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Failth & Culture: When science and religion collide

By: Tim W. Callaway

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Feb 01, 2012 03:23 pm

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“Most of the strangest parts of the Bible are obviously very likely to have been made up, or at least exaggerated by people who didn’t quite realize just how ridiculous their claims would sound to us, thousands of years later. The one about Jesus and Thomas, from the perspective of science, stands today as an awfully bad moral lesson. It was clearly intended to mock and discourage skeptical inquiry while at the same time praising blind faith in claims of divine revelation.”

- Blogger Michel Mercier.

Thanks to online friend Michel Mercier of Montreal for responding to my invitation a few weeks ago for dialogue concerning whether organized religion has had a positive or negative effect on history. He asked if I would visit his blog and check out his perspectives.

I’ve had only brief opportunity to peruse Mercier’s musings, which are both insightful and engaging, including his piece asking, ‘How friendly can religion get towards science?’ from which the quotation above is taken.

The question of the relationship between science and religion has intrigued thinkers for decades, of course. The debate has particularly escalated since Charles Darwin released his Origin of the Species in 1858. More recently, commentators like the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Charles Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould have weighed in on the matter.

I note in Mercier’s essay quoted above that he appears to assume science and faith can only be and will forever be at odds. In brief, he argues that the disciple Thomas’ request for empirical data is essentially dismissed by Jesus who encourages thoughtless adherence to blind faith.

A few years before Stephen Jay Gould’s far-too-early death in 2002, he penned an interesting book entitled Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fulness of Life (Ballantine 1999). As I recall, in that brief essay, Gould argued it is time to begin a new discussion on the relationship between science and faith. He suggested discussion needed to be conducted in a less adversarial climate than had prevailed to date.

In the spirit of Gould’s call to a more ironic discussion on the issue, I’m wondering if the only way to interpret the exchange between Jesus and Thomas is indeed via the application of 21st century assumptions regarding the superiority of scientific inquiry as compared to religious faith. In other words, is the only acceptable understanding of first century dialogue that which requires it to run the gauntlet of 21st-century assumptions? Perhaps rather than insisting that first-century thinkers conform to our modern standards, we should respectfully expend a bit more energy properly contextualizing the comments within realities of the world of their time. Beware the “superiority complex” is how some have framed the matter.

Be sure to check the Airdrie City View next week, where I will provide an alternate understanding of Christ’s directive to Thomas.


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