Friday, November 11, 2005

Grad School, and the holy pursuit of scientific truth

The reason you go to grad school is because you care about what you're studying in an academic sense. That is, you want to gain knowledge of your field for knowledge's sake.

My interests are in the study of pragmatics, semantics, and computational linguistics. Actually, my pragmatics class gets me excited sometimes. In pragmatics you study how the outside world affects language in terms of context and assumptions and things like that.

I've also started learning Japanese. I have a very good teacher, but I get a little tired(like literally tired) from it because we have it 5 days per week.

I went to a lecture on Monday at Newman Hall(the Catholic Center here). It concerned the harmony between faith and reason. Basically, he was showing a perspective on interpreting scripture that has been forgotten by many people these days.

These days you get many fundamentalists who read scripture first, and then interpret the world through the lens of scripture.

On the other extreme you get scientists who see people doing this and use science to claim that religion/faith is ignorant/non-thinking/obsolete, take your pick.

Before about 300 years ago, interpretation of scripture happened much differently. It was reasoned that scripture is never mistaken, but interpretation of scripture is. Additionally, Christians(particularly, the Catholic Church) took the laws proven by science to be one and the same as God's truth. Thus the pursuit of science in order to discover truth was considered a holy venture.

Given this, interpretation of scripture should be done through the lens of laws founded in science. Scripture should be made to fit science, not the other way around. If a new discovery in science is made that conflicts with a previous theory or a current interpretation of scripture, "proof" must be given for it to be taken seriously. Then interpretation of relevant scripture is changed to fit the best "vision" of the universe that we have.

I hope this explanation has inspired you in some way, because it did for me :-)


Anonymous said...

do you think there are any indications within scripture itself that this is the proper way to relate to scripture? that's key to convincing scriptural literalists who believe their interpretation is correct, perhaps
- Drew

Andrew said...

Here are a few verses, Romans 1:18-20, which may support the logic in my post:

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Dad said...

The approach of attempting to validate the pursuit of scientific truth and/or the findings of science in general, through scriptual interpretation, does not, in my opinion, validate either scripture or science. The fundamental outcome of scientific activity is to reveal something about reality - called a fact by scientists. I think it is important to recognise however, that a fact is not necessarily the "truth" but is in fact a powerful form of interpretation. I use the descriptive "powerful" because of how thoroughly the scientific process of interpreting knowledge has influenced human culture.

The scriptures, as a source of truth are also a powerful form of interpretation. As much as I think we humans would like to identify our interpretations of reality as Truth. I do not believe we can arrive at that knowledge objectively. Regardless of how objective we think we are being, it is impossible to be completely objective. Yes we have invented ways of measuring and therefore defining small facts about the physical conditions of creation. This activity however, is still an artificial human invention which in use has given us another interpretation which we define as fact/Truth.

The problem is in the assumption that we can objectively identify and define Truth by the observation of "parts" of reality. "Parts" being either concrete, abstract, or a combination of both. I do not believe we can know the "Truth" in this way and the problem with scripture is the arrogant certainty with which many of us insist each has the "correct" interpretation.

To end my comments I think we (modern Americans) need to seriously cultivate humility and stop exalting ourselves as the wise and mighty saviors of the world. I think we may arrive at true knowledge in this way than in the overly confident assumption that we can conquer and demystify all mystery, whether by science or religion, or attempts to combine them.