Intelligent Falling is not a thing. It’s a joke, from start to finish found in this article from the Onion: http://www.theonion.com/articles/evangelical-scientists-refute-gravity-with-new-int,1778/ from seven years ago. Recently a friend of mine posted it to facebook, and got me thinking about our modern debate regarding faith and reason, or science and religion. I think the topic has been clouded in the popular discussion, and perhaps needs some clarification.
First, it should be understood that there are really two main camps in this debate, the first is exemplified by the position of the Evangelical Fundamentalist1. The second is that of the Scientific Naturalist.
These two camps can be summed up by the following positions. Evangelical Fundamentalists view the direct cause of many things in the universe to be the intervention of God. This includes intelligent design, the appearance of dinosaur bones, and the apparent age of the earth due to the flood of Noah. The answer to the question: “Why did this happen?” is, from this position: “God did it.”
On the other side, the Scientific Naturalist side, very similar to the old Logical Positivist view, sees that things happen because of simple cause and effect. This includes the appearance of logical human thought, art, and religion. The answer to the question: “Why did this happen” is, from this position: “The universe did it.”
The first view thinks that the lense by which to understand the universe is a particular way of interpreting the Bible. They, of course, would not put it that way. They would say that it is “the Bible” that is their lense through which they see. But the truth is that any text, no matter how clear, involves a layer of interpretation. That is simply how the human mind works. It is demonstrably clear that Fundamentalist Evangelicals view the bible in a very particular way, and use very particular tools to interpret it. They reject historical critical, source, and literary methods for understanding the meaning of the text. They reject the traditions of the Church from the Patristic through the medieval and Reformation periods on how to interpret the bible. Instead they use tools which are ironically as modern as the scientific ones they are arguing against.
The second view thinks that the lense by which to understand the universe is a particular way of interpreting scientific data. They, of course, would not put it that way. They would say that it is “Science” that is their lense through which they see. But the truth is that any data, no matter how simple, involves a layer of interpretation. This is simply how the human mind works. It is demonstrably clear that Scientific Naturalists view scientific data in a very particular way, and use particular tools to interpret it. They reject philosophical and logical methods of understanding causation. They reject the more Aristotelian models of thought that have shaped western thinkers for a millennium, and the platonic ones that have shaped them for two millennia. Instead they use tools which are as modern as the ones they are arguing against.
Now, the modern debate of science and religion really boils down to the opposition of these two particular views, or one of these views versus a more moderate position on either side. Thus fundamentalist evangelicals can be just as opposed to a Scientific Naturalist as to a Christian theologian arguing for anything from historical critical methods for interpreting the Bible to an allegorical understanding of Genesis 2-3 that embraces early paleolithic human culture.
As well, the Scientific Naturalist will be at odds both with a Fundamentalist Evangelical or a Jewish Physicist who leaves room for the intervention of God in the universe, or the appearance of human thought and reason.
It is important to note that these two positions are modern positions, arising out of the period of the enlightenment, and are not representative of a perennial struggle between reason and religion. In fact, reason and faith have lived quite happy lives together for millennia. The problem lies in equating reason with Scientific Naturalism (or its predecessor, Logical Positivism) and faith with Evangelical Fundamentalism.
If we define our terms such that they are opposed to each other, they will of course, be opposed. But they need not be defined that way. Faith need not be simply “That which rejects reason” but instead “trust in a person or persons” which is how the Bible originally framed it. Human beings had faith in Jesus because Jesus is faithful. In fact the term “the faith of Jesus Christ” is a rather confusing one in the New Testament. It can mean a number of different things, none of which are “that which rejects reason.”
As well, reason can be defined not simply as “that which goes by the facts” but as “a mode of thought which attempts to link ideas by the rules of logic.” This involves the ground->consequent or proposition->conclusion relationship. Everything from syllogisms to contra-positives are included here.
Interestingly enough, neither of the modern views seem to hold to these broader definitions. Faith in Jesus, for Fundamentalist Evanglicals, is faith in a mechanism for which Jesus is the proper instrumentation: Salvation. For Scientific Naturalists, reason does not mean formal logic, otherwise the many logical contradictions in their position would be immediately obvious.
What both of these perspectives have in common, beyond the parallel descriptions given above, is that they are mono-causal in their approaches. This means that, as we have seen, when we ask “why” a thing happened, there is one ultimate answer: God, or the Universe.
People have not always thought like this. You might ask how this little essay got written. Well, if you ask a Fundamentalist, you might get the answer that “God’s sovereignty ordained for it to happen.” If you ask a Scientific Naturalist, you might receive something like “Due to causation regressing to the first moment of time, nothing could happen except this essay at this exact moment.”
But the reality is that there are multiple reasons as to “why” the essay got written. When people knew their Aristotle, they would have identified the different causes for the essay. There would be the material cause…which in this case is mostly electrons and bits of silicon, since I’m writing on a computer, not paper. The material cause is its material, or what it is made of. There is the formal cause…the “essay-ness” of the essay, or its form. There is the efficient cause, and that’s me. I’m writing it, I’m making the essay happen. And finally there is the final cause, which is the goal of the essay. The formal cause is also called a Telos, or a purpose/reason.
Each of these explains why a thing came to pass. And you can see that all of them are necessary to get at why this essay exists. However, both Evangelical Fundamentalism and Scientific Naturalism both ignore some causes. For Evangelical Fundamentalism, the Efficient cause is sufficient. “God does it.” For Scientific Naturalism, the material cause is sufficient “It’s made up of things which have certain properties.”
Now, of course, applying Aristotle’s four causes to the universe is just one more particular way of looking at the universe, a particular way of reading texts or interpreting data. However, when applied, it simply does away with the debate of “Science vs. Religion” or “Reason vs. Faith.” It can see the universe as having a multitude of causes, each complementary to the other.
Most of us do not in our daily lives obey the myopia of these two polar positions. We will often flit from one cause to the next, and we will often do it without much thought. This belies the two extremes of Scientific Naturalism and Evangelical Fundamentalism. They are alien to natural human thought. Instead, what is natural, and far more human, is to understand that things may have many causes without being contradictory. You see, Aristotle was not prescribing four causes…he was describing how the universe works. We might argue whether or not his four causes are sufficient…but we would, and do, impoverish ourselves if we throw out three of them. Any three.
1. It should be noted, as per the comments below, that there are those who identify themselves as Evangelical Fundamentalist who do not fully fit into the picture presented here. Most specifically in the area of an attitude toward the uses of historical and source criticism in Scriptural studies.