me to unpack my operating system metaphor a little more:

What I meant about an operating system assumes that the world outside of the computer (us) is never changed by what operating system is running, but just interpreted differently. So for a superstitious person who gets creeped out by the number 13, their “operating system” is hyper-aware of the number 13 in their experiences - we know objectively that “13” is just a number, between 12 and 14, but this person’s operating system is tuned so that this person might get off an elevator going to the 13th floor out of sheer paranoia…which obviously has nothing to do with reality and whether or not the elevator arrives.

So, looking back at a Christian operating system - one is “programmed” to see patterns that relate to the Christian faith. You mention “Christ’s love” - this is purely something a Christian reads onto the world, rather than something you read from the world. There is nothing you could show somebody outside of your OS that a concept such as “Christ’s love” is everywhere - you could argue for how you see it everywhere, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s just an interpretation of a neutral world.

But there are other “invisible” concepts you could prove far easier - “Does your wife love you?” - there’s plenty of physical evidence you could present to convince me, not to mention the fact a real person who could just say “Yes I love him!” Jesus is not present in reality, he has to be read into it. The Muslim OS will read the invisible Allah where you see Jesus, maybe even using the same parts of the brain and the same chemicals! Surely this means something…?

Beyond that, I mean that a Christian OS is designed to view the neutral world a certain way, read certain patterns into it, and support certain data to come to a recurring conclusion (Jesus is real/I’m a Christian…). It ignores anything that threatens this structure - like me saying this stuff! - (doubt is always the “Enemy” attacking you) and focuses on data that supports its hypothesis.

I’m not trying to say atheists or other religions don’t have our blind spots in our OS, which is why I think we need to be all the more careful about what we rules we allow to be written into our fundamental code. Mine are simple, I think - I’m aware that as a human I’m not omniscient, I will make mistakes and can be duped easily if somebody presents a compelling enough argument (even if it’s false) - so I’d say one of my most important lines of code is “NEVER STOP ASKING QUESTIONS,” and “FIND BELIEFS WHERE CONCLUSIONS LEAD YOU.”

So, to respond to the Christian OS I’ve created - I’d say it’s easy for me to see tons of other external stimuli that convince someone of an invisible concept like Christ’s love, but it doesn’t make it any more real than the Easter Bunny (obviously far less serious a concept, but nonetheless supporting just as much evidence.)

(Mervin Bitikofer) #14

Agreed. You and I (and I should think nearly all Christians as well) reject extreme postmodernism in its “reality is all in our heads” form. So far, so good.

I think the waters are trickier here than you allow for. What is love? And how indeed would I prove to a determined skeptic that indeed my wife loves me? That skeptic could always come back with plausible rejoinders such as “well of course she seems to ‘love’ you because of x, y and z …”. In the end I don’t really think I could prove anything at all about love because science and positivistic thinking are ill-equipped to even grasp such concepts, much less be proving anything about them. But I am glad you agree that love is a real thing nonetheless. Many forms of it, in fact. The highest form (of which Wright spoke) is (or should be) the central exhibit here.

I’m guessing from your couple of posts/replies so far that you have committed yourself to a Scientistic O.S. and you want others to join you inside of it to evaluate everything exclusively from that O.S. perspective. But Wright, and many others before him have challenged (successfully in my view) the sufficiency of that particular operating system from a more “meta” form of O.S. that manages to include yours, but without limiting itself to yours.

My younger son enjoys turning old Windows laptops into rejuvenated Linux machines with a new lease on life. And occasionally if someone wants to keep both, we can turn their machine into a duel-boot machine where a grub file allows them to choose whether to boot to Windows or Linux. The initializing grub file that oversees that choice is installed from Linux-friendly open-sources which also allow for other O.S.s to coexist peaceably in their world. But here is the interesting part: I noticed with earlier versions of Windows, that Microsoft did not design that O.S. to coexist peaceably (much less be governed by anything else). Windows likes to think it is the only thing that exists on any given machine. It has to be “fooled” by re-partitioning the drive into its now smaller space, where it can still imagine that it governs the entire computer. Linux on the other hand is happy to accommodate, and as a result it allows access to not only its own file systems, but even the contents of the windows file systems over in the other partitions! Whereas when I boot to Windows, I am restricted to its small little world that knows nothing about any files anywhere else. The irony here is that Microsoft, by trying to remain an unchallenged “Top Dog” is now instead restricted to subset of a machine that now effectively has Linux as a kind of “overlord” --albeit a sharing one; the very thing that Microsoft probably most wanted to avoid. But its unwillingness to “share authority” ended up putting it in that inferior postion for that very reason.

I see Scientism (the belief that science is the best or only way to gain any real or useful knowledge) as being like that presumptuous O.S. I know that many (yourself included?) have committed your minds to that small Scientistic space and can’t imagine that any other O.S. could in any way be superior. But many people (such as Wright) have a kind of “super-OS” that not only takes a productively critical look at the science O.S., but also includes its best parts! I.e. A Christian world-view (among other religious O.S. as well each with unique virtues and advantages) is like the Linux system administrator that, far from denying science, actually happily accommodates it! While the religion-deniers are still stuck in their 19th century fundamentalisms of a long defunct O.S.

You may keep wanting us to join in your O.S. to keep playing the old games of comparing pro and con empirical evidences (but always carefully limiting all inquiry style to that particular arena with its particular rules. But you won’t have much luck here with that. Because so many of us have already been there (or our parents were), and we have emerged from it and can now look back on it to evaluate its flaws and faults as well as praising and using its strong-points. So in that vein, I invite you to emerge from that tiny “Windows OS” to conceive of a wider world that exists in which science is but one player – a highly valued one right now, perhaps over-valued – but just one player nonetheless. Until that player wakes up and realizes he is not alone in the universe, he probably won’t be able to get much traction with those of us who open our eyes to yet wider domains of evidence than the positivists can reach while tied on their short leashes. Won’t you join us? It is fraught with danger and falsehoods, yes! Most worthwhile things are. Where you have light you tend to have a lot of moths gathering for better and for worse. Wright is helping to disseminate a whole lot of Christ’s light right now.

Thanks for sharing Wright’s speech with us, Brad.

couple edits added in … probably not the last … as usual I won’t document them all

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #15

How neutral is the “neutral” world? Let us take a fairly simple value. Do not lie. Jesus made it even stronger by saying Satan is the Father of lies. So the question is, Is lying objectively wrong, or is lying wrong only if you get “caught?”

Since Donald Trump won an important election in part by telling outrageous lies and he was supported by fake news (lies) against his opponent, one might be tempted to say that lies work, so they are not wrong. However I think that history and theology indicates that lying is a good life style. For the Trump people winning is everything. For Christians integrity is everything.

Jihad, Holy War, is legitimate religious action for Muslims. Muhamad used it many times. Since the Crusades the church has not with very good reason.

Life is not neutral. If it were it would be without purpose and meaningless and thus not worth living. The meaning of the Life of Jesus Christ is that Life is Real. What we do and how we live is important. A good life is rewarded and a nasty one is not.

Sin and death are the problems of humanity. Jesus is the answer. If God created these problems by making humans mortal and limited, God also gave us the solution.

Physical reality is real. Every action has real consequences. Mental reality is real. Ideas have real consequences. Moral and spiritual reality has consequences. Every deed. moral and immoral, has consequences. Love is positive. Hatred is negative.