(Love ya, Gary!)
It’s not terribly difficult to guess ahead of time which bloggernacle threads Gary (of NDBF fame) will comment in and roughly what his position will be therein. This is due to a number of factors: his overall consistency, the forthright, no-nonsense articulation of his views and (most of all) his staunch adherence to positions which tend to drive intellectuals crazy. Gary is by no means alone in proudly flaunting these traits as a badge of honor but to me he serves as the perfect poster-boy for all Iron-Rodders if only because he is one of the most patient and likeable of the bunch.
First, I’ll give a little history regarding our interactions in the ‘nacle. Those who have known me for a while are well aware that I take science fairly seriously and have always had a particular interest in Darwinian evolution. I’m sure you are also well aware that Gary has always been quite unimpressed by both, to put it mildly. After many frustrating exchanges between us in which I frequently allowed sarcasm and mockery to take the place of patience and charity I finally thought that I had figured out what Gary’s core argument really was.
In a nutshell, I concluded that Gary had no interest in debating the merits of Darwinism or whether the Brethren could authoritatively speak on such matters. Such things were simply, although frustratingly beside the point he was really trying to make, namely that the Brethren did in fact urge us to reject Darwinism. It may well be that the church has taken no “official” position on the matter, but if one simply looks at the direction to which the Brethren consistently point there really shouldn’t be any doubt on the matter. The Brethren’s job is to bring people to Christ, and coming out as being officially for or against Darwinism would probably hinder more than help in this objective. Besides, what in the world do faithful members of the church need an “official” declaration on this matter for anyways?
If this is in fact Gary’s argument, then I actually agree with him. Having reached this understanding, I excitedly sent him an email asking if he also felt that I had finally gotten him right. His response, to paraphrase a bit, was: Exactly! … Kind of. Naturally, but somewhat unfortunately, I focused more on the first part than I did the second. But the truth is that I didn’t really get Gary’s intent as well as I thought I had. Furthermore, I’m guessing you don’t either. Let’s see if we can’t fix that a bit.
In my last post, I briefly described a fundamental difference which exists between Religion and Science, broadly construed. More specifically, each one takes truth to be something quite different than the other, a difference which infects essentially every disagreement between the two.
For Religion, truth is a path which is to be followed to some destination. If some belief or claim leads you to this destination, it is true and if it leads you astray, it is false. Thus, there is a kind of consistency built into this notion of truth, but it is not the logical consistency with empirical data or other well confirmed claims. This is why it makes sense for Jesus to say that he is the truth and for people to say that the church is “true”. Truth is a path.
For Science, on the other hand, truth is more like a picture of the world or a Sudoku puzzle. There is a certain amount of observed data in the world (the “given” numbers) which scientists can combine with logical and mathematical analyses to discover the unique solution as to how the rest of the unobserved spaces must be filled in. The solution will then be a complete and totally consistent picture of how the world actually is. The idea that a person or a church could be “true” simply makes no sense in this view. Truth is a picture.
Of course the relationship between these two is not a mutually exclusive, all or nothing affair. Religious people frequently use the rules of Science and the other way around. Rather, the question is one of priority: are the rules of science to trump those of religion or the other way around? Both sides agree that the truth ought to be believed, but when the truth of Science conflicts with the truth of Religion, which are we “truly” supposed to believe? Most important of all, as well as most difficult to wrap one’s head around, since truth just is the outcome of these rules, there can be no independent way to decide which set of rules “truly” has priority over the other. One cannot ask if truth is truly a picture or truly a path without entirely begging the question at hand.
As a side note and test case, this is actually what was at stake in Galileo’s famous clash with Religion. The Catholic Church didn’t much care what the empirical, mathematical and logical data were for or against Galileo’s particular hypothesis. Painting an accurate and logically consistent picture of reality was simply not what truth was about. Truth, for them, was that which consistently pointed people to God and the application of those other rules were largely beside the point. By their lights, it wasn’t the Copernican theory which was false as much as the idea that the rules of science were true *even if they did not point God*. To them, such a suggestion was contrary to the very definition of truth.
I’m guessing my misunderstanding of Gary is fairly predictable by now. I took him to be offering logical arguments in favor of a particular picture of how the world is (what the Brethren “truly” wanted us to believe). But I was wrong. Gary was not trying to paint a picture of reality or solve any such puzzle. That is not what truth is for Gary, and any argument to the contrary simply begs the question. Instead, Gary was consistently and forthrightly pointing people the way of Truth.