What is truth? How do we find truth—or is truth something that we create? Are those means reliable? In this episode, we’re inviting a philosopher and a scientist to the show to talk about how the two fields define truth, where they clash, and how they can work together.
Dr. Angus Menuge is a professor of philosophy and the department chair of philosophy at Concordia University Wisconsin. He grew up in England and studied philosophy at Warwick University for his bachelor’s degree and later at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for both his master’s degree and Ph.D.
Dr. Michael Young is an associate professor and the department chair of life and earth sciences at Concordia University Wisconsin. He obtained a bachelor of science in biochemistry and zoology from Michigan State and later a Ph.D. in molecular cell biology from Washington University in St. Louis.
- For philosophers—is there anything beyond naturalism or materialism? Dr. Menuge talks about how he found another way and managed to reconcile his faith with his field.
- How does science define truth? What is scientific truth? Science says that there is a real, observable world that we can learn about by the scientific method.
- The phrase “scientific truth” is often used carelessly as a way of convincing an audience that what’s being said is proven or reliable. Dr. Young defines scientific truth as truth that has been discovered about the world using scientific processes.
- Is there commensurability between science, philosophy, and theology? Could there be a common determinant of truth between the three disciplines?
- In a postmodern world, logocentrism has been ripped to shreds by most of the philosophical community. Dr. Menuge explores the common critiques and provides commentary regarding those critiques.
- Some Christians are scared of science. Dr. Young shares some of his personal experiences and how he shapes conversations about science with his students to curb that fear, separate science from scientism, and encourage learners to be curious about the world.
- Science is often regarded as objective work. Are limits to the objectivity of science?
- What kind of dialogue is going on between scientific theories and what Scripture is saying? In relation to science, how can Christians properly interpret the Bible in a way that doesn’t make the Church look bad, akin to medieval Christianity buying heavily into Aristotelian physics only to have it proven false by Galileo?
A Few Mentioned Resources
Leading Christian Philosophers:
- Alvin Plantinga—recipient of the Templeton Prize for contributions to philosophy (Where the Conflict Really Lies)
- Richard Swinburne
Leading non-Christian philosophers:
- Thomas Nagel (Mind and Cosmos)
- John Searle
Dr. Young: I really find the Lutheran idea of understanding opposing errors, holding things in tension, a really useful way to think. So, I think we’ve talked a decent amount about the problems of keeping science and religion too separate. If you say religion does this, science does that, then, you are left with a split mind. But, there’s also a problem, an error, that is made when you conflate them too much. The knowledge that we get about from science is not exactly the same thing as the knowledge we get about through religion, or through reading our Bible. Truth that I believe from biblical authority is being derived at by a different way than truth I get by observing the world. We can make mistakes in either court. I can make mistakes on how I’m interpreting, and I can make bad observations of the world.
Angelina: Hi, this is Angelina. Welcome to another episode of the living uncommon podcast. I’m here with my co-hosts Michael and Tim. How’s it going guys? Anything new and interesting going on in your lives?
Michael: My family went to Florida, and I had made a vow that until the kids were nine, they shouldn’t fly, my kids are three and six, because A), they’re not gonna appreciate it. We did Frontier, and you pay a little extra. It seems really cheap, and then, you pay a little extra for the seats you want. It’s this big scam. And you pay extra for your bags. Unless they want to promote this podcast, and then it’s a great airline. So, we flew on that. I made sure to get window seats for the kids because people could only dream about flying, right? I mean, 200 years ago, this would have been just the craziest thing in the world, you know? People would’ve said, “You’re flying? You can be halfway across the country in two hours?” Then, my son just shut the window because he wanted to look at a Batman coloring book, and he didn’t like the glare in his eyes. So, that was it. There’s no wonder. All that extra money we spent to make sure he had a good window seat, but, yeah. I was just reminded how much I don’t like to fly.
Tim: Where were you in Florida?
Michael: Orlando. We stayed in a Airbnb that was just in the real Orlando. Which was just like a subdivision, but, yeah, it was the real Orlando. It was good. I don’t mind the winter. My wife really, really likes warm weather.
Tim: You open up those special lamps that have the UV rays. Some people get them because they have seasonal affective disorder. I guess, if you don’t get like sunlight, it can really mess you up. So, they make a special lamp you have to help you.
Michael: I worked with someone who had that at her desk.
Tim: Well, I love winter. It’s my favorite season. I’ll go on the record saying that. It’s dark, it’s cold, I like the snow. I don’t like, necessarily, tramping around in it, shoveling. I feel like we have an endless amount of sidewalk. Apart from that, I love winter. It’s great.
Michael: Fresh air, good air, best air of any season, maybe late fall.
Tim: It’s very crisp and invigorating. You don’t even need a cup of coffee. You just get out first thing in the morning, get deep breath of that negative two degree air, and, like, you feel it. You feel something in your chest.
Angelina: It wakes you right up. Well, today we have a really interesting conversation for you guys. We’re having two professors from Concordia here, Dr. Michael Young, he’s in the science department, and Dr. Angus Menuge, and he’s in the philosophy department. We’re having a conversation about science, and faith, and philosophy, and how do they interact. And, where is there tension, and how do we engage with that as Christians?
Michael: And, as a reminder, this podcast is brought to you by Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. Particularly, by their online programs. So, go to online.cuw.edu. There’s dozens of programs, including one in theology, if that’s an interest of yours. There’s a theology bachelor’s you can do, and a lot of really interesting certificates, like bioethics. If you want to look into that, and a host of other options, go ahead take a look at that, and enjoy the show.
Michael: Well, we’re here today with doctors Angus Menuge and Michael Young. Dr. Menuge teaches in the philosophy department at Concordia University Wisconsin, and Dr. Young is a scientist by trade and teaches science at Concordia University. We would love to talk to you a little bit about your backgrounds, just to get to know you. Dr. Young, tell us a little bit about your faith background.
Dr. Young: Yeah, sure. I was raised in the Lutheran system, went to Lutheran grade school, went to a Lutheran High School, and there’s never a time when I wasn’t a Christian, when I wasn’t a Lutheran. But, then, I went to Michigan State University with 40,000 of my closest friends. That was where I became a lot more cognizant of my faith that I had and started taking it less for granted. I became more aware of it. I did a lot more personal growth and reflection, and that was where I was also learning science. I was a double major in biochemistry and zoology. In four years, I took three classes that were not science classes because that was the minimum that I could take and still be allowed to graduate. From there, I went on to Washington University in St. Louis and did my PhD in molecular cell biology. I spent a lot of my time there listening to Lutheran radio, and my wife was at the seminary at that time doing a master’s degree. Then, I went back to the world of Lutheran education when I got a job at Concordia Irvine. I taught biology there for nine years and then shifted to Concordia Wisconsin about six years ago.
Michael: So, you went to MU in Michigan. Was it challenging to be a Christian in this huge state school?
Dr. Young: Yeah, not as challenging as I always thought that it would be, right? I took a class that was called “Evolution,” four credits with a lab. I just kept waiting for the spot where I was going to get to that place in science where I was going to have to choose between what I was learning in my classes and what I believed as a Christian, and it never really came. There was never a spot where, even in the evolution classes, where I said, “The stuff that I’m learning is just fundamentally anathema to my faith.” Because, most of what’s taught in evolution classes is pretty small scale, changes in gene frequencies. It’s not the naturalism kind of religious view. And, if you don’t have the religious view, most of the science goes along to define the same way for Christians and non-Christians.
Michael: Dr. Menuge, tell us a little bit about your background.
Dr. Menuge: Yeah. I grew up in England. I went to religious assembly. At school, there’s no separation of church and state there. I would have called myself a Christian until I was a teenager, but then I drifted away from the faith. I didn’t go to church regularly. I had no real theological instruction, and I came back to the faith really through meeting my wife. She started taking me to a Lutheran church, and I went through adult confirmation, and I realized that what I loved about the Lutheran understanding of Christianity is that it has answers. It makes sense. So, its teachings are very, very clear that they’re based on the Bible, but, you also know what they mean for your life. They’re very focused on, you know, vocation and how you live out the faith. I found that very satisfying.
And, so, before that, I would say that my conversion began through a reaction to what I was being taught in graduate school. My area was philosophy of mind and the dominant way that that’s taught at a school like Madison, where I did my doctorate, was to assume materialism or naturalism, which Dr. Young spoke about. So, after a while, I began to think, “Wait a minute. It seems to me that these theories of the mind will all be satisfied by a robot, or a machine, which isn’t actually conscious, doesn’t actually have its own reason or goals. There’s something fundamentally missing here.” So, I asked one of my professors, “Why is it that we always start the class by assuming naturalism? Isn’t there an alternative?” And, he looked at me, and he was puzzled, I think, for almost a minute. He said, “What? Gods, you mean?” And, it was an amazing revelation to me that the way these classes were taught was not to attack theism or Christianity, but, simply from the outset to assume their irrelevance, that they’re not really a contender. So, then, I began to think, “Well, wait a minute. If you have God as a supreme immaterial spiritual being, then, all of a sudden, your view of human anthropology is going to be very different.” Then, the biblical idea that you have body, soul, and spirit suddenly becomes much more plausible within that context. Whereas, for the materialists, all those things just have to emerge somehow for a matter.
And, as I went on, what I found out was that the interesting thing was that most of the naturalist philosophers agreed that the leading naturalistic theories of consciousness and rationality were clearly wrong. So, that’s not a sort of a Christian imposition. They themselves admit these theories don’t work. And, so, then, I began to think, “Well, in the interest of truth, shouldn’t we be pursuing alternatives?” So, I started going to conferences with Christian philosophers. You’ve got the Society of Christian philosophers, and the Evangelical Philosophical Society, which I was president of for six years, and there you have this rich interchange of alternative views to naturalism. So, then, that gave me a place to live as a Christian intellectually. It wasn’t just that I am a Christian, and I am a philosopher, I could be a Christian philosopher.
Michael: If you could give a list of three philosophers that Christians should all know about, and read, and go to, who would you recommend?
Dr. Menuge: Well, for ones who are Christian, I think that Alvin Plantinga, who got that Templeton Prize for his contribution to philosophy, which I attended in Chicago, and Richard Swinburne of Oxford University, are just outstanding Christian thinkers. But, I would also recommend that people read some of the leading, non-christian philosophers who essentially concede most of what these people are saying. The best example of that is Thomas Nagel. In his book, Mind and Cosmos, he says that the Darwinian naturalistic view, where you indeed turn the Darwinian view into sort of an all-encompassing religion in its own, you know, an account of the origin of everything, he says, it’s almost certainly false. He gives rigorous arguments for it. And, because he doesn’t want to accept the existence of God, he ends up saying, “Well, there has to be some sort of animating teleology, something like a world spirit, like Hegel’s veldt-geist, that’s driving everything.” Well, this guy is unintentionally a great friend of Christians because he’s admitting the bankruptcy of the materialist view, and he is considered to be one of the very greatest living philosophers, Thomas Nagel. John Searle is another one. He’s not a Christian at all, but John Searle has admitted over and over again how incredibly implausible materialist theories of human beings really are. So, I count him as a friend as well.
Tim: Dr. Young, how would you, as a person, but particularly as a scientist, how would you define truth?
Dr. Young: Well, as you know, and as Dr. Menuge can go through in much more detail than I can, there’s lots of different understandings of truth. As a scientist, I really tend to think of truth as accurate descriptions of reality. I tend to think of truth as being something that is apart from myself. There’s a real reality out there, this room really exists, and that we want to understand it, and to the extent to which I correctly understand the reality that is apart from myself, I am understanding truth.
Michael: You’re speaking about, a certain type of objective truth, about the reality, the verifiable reality. You can have verifiable according to, probably, scientific method?
Dr. Young: Right. I think that there is a real, observable world out there that we can learn about by the scientific method. But, I think that there’s also reality that isn’t accessible to the scientific method. I would say that that fits in this category of truth. So, I really don’t like talking about scientific truth versus religious truth, or philosophic truth, or, as if there’s all different flavors of truth, because I don’t think that there’s different realities out there. But, we get that understanding through different ways. So, I think, a lot of times, people are just talking a little bit sloppily. So, I say scientific truth, but what I mean is that there is truth I have discovered about the world by using scientific processes. But, that takes a long time to say, and so we shorthand that down to scientific truth. If we do the same thing with religion and we say, “religious truths,” we sometimes mistakenly give the idea that those are two fundamentally different things, that there’s scientific truth and there’s religious truth, and that those may or may not have anything to do with each other. I find that that kind of approach just leaves you really intellectually unfulfilled. It leaves you in a spot where sometimes people talk about two hats. I wear my my Christian hat on Sundays, and then I go into my lab, and I take off my Christian hat, and I put on my science hat, and now, I’m thinking in that way. Or, I have to have a split mind where I keep those different kinds of truths separate. We really like, in our classes, to explore how we can put those together, how we can believe those things at the same time. Sometimes it’s messy, and sometimes it’s not obvious. I just don’t like the assumption from the get-go that they’ve got nothing to do with each other.
Michael: So, you would say there’s commensurability between philosophy, science, and theology? So, you could have a common determinant of truth between the three disciplines?
Dr. Young: I think that they’re all trying to get to understand the same world.
Dr. Menuge: Yeah, I would say that the biblical understanding is that everything holds together in Christ. You got that in Colossians 1:17, and that includes all the ways that God reveals. And, God reveals things in nature, and that’s the subjects of natural science and natural theology. And, there are ways that have been developed to discern that truth. But, it’s not a different kind of truth than the truth that is also revealed especially in special revelation that we find in Scripture. There are lots of things that we could never find out from here below using our reasons. So, there’s no good analogies for the Trinity, and we can’t reason toward the Trinity. We have to accept that if we do, we find that it makes sense of, and vindicates, all kinds of other things, such as the structure of families, that man is a social being in a nature of society. So, it’s not like it’s irrational, but it’s beyond what we could have found out using the methods of natural science. But, all these truths, what they have in common, is they’re all part of the reality held together by the logos. I see that the Christian view of truth is logo centric. So, the logos is the idea of this cosmic reason that holds all things together. And, whereas, someone like Heraclitus would think it was impersonal for us, it’s personal. And that, I think, profoundly explains the fact that the scientific laws actually make sense. They’re rational, and likewise, moral laws. We can understand them through reason. So, it’s not just stuff that is the case, and you have to accept it, but it doesn’t make any sense. The world that we live in fundamentally makes sense. I agree with what Dr. Young said. There are just different ways that we have developed to get at these truths, and they all have limits. There are things that you cannot discern theologically, no, you’ve got to get in the lab or you’ve got to you know use scientific instruments. But, there are also kinds of truths that science doesn’t get into. For example, because it’s not normative, it doesn’t deal with moral questions, right? Science can tell you how to build a nuclear bomb but not whether it’s a good idea to use it, for example. That’s just a fundamental limit in its method.
Michael: You mentioned logocentrism, and that you view truth as being tied to logos. In the postmodern world, there’s deconstruction. Logocentrism has been ripped to shreds in most of the philosophical community. How do you still have fidelity to that belief as a Christian? How do you handle critiques coming from continental philosophy, deconstruction, other postmodern viewpoints, and still hold to that belief?
Dr. Menuge: Yeah, well, first of all, we have to understand those critiques. Richard Rorty, for example, explicitly rejects the idea of objective truth because there’s, well gosh, that reflects the idea as the logos inscribed in reality. In other words, he rejects logocentrism and so does Jacques Derrida, all right? So, we have to understand where these critiques are coming from. But, I think that we can see that reality has a way of affirming its superiority to our prejudices. And in the end, it’s a conflict that’s brought out so wonderfully in George Orwell’s 1984. The alternative to saying that there is an objective logos that’s out there is just that there is each individual’s logos. In other words, either there is one story, which is the way reality is, and we have to discover it in all humility. Or, if you say, “Oh no, this is a construction,” which is really the view of the postmodern philosophers, the problem is all that really lies behind that is power. It’s a Nietzsche will to power because you’re saying that what is true is what you get to say is true. There is this horrifying passage where O’Brien says to Winston Smith, “Whatever the party holds to be truth, is truth.” That’s the fact. You’ve got to relearn Winston. You must humble yourself before you become sane. Of course, he’d written this in his diary. You know, two plus two is four. The freedom to say two plus two makes four, if that is granted, all else follows. Why? Because he’s asserting that there is a reality that is independent of power, and this is really interesting for an atheist writer, George Orwell.
Something that Augustine said, “Truth is our superior.” The alternative view is that truth is just whatever the most powerful person says it is. I think, if people think through the consequences of that, they will come to realize that’s just… might makes right it’s a totalitarian view. I think that the vast majority of people say, “No. Some things are the way they are no matter who has the most money, or who has the microphone, or who can control the media.” So, I think we have to give examples and convince people that the truth is the independent of our wishes. A great example from science would be in the Soviet Union, right, Lysenko wisdom where they said, “Well, gosh, Lysenko’s view of agriculture fits very well with dialectical materialism. So, Marxist ought to agree with this.” The trouble is, it was false, and people starved to death through famine because his view simply didn’t agree with the way crops developed.
Michael: The Nietzschean belief that there’s a will to power, and that can create sorts of truths, the way that you would handle that, as far as living would be, then, you rise above it, right? You get to the point where you have a gaiety about you in the sense where you can laugh at the ridiculousness, the absurdity, of the different truths, the different conflicts, the powers that are at play. Then, forge your own way, your own life, with knowledge that you have fidelity to a certain path and that you’re going in that direction. I mean, that seems to be part of the zeitgeist right now. What’s a Christian response to that?
Dr. Menuge: Well, I think we can point out that it’s a recipe for intractable conflict. Once people see the will to power… In other words, instead of Augustine’s, “Truth is my superior,” I am superior to truth, because, what I get to say is true, is true. Well, a problem is that then you can have numerous, contradictory views and they vie with each other. We see this, for example, in identity politics today because each group is claiming to be the superior victim. “I’m the victim. I deserve special treatment.” Then, of course, the special treatment that they receive causes resentment from other groups. So, it becomes a recipe for intractable conflict, and I think it would be unlikely that this Superman, this over man, would be able to enjoy this Goethe about life as soon as he has competition. In other words, it sounds great when you’re the only one, right? If you imagine being the tyrant who has no competition and you get to say, “This is the way it is.” But, once that philosophy is fully unleashed, there’s no reason why other people with the same philosophy cannot have directly opposing views. I think that would be a pretty horrible way to live. So, I think we should advocate the value of community’s work where everybody together humbles themselves beneath a common truth. Then, we see the value of truth for how we live.
Tim: So, Dr. young. Today, it seems like a lot of people place a lot of confidence in science and this sort of world we have where, you know, people disagree about all of these different things. We’d be peaceful people, you know, differences about foreign policy, local politics, and we’re very, very heated. But, everyone seems to have this great confidence in science, and that, you know, it’s sort of like this for people who are craving some sort of certainty in their life. We, you know, science seems to provide this objective understanding of reality. It’s like, okay, everything is chaos. But, we can know certain things about this world. So, two parts. One, it seems like some people have coined a term for a misplaced trust in science. They call it “scientism.” I mean, maybe talk to us a little bit about what that is and some problems with that. I think, in conjunction with that, too, could you just help us, as a scientist, understand how to think critically about when we’re reading the media and understand some of the, I guess, subjective things behind that? Could you just kind of talk us through that? We just have such a predilection in the culture today, just sort of revere science, just help us think about how we could critically engage that.
Dr. Young: Right. We do. We use the word science just in a way to sometimes be a synonym for reliable, right? We might say, “I have seven scientific reasons as to why my ex is a jerk.” But, we don’t really mean that we used a scientific method for that. We just mean, “I’m precise and very sure about that.” That’s a sloppy usage of the word, “science.” It does illustrate that we turn to the word, “science” to be a substitute for the word “certain,” right?
So, something scientific is reliable. If I say something scientific, it means that I’m expecting you to believe it as well. When we go through science, and how Christians should think about science, I find that there’s a pair of errors that we kind of need to avoid. One, is when we’re talking in Christian circles, we want to talk about the problems of scientism. I will get to that, and we’ll say that, and all these limitations of science. But, I find that when I do that first, and I come out to a class of students and start saying, “Well, here we don’t want to do scientism. Science has limits,” and all these things that are true, what many Christians start hearing is, “Well, science isn’t reliable, only the Bible is reliable. Therefore, I don’t want to listen to science.” So, I don’t like, in my classes, to start with that half of the error. I tend to prefer to start with recognizing the value of science because there are many people in Christianity. I’ve had people come to me and say things like, “Oh, my son wants to go into science in college. How do I get him out of that pagan religion?” Because, for them, that word “science” just means “scientism,” or it means “naturalism,” “atheism,” belief not in God.
So, what I want to start with, as a scientist, is to say the scientific method has been, maybe, apart from divine revelation, the most successful way of obtaining truth in the history of the planet. I don’t know. I know sometimes that gets provocative to theologians and philosophers, but that’s the way that I think about it. I want people to accept that. I want people to think about that. And, I want people to, first of all, recognize that the vast majority of the time, when I’m going through science, it is going to, if it’s properly executed and based on data, it’s going to lead me to conclusions that I can feel very confident about, that I am learning real truth about the real world. That’s not threatening to Christianity at all.
After we’ve got an appreciation for science, then we can start to say, “Well, how far can I take that appreciation? What do I expect my science to do for me?” The answer is quite a lot, but, there’s also quite a lot that it doesn’t do. There are reasons for that. Our modern definition of science is tied up in observability. If it’s not observable, it’s not science. Then, sometimes, people hear that word “not science,” and think that it means “not real.” That’s not accurate. There’s lots of things that are real that aren’t part of science. Right, now, no, your listeners can’t see this, but I just picked up my pen, and I’m holding it in the air, and I’m going to drop it, and it’s going to fall, and now it fell and made a little clattering sound, which, I don’t know if you can hear or not, but if I ask you why did the pen fall? Can I ask you that?
Dr. Young: Right. That’s what everybody says. What kind of answer is that? That’s a science answer to the question. Are there other answers to that question about why did the pen fall? Could I legitimately say the pen fell because I chose to drop it? Could I say that the pen fell in order to facilitate a conversation going on on this podcast? I think those are legitimate reasons, legitimate explanations about what’s going on. But, those aren’t studyable by scientists. That doesn’t mean that they’re not valid, it just means that I need something besides science to talk about them. It doesn’t negate the fact that gravity is a legitimate answer either.
To get around to some other parts of your question, when scientists are doing science, it turns out that scientists are people, and all people are sinful human beings, and we all have paradigms and ways in which we think, ways in which we operate, which bias our conclusions. I have to take that into account, right? There are certainly people choosing what they want to do research on. Sometimes, they’re choosing their topics based on conclusions they want to get. They’re choosing fields because they’re making money in those fields. It’s not always a pure pursuit of knowledge. Scientists don’t always follow where the data leads them because they’ve got monetary conflicts of interest, and they’ve got intellectual conflicts of interest, things they want to be true even if they can’t observe it. So, there are absolutely limits to what science does. It can’t talk about ethics, it can’t talk about ethics, it can’t talk about aesthetics, and so, we want to see those limits. I don’t want to see those limits without recognizing the wonderful things that science does do and does find for us.
Michael: Question on that. As a scientist, you’re looking at data, and in that way, people think they’re doing an objective work, but you’re a subjective human being. Everything you say about the data is filtered through your subjective mind, right? Data is inert. You have to have a narrative around it to make any meaning of it, you know? To a human being. So, then, can you talk to me a little bit about the limits of the objectivity of science?
Dr. Young: Right. We try to operate as though data is inert, and that’s kind of our assumption that we can gather this data that’s objective. Everybody observes it, and to some extent, that’s true. Although, sometimes, the data that you choose to collect underlies the fact that you had a particular question that you were trying to get a particular answer to. We do this with surveys a lot of times, and people can manipulate surveys and collect “data” that is skewed. They’re getting data that is objective but has been laid out in a particular way. We see that, but that’s not the intention of what we talk about, what we’re doing, biology, and figuring out how DNA works. Or, in chemistry, how the reactions are happening. But, to get back around to your question, what’s the subjectivity? There’s always some interpretation in when we write scientific papers. Scientific papers are broken up into different sections. Typically, we have a results section physically in the paper that just lists, “Here are the data!” This is the stuff that you shouldn’t be able to disagree with. Then, we start a separate section of the paper called the “Discussion” section, where we put our interpretation. Even if it’s a pretty safe interpretation that everybody’s going to make, we try to keep that separate, understanding that paradigms, ways that people think, may change in the future and try to preserve the data itself for future use. So, there is always this subjectivity. I don’t want to give the impression that because there is an element of subjectivity that that means that everything in science is unreliable. So, that’s where, sometimes, people want to push in that direction. So, how do you deal with that? You’re watching something on the news, there’s somebody in a lab coat talking about why you need to vote for a particular policy. You really should be asking yourself, “What are the data? Are the data reliable? Where is he interpreting?” At some point, that person, even though they’ve got a lab coat on and a PhD, is going to stop talking about science and they’re going to start talking about a worldview. As soon as somebody says the word, “should,” they’re not talking science anymore. There’s no reason that because somebody’s got a PhD in genetics that they have any more authority for you on a should kind of question about what we should be passing laws about.
Michael: So, one thing that you said that made me kind of sad was that people have come to you and said, “My son, or daughter, is involved in science and they’re a Christian. How can you help me get them out of it?” Which seems absurd and sad to me in a lot of ways. But, I think it highlights a relationship between the church and science right now that might not necessarily be healthy. Both of you, maybe starting with Dr. Menuge, talk a little bit about that. How would you assess the church’s relationship with science right now?
Dr. Menuge: Well, Dr. Young is quite right that there are Christian students who are leery of science. Part of it is, they’ve been turned off by the abuse of science, by those people who do believe in scientism and naturalism and are using it as a weapon to attack Christian faith. The two things, which I think are most helpful here, are the history of science and a theology of science. The history of science will show us that there have been numerous, great scientists who were motivated by their faith. For example, the great astronomer, Kepler, described his work in astronomy as an attempt to read God’s providential plans. So, he saw this as a vocation. One of the great things of the Reformation, the priesthood of all believers, meant that outside of the clergy, there were other vocations, and he recognized that he could be a priest in the book of nature, not in a church, but studying nature as a vocation. This was a glorious vocation because he could see what God had written, and through that, give glory to God for his fault, for his works. So, that historically is the case. You find it in the writings, not just off a Keppler, but Robert Boyle, and Isaac Newton, and many other scientists.
Also, though I think, theologically, one of the problems with scientism, which says that all science is the only way to know, is it ignores the fact that even scientists have to make some non-scientific assumptions. The fact the matter is, is that scientists have to assume that the world is orderly, that there are regularities and laws to discover, and that their own mind is rational and able to detect that order. Both of those are strongly grounded in the Christian faith because you have the teaching of the image of God, right? There is one logos being, and his logos is reflected in rational laws of nature but also in a human mind which has an affinity to those laws of nature, and is therefore able to discover them. Because, for all you could tell otherwise, why shouldn’t it be that there is a completely random world with no regularity or law whatsoever? Or, humans are too irrational to figure out what’s going on. So, I think there’s lots of reasons why, in fact, Christians have a better foundation for the feasibility of science. I think, though science can’t deal with moral issues, nonetheless, people go into science for moral reasons. It’s a great thing when you see that some of the great scientists, for example, Robert Boyle. One of the reasons he went into chemistry, after he studied theology for much of his career, was because he had a concern for the poor, and he wanted to produce inexpensive medicines for the poor. There’s lots of reasons, I think, why Christians should be very enthusiastic about science. What they need to have explained to them is that you can be a great scientist and not buy into scientism, which is actually just a philosophy about science. You do not have to agree with scientism. You don’t have to agree that science is the only way to know things, to do science, and of course, you shouldn’t by the way cuz scientism is self refuting. The claim of, “science is the only way to know,” is not a scientific statement. It’s a philosophical statement about science. So, if it were true, it would be something you couldn’t know. It’s a fairly lame idea when it’s subjected to philosophical scrutiny despite its popularity.
Michael: So, I’m curious about how you would respond to a cynical view of what you were saying. So, you’re tracing back historico brothers religious roots to science. In many ways, some of the greatest scientific discoveries were done, according to that scientist, oftentimes for the glory of God. Going back to Nietzsche, the proclamation that God is dead, can mean, Christians get that wrong very often, what it can mean, in a lot of ways, is that there has been a switch in the court of truth in a sense. So, when you make a statement, at one time, it was held in the court of religion, right? The court of theology. The church had the power to determine what was right or wrong, even scientifically. So, there is an inversion in a lot of ways. So, even today, truth can be in the court of science. So, the outcome of the Enlightenment is that God, the grand narrative, the grand power, for a logo centrism has been. We don’t even necessarily realize it, but we’re living in this day and age where we’re seeing, it’s happening anyway, and I would say, I don’t know if Nietzsche was happy about that, he was just saying it matter-of-factly. How would you say that you’re seeing these wonderful things about how you can look back and say the glory of God is honored through the scientific discoveries… How would you address a cynical view of that and say, “Well, that’s because of power dynamics, really?”
Dr. Menuge: Yeah, I would say though that the fact is that the Enlightenment gave a false autonomy to reason. Reason can tell you instrumentally how to do various things, but you have to have some assumptions before you do any investigation that tell you that there is truth out there to discover, that your mind is able to discover that truth, and it’s worth discovering. On what I would say is that what lies behind science are a number of these philosophical assumptions that you have to make, because if you don’t make them, science is a waste of time. So, you’ll get the eastern mystic that says that you’re in a veil of illusion and they don’t believe in scientific truth at all. So, there are certain assumptions you have to make about reality, the mind, and the value of science in order for science to be a worthwhile project. What I would argue is that they still are best rooted in a biblical view of reality. Now, that’s not seen because more and more, unlike in Dr. Young’s great class, unfortunately, people are just taught science as a how-to. So, they don’t ask these questions about why should I do this? How is it possible I can do this? Right? They should. If they do, they will see that Christianity is a great place to inspire science.
Tim: So, I know a lot of our audience are going to probably be some sort of Christian, or religious person, or at least open to that. Let’s just say it’s me. I’m reading my Bible, and I come across a passage that says something that seems to indicate, you know, the Earth is the center of our universe, and the Sun, and the moon, and the stars all rotate around us. Or, there’s another passage that makes it sound like the world might actually be flat because it talks about four corners of the world. So, my question is, what does that interplay between what science teaches us in the Bible? Because, today, most Christians don’t assume that the Earth is the center of our universe. We think the Sun is the center of our solar system, what we go around, but, there are passages in the Bible that make that seem otherwise. It seems like we’ve had science correct our understanding of the Bible. You know, there’s a lot of tension in questions there. It seems that if we start going down that path, you know, where do you end on science saying, “You know, we’ve never seen a miracle, so, obviously, we can’t interpret the Bible because they’re miracles.” I don’t want to put all that on you as a scientist. But, how do we think about that?
Dr. Young: I really find the Lutheran idea of understanding opposing errors, holding things in tension, a really useful way to think. So, I think we’ve talked a decent amount about the problems of keeping science and religion too separate. If you say religion does this, science does that, then, you are left with a split mind. But, there’s also a problem, an error, that is made when you conflate them too much. The knowledge that we get about from science is not exactly the same thing as the knowledge we get about through religion, or through reading our Bible. Truth that I believe from biblical authority is being derived at by a different way than truth I get by observing the world. We can make mistakes in either court. I can make mistakes on how I’m interpreting, and I can make bad observations of the world. I also can misinterpret Scripture. There’s debate, and I know that I’ve got theological colleagues who would argue that you don’t need science to interpret the Scriptures, but, I don’t think that way. I don’t know that you can understand the Bible verse that says it’s difficult for a camel to go through the eye of a needle if you haven’t observed a camel and a needle and know how big they are. So, I think, in a small sense, you need to have science. So, I think that we have to make a clear distinction between what the Bible says and how I interpret what the Bible says. We need to avoid taking scientific theories and conflating them with biblical truths.
So, there are several examples of that through history. One of them being Linnaeus, who was the son of a Lutheran pastor and came up with the idea of taxonomy, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. You all had to memorize at some point in grade school or high school, and you don’t necessarily remember what that means. That’s the way of categorizing life, and he came up with that science word species. Then, he equated that science word species with the biblical idea of kinds from Genesis. When it says God created animals according to their kinds. Then, he came up with a theory that married science and scripture in a way that said that the science word “species” equals the Bible word “kinds.” So, you end up reading and interpreting the Bible in a particular way that when the definition of species changes, it ends up making Christianity look really stupid and irrelevant. So, if you’re reading the Bible in a way to say, “I think Bible is telling me that the Earth is the center of the solar system,” and you’re tying that scientific theory of heliocentrism to a Bible verse that says, “God has put the earth on its foundations it cannot be moved,” and you’re equating those two that if the science changes, which science does change all the time as we make more discoveries, if you’ve tied that science theory to a Bible truth, when the science changes, that makes your Bible truth suspect. We want to be avoiding that error as well. So, I think, reading the Bible in a way that says, “I know for sure this is making specific claims about a physical world,” is a place to be cautious. If you’re going to do it, at least do it tentatively and say, “Our best interpretation right now is”… so that when the science changes and makes a different claim, then, we’re not setting ourselves up for Christianity appearing to be falsified and irrelevant in the future.
Dr. Menuge: You know, I would say you want to then think of this as a dialogue between the scientific theories and what the scripture is saying, and you want to avoid anachronism as in the case of Linnaeus, or other cases where people try to read back into the text of Scripture, a contemporary scientific theory. You get this disaster, which happened in medieval Christianity, where they bought in too heavily to Aristotelianism, and, well, many claims of Aristotelian physics were shown false by Galileo. So, that then makes the church look bad, and even makes the scripture look bad because they think it’s a package deal. So, that linkage must not be too tight. You don’t want anachronism. I think that Kepler was very wise about this. He said, for example, in the controversy about Joshua 10 where it says that the Sun Stood Still is wise to just say that we’re speaking here of the appearance from an earthbound perspective. We’re not stating a specific scientific theory, and it is the path of wisdom, I think, at best to say, well, that’s how it would look from the point of view of this theory, rather than saying that that’s what the scripture is saying. That’s going too far, I think.
Michael: This has been a fascinating conversation. I want to give you an opportunity to just give a closing thought about anything you would want listeners to know about this interplay between science and philosophy, science and theology in the church.
Dr. Menuge: Yeah, I think that people should be aware that there is very strong literature that’s being developed. I mentioned Alvin Plantinga and his book, “Where the conflict really lies.” Works like this try to think through these hard questions are out there. That book, although it’s by professional philosophers, is kind of a mass-market book, and it is readable by non-professional philosophers. I did a book some years ago reading God’s word, which was an attempt to bring together theologians, scientists, and philosophers, and to explore their interchange. So, I would encourage people to read some books that will help them get into that dialogue. I would also encourage them to attend Concordia University Wisconsin because we have some classes there that will actually help them understand these issues.
Dr. Young: Yeah, I think that living in this world of, “How do my faith and my science fit together?” The ability to deal with that and engage that with my colleagues and with my students at Concordia is a wonderful blessing. I think it’s apparent to most of your listeners that there are problems with taking science and religion and keeping them completely separate. Hopefully, we’ve also talked about some problems about making them indistinguishable from each other. But, when I try to say, “How do I put them together?” it is complicated. If you have a pat answer for exactly how this works, you’re probably not going to be fulfilling a comprehensive understanding. So, it’s something that takes some struggling. You try to figure it out. There’s all kinds of ways that people have taken science and religion and put them together because we know they have to be somewhat together, but they do a bad job. So, there’s lots of good ways, and lots of bad ways, and less bad ways. So, it’s a lot of fun. I encourage people to start looking at it, thinking about it, and listening to programs like this to start engaging in more discussions.
Michael: That was quite an interesting discussion. Are there any initial gut reactions?
Tim: I liked the part where, I think, both of them were very clear that when thinking through these issues today, they both kind of pushed back on the whole sound bite. They didn’t say it quite like this, but just push back on a sound bite culture. If you can explain the dynamics of philosophy, religion, and science, and how they interplay in explaining the world. If you can reduce that down to a sentence, you probably don’t really get it, and you’re probably oversimplifying or missing something. That was really important for them to say, and for people to think about, because these are all such huge, important, complicated subjects that it’s hard to draw a complete bright line where these meet and how they interact.
Angelina: Yeah, I really resonated with Dr. Young when he was talking about just how, for himself, reconciling science with his faith and how that’s really messy. It can, you know, it can be a struggle to do that. I really resonate with that because how I grew up, there was no struggle, there was no questioning, there was no tension there, it was just science was such a scary thing. So, you know, if it doesn’t match with a literal interpretation of the Bible, then it’s out. We’re not even going to talk about it.
Michael: Along those lines, they explored this topic off and on throughout the course of the conversation, and I’m still trying…I think I need to sit down and re-listen to the podcast to form my thoughts, to try to follow it. I don’t know if we got, really, past the issue of, “Is there commensurability, or is there the ability for things to be judged according to a common standard, in a way, between science, philosophy, and theology?” For me, they seem like different worlds. Science sets things up that are verifiable according to its own rules and the rules that are trustworthy in a sense of understanding physical phenomenon. That’s, you know, it’s been proven. That’s one of the great things about science. You can prove that it works, but there’s a limit to what that means. There’s a limit to what you can stuff with it inside of that quote unquote game.
Similarly, although a little bit more in a kind of a gray zone, its philosophy and theology. So, philosophy can tell you, in some ways, about perception, about experience, about being, about a host of other philosophical topics. Theology, of course, you’re talking about God, and you’re talking about attributes of God, ways to think about God, and religion. So, all these things, to me, seem like they… Philosophy and theology, I can see how they can fit together, sometimes pretty neatly. Although, not completely. I think there’s elements of it where the rules of those games, the rules of how you approach things, what you’re thinking about, what the ends and the objectives are, can come into conflict. Science, it can even seem like an odd duck. I think, for me, one of the reasons that there’s this tension between science and religion, or theology, or whatever you want to call it, is because you’re trying to stuff things that don’t fit into rules, right? It’s not meant to account for it. It’s not meant to be part of that system of trying to stuff it in there. You could take a view and say, “God created the universe, and God gave us the mechanisms for science,” and all that stuff, but, there’s still a huge remainder left over to sort through.
Angelina: You think that’s a popular view of how those two work together? Because, in my experience, I’ve always seen people trying to stuff it together.
Michael: I think it’s that whole reversal we talked about in the podcast. I had mentioned the court of Reason, the Court of Science, or the Court of Religion, and which one holds a power dynamic. As Dr. Menuge would say, “Get off the power dynamics you post modern…” There seems to be a power dynamic in today’s society that says that science is one of the only reliable ways, the only reliable way to know truth. Then, what sort of truth? What are you talking about when you mean truth? I think that people are conditioned to say, “I can be very sure of science.” That’s why you see all those terrible articles living on social media. “Science says, ‘If you don’t eat bananas, you’re gonna lose ten pounds from your middle.’” It’s these things that you see all the over the place.
Angelina: Tim, you look like you have a deep thought.
Tim: I don’t know if I have deep thoughts. I think we could do like a whole podcast, a whole season, on just this topic and still scratch the surface. I don’t think we’re gonna do that at this point. I think one thing that struck me, I think this might be kind of where you’re going, Michael, but, in thinking through these different things, like, philosophy, theology, science, for me, and again, these are just my views, so, take them for what you will. For me, I think one is recognizing what the two professors said. If we assume that if God is the source of all truth, that’s my assumption, and all of all of these different manifestations, if we want to call up that science, philosophy, theology, they shouldn’t contradict. So, when I’m trying to resolve these, and I have lots of angst and tension about some of these things, it’s remembering what the proper role of each one of these is.
In my instance, I came from a very traditional, perhaps less than science friendly background, as well. At least, at times, it felt like that. I think, for instance, you know, sometimes, looking at the Bible and saying what Dr. Young was saying, you know, that this passage must be teaching us something about astrophysics. It’s like, really? It could. The Bible, I think, does inform us, generally. But, does it teach us, what is gravity? If we’re looking at the Psalms or the Genesis accounts to say, “This is what gravity is,” we’re probably asking a question of that text that it’s not there, that was written to answer…
Michael: It’s like reading the phone book and expecting to understand what gravity is. It’s the book of Psalms, it’s not the book of science.
Tim: So, I think it’s just trying to think through what the purpose was of each of these fields. What’s the purpose of the Bible? Is it to be our how-to guide for everything that tells us every exact detail about the universe? Or, is it primarily about revealing God to us, primarily, our need for salvation in Christ?
I think it’s that. You know, if that’s what its main focus is, then, I wouldn’t come to it and expect it to ask, to explain, to me what gravity really is. It might allude to it, and I don’t think if it alludes to something that it’s necessarily a conflict. We have to think about what those limitations are. The same goes for science. We can say what we can observe, but science can’t really tell us where everything comes from. It can theorize. We see what’s happening right now, and some scientists theorized how all of this could have come to be, but, using their own rules, they can’t actually say that for sure. So, you’re just recognizing that there are limitations to all of these fields. I think, if you recognize there are limitations, some of that tension then dissipates. When you’re trying to push them together… I think it’s what Dr. Young was saying with the Bible. When you remove those distinctions, and you’re expecting a passage of scripture to say, “This is what gravity is.” You’re like, “If we change our understanding of what gravity is, you’ve just undermined the Bible.” That’s probably not what that passage was really trying to talk about. So, just trying to be careful, realizing these are important. The Bible’s God’s fueled Word to us. That’s really, really important. Perhaps, the most important thing. You know, it’s not telling us every little detail about everything in the world. So, just keeping those categories kind of distinct but not separate. I think that’s where the tension is.
Michael: It was written at a time before what we know as science even existed. It’s not written in it. So, to read it according to the what you would expect from a scientific paper, or, even a scientific news article, right? I mean, it’s a totally different era even to read it on the level of journalism. Well, what would expect from a journalist today, a totally different thing. I think Tim’s right. It’s God’s revealed word to us, and we need to remember that. That doesn’t discount factual accounts of real things that happened in the Bible at all. It’s just a thing to keep in mind.
Tim: Sorry, just one more thing that’s not quite related to that part of the podcast. I think both Dr. Young and Dr. Menuge both commented that a lot of students today are afraid of science. There’s that story of the parent trying to persuade him, help them persuade their student from pursuing science in college. That got me thinking. You know, as you talked about, as we try to pass on our faith to subsequent generations for good or for ill, we have a generation where their understanding of religion is that it’s susceptible to critiques of science. It’s very fragile and doesn’t really have a clear-cut answer. Again, this is based on some of my experiences. I’ve experienced, not necessarily my own family, but, if someone asks a question, if you’re a kid, you’re like, “Why does the Bible say that?” Or, “How do we know God that did X?” I have seen it happen where parents just freak out. They’re like, “Oh my goodness, my child is not really a Christian. They’re questioning the faith. I obviously I need to take them out of X Club, or school, or something and get them somewhere else.” In my mind, I feel like that approach has really, really harmed our faith because what it’s saying is, it’s not strong enough to stand up to it, or me. If, you know, I have two daughters. If my six-year-old asks me, as as young children are great at asking you the most profound question that there’s no clear answer to…You know, she asks me that, “Well, why X?” I try not to freak out about it. I actually try to take it as a positive sign because, for me, if my daughter’s asking me this really penetrating question about how do we know God did this, for me, she’s thinking seriously about what she’s been taught. She’s trying to wrestle with it and really understand it. I’m not trying to go on a whole rabbit trail, but, this longer discussion of how do we confront challenges to our faith, and how do we pass it on, I think, that’s a really pressing need. Maybe that would be a good topic for us to explore in a later podcast. I think there are a lot of parents out there who are worried. The statistics are great for faith going from generation to generation.
Michael: I would be more concerned if my kids never question the faith. That would be bad to me. Because, then, it’s not their faith. I believe there’s something to be said for the idea that, in a certain time, in a season of uncertainty, that’s where faith glows white hot. That’s where it can really come into being, and be forged, and stay with you for the rest of your life. So, I think that there should be times where there’s questioning, and it should be your own faith. That’s how it gets to be your own relationship with Jesus.
So, with that, stay tuned because we’ll have more interesting discussions about things of that nature coming up.