The petri dish refuses to give me a hug

It’s a Sisyphean task keeping track of the…surprising arguments of Karl Giberson, BioLogos’s ubiquitous “science-and-religion scholar” (as they always call him). I’m barely recovered from his explanation of the profundity of the middle ground at Huffington Post and now here he is again, back at BioLogos, setting himself up as demolishing “strawmen,” complete with mocking picture of same. His demolition is not entirely convincing.

The final straw man I want to torch in this series is the claim that science uses evidence and religion uses faith…

Well that seems like a tall order. How will he manage that, one wonders.

He notes that evidence is more abundant in some fields than in others. True. But then he says that the kinds of inferences made in for instance evolutionary biology “look very much like little leaps of faith.” But inferences are provisional; real leaps of faith are not. Giberson is stacking the deck already.

He notes that economics is fuzzy, then he says “Religious reflection is more like economics than it is like chemistry.” Ah it’s reflection we’re talking about, is it? No actual firm faith-based claims at all? Now he’s moving the goalposts.

But no, it turns out he’s not. Or he was, but then he immediately takes it back.

There is evidence for the claims of the economist and for the chemist and there is evidence for religious truth claims. This is a simple fact. The New Testament contains several documents written about Jesus by smart people in the first century. These documents are evidence.One can disagree with the documents and reject the evidence as weak or inadequate in some way. Or one can accept the evidence and be a Christian. But what one cannot do is claim that there is no evidence or dismiss the evidence because it fails to meet the standards of the chemist.

Oh no no no no no no. The “evidence” fails to meet any standards at all. The “documents” are not primary, and they are fiction in any case. They are no more “evidence” for religious truth claims than an edition of Hamlet is evidence of events in medieval Denmark. They are evidence for the mythography of Jesus, evidence which requires a lot of interpretation and inference, but that’s not what Giberson is claiming; he said they are evidence of religious truth claims. Not religious values, not moral claims, but religious truth claims. They’re not. If he doesn’t know that, he must be remarkably sheltered. If he does – well he’s just making a loopy argument.

The far more significant difference, of course, relates to the dynamic character of religious investigation. When Isaac Newton “leaped to the conclusion” that gravity ruled the universe, gravity did not respond by embracing Newton and healing his brokenness. When believers make their leap of faith to embrace God, God responds by entering into relationship with believers, often with transformative consequences. There is no counterpart to this response in scientific or historical investigation.

No indeed – because scientific and historical investigation are not about healing brokenness or embracing or any similar kind of self-deluding emotive trance. “Dynamic” here is just a dressy word for wishful thinking. There’s a good deal of impertinence in pretending that that is strawman-demolition.

28 Responses to “The petri dish refuses to give me a hug”