Friday, 14 September 2012

Nullius in verba (Take nobody's word for it)

The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London". (wikipedia) Its motto and modus operandi is 'take nobody's word for it'.

I have just watched a BBC programme in which Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (JS) talked to three atheistic scientists including the man he describes as 'the world's most famous atheist' Richard Dawkins (RD). In these kind of encounters Rabbi Sachs usually gives a good account of himself but I was disappointed with his latest outing. RD returned to his theme that 'one cannot disprove the existence of fairies and the existence of God is the same kind of category'. They chatted for a little while as RD insisted that belief must be based on 'evidence' and 'not tradition, religion or revelation.' He pressed JS as to whether or not he believed that God had actually had a conversation with Abraham. JS was strangely reticent to give a straightforward answer to this question but emphasised Judaism's insistence on questioning. The first duty of a Jewish father, claims JS, is to get his child to ask questions. The first duty!?! Well it depends on the question.

JS almost certainly has in mind the Passover instructions which state And it shall be, when your children say to you, “What do you mean by this service?’ Ex 12:26 NKJV. But that question is to instruct the child as to the meaning of a revelation, not a scientific experiment. We are to engage our minds in the things that God has revealed; And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. Mark 12:30 NKJV.

True science and true faith are not enemies. They have their different areas of authority. As JS puts it 'science takes things to pieces and asks "how do they work"' 'religion brings things together and asks "what does it mean"". It is in that realm of 'what does it mean?' that revelation has the last word. It is perhaps significant that the question asked on the day of Pentecost was not 'what is happening' but rather 'what does it mean?' Acts 2:12. The answer to that question demands 'revelation' which RD will not accept and which JS seems to have little to say about too.

If the Royal Institute is willing to change its motto to 'take no man's word for it' it will get my hearty 'amen' but if it says I man himself is the final arbiter of truth it usurps God's prerogatives. Faith does not come by reason but by hearing… the word of God. As He spoke these words, many believed in Him. Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:30–32 NKJV.

No comments: