Faith and science: on “two ways of knowing”
by Steve Douglas
July 13th, 2010 | 18 Comments
I’ve been watching the back-and-forth between Jerry Coyne and Karl Giberson. Apparently there has been a video produced for USA Today that features them in a conversation answering the question, “Are science and religion compatible?” that has not been put online yet. I think we know their answers, though.
Karl Giberson of the BioLogos Foundation, of course, finds faith and science completely compatible. Incompatabilist atheist Jerry Coyne actually insists that he does also, at least provisionally: “…if and only if ‘compatibility’ meant only this: ‘can someone be religious and also be a scientist/accept science? ‘” He goes on to clarify by reiterating that people are capable of inconsistency and holding beliefs that are in tension with one another, which is what he thinks science and faith are. Ever the incompatibilist, Coyne attacks the common Christian claim that there are “two ways of knowing”, one that is empirical and discernable only by observation, and one that does not depend upon physical observability. Says Coyne, “This—the disparity in ‘ways of knowing’—is the true incompatibility between science and faith.” He accuses Giberson and other compatibilists of failing to address attacks on the validity of the kind of religious epistemology that is “immune to rational scrutiny”. Because rational scrutiny is indeed applied to theology by believing theologians and philosophers all the time, he appears to be defining “rational” as laboratory-driven, or perhaps motivated by empirical evidence alone. He makes a point to dismiss the validity of holding beliefs merely acquired by culture and tradition, which of course any believer would do as well, but he implies that any beliefs initially acquired by any means other than deductive reasoning or empirical observation is necessarily invalid.
Although I’m sure he doesn’t believe this in all areas of his life, Coyne argues as though the only information a reasonable person should permit himself to accept is that which is demonstrable beyond a reasonable doubt in the laboratory or, somewhat incongruously, demonstrable beyond all uncertainty through logic and reason. The incompatibility between Giberson’s view and Coyne’s view is not between a faith perspective and a scientific perspective but between a qualified trust that what we experience may be real even if not empirically demonstrable and an implicit and unquestionable trust in the validity of only those experiences which are empirically demonstrable.
My thought is that instead of insisting upon “two ways of knowing” as compatibilists are indeed fond of doing, perhaps we should emphasize distrust in the adequacy, reliability, and universal relevancy of observation and empirical verifiability. If post-modernism has taught us anything, it’s that “knowing” is merely happening to be convinced of that which is true, and it doesn’t altogether matter how we are convinced. To be sure, some ways of becoming convinced are more useful for science than for daily life – and Giberson et al. would agree – but being convinced that your wife loves you and that harming children is wrong are beliefs that, if not “immune” to reason, at least show “rational inquiry” to be not unfailingly relevant or adequate to inform our experience. As long as scientists like Giberson promote science in scientific endeavors, Coyne should be happy with the underlying purpose of BioLogos, which is at bottom to bring more Christians on board with the rationalist “way of knowing” when approaching science. But perhaps there are things beyond brute facts that influence incompatibilists’ behavior.