Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Greeks (and those with Ph.D's) Look for Wisdom

The most recent issue of the Atlantic arrived yesterday, and it contained readers' thoughts on David Bloom's article "Is God an Accident", the subject of my last post. Of the five letters, four are favorable towards Bloom, and these "pro" readers argue that religious concepts are "infantile", "nutty", "cruel", and "irrational". The only voice of dissent is Michael Brunner, whose letter is rather short and petulant. Yet he does manage to call attention to the blind-spot in Bloom's approach: "To Bloom and his ilk, if it isn't quantifiable, it isn't true. And since science is in the business of quantifying and measuring, it naturally follows that if it isn't science, it isn't true. "

As a scientist myself, I'm very aware of this temptation to believe that everything "real" lies under the purview of science. As Bultmann wrote: "Hidden by the claim of natural science is actually the human claim to exist by oneself and to understand and shape one's life in terms of what one can control, what by thought and by application one can master." The issue is control. It's not so much the idea of God that scientists object to, but the fact that we cannot study him scientifically. Indeed, all scientists would believe in God if he would simply "sit still" and let himself be examined. Then his actions could be understood and predicted, and we could utilize his awesome power for ourselves, just as we harness the mighty Columbia River for electricity and irrigation.

Obviously, this matter of control over God is not limited to science. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor., "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom." The first group says to God, "Prove yourself to us! Do something to impress us. Make good by our standards." The second group says, "Our knowledge is God's knowledge, and when we seek knowledge we seek God." The latter position has been adopted by modern science, which attributes God-like status to its own conception of reality. But many religious people are in the first category, since they expect their worship of God to yield real benefits like prosperity, good health, or a ticket to heaven.

For both the Jew and the Greek, God's actions in the world remain hidden. As Bultmann points out in his excellent essay "The Question of Wonder", God's hiddenness is not an intrinsic property of his deity, but arises from human sin. God is accessible and present to us. The problem, however, is that we tend to look for God not where he actually is, but where we think he should be. We want proof in the form of miracles or knowledge, proof that will give us more security and control. But this is an attempt to turn God into an object to manipulate. For Paul, the only way forward is a faith that surrenders all ultimacy to God; a faith that understands that the entirety of human knowledge and culture is provisional. This faith is not sight and it's not science, but it knows the wonder of God the Creator and Redeemer.

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