Wednesday, September 16, 2015

go ahead, ask a question...

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This morning I attended a presentation on the topic of critical realism and how it connects theology and science. Basically, the presenter sought to develop a link between scientific theory (making deductions based on perceptions) and revelation (drawing conclusions about God from narratives). Though the topic is outside my area of study and much of the philosophical and scientific underpinning on the topic was lost on me, I enjoyed engaging with the basic ideas. The technical term for this type of knowing, of moving from evidence to hypothesis, of looking backwards from effect to cause, is abduction, and it relates closely to the theological notion of faith.

One of the most interesting comments that came out of the discussion around the table afterwords was an observation by one of the theology professors. He mentioned that some students from the Sciences indicated that in their classes, the theory of evolution is treated as dogma. Just as a reminder, dogma can be defined as, "a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true," therefore, something which cannot be questioned. Interestingly, this is a hardening of the meaning intended by its Greek origin (dokein) which means "opinion" and "seem good, think." These students complained that they were not allowed to question evolution in their science classes; therefore, they came to theology classes because there they were allowed to ask questions about origins.

The idea that theological study is a context in which one is allowed to ask questions is something which I believe we must be careful to protect, even while affirming certain core doctrines. It also brings us closer to the original meaning of dogma, especially when we practice communal discernment ("it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..." Acts 15:28). The beauty of faith is not only its call to simplicity (our foundation is God alone), but its emphasis on humility (we know only in part). A tendency which we as teachers can have is to present doctrine as dogma that cannot be questioned, and this is not how it should not be. We who have had the revelation of God shine on our hearts and minds should never close ourselves off to that bright light, thinking that we have seen all there is to see and now know exactly how things go. I am not suggesting that we embrace every wind of theological change, but that we become better listeners to the questions that are being asked, especially regarding the sensitive issues of our time.

The divine character of God does not change. We can always affirm his goodness and his justice. But divine love, so unfathomable and vast, shows itself afresh and anew in the world, over and over again. Can we see it, hear it, taste it, feel it, even in forms unfamiliar to us? My prayer is that we can and will, every day of our lives.