Science as a Dreamland

Scientists recently observed neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light. Since nothing is supposed to travel faster than the speed of light, this would be a big deal. Charles Krauthammer says:

“. . . . there must be some error. Because otherwise everything changes. We shall need a new physics. A new cosmology. New understandings of past and future, of cause and effect. Then shortly and surely, new theologies.”

With all due respect to Krauthammer, who happens to be my favorite political commentator, this is not entirely correct. I think G. K. Chesterton’s remark is more to the point:

“. . . the world of science and evolution is far more nameless and elusive and like a dream than the world of poetry and religion; since in the latter images and ideas remain themselves eternally, while it is the whole idea of evolution that identities melt into each other as they do in a nightmare.”

It is not usually religious orthodoxy that is threatened by scientific discovery, but scientific orthodoxy. Of course, I believe the things I have learned from science; I believe in electrons as strongly as the next man. I believe because I have been told.

Protons and electrons: an article of faith.

But the fact is that scientific discovery shapes relatively little of my worldview. Scientific discoveries can come and go and have little effect on the Christian whose worldview is shaped by Christ, Scripture, the teachings of the Church, and the sacred history of God’s people from Abraham to Billy Graham.

The Resurrection: an article of faith.

I am talking about one of the differences between science and religion. Usually when we talk about the differences between science and religion we wander into the idea that science is about hard facts and religion about non-factual “values.” That idea is incorrect, and it is not what I am talking about. It is a popular idea these days, but it misrepresents the factual claims made by many religions. Christianity, for one, is about quite a few facts. To take only one of the many statements of fact in the Bible, Christianity’s crucial claim of the Resurrection is a statement of fact. As a matter of fact, Abraham Lincoln died and was buried and did not return living from the grave on the third day; as a matter of fact, Christianity says, Jesus died and was buried and did return living from the grave on the third day. If the resurrection is not a hard fact, then, as Paul says, Christianity is simply incorrect.

So I am not saying that science is about hard fact and religion about something else. Here is what I am saying. First, science investigates a region of reality that is subject to less constancy than the region of reality with which at least some religions, Christianity among them, is concerned. Second, the beliefs of science change far more frequently than the beliefs of religion, at least the beliefs of the very old religions like Christianity.

This doesn’t mean that science is not to be taken seriously. It just means that scientific discovery makes up a relatively minor part of my worldview; those regions of my worldview which are shaped by science are generally the less important regions, not least because they are the regions which I view as more subject to change and in knowing which there is less certitude.

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