Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Unreasonable Truth - a Rethinking of Decartes

What if empirical evidence and logical arguments were not the best way to prove something to be real or true? This is a thought that has been blowing my mind recently.

In the West, we live in a time where Reason is the prime source of authority or truth. We are still living in the culture produced by the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, the Scientific Age. We are in the midst of a culture that evaluates any theory, hypothesis, assumption on the basis of reasonable evidence. "Where's the proof?" our world demands.

If something can be proven - if one can demonstrate the reality of a concept, object, or person by presenting proofs that can be tested by scientific means, then this concept, object, or person must be real, or right, or true.

This worldview is all around our culture in the West. Some of our favorite television shows are CSI, Law & Order, Bones, Lie to Me, Numb3rs, Big Bang Theory etc. Each of these is based on the search for truth through scientific means (although some question the "science" of social sciences like psychology or sociology). It has influenced, quite possibly, every area of study. It has even proven very helpful in the areas of Theology and Biblical Scholarship.

But what if Reason were not the basis for truth or reality? What if something could be real simply because it is. To make a variation of Decartes, "It is, therefore it is."

Gravity existed and worked on our world before it was discovered or defined. The wind blew long before meteorologists were able to predict weather patterns.

Many have been approaching New Testament Theology in the last several decades through the lens of Reason - looking for the historical reality behind the text. No doubt, some great insights into the Christian Scriptures have emerged because of this historical approach. While movements like the Jesus Seminar and the Quest for the Historical Jesus have occasionally taken historical criticism too far, historical criticism has great contributions to Christian Theology.

But what if Jesus really was born of a virgin? What if his miracles all really did happen? What if he really was resurrected from the dead? I'm not talking about a blind faith in something that I hope that happened. I'm not trying to imply that Christians should be mindless individuals who disregard logic. But what if these events are historical realities?

If these events are historical realities and God actually exists, then perhaps the means by which we measure truth should be reevaluated. Statement's like "that's scientifically impossible" would hold absolutely no weight. If it happened, then it's possible. Instead of trying to explain these events in scientific terms, perhaps science should be changed to accommodate these historical realities.

The point of this blog is not to be a apologetic for Christianity or the historicity of Scripture. I really just want to pose the question: what if science is an incomplete or imperfect way to measure reality? What if our model for deciding rightness or realness is a flawed model? What if there were some other method to measure the reality of existence?

I am not simply stating that science has not yet explained all the mysteries and history of the universe, as any scientist would freely admit - Science doesn't know everything. I am trying to ask what if it is impossible for Science to explain the universe. What if there was truth - actual realities - that were unexplainable by science? What if some concepts, forces, objects, people, deities are real and actual that cannot be explained by science? If something is real it does not simply become unreal or nonexistent because Reason cannot explain it. "It is, therefore, it is."


  1. Post Script: I want it to be clear that I am not arguing against Science - a discipline or its conclusions. I am simply wondering out loud what it means if Science is unable to explain everything. By this I do not mean to usurp the sciencific findings of the last several centuries, but simply question the limitations of science as the basis for reality. While I am sure that "opponents" will accuse me of either ignorance of insanity, I believe it is a question that should and can be asked without completely devaluing modern scientific study.

  2. Science can't explain a lot of things that scientist believe in either. I hear a lot of scientist say they believe in such and such because it's "likely" or "probable" or "statistically certain." They think technology will catch up to their beliefs later and then how smart they'll look for having believed in such and such a year before it was proven. But people who examine Christianity as a collection of stories, have missed the point. Christianity is a personal relationship with a living God through Jesus Christ. It isn't a distant relationship, it isn't a relationship with a dead God, it isn't following a set of rules... I don't know what type of scientist examines "relationships". But that's what they need to study. How is it that Jesus is alive and present in my heart and not their own? Of course that examination would surely cause them to hear Jesus standing at the door of their heart knocking. But for the sake of their own arguement wouldn't that be a good thing. If for the first time, they heard Jesus knocking. Tell them to invite him in, because that's the second part. The most important part is the inviting him in. It would be a shame if they heard him knocking and said, "go away."

  3. Yeah I'm not big fan of Descartes' philosophy of "I think, therefore I am." It places the burden of existence in the self apart from relationship with others. Other people could simply be a figment of our imagination, not worthy of being cared for. I think a more exciting and God-inspired way of existence is "I am loved, therefore I am." We are beings because we are beings-in-relation, modeled after the Trinity, a Being-In-Relation. I think it is a beautiful model. I think I'm gonna get it tattooed on me somewhere after seminary...


What do you think?