Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Big Questions

Yesterday evening, I spent an hour in a teaching session. The session was about why the scientific paradigm is epistemologically supreme in modern society — it is trusted to meet needs reliably and to give a reproducible advantage to its wielders. It was also about the questions that science can and cannot answer, based on what it says about itself.

And so I found myself, last night, reading Psalm 77. The 77th Psalm is one of the psalms of Asaph, a curious blend of whiny pleading, triumphal worship, sweeping rhetoric and peculiar logic. (But because this is poetry, and not theology, we have to forgive him.)

This psalm has, in its middle, a list of big questions, all on the list of things science cannot answer. Here is that list:
  • Will the Lord reject forever?
  • Will he never show his favour again?
  • Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
  • Has his promise failed for all time?
  • Has God forgotten to be merciful?
  • Has he in anger withheld his compassion?
Yes, it's quite a list. How are those questions to be answered?

Asaph goes to the historical paradigm for that. He asks the question, "Is there evidence for or against these things being likely, based on past performances?" He finds reassurance in the historical record. And he penultimately concludes, "Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen."

It is an affirmation of God's logical position in the universe. In order to give space for the exercise of some freedom of will, and to allow for the question of faith, his footprints cannot be seen even though his paths are visible to all.

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