Monday, September 26, 2011

So Einstein was Wrong?! General Revelation, the Speed of Light and the Authority of Scripture.

One of the darker results of modernity is the intellectual arrogance it has created. We know what we know, and nothing can change that. After all, we have SEEN the truth with our own eyes. We have seen the evidence, and that evidence is superior to anything else.

Richard Dawkins, the most well-known champion of what has been called the "new atheism," accurately expresses the unfettered confidence modernity has given us in our own experiences. "I believe," he states, "not because of reading a holy book but because I have studied the evidence . . .Books about evolution are believed not because they are holy. They are believed because they present overwhelming quantities of mutually buttressed evidence."

So there you have it! The evidence is overwhelming, and because of it we know what we know. We know that life is a product of biological evolution. We know that the stories in Scripture are mere fables written for the purpose of religious propaganda, because of course, they sometimes do not match what we observe and feel. Its kind of like the speed of light. Everyone knows that nothing travels faster than light . . .

. . .that is, until this past week.

Just last week, leading scientists in Geneva Switzerland discovered subatomic particles that appear to travel faster than light. A Baltimore Sun article reporting the event admitted that this observation, "if confirmed, could force a major rethinking of theories on the makeup of the cosmos."

At first glance, it wouldn't appear that placing a speed limit on light would have such a great impact on the broader physical sciences. But the theory about the speed of light, known as "special relativity" and first published in 1905, has since been one principle by which scientists have sought to understand the origins of our universe and how it continues to expand. If this theory is proven wrong, it could effectively undo decades of research that are dependent on this theory as a first premise. To put it bluntly, if these scientists' observations are reflective of reality, it means that Albert Einstein, the father of the theory of relativity, was wrong.

Yeah, THAT Einstein!

Further experimentation is of course neccesary to confirm this, and no one is yet stating anything definitively. Astrophysicist Martin Rees wisely said that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and this is an extraordinary claim." Still, everyone involved in this very recent event is well-aware of the implications if these observations in fact turn out to be true.

For the Christian, shocking discoveries like this should remind us of our limitations when it comes to accessing truth solely through scientific experimentation. Empirical knowlege has always had its limits, and many highly intelligent people have eventually found themselves mistaken even when operating within those limits.

This is not to say that Christians should reject scientific experimentation and discovery, or that such discovery isn't believed by Christ-followers to be of benefit to humanity. From a personal standpoint, I'm very thankful that scientific experimentation resulted in medical advances that 6 years ago, saved the life of my son Seth. 50 years ago, I had an uncle die on the same day he was born of the same lung condition my son had. Science is to be credited for such life-saving technology.

Yet we run into trouble when we begin to accept scientific discovery uncritically, principally because in so doing, we assume that there is no better way to access truth. If the scientific seems to contradict what is contained in our "holy books," we reject, or radically "reinterpret" the latter almost without thought on the assumption that the former couldn't possibly be wrong.

Such has recently been the case in a new debate about the historicity of Adam and Eve. Dr. Francis Collins, a professed Christian and current head of the National Institutes of Health, has recently claimed that evidence in the study of the human genome makes it "highly improbable" that the human race is descended from a literal "first couple." Collins, the former head of BioLogos, a foundation committed to "reconcilling" science with Christianity, has apparently influenced many pastors and Christian leaders, including many evangelicals. We now, based on discoveries like these, "know" what the ancients did not know: that the Genesis account is not an accurate history of our origins, but instead is itself the product of literary evolution: an account of human origins colated from various Mesopotamian sources and accomodated to an emerging Judaic culture in the ancient near east.

In short, we must radically re-interpret the Bible in order to "reconcille" it with what we REALLY know.

These are not new arguments. Early in the 20th century, liberal Baptist theologian Paul Tillich sought to reconcille Scripture with "scientific fact" through what he called a "method of correlation." For centuries, Christians have believed that God reveals truth through both general and special revelation. In general revelation, God speaks externally through the created order (Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:20), and also internally through the human conscience (Romans 2:14-15). Human beings can have access to general revelation through the earth, life, and physical sciences, as well as through anthropology, sociology, psychology, and education sciences.

In special revelation, God speaks to us ultimately and finally in the person of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2), and Christ Himself is revealed, fully and finally, in the text of Holy Scripture (John 5:39)

But what do we do when general revelation appears to contradict special revelation? Tillich's approach was to give equal weight to both by segregating the "book of Scripture" (the Bible) from the "book of nature" (science and scientific study). The problem of course, is that though the Bible is not a science book, it does occassionally speak to issues related to the sciences. (I might add that the "Separate but Equal" argument has never yielded good results) So how do we react when, for example, scientific evidence seems to suggest that Adam and Eve could not really have existed? Tillich's approach was to take the scientific evidence at face value and recast the Biblical narrative in a way that causes it to teach something very different than what it actually says. Such an approach inevitably makes God's special revelation subservient to general revelation. Or to speak more bluntly and prophetically, it makes a golden calf out of the scientific method.

Yet many Christian leaders persist in reinventing Adam, despite the circular reasoning of evolutionaly science, its apparent conflict with the 2nd law of thermodynamics, or the admitted limitations of empirical scientific experimentation.

The recent discovery in Geneva serves to remind us that science is not perfect because the human beings that conduct scientific experiments are not perfect. The human mind is fallen and thus, never fully trustworthy. And if this observation is indeed determined to be an accurate one, and decades of scientific research based on a faulty 20th century premise are trashed in its wake, we would do well to consider that brilliant men like Francis Collins can be wrong and it is not wise to impulsively reinvent the Christian narrative simply because a few fallen minds have suggested it might not be accurate.

If Albert Einstein can be wrong, so can they.

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