[b-hebrew] Supernatural faith and scientific faith

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Mon Jul 20 03:53:33 EDT 2009

Dear Yigal,

I agree with you that we should not belittle people who have a faith 
different from ours. You mentioned "faith, laws of nature, and 
scientific method," and I think it would be fine to say something 
regarding the relationship between them (I changed the subject from 
"Genesis 41: 1: "Two Years of Days"").  I think this discussion is 
relevant for b-hebrew, because it deals with methodological issues 
related to the study of the Tanakh.

I suppose that all list members want to use scientific methods when 
they work with the Tanakh. But in connection with this, there is one 
disturbing situation. In order to follow scientific methods, we must 
leave out anything that is metaphysical. God and supernatural acts 
supposed to have been done by him are per definition metaphysical and 
must be rejected. We therefore are led into the position that we 
study a text (the Tanakh) where all the authors to a great extent 
ascribe particular acts to God, and ascribe their own texts to God, 
but God must a priori be excluded as an explanatory factor on the 
basis of scientific principles.

Many years ago I became aware of this disturbing situation, and I 
asked myself whether we here really have a situation of faith against 
knowledge. Is science free of metaphysics and faith? Interestingly, I 
found that the opposite was true, and the issue is not knowledge 
versus faith but rather supernatural faith versus scientific faith. I 
will discuss one particular example.

When a prophet spoke in the name of YHWH and said he got his message 
from God, or when a miracle occurred, these situations cannot be 
studied today by the help of scientific means. But there is one 
situation that can be scrutinized scientifically, and that is the 
origin of life on earth. The Tanakh says that the universe and life 
on the earth was created by YHWH, while the theory that permeates 
both the natural sciences and the historical sciences is organic 
evolution. For a long time Karl Popper, who is a renown historian of 
science, held the view that the theory of evolution was not a 
scientific theory because it could not be falsified. After an immense 
pressure over many years he retracted a little and said that a small 
part of the theory could possibly be falsifiable.

Be that as it may, but in any case it is possible to address the 
question about the origin of life in a scientific way - and I have 
done that.  If we form a theory and it predicts something, and the 
predictions turn out to be true, we have not achieved much. This is 
so because there can be many other reasons why the predictions to 
come true than our theory. And similarly, if a theory is falsified, 
we have not come very far. But If we can be certain that there are 
only two possible answers to a question, and one is falsified, the 
other answer must be the correct one. In connection with life on 
earth there are only two possibilities. Either life originated by 
chance (organic evolution), or it was caused by one or more living 
entities outside  the earth.

In order to explore the two possibilities I calculated and studied

-the total mass of bio-atoms (atoms used in living matter) on the earth.
-the possible sources of energy on the early earth.
-the energy wavelengths  that could be accepted by each bio-atom and 
those which would be
-the equilibrium constants in water of each bio-atom, in order to 
know when each atom would
-the chemical and physical laws that would be at work in the 
synthesis of atoms into molecules and in
     the destruction of the same.
-possible mechanisms that could shield synthesized molecules from 
destructive energy.
-the different forces that would be at work in the synthesis of 
nucleo-acids versus proteins.
-how much information that could generate by chance.
-how much information was necessary for the smallest possible living entity.

There were also many questions connected with the points above that I 
studied. And my conclusion after reading about one thousand 
scientific articles and 300 books and doing my own calculations, was 
that origin of life by chance (evolution) was impossible to the 
highest degree, if the laws of nature as we know them were at work on 
the early earth. When one theory (chance origin) is falsified, the 
other had to be the correct one, even though it could not be directly 
verified by scientific means. On the basis of my study I could not 
identify the originator of life on earth as YHWH, the God of the 
Tanakh, but only as one or more living entities.

Considering the question of faith and knowledge, it appears that 
regarding this single question - the origin of life- science builds 
on a foundation (paradigm/model) of metaphysics and faith, while the 
Tanakh accords with the laws of nature, as we understand them today. 
We also see the great place faith plays in the scientific studies of 
the Tanakh. For example,  the Documentary hypothesis and the 
Deuteronomistic Historical hypothesis are presented to students today 
as facts, while the truth is that the foundation of both is nothing 
but faith-they may be true, or they may be wrong.

I would like to conclude in the following way: We all have a horizon 
of understanding based on our experience, preferences, philosophy, 
and religious beliefs or lack of such. To some extent this will 
influence our scientific work, but we should strive as much as 
possible to reduce this influence. On the basis of what I have 
presented above, I would hesitate to contrast faith and knowledge in 
connection with Tanakh studies, because the foundation of any 
scientific discipline to a great degree is build on faith (models and 
axioms). While a scientific study of the Tanakh should not presume 
the works of God, neither should the existence of an acting God be 
excluded. I think an approach where we in most cases do not say that 
something is impossible, but only that something is unlikely is a 
balanced approach. We do not exclude anything, but we keep our eyes 
open. I do not say that there are not things that should be rejected 
as myth. For example, when Berossus says that men in the past were 
born with two or four wings, and that some were born with the legs 
and horns of goats and others with the feet of horses and the 
foreparts of men, this can be rejected as myth. But we should not be 
too hasty to reject information found in the Tanakh because it 
appears not to conform with modern scientific theories - because we 
may not be in a situation of faith versus knowledge but rather of 
supernatural faith versus scientific faith. Regarding long life-spans 
under discussion, I do not see that they can be excluded on the basis 
of biology and our knowledge of the human body, because the process 
of aging is not understood.

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>Dear James,
>While I personally think that Jim's theory is dead wrong, there is a huge
>difference between the long life-spans of biblical characters (and those in
>other works of literature as well) and the examples that you listed bellow.
>Humans living hundreds of years is not only not a part of our present-day
>experience. It is also totally impossible within our understanding of the
>laws of nature as they stand at present. Theorizing that "nature was
>different in the distant past" or the "God intervened in the cases of
>certain chosen people" is a statement of faith, by its nature unprovable by
>any scientific method known to us. As long as you admit that your position
>depends on an acceptance of the biblical text as factually accurate out of
>faith, that's fine. Comparing anyone who does not accept your faith with
>children is derogatory, and has no place on this list.
>Yigal Levin
>Co-moderator, B-Hebrew

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