Friday 13 March 2020

What is science? Part 7


What is truth? There are different truths and different ways of judging whether they are true. Science has as much claim to truth as anything that has ever been discovered by the mind of man. But it is not the only truth.

We cannot prove what happened in history to the extent that we can prove that balls drop when they fall. But neither can we prove many of the other things in life that we take for granted. We cannot in the end prove anything that is not trivial.

All we have is our ability to reason and our ability to observe. The first thing we observe is ourselves and our own perceptions of the world. This is bedrock. But we are each partial observers and we are all full of prejudices. Prejudice allows us to function in the world. We pre judge based on our experience and the experience of those around us. If we didn’t, we would eat red mushrooms, because it is prejudiced to treat them differently. But this tendency also puts bias at the heart of our thinking, and it can mean we judge unfairly.

Science has given us the most wonderful discoveries that have both benefited and sometimes harmed humanity. But the triumph of science has also taken away something that was our birthright. Science selleth its birthright for a mess of pottage.

Our birthright was that we were free, spiritual beings made in the image of God. We experienced miracles at every step and could look forward to the greatest miracle of all with a sure and certain hope. We sold our souls in a Faustian bargain with science in order to become automatons and behold it was very good. We did all of this because we failed to understand that there were different sorts of truth.

Science turned the deepest truth that humanity ever discovered into a fairy story and people laughed and turned away from the nature they observed in themselves every day and thought they were something that they were not.

There are historical truths which every child knows for which there is actually minimal evidence.

Did Hannibal cross the Alps on elephants? Of course, he did. But this truth depends on two sources written by people who almost certainly didn’t witness the event. Not only this, these sources have come down to us in fragmentary form and the earliest manuscripts we have for them are from hundreds of years later.

This is not merely true of what we know about Hannibal. It is also true of what we know about Alexander the Great, the Battle of Thermopylae and Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. Almost everything we know about Ancient Britain depends either on archaeology or on a few Roman sources. Yet we doubt none of the things that these sources tell us.

Our knowledge of the past without which we would know almost nothing about ourselves depends on what survived and, on the bias, or lack of it of those who told the story. But no one doubts that Caesar crossed the Rubicon nor that he was assassinated.

There is however one event in ancient history that has more evidence than any other. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There are more documentary sources for this event than for anything else from antiquity. These sources are the statements of eyewitnesses or they were told by eyewitnesses to various chroniclers a few years after the event. Manuscripts exist that are very close to the events that are described, much closer than any other manuscript from ancient times.

From these manuscripts thousands and thousands of historical sources have been made in hundreds of different languages in an unbroken chain from a few years later to the present day each describing the same core historical claim. Not only this, there are numerous non-Christian sources that show that there was a man named Jesus and that he was executed.

The core events of the New Testament are as certain as any other from the antiquity. More certain in fact because the sources are better than any other ancient event and invariably involve eye witness statements. We can trace modern Bible texts right back to ancient manuscripts with no gaps whatsoever. No texts have been discovered that either show eye witnesses to have lied or recanted. No texts or archaeological discoveries have disproved any of the central claims of the New Testament.

Does this mean that we all ought to believe in Christianity? No. It means that we should not simply dismiss what is in one ancient text while believing without question what is in another.

Why is Hannibal crossing the Alps believed without question while Jesus rising on the third day is dismissed as a fairy story. The reason is that modern science decided that miracles could not happen. If there were no miracles in the New Testament, then it would be believed without question, just like Caesar crossing the Rubicon. But if there were no miracles in the New Testament there would be no sources. There are next to no sources about obscure Jewish teachers. There are almost no sources at all about ordinary people in the ancient world. The fact that there are sources for the life of Jesus is because he was supposed to have done something miraculous. It is for this reason that people copied the manuscripts and translated them into numerous languages.

Could the Christian eyewitnesses have been mistaken? Of course, but then so too could the eyewitnesses about any other historical event. Could they have been biased?  Yes. But so too were the Norman chroniclers of the Norman conquest. Could they have made it all up? Yes. But what did those who made up these stories gain from their fantasies? Poverty, persecution and death. Why make up something that gains you nothing desirable, but instead puts you in danger?

There is as good a reason to believe the witnesses of the Resurrection as the witnesses of the crossing of the Rubicon except science has ruled out that miracles happen.

But science has only ruled out miracles because it essentially believes in a clockwork universe. Where every event has a cause and every cause has an effect. Science depends on a material universe, where there is nothing but matter. It depends on this because this is what it can understand and explain. Except it doesn’t explain me.

It is from looking inward that we discover that we are not merely atoms and we find the spiritual. We do not feel like we are the same substance as tables and chairs. We feel different to these things and we act differently. We do not love chairs. We do not think that mere things are unique and special. A table can be replaced, but a person cannot. I can destroy a table without being punished, but if I destroy a person, I’m a murderer.

Each birth of a human being involves a miracle not in the sentimental sense, but in the sense that two human beings are able to create a life. There is no life in the substance they used to create this baby, but the baby is alive. Life is the miracle. Science tries to explain it with biology, but it always misses something. Science misses our freedom, it misses the eternity which is in each of us and it misses the soul.

Science accurately describes the universe in mechanistic terms. But it is not the whole story. Each of us knows this, each time we get up and walk around. It’s so simple, you just have been looking in the wrong place.

But its only when you recognise the miracle that happens in you each day, that you can begin to wonder about the miracles that may have happened two thousand years ago. Because when you realise that miracles do occur, then there is no reason to suppose that they did not occur.

The End