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Walking On Thin Ice: A Sunday Mediation on Science and Religion

One phrase that starts to pin my BS meter is “Scientists Say.” First you have this amorphous but supposedly YUGE! grouping of “Scientists.” Then this “amorphous but supposedly YUGE! grouping” is caught in the act of “saying” something in some sort of unison; a kind of vast Mormon Tabernacle Choir pronouncement that is “most scientific.” Sounds about as solid and stable as a bucket of eels. And just about as distasteful. This is especially true when the media gets a chance to debunk “religion” with “Because Science! Damnitall.”

Back in 2006 National Geographic got all heated up about biblical ice in the sea of Galilee and so let drop a “Scientists Say” chunklet: Jesus May Have Walked on Ice, Not Water, Scientists Say . I’m not nearly so objective. After I read the story, I thought it could more reasonably be headlined, Scientist Confirms Popular Theory That Most Scientists Are Atheistic Asses with Too Much Time and Money on their Hands, Sensible People Say

The New Testament says that Jesus walked on water, but a Florida university professor believes there could be a less miraculous explanation — he walked on a floating piece of ice…. Nof, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University, said on Tuesday that his study found an unusual combination of water and atmospheric conditions in what is now northern Israel could have led to ice formation on the Sea of Galilee…..

“If you ask me if I believe someone walked on water, no, I don’t,” Nof said. “Maybe somebody walked on the ice, I don’t know. I believe that something natural was there that explains it.”

“We leave to others the question of whether or not our research explains the biblical account.”

I leave to others the question of whether or not this research is worth diddly-squat. What is of broader interest is the present state of the secular mindset to all things religious.

Religious in the Christian sense, that is, since the current global climate of “Fear of Muslims” seems to have created a shortage of “scientific research” into the various miracles and powers assigned to Allah in the Koran. Indeed, given the reaction to a drawing of the Prophet with a bomb in his turban, it is not hard to imagine that even if a “scientist” were to notice “something natural that explains” Allah, his next thought would be something on the order of “Why should I put my head on the chopping block?” Jesus, being a more forgiving God, is safer game.

Of course, it is, as scientists are wont to say, ‘only a theory.’ This ‘only a theory’ argument is common and is used in two ways.

When it comes to a central tenet of modern science, Darwinism for example, the word “theory” is used in a manner that merges it forcefully into the word “fact,” and a great deal of effort is put into why “The Theory of Evolution” really means “The Absolute and Forever Established Fact of How the World and Life and Everything Else Came to Be and Everyone Else Can Just Shut UP and Sit Down.”

Professor Nof opts for the Non-Denial Denial use of “Theory” in his paper. The Non-concluding Conclusion to his paper, “Is there a paleolimnological explanation for ‘walking on water’ in the Sea of Galilee,” reads:

We hesitate to draw any conclusion regarding the implications of this study to the actual events that took place at Tabgha during the last few (or several) thousand years. Our springs ice calculation may or may not be related to the origin of the account of Christ walking on water. The whole story may have originated in local ancient folklore which happened to be told best in the Christian Bible. It is hoped, however, that archeologists, religion scholars, anthropologists and believers will examine such implications in detail.

Translation: “I just pulled the pin and threw the grenade in the building. Can’t blame me. I was just the hand grenade’s messenger. And, by the way, you may cower and abase yourself when you note the insertion of the word “paleolimnnological” in the title. Makes it sound real solid scientific, don’t it?”

Of course, when Nof gets a little attention from a supportive and loving media, he phrases it a bit differently, “If you ask me if I believe someone walked on water, no, I don’t,” Nof said. “Maybe somebody walked on the ice, I don’t know. I believe that something natural was there that explains it.”

Nof’s entitled to his ‘belief’ in “something natural.” That belief system is not only the foundation of his career, but of his self-limited life itself. And this self-lmiited view is, in a very real sense, his religion.

As far as the whole “Jesus walked on the water” issue goes, my own belief is: “I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I can’t seem to find the weather report from that day online. And there’s no video tape that I’m aware of. Just some eye witnesses, with all that implies.”

I’m also aware of another theory that holds that the Star of Bethlehem was a supernova that just happened to show up in the sky at Christ’s birth. Arthur C. Clarke used this to good effect in his short story “The Star.” T.S. Eliot used it earlier in “The Journey of the Magi.” In a much less distinguished manner, I’ve even used it myself in Sunday Meditation: The Star where I noted, in passing,

In time stronger sciences would rise upon the structures of the proto-sciences of astrology and alchemy. These sciences would push the first sciences into the realm of myth, speculation, and popular fantasy. The new sciences, you see, were much, much more about Reality. They would never be tossed aside in their time as so many playthings of mankind’s youth. The authority of astronomy, biology, physics, chemistry and others was certain. Unlike astrology and alchemy, they would never be questioned. We had the evidence. There was no doubt. They were as eternal and as fixed in the truth as… well, as astrology was in 5 B.C.

All of which gets us back to pretty much where we are today where Christ is revealed to have been, at the very least, pretty good at ice-skating. And, with a supernova at birth and a frozen lake near the end, you would have to say, even as a secular scientist, that Jesus had a great sense of timing as well as a way with words.

Professor Nof seems to have a sense of timing and a way with words as well. I’m sure there are nods of approval and various other high fives constantly pinging into his email  from other true believers world-wide. After all, it seems that the only thing that makes a bigger splash in Science these days than a cure for cancer is some bit of “cutting-edge research” (almost always with the aid of computer modeling) that either warms the globe or disparages religion.

To the secular, nothing is sacred. Then again, why should it be? They’re “secular.”

 

Why? Because it is a central tenet of faith, of pure faith, in the Secular Religion, that traditional Christianity is the “Anti-Darwin” to that faith. Strange when you consider that, in terms of actual dogma and actual acts, Islam is far more hostile to all the core tenets of science, but — as I noted above — it really isn’t very safe to take too close a look at that collection of ergot-derived insights out of the desert. Those adherents are a bit more lethal when it comes to accepting slights on their religion. But then Christianity is the dominant religion of the First World and that’s what we’re discussing here — not which faith is right, but which faith is to be master. It seems that for Science to triumph as the new religion, Christ has to die again — and this time he’s got to stay dead.

There are fundamentalist Christians who hold that everything in the Bible is as the Bible says it is. And there are fundamentalist Scientists, like Nof, who hold that nothing in the Bible is as it says it is.

My very small puppy in this fight says that there is a lot in Science that lets all of us live longer and better lives while there is a lot in Christianity that lets us live deeper and more meaningful lives.

I don’t look to Christianity to bring me the weather reports for tomorrow. At the same time I don’t look to Science to ever, in its widest dreams, reveal the core of the miracle and mystery of being a conscious entity who has been granted the gift of being able, in my better moments, to witness — even for an inch of time — the wonder of Creation.

I know that there are many zealots of the Secular Faith who will think the less of me for not being “tough minded” enough just to face up to the fact that everything really is “purposeless matter hovering in the dark.” I know that habit of mind well. I wore it like a pre-fab Medal of Honor for many years. Then one day I had had enough of Nothingness and I sent it back.

I guess you could say that being a Secular Atheist started to feel like trying to walk on thin ice.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jewel Atkins December 2, 2017, 6:13 PM

    The only miracle Christ couldn’t do was walk on eggshells.

  • Bunny December 2, 2017, 6:43 PM

    Jewel, you just said a lot. Perfect.

  • Larry Jones December 2, 2017, 8:03 PM

    Bravo Zulu!! Great read…

  • Jayne December 3, 2017, 5:36 AM

    “Then one day I had had enough of Nothingness and I sent it back.”
    So amazing. This sentence touched me. While I will always greatly admire those who grew up with faith and continued with their religious beliefs through adulthood, there is something sort of earthshaking and revolutionary about those who come to their faith as adults. And I simply adore how this sentence captures that essential core of coming into faith.

  • Missy December 3, 2017, 6:25 AM

    “I know that habit of mind well. I wore it like a pre-fab Medal of Honor for many years.” Now that is sublime.

  • Jim in Alaska December 3, 2017, 11:22 AM

    I remember a throw away line I read in one of Carl Jung’s lectures that went something like; ‘We need religion as a counter argument, else people will accept what government says as the absolute truth.’

    I suspect our founding fathers, at least subconsciously, understood this and hence separation of church & state however today’s secular religions such as, with scare quotes, “Science” , are part and parcel of the same apparatus as government.

    Why yes child, there are over 50 genders, anthropogenic global warming is real, all cultures are of equal value, etc., because 87% of scientists agree and thus so shall it be written, so shall it be!

  • dhmosquito December 3, 2017, 12:35 PM

    Thank you, Father, for giving Gerard Van der Leun a second chance after his heart attack.

    chuck

  • Howard Nelson December 3, 2017, 1:42 PM

    It is rumored on the Fake News Network that a colleague of Professor Nof’s contends that the water walked upon was only a quarter-inch deep, permitting walking on water and (wet) land simultaneously.
    Prof Nof ought to spend time proving miracles cannot occur. He can consult with Eric Metaxas for documentation of modern-day miracles.

  • Dink Newcomb December 3, 2017, 5:07 PM

    I agree about “scientist’s say”! Its merely the far less confidence building and immensely unreliable “they say” with a shampoo, shower and shave (sorta like what we used to say about a hangover remedy in the World’s Largest Nuclear Navy where when I was young, I learned to express myself so delicately) to clean it up and make it more consumer friendly

  • Jewel Atkins December 3, 2017, 6:00 PM

    Growing up a fundamentalist KJV Onliest type of Christian left me deeply unsatisfied. In our world, the greatest miracle was the Holy Ghost dropping the Bible from Heaven and accepting Jesus as your personal lord and savior. The Catechism was strictly from the mind of Jack Chick and we were taught to evangelize by asking rapidfire questions quoting scriptures in order to corral the hapless heathen into recognizing his need for coming to Jeeezus. When I questioned my church’s belief that God quit doing the miraculous I was called demonic and put out of the church.
    In finally embracing the Great Nemesis of One Holy Apostolic Church, I embraced a redefining of everything. Miracles are always and forever. Nothing exists apart from a Divine Will and Love that surpasses all understanding. I am content simply to marvel and to have few answers for why anything is. This is faith. As St. Augustine said: Hope has two beautiful daughters: Anger and Faith. Anger at the way things are and Faith to change things to what they ought to be.

  • rabbit tobacco December 4, 2017, 3:23 PM

    science is also a religion/oppenheimer said the number one job of a scientist is to get you to see like
    he sees.

  • SouthernAZ December 5, 2017, 8:33 PM

    E=MC(2) (tablet doesn’t have super scripts). God, as the master of energy, can do anything. All things are possible in Him. We are energy with a conscience. He’s bigger and better at it. Not rocket science, but also not easy to grasp. If E=MC(2), God must exist.

  • Kurt Miller March 10, 2019, 11:27 AM

    ‘‘…’salvation’ is life in the world of the open circle, or spiral, where there is both exit and entrance….’salvation’ is life under the open sky, where each day is new and unique – a miracle in the infinite chain of miracles…For God is not unknowable, but rather, knowable – through inexhaustible and infinite knowledge.’
    Meditations on the Tarot, p.243, our Unknown Friend

  • Richard March 10, 2019, 11:28 AM

    Jewel,
    Thank you for the thoughts expressed in your December 3rd post. As a young person I was exposed to the militia-type “evangelization” you described. Man, nothing was more off-putting and because so many of us “Cradle-Catholics” were so poorly catechized, we were easy prey. Thank you for your witness, and as is often said, “welcome home.” In many respects the converts that have come into the faith have a much more profound appreciation for the many treasures we have and are now our greatest apologists. Thank you, again.

  • Donald Sensing March 10, 2019, 12:36 PM

    Excerpted from my post, “Reasons to disbelieve that Jesus rose from the dead (a rebuttal of those reasons), which discusses the “science and religion” issue among others:

    Richard Lewontin, an evolutionary biologist and geneticist, explained in The New York Review of Books that scientism has a …

    … prior commitment to materialism. … we are forced by our adherence to material causes to … produce material explanations … . Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

    Nothing about Jesus’ resurrection contradicts scientific knowledge. The Resurrection reveals something new and unprecedented but does not renounce or overturn anything we already know.

  • Christopher March 10, 2019, 12:56 PM

    Scientist say is not science.

  • Casey Klahn March 10, 2019, 3:43 PM

    Many complain about Christians; their example, their personalities, or whatever. For my part, I have to say that the present day scientists don’t offer much for me to trust, based on their examples.

    Don Sensing is correct: there isn’t a conflict between faith and reasoned science. Miracles don’t take place in an unknowable universe. They are, indeed, examples of a superior universe which amaze the believer or the viewer, but they do not cause bewilderment. If a lynx walked into my yard, and lit up a cigarette, that would be bewildering – an impossible-seeming event. A blind man receiving sight in the Gospels is astonishing, but it is sight and not something weird. Walking on water is astonishing, but not when you consider the God-Man who did it.

    Science is a weapon of political oppression as often as it is a study of phenomenon. Well, it seems to me that these days it is almost always used for some political or social cause. I’m sick of it. I like the Medieval Era much better, when God filled the air and reasons for things had logical underpinnings; if not necessarily enlightened by science, at least self-consistent. We use logic almost not at all these days. Theologians are strict adherents to logic, but of course you knew this?

    Take care.

  • Jewel Atkins March 10, 2019, 5:29 PM

    Recently, the number 2 daughter has become a believer, thanks in large part to the absolute relativism of celebrity atheists. It becomes tiresome to know it all when you’re only in your early 30s. A bitter indulgence she happily gave up for Lent.

    I think the Mr. Science Guy’s mistake is that he assumes Jesus existed enough to walk on thin ice. I wonder if Mr. Science Guy has a more in depth explanation about that whole crucifixion, death and ressurection thing Jesus might have done…if he’d only existed. Just a scosh.

    Every good celebrity atheist knows Jesus doesn’t exist. And neither did his followers. And there is no way a church could possibly exist if Jesus didn’t exist.

    Given the state of rancid corruption in the Church today, we may all wonder if the Church still exists…just a scosh, anyway, or if the gates of Baal’s Bath House and Opium Den have prevailed against it. We’ll know for sure when the Sweet Meteor of Death hits the Vatican while the entire Curia and their Jorge is in full flagrante delicto session with their South American rent boys.

    Perhaps Cardinals Schneider, Sarah, and Burke will survive whilst in muzzled exile and the next Pope might actually be somewhat Catholic.

    Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!

  • ghostsniper March 10, 2019, 5:32 PM

    Defund all of them, let them go out and earn honest work.

  • JoanOfArgghh! March 10, 2019, 6:11 PM

    In general, the world only hates Jesus. They will not have this man, Jesus, to rule over them.
    Allah is fine, Buddah is da bomb, and all the scary gods are so implacable that what’s the point of being afraid of them if they’re so capricious? Even the OT God of the Jews seems a distant, dead anachronism, it’s just that His people are a problem. But Jesus?

    “But with the Lord there is forgiveness, therefore He is to be feared.” Now there’s why He’s hated, because He alone has the power to assert our sinfulness and find us wanting. No other god brings that sort of realization of the Death we truly carry in our soul; indeed, no other God can see so far. Did He walk on water? Does it matter, seeing as He ever lives to defend us to His Father who forgives, with an eternal judgement of our ignorance:”They don’t know what they’re doing.”?
    Such cheek! Just Who does He think He is?

    “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?” He asked. “Which is easier: to say to a paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralytic,1“I tell you, get up, pick up your mat, and go home.”
    And immediately the man got up, picked up his mat, and walked out in front of them all.”

    That’s why He’s hated by the over-educated. We paralyzed lumps of clay simply will keep misbehaving, having lives worth living without the help of the Keepers of Knowledge.

  • Dr. Jay March 11, 2019, 4:56 AM

    As the age of “Tolerance” continues, I’m realizing more and more that there is one thing that will not be tolerated and that is Christianity. Mahalo.

  • Fletcher Christian March 11, 2019, 6:26 AM

    Hmmm…
    Of the major religions, it seems that only the Buddha never claimed to either be divine or have the ear of divinity. AFAIK Buddhism reveres the Buddha because he reached a state (translated into English as enlightenment) which any human is, theoretically, capable of reaching – and that is the ultimate aim of a devout Buddhist.

    Buddhists are usually not atheist – they claim the existence of gods – but they don’t worship the gods either. In that sense, Buddhism is the only atheistic religion.

  • Ann K. March 11, 2019, 6:47 AM

    Another outstanding article, Gerard!

    The writer John C. Wright explains this phenomenon beautifully in his Restless Heart of Darkness Series: http://www.scifiwright.com/2014/01/the-restless-heart-of-darkness-part-one/.

  • Montefrío March 11, 2019, 9:12 AM

    I’ve been a zen practitioner for over half a century and am an atheist in the sense that I don’t believe in an individuated God with a will of His own; however I do admit the possibility that such an entity exists. I’m a strong supporter of Natural Law and my grandchildren are being raised to say their prayers and follow traditional Catholic morals and ethics. I will not discuss my own metaphysical beliefs with them until (assuming I survive) they are adolescents and even then only if I’m convinced my beliefs won’t create confusion in the minds of still-impressionable youngsters.

    I do NOT believe in materialistic philosophy of the sort that reduces us to flesh lumps with no transcendental purpose. I have my own belief about what that transcendence entails and it is quite different from the beliefs of monotheism in its various forms. Nevertheless, I would far prefer to be surrounded by those with a transcendental religio-philosophical view of life and purpose rather than by the secularists, a group I find largely represented by the perpetually discontent.

  • JiminAlaska March 11, 2019, 10:08 AM

    Based on personal experience I’m convinced the age of miracles is not past.

    & of course I can not explain that conviction to others, miracles are unexplainable.