Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Science and religious faith

Despite what the "New Atheists" (and yes, some religious fundamentalists) say, reason and faith are not mutually exclusive. 

St. Augustine of Hippo held that when Scripture was contradicted by scientific discovery, then Scripture must be reinterpreted. 

As Matt J. Rossano explained in 2012, the balance between belief and reason can be traced back to Late Antiquity--to Augustine's time:

"In our time, some religious folks have chosen a distinctly anti-intellectualist route. Creationists, "intelligent-designers," and Biblical literalists seem hell-bent on wearing ignorance as a badge of piety. History repeats itself. In Augustine's time, the great issue was not religion and science or religion and evolution, but Christianity and the corpus of classical learning. With the Roman Empire crumbling, increasingly it was left to the Christian Church to either incorporate or abandon the great Classical intellectual tradition. Centuries before Augustine, some church fathers had already chosen ignorance. Tertullian famously proclaimed: "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem, the Academy with the Church? ... We have no need for curiosity since Jesus Christ, nor for inquiry since the Evangel." 
 Augustine would have none of this. With fist-pounding certainty he argued that reason was as critical to faith as revelation. Alarmed by his stance, a fellow Bishop, Consentius, wrote to remind Augustine that "God is not to be sought after by reason but followed through authority." Setting collegiality aside, Augustine's response was unusually blunt: 
 'You say that truth is to be grasped more by faith than by reason ... Heaven forbid that God should hate in us that by which he made us superior to the animals! Heaven forbid that we should believe in such a way as not to accept or seek reasons, since we could not believe if we did not have rational souls.'  
Reason was essential to a correct understanding of the Bible. Yes, the Bible should be taken literally where it makes sense to do so, Augustine would instruct. But where it obviously contradicts our everyday experience, we must search for other meanings."