One of the professions I used to consider as a child, before I had any real concept of the way the world works, was a scientist. I wasn’t sure what scientists did, beyond a broad idea of learning about the world though close observation. I was too young to see that it would likely conflict with the Fundamentalism in which I was being raised, and I suspect the same is true of many who become scientists and never stop to question the religion in which they were reared. Although religion, as a profession, won out in my case, I was, I recognize now, motivated by a deep and undying desire to know the truth. I still am, although you couldn’t tell that from my career path. In fact, rationally, it is the most important thing to me. What is truth?
Science has become extremely complex. The average citizen can’t afford the kinds of equipment needed to unravel the fabric of reality. A cyclotron wouldn’t fit in my backyard, and, besides, I rent. When I sat outside this morning looking for the Perseid meteor shower, I didn’t see a thing due to the ambient light. Even looking through a telescope, I know I don’t have the calculus to explain the things I see. Given all this, the average person requires a scientist to explain. But scientists are only human. We know that we haven’t evolved to discover the truth. Evolution favors survival, not philosophy. We also know that we don’t perceive everything. Some animals have senses that we humans lack. Still, we suppose through our use of our five—obviously the best—we can come up with an explanation of everything. The truth will be ours! Or will it? Even thinkers of such stature as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking make mistakes. They’re only human. When we idolize them, we make them gods.
Back in seminary I learned about the three-legged stool. The basis of authority, in the church, rests on three legs (four if you were Methodist): Scripture, Reason, and Tradition. Methodists added Experience. There were checks and balances here. Well, Scripture seems to have fallen out of the running with the Enlightenment, and nones don’t much value Tradition. Experience is subjective, so we’re left with Reason alone. And yet, reason leads to paradoxes such as if the universe is infinite, how can it be expanding? In classical theological terms: can God make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it? Add to that the fact that some neuroscientists are now suggesting that emotion may be the seat of thinking rather than reason and you might begin to wish you had some tradition to guide you. In my experience, I’ve seen, I suppose, my fair share of shooting stars. I sat outside in the predawn hours this morning and saw nothing. Perhaps I should have had a three-legged stool upon which to sit.