Earlier this week, Dr. Bartkoski wrote a fantastic article explaining how he navigates the often tumultuous waters of faith and science. I encourage you to read it and our ongoing exchange on the topic as it develops. Also, always feel free to join the discussion by emailing questions or thoughts!
The subjective problem?
My academic training is in religious studies––specifically, Chinese Religions and Christianity. Within those areas, however, I also get to research religion and science as well as comparative philosophy. There are many threads that I’m interested in pulling at, but I’d like to start with this huge idea of subjectivity and objectivity.
It is no secret that Pentecostals value emotion and feeling; it is remarkable how much emotion can be extracted by a simple key change (e.g., old school “There is a Fountain,” hello?). It is also no secret that many charlatans have coerced through emotional manipulation and deception in the name of the Spirit.
So, as people trying to sincerely engage the world through our faith, is the subjective nature of Pentecostalism an issue? Likewise, is it anti-science and thus irrational?
With Sir Isaac Newton’s scientific discoveries, the world was explainable and knowable; Newtonian physics provide an objective base on which to build. In the late 20th century, however, people started to lose faith in claims of “objectivity,” with the turn of the Post-modern age. All of a sudden, people began to see that “scientific objectivity” could only go as far as the subject (the scientist) involved in the research. Notable philosophers like Mircea Eliade, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and, more recently, Robert C. Neville pushed the topic toward recognizing the subjective nature of science.
For example, Neville explains that Newtonian and Eisteinean mechanics “are not in fact about physical reality but about physical reality as reduced to what can be expressed mathematically.” He goes on to say that scientific experimentation, while clearly important and needed, is only able to determine how far the humanly constructed tools involved in scientific inquiry are able go; nothing more. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, discussing a similar point, says that human construction, whether scientific or not, is like “filling many different shapes and sizes of bottles with water in order to find out the shape and size of water.” So is the objective shape and size of water being determined, or did we simply find out the shape and size of our tools?
None of that is meant to challenge science; in fact, I think it brings up something very important and interesting in our conversation: dynamism.
I’d be interested to hear how Dr. Bartkoski would respond to this alternative to his introductory quote from Feynman:
Faith purports to be an objective enterprise while science embraces subjectivity.
In other words, Christians tend to talk about God as a specific, unmovable reality that never changes––Bible verse can be invoked. On the other hand, science openly professes to be a dynamic endeavor. Indeed, science is about creating theories based on previous theories and findings, which spur more tweaks and, consequently, advances without end!
From my perspective, what is disappointing about some versions of Christianity is its inability to change. Now, I’m not calling for haphazard, sweeping changes; nevertheless, I wonder what Pentecostals can learn from the scientific method of questioning and “answering,” recognizing that the answer found is not static or final; it’s dynamic.
It appears that Christianity, in its denouncement of science, has lost a methodology that was so vital to its historic existence. Worse, we too often claim that our subjective Christian beliefs––which are the sole product of our geography, faith background, race, wealth, etc.––are objective.
The result: we stop entertaining ideas about God and the world that differ from our (subjective) own.
There’s good news! Science can (potentially) save us from ourselves!
Einstein noticed something odd in his research. It seems that two particles can be paired or entangled, causing them to react to one another regardless of how far they are apart; i.e., if one particle is adjusted, the other reacts/responds immediately. Chinese scientists made the news recently for observing this quantum mystery with the greatest distance between particles yet: 1,200 kilometers. One useful aspect to this discovery is that it could one day lead to unhackable communication, which would be a significant technology.
Alongside the “spooky” comes neuroscientist Christof Koch, who believes there is evidence that consciousness is fundamental to reality. In other words, every-thing is not simply made of matter––there must be something else. Now, he in no way suggests that there is a g/God/being, but he is in dialogue with the Dalai Lama about universally present consciousness (panpsychism), which is a part of Buddhist philosophy.
Explaining why consciousness exists at all is one major issue in science and philosophy. How can matter transition to consciousness? While there are many naturalistic theories, they are all lacking.
Within panpsychism discussions also comes new philosophies (quasi-science) on the afterlife. Some scientists, arguing for Biocentrism, claim that consciousness is not destroyed at death but rather it continues existing (in some way) elsewhere––consciousness is neither creatable nor destroyable; it simply is.
Through the work of these scientists, the world seems to be shifting back to the “mystical.”
Scientists get a bad name regarding faith because of outliers like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett (Reformed theologian and philosopher Alvin Plantinga wrote a helpful book for those interested in the discussion).
I’m concerned that Christians have turned into Dawkins and Dennett: regardless of what is said or discovered, they refuse to listen.
Our faith should not be tossed by every minor change in the world; however, we should take everything under consideration and allow the Spirit to adjust our subjective understanding. Our faith-filled theories about God should change, and they should bend toward justice and love for all. Dr. Bartkoski’s call for humility seems particularly vital in these unusual times.
The Spirit blows where the Spirit wills; my concern is that we are unwilling to be caught up in the Spirit because we are uncertain of where it might lead.
Nothing is objective; nevertheless, we can learn and grow when we continue to be open to the infinite love of God. The assumption that we have fully grasped God and faith is the sin; persistent and ceaseless learning and growth is how we truly honor God.
Note from the Editorial Team: Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.