Friday, February 11, 2011

Aquinas's Razor.

As mentioned in the previous posts, the faith-sense faculty lacks acuity. We see "through a glass darkly" with it and are liable to mistake error as a truth. The task then is how to discern if the conviction is true or not? St Thomas gives the following advice:
The gifts of grace are added to nature in such a way that they do not destroy but rather perfect nature. Thus the light of faith which is infused to us by grace does not destroy the natural natural light of reason divinely given us. And although the natural light of the human mind is insufficient to manifest what is manifest through faith, nonetheless it is impossible that what has divinely given us by faith should be contrary to what is given us by nature. One or the other would have to be false, but, since both come from God, God would then be the author of falsehood, which is impossible. Rather because there is some semblance of the perfect in the imperfect, the things known by natural reason are likenesses of the things given in faith.

( Exposition of Boethius's On the Trinity, Question 2. Article 3)

What I think St Thomas is getting at here is that faith and empirical evidence cannot contradict. Either our understanding of one or the other is wrong. Reality is seamless fabric.

Now since our physical senses have the capacity to "sense more clearly" the reality about us, our physical senses can be used as a tool to prune away erroneous faith conceptions. So when the Catholic Church authorities tried to assert that Galileo was heretical in his astronomical claims, they were wrong, in that their assertion conflicted with Galileo's observed facts. In layman's terms, factual evidence trumps faith. In fact, faith which is contra to factual evidence is a wrong faith. In some instances, it doesn't necessarily mean that the faith-sense is wrong, rather our understanding of some matter of the faith may be.  The Bible is a guide to conduct, not an astronomy text.*

It follows then that science is not opposed to faith which reflects reality, but to erroneous conceptions of it. The battle is not between science and religion but science and bad religion. Faith must be coherent with observed reality.

*( It's funny that Fundamentalists bash the Church about this issue. Because here is a clear instance of the Church asserting sola scriptura on the issue and they got it wrong)


Renatus Cartesius said...

What about deception of the senses? And also, the human senses are limited in scope and cannot grasp all, so is it wise to bestow epistemological primacy on empirical reality? I think not.

Robert Brockman said...

Yes, human senses are limited in scope. Luckily we can augment them with heavy equipment. The LHC gets us resolution down to 10^-17 meters. The Hubble Space Telescope gets us observations out to 10^25 meters. A vast set of custom gear gets us good imaging at all the ranges in between. That's 42 orders of magnitude. In addition, our understanding of the fundamental laws governing electrons and light has been verified to better than 1 part in 10^12.

Not perfect, but not bad for a bunch of rambunctious primates, eh?

Anon said...

@R Brockmann

It's a miracle that we can understand the universe at all.

@Renatus Cartesius.

Yes our senses can be faulty, but it's how we confirm our reasoning with regard to the world.

Anonymous Protestant said...

The Bible is a guide to conduct, not an astronomy text.

The Old and New Testaments in the most broadest sense are a bit more than a guide to conduct, but clearly they are not an astronomy text. Nor are they a biology text or a general science text, nor general guide to the history of the Fertile Crescent.

A great deal of wrongheadness, and wrong belief, will arise any time someone attempts to use the Bible for a purpose it clearly is not intended for. From what I can tell, these errors are most likely to occur among those who do not actually read much of the Bible at all.

The Social Pathologist said...


Even if you read the whole of the Bible you will still find people with different interpretations to your own.
The real trick is trying to work out which one is the right interpretation.

Blue Blazer said...
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The Social Pathologist said...
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Anonymous Protestant said...

SP, it is not my intent to discuss comparative theology, but rather to agree with you on what the Bible is not.

It is not a science book, despite efforts of various Christians across the centuries to make it so.

Simon Grey said...

Really, though, the conflict isn't always between science and bad religion. Often, the fight is between bad science and bad religion.