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Faith and Science: Beyond Reciprocity

Introduction

‘Let us not forget, however, that there is a difference between arguments from first principles and arguments to first principles’.[1] Aristotle’s famous distinction calls our attention to the fundamental difference between two kinds of reasoning usually identified as ‘deductive’ and ‘inductive’. To understand the difference between how faith and science think, we must keep an eye on this distinction. The various relationships between theological and scientific reasoning presuppose this original difference, which we need to understand properly. Of course, science and faith may be variously deductive and inductive in their details. Yet the general fashion of their workings can be delineated as being based either on the universal axiom of the existence of God or on the axiom that axioms cannot be accepted without sufficient empirical evidence. Even though reasoning faith often refers to experiences, historical data and rules of thinking, it cannot avoid making the ultimate postulate of the existence of God as the God of faith. And even though science uses axiomatic mathematics in many of its procedures, its main focus points to the hypotheses produced on the basis of empirical evidence and their measurable testability.

Historically, faith referred to the ultimate truth of divine revelation as the necessary framework in which sciences were allowed to work. The natural sciences made use of empirical evidence in order to fill out, and also to test, the theological framework. A good example of this sort of conflict is the story of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). When Galileo built his telescope in 1611, the book Copernicus had published on the heliocentric view of the universe was only on the periphery of people’s attention. Some version of the geocentric view still appeared to be the best one and was sanctioned by the authority of the Church. When Galileo began to use the telescope and discovered that the Moon looked like an earthly object and the Sun was not an angel-like heavenly body but showed spots, he jeopardized the soundness of the framework theology had presupposed for many centuries. Rome’s reaction was correspondingly stern: it sentenced Galileo in 1633 for putting forward the mere hypothesis of the Copernican view as a sure truth. Although the Roman inquisition had a number of reasons, including political ones, to judge Galileo’s views heretical, what they essentially did was confirm their old deductive system based on the traditions of the Church. And Galileo, in his turn, attempted to change this framework on the basis of the experiences he reached by using the foremost scientific instrument of his age.[2]

  • [1] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1094a. The Greek word of Aristotle for ‘argument’ is logos.
  • [2] Richard J. Blackwell, Behind the Scenes of Galileo’s Trial (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press,2006).
 
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