Re: MD On Faith

From: Mark Steven Heyman (
Date: Mon Nov 01 2004 - 03:21:48 GMT

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    Hi Sam,

    I'm still wrestling with Witt, but thought I might get back to you on
    some other points.

    On 29 Oct 2004 at 11:14, Sam Norton wrote:
    There is a distinction to be made between 'empirical assessment' and
    'scientific assessment' I think. A firefighter is presumably acting
    on the basis of their training and so on - they're not taking a
    'scientific' attitude. So it seems to me. Any views on that?

    msh says:
    I thought we were talking about empirical assessment. If so, I can
    think of counter examples from my own life. A few years ago I was
    walking in a "bad" neighborhood well after dark. I passed an alley
    entrance and heard someone moaning, then a barely audible whisper for
    help. I could see what appeared to be a person collapsed in the
    alley. Now, if Witt is right, I would have run to offer assistance,
    no empirical assessment required. Instead, I looked and listened for
    other activity around me and in the alley. I called out to the
    figure to see If I could get a response and thus more information.
    Only after I convinced myself that no one else was around, and that
    the person who appeared to be in need of help was what he appeared to
    be, did I enter the alley.

    But even if you want to say scientific assessment, I think the
    Emergency Medical Techs in an ambulance, and certainly the doctors
    and nurses in the emergency room, rely heavily on scientific
    assessment before drawing conclusions about a patient's condition.

    So I'm not sure I agree that we regular make "faithful" leaps to
    certainty, about anything.

    > msh asked:
    > So how do miracles differ from myths?

    As episode to story? I think there is a clear overlap between them.
    The trouble comes when 'myth' is taken to mean 'not factually true'
    as I think there is an irreducible factual claim at the heart of
    Christianity, ie that certain things did happen, most importantly the
    resurrection, however we are to understand that (this is where DMB
    and I differ most I think. I think he would say that Christianity
    doesn't necessarily involve such a factual claim).

    msh says:
    I think that myths may or may not be historically or, as you say,
    factually true, but that the factual "truth" is not important anyway.
     If it turned out that the historical Jesus Christ was not, in fact,
    resurrected, if you could go back in time and see for yourself that
    the tomb was not empty, and the body was starting to stink, would
    this undermine your faith as a Christian? Would you be unable to
    continue your work as a priest? I'd be surprised if you answered yes
    to either question.

    > msh said:
    > It's quite clear that religion, as it is taught in the trenches, is
    far, far removed from the lofty thoughts of Hauerwas or Brueggemann.
    So it's easy to understand why people who want to think about
    religion are driven away at an early age. Why would the brass up at
    the holy end of the bureaucracy permit such a state of affairs,
    unless they really do want to discourage thinking?

    sam replied:
    When you talk about how religion is 'taught in the trenches', what
    specifically are you referring to?

    msh says:
    The only thing I can refer to with any authority is my own experience
    being raised a catholic, in the 60's, in southeast Los Angeles, USA.
    Mass every Sunday, Catechism every Saturday. I became interested in
    science, especially earth science, at an early age, so it was pretty
    clear to me by the age of 8 that the earth was billions of years old,
    and that we humans were nearly invisibly insignificant in its
    history. This was in direct conflict with what I was being taught on
    Saturdays. My obvious questions could have been answered with "Well,
    of course the earth is billions of years old; of course human beings
    arrived on the scene only a few relative seconds ago. The stories we
    study here are myths pointing to a larger truth." The answer I got
    was "Science is wrong, so stop making trouble."

    This happened not only to me, but to three cousins on my mom's side
    who were a year or three older. All of us went on to become
    geologists, though they stuck with it after college while I turned my
    attention to other things. So you have four boys, all of above
    average intelligence, who were in no uncertain terms invited to do
    their critical thinking elsewhere. So the question remains: "Why
    would the brass up at the holy end of the bureaucracy permit such a
    state of affairs, unless they really do want to discourage thinking?"

    More later,
    Mark (sh)

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