Clinton Ohlers: Two Parables on Divine Action

It sounds like Francis Bacons language is theology. This is much like Novum Organum, which defines science as a method of taking down idols.

Bacon is tapping into a theological tradition, and we are connected to that tradition too.

It is for that reason, even though Bacon would think Bensalem is Fallen and some how redeemed by science, what he describes is not science how we find it. As good as science is, it does not bring us to God, and it does redeem us, or bring us to innocence. That is not how science works. Bensalem, in his telling, looks like it is Unfallen. That hope of Bacon, the hope of the architect, was not realized. Science, for all its strengths, does not return us to innocence.

In fact, it gives us rationalizations to doubt and be skeptical of what God clearly reveals. It is for that reason, I can wonder about this assessment.

Let me suggest that I am representing a more true understanding of these traditions, all of which rely on God to reveal himself in revelation. Even in Bacon’s parable, the study of nature leads them to the Gospel of Bartholomew, and presumed that God would be working to reveal Himself. Revelation, however, was explicitly outside Bacon’s conception of science. The last Idol he discusses is one of the Idols of the Theatre, the Superstitious Idol. This is the culmination of Novum Organum. He writes that this is

consisting of those who out of faith and veneration mix their philosophy with theology and traditions; among whom the vanity of some has gone so far aside as to seek the origin of sciences among spirits and genii. From this unwholsome mixture of things human and divine there arises not only a fantastic philosophy but also an heretical religion.

Notice that Bacon simultaneously thinks that revelation is required to bring us to God, but it is not within the purview of science? He is following the traditional separation of theology from natural philosophy, of which @TedDavis often reminds us. So science might at time point beyond itself, but does not have the resources within itself to engage with revelation on its own. We see this even in his parable of Bensalem.

Once again, tapping into this same theological tradition, I would agree. I agree that we can discern God’s providential governance (in the language of @jack.collins). We do not even need Bacon’s new mechanism to discern such things. That, in fact, is the point. Focused study of creation is not necessary to discern a miracle, and might even hinder it. That makes good sense too, because science is a modern invention, and does not rely on revelation.

We might wonder if studying nature increases our confidence in discerning a miracle. The best way to think about this is by considering Jesus. We inhabit a world where God reveals Himself by raising Jesus from the dead. Does science help with this? Somewhat. Carbon dating confirms that the prophecies were before his time, and that the accounts describe his actual death ( The fact that dead people do not come back to life, however, has been well known long before modern science. This is an obvious fact of the world. Science does not add much, and that makes sense.

God reveals Himself well before modern science is known. It certainly is not the way He gives us to understand the world. Even if we recognize miracles against the backdrop of natural process, do not mistake science for natural processes. With that distinction in mind, I can agree with you here, till the end:

And this where they make their mistake. This is where the hubris arises. Science is designed to study creation dispassionately, but it is not designed to study the creator. Because it does not engage with revelation, it will always be incomplete. At this point we are hitting upon the “demarcation” problem, what is and is not science? What are science’s limits? What can it, and can it not, tell us?

Before we go to much father, let’s return to the parable.

Parable of the House with Forgotten Names

Science is a house. Scientists labor in a grand house that someone else built a long time ago. We do not know why walls are placed in their particular ways. We do not know the original names of rooms and hallways. We do not even know our foundation is in theology. Forgetting the house’s history, we forget that Christians were among the house’s architects, and they have stories to tell about the things that happened here. Scientists do well to study this history alongside their scientific work.

Who is Francis Bacon? He is among the architects. Decoding the phenomenal success of the Copernican Revolution, he envisioned a new natural philosophy, a new way of studying creation, a new intellectual effort. He envisioned science. The language of his blueprints was theology. Even though science is secular now, it was sketched out in theology by Bacon.

Who are modern scientists like me? We are those who now inhabit the house that Francis Bacon, and others, built. This 400 year old house has stories to tell, but its language is theology. Science, however, is secular now. Not knowing its original language, we forgot the true name of things.

What are the things we forgot? We forgot many things. One of the things we forgot was the true name of “nature”, and we also forgot the true name of what we now call “methodological naturalism”. These two things Nature is really “creation”, and “methodological naturalism” is best understood as the founding principle of science, to study the “creation” rather than to study the “Creator.”

The True Name of Methodological Naturalism

Methodological naturalism is a rule of modern science, whether we like it or not. As the non-theist Eugenia Scott of the NSCE correctly explains

Because creationists explain natural phenomena by saying “God performed a miracle,” we tell them that they are not doing science. This is easy to understand. The flip side, though, is that if science is limited by methodological [naturalism] because of our inability to control an omnipotent power’s interference in nature, both “God did it” and “God didn’t do it” fail as scientific statements. Properly understood, the principle of methodological [naturalism] requires neutrality towards God; we cannot say, wearing our scientist hats, whether God does or does not act.
Science and Religion, Methodology and Humanism | National Center for Science Education

Science is silent on God. Science is silent on miracles. Do not mistake silence, however, for denial. Silence is not absence.

Several (both ID proponents, Christians, and atheists) have questioned the legitimacy of this rule. After all, if science is the search for all truth, why limit it artificially from considering God? How do we know what is Natural or Supernatural any ways? And, as most atheists believe, is this nothing more than saying that science is limited to studying “real” versus “fictional” things. We forgot the true name of this thing. It is the Creator vs. creation distinction. Science is meant to study creation, but not the Creator (The Creator-Creation Distinction).

Beset by Idols of the Marketplace

There is more though, and you’ve raised this point me me before @rcohlers. It seems in the last 400 years, we have become beset by Idols of the Marketplace (Idola fori - Wikipedia). Bacon refers to this as the intellectual error of mistaking a word for the thing to which refers the word. He is thinking of Plato’s parable of the cave (Allegory of the cave - Wikipedia), where we mistake shadows for the things that cast the shadow.

In our current moment, we mistake our knowledge of nature (i.e. science) for nature, and a knowledge of God (i.e. theology) for God. We see conflicts between science and theology, and wonder if that means God’s action is in conflict with science. Perhaps knowledge of divine action might arise in a dialogue between theology and science, or maybe not. The fact that our knowledge from two domains does not always align, however, does not mean that God does not interact with creation. The reason we would think that is if we are confusing science for nature, and theology for the Creator.

Perhaps this begins to become an Idol of the Theatre too (Idola theatri - Wikipedia), where the narratives to which we’re committed shape our understanding more than a true encounter with the world.

Now, rather than disputing methodological naturalism, we might find a way to take down these various idols of the mind. Can you tell us some more about this @rcohlers?

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