Tuesday, November 4, 2008

We Are None of Us Scientists

Listening to a talk on the way in by Bill Newsome from the ASA meeting this Spring. You can find the talk itself on the ASA website if you wish: Newsome is a Stanford neurobiologist who talks about the questions people have brought to him about his faith. (And in the question and answer session, part 2, he recommends an essay by my friend and colleague Rick Steele from our School of Theology!)

In any case, what really struck me was his response to his post-doc, who was flabbergasted that this same professor who was so tough on published papers in lab meetings could believe in this Christianity stuff. The post-doc asked how the same person who was so skeptical of papers and insistent on running controls could believe in God, purpose, meaning, Jesus, etc.

Newsome's response was that actually, the most important decisions any of us make are actually not scientific, and never can be. (He went so far as to say the more important the question, the less scientific it must be.) He used the example of taking a new job. When is it worth it to accept a new position, with all the uncertainties at the new location, and the known costs of having to uproot your family, take your kids out of school, learn a new area, etc.? You don't really know, and you can't run a replicable experiment for it. Life has no controls. Also, the question, should I marry this person or not is also in this category.

So leaps of faith are pretty common for all of us because we're limited by our lives embedded in time. This doesn't mean we can't or don't think about which way we should go or weigh our options. We use our minds even more for those decisions. But we can't run an experiment on the big questions.

This has implications for history and theology, but let me just mention one right now: the story of Abraham, the father of faith, is the mother of all "job relocation" decisions. All we're told is God told him to move away from his land and take his family with him. He did so by faith. Everyone makes decisions like that; the question is why do you do it, and what's your faith in?So believing is kind of like taking a new job, or marrying someone. You've only got one life and you decide with the way you spend it.

Seriously, go listen to the talk, both parts, it's good stuff.

No comments: