The Limits of Proof
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:28 AM [+]
The Sunday of St. Thomas always brings to my mind the intersection between science and religion, an intersection at which I spent no small amount of time since I don a white lab coat during the day and a black cassock on nights and weekends. Popularly, I think people tend to believe that science and religion MUST find some common ground or some construct in which they are reconciled to one another. And in so doing we see two extremes (in my opinion): one person will seek to use science to prove all manner of religious ideas, experiences, and history; Another person will insist that such data be made available before they will believe in said religious ideas, experiences, or history. The problem is, as I see it, that both persons proceed from the assumption that the scientific method of discerning truth or reality not only can be, but must be universally applied to all things. There is nothing a scientific approach cannot discern and no place where science can or should comfortably and peacefully remain silent.
Enter St. Thomas. He wants "Evidence that demands a Verdict." It would initially appear that St. Thomas is that second person above who will not believe until he is shown the "data." Now before anyone gets their science loving minds into a frenzy thinking I am being overly critical of the science please consider how I make my living and this: I do not think it is unreasonable to expect proof of extraordinary claims. Usually. Think back to St. Thomas...
St. Thomas, as we all know, gets his data...in a rather dramatic fashion to say the least. But consider the proof needing mind and what response might we expect? You are presented with a person you were fairly certain was dead, now clearly alive. I think most of us would first rationalize the situation with our gloriously powerful and rational minds: maybe he didn't die at all, but merely passed out? We've all heard the phrase: there's got to be a rational explanation! For St. Thomas though, there is no question. Some might suggest that the power of the evidence (perhaps the wounds were clearly mortal) overwhelmed him, but even if so St. Thomas goes a step further and offers that wonderful proclamation and affirmation of our Lord's divinity: "My Lord and my God." One might say that the evidence proved to him that Jesus was supernaturally brought back to life, but no scientific evidence led him to the conclusion that he stood before the Creator of the universe. That was an altogether bigger step...after all he'd seen miracles before. Jesus being "I am" was something he discerned in some other way...no experiment could regenerate that data - not at least in the same way.
You see, I believe that the intersection of science and religion has a natural traffic light - whether we discern its existence or not. Science is limited to our senses and our natures, it is not something that exists outside of ourselves. If all of human kind were to die, so also would science. It doesn't mean reality changes or is different (all the great constants and laws of nature remain as much as we understood them), but it is important for us to understand that science is a tool and is hinged permanently to our senses. Our limits belong to it as well. And, friends, in our fallen state we are in fact profoundly limited...as most of you know, we are not God.
I find that failing to discern the aforementioned traffic light is a problem for both the religious and the secular. The religious are personified by young earth creationists and the secularists really have no demeaning label that I am aware of, but in my experience most secularists tend to see no red light for science. Either way, one sees the Bible as explaining everything and the other sees science as explaining everything. Both are wrong.
One of the biggest areas that I see the push for science to explain everything is in evolutionary sciences and a great example is specifically "evolutionary psychology." The problem I see here is that evolution has come to be an all-encompassing universal theory for all that exists (biologically) and thus for anything we see in our morphology, what we do, what we feel, how we act, what we believe, and indeed EVERYTHING about us must have some evolutionary explanation and therefore all such things are quickly formulated into an explanation as to how it could have evolved through the standard Darwinian method of natural selection. It's interesting, but I think it's also running a red light and frankly there's not a shred of data to demonstrate how (for example) belief in God evolved in us and their likely never will be...it's largely and ironically an article of faith.
Let us pretend for a moment that science CAN explain how we evolved to love or how we evolved to hate. Once it does so, science is then done with the equation and misses the most important part: ascribing some value to love or to hate. Science simply leaves us in the desert of biological determinism and offers us nothing more. I hate or I love...like an on or off switch. From an evolutionary standpoint (as it explains all) posits only one value: propagate my genes.
And similarly, science could offer nothing to St. Thomas that would convince him that he was touching God. The touching itself surely convinced him that Jesus was alive, but his statement was purely a statement of faith which was supported not by facts, data, or evidence but rather by what I believe was his relationship with Jesus Christ. I think this is the case because for me at least, it is this a similar relationship coupled with the testimony of the Apostles ("these are written that you may believe") through which I may touch the nail prints that affords me the faith to make the same confession today. I was 10-fold the doubter that St. Thomas was, but at some point I came to realize what it meant when Jesus and Pilate debated about truth and our Lord proclaimed that HE was the Truth. When Truth is a person, what does science have to offer about truth? Not much. In that realm, science is as useful as a bag of hammers to a scuba diver. We have exceeded our limits.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." No telescope or microscope can help.