The KentuckyKernel (the daily student paper of the University of Kentucky) reports on the first day of the three-day series of debates about religion that I’m involved in at the University of Kentucky.
Last night’s debate featured Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman and David Hunter, a professor of literature, language, and culture, debating whether faith is compatible with history. The paper reports:
Ehrman said three steps led him to his current position as an agnostic and away from being a fundamentalist Christian.
“I was a fundamentalist,” Ehrman said. “No ‘fun,’ too much ‘damn’ and not enough ‘mental.’”
The three steps were his study of the early manuscripts of the Bible, his historical investigation of the Bible itself and his historical critical study outside of the Bible.
“I could no longer believe that there was a loving, all-powerful God in control of this world,” Erhman said.
David G. Hunter, a professor at UK in the department of modern and classical languages, literatures and cultures, took the opposite side of the debate as person of Catholic faith.
He discussed faith as “a particular way of looking at the world,” saying faith and unfaith were “different interpretations of reality.”
Hunter began his discussion addressing the topic of whether faith and history are compatible.
“Faith and reason can never be in complete conflict,” Hunter said, giving the explanation that they were of different perspectives.
“Faith and unfaith are different interpretations of reality”? What doublespeak! They are conflicting and incompatible interpretations of reality. Or rather, unfaith—I presume this means science and rationality—tells us what reality is, while faith tells us what people want reality to be.
As for the old canard “faith and reason can never be in complete conflict,” think about that for a minute. Why couldn’t they be in complete conflict—at least with respect to their philosophy, methodology, and what “truth” they tell us about the universe?
And they are in conflict in all these areas. A worldview that relies on revelation, dogma, and acceptance of those things that you want to believe must necessarily be in complete conflict with a worldview that relies on evidence, doubt, empiricism, and acceptance of only those things for which there’s evidence, whether or not you want those things to be true. What Scripture tells us is true (I’m not referring here to moral prescriptions) is almost wholly in conflict with what reason and science tells us is true.
Feynman, of course, best characterized the reason why science and faith are incompatible, giving perhaps the pithiest explanation I’ve seen of how science works:
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that.
In contrast, the first principle of religion is that you must fool yourself, finding in the universe only those things that support your beliefs, and harmonizing all possible observations with what you want to be true. Evolution? That’s God’s way of bringing about His Creation! The Holocaust? Evil is simply an inexorable and unavoidable byproduct of God’s gift of free will.
Theology is merely an intellectual game of self-foolery. And many theologians are very good at it.