Tillich-ish, Pt. Twenty: Limits of Science, Religion As a Human Attempt
I know that “no evolutionary theory as a scientific theory claims that evolutionary theory fully explains life.” Scientific theories can’t reach out to assert that God is not involved, or what’s worse, that God does not exist. Further, I agree that the Bible doesn’t compel a Christian to reject evolution.
But let’s distinguish between the question of whether evolution does fully explain life, and whether it can fully explain life. The former question lies beyond the reach of science, but the latter is within that reach, and is the question that I understood W and I to be discussing. And here’s how I see its implications. If evolution cannot fully explain life, then this is a pointer toward the existence of God. Not all the way to the Christian God, and not without big worries about the future progress of science crowding out this “God of the gaps”—but still, a pointer. If, in contrast, evolution can fully explain life, then we have no pointer toward God here. This would not constitute positive evidence against God’s existence. It would just fail to provide any sort of evidence for it.
When W said that “All you need is the wrong base assumption,” I took him to be referring to the assumption that there are always adequate scientific explanations without reference to God, and/or to the stronger assumption that there is no God. I found this compelling for two main reasons. First, assumptions certainly do have a way of reinforcing themselves. And second, this was the first thing I’ve heard that seems to avoid my conspiracy theory worry. (Please note, though, that precisely because I found it compelling, I may have jumped to an interpretation a bit different from what W meant. We’ll see.)
I’ll try to take a look at some of those papers you linked to. Thanks!
You wrote that Christianity “is an all too human attempt to make sense of something which it has encountered and which it does its best to preserve in all its historically conditioned particularity. We need to get beneath the systematic theoretical appearances to the wild beauty that it attempts to transmit.” I think it’s important to note that, at the very least, there are parts of scripture that contradict this view; and that this is not the sort of thing that I used to take Christianity to be, and that most believers have taken, and do take, it to be. I’m thinking, in contrast, of the view of Christianity as a revelation—i.e. as God revealing. Rather than a human attempt to make sense of an encounter and transmit this sense, this view sees Christianity as divine revealing, divine showing, divine speech. It is not merely man speaking about God, but God speaking about God, albeit to and through man.
Even when we move beyond the particulars of Christianity, I would say that a revelation (or something like it) can still do work that a human attempt cannot. Purely human attempts are constrained by human limitations. But something that is more than a human attempt could exceed these limitations, in principle.
If we take that sort of superhuman or supernatural dynamic out of play, and we’re working only with humans making sense of what they’ve encountered, then I don’t think we have any reason to end up believing in anything supernatural. We certainly can’t get close to the fixins of actual religions, like an afterlife or a just God.
You acknowledge that we can’t know that “our experiences of what we take to be ultimately meaningful properties really are ultimately meaningful,” and we can’t know that “our selves and our actions have any significance beyond our experiences of significance.” But you say that faith “lives into the possibility of an affirmative answer.” On a personal level, I can say sure, Godspeed—if you can hope and risk and wager and live into that possibility, go for it. I sure have no grounds upon which to call this wrong.
But I think you run into problems with Christianity, at least. As I said before, I think Christianity itself forces us to either accept it as truth, or else reject it. And while I think there is definitely room for this acceptance as truth to include uncertainty and choosing and living into, I think that a program of seeing Christianity as just a human attempt to make sense lies beyond the pale.