More Thoughts from Andrew Steane

Here is a collection of more quotes from Andrew Steane’s excellent book Faithful to Science. (See also here and here.)

Miracles are events that break the rules, but not in an arbitrary way–––they are pointers to a larger set of rules (p. 95).

Compare this with these remarks from the LDS Bible Dictionary.

Miracles should not be regarded as deviations from the ordinary course of nature so much as manifestations of divine or spiritual power. Some lower law was in each case superseded by the action of a higher. 

This has been the Mormon understanding of miracles since the early theological ruminations of Parley P. and Orson Pratt.

Autobiography is utterly subjective, but it is valuable because the truth of a matter can be told partly by how it works out in practice, in the messy but precious situations of peoples’ lives, not just the simplified atmosphere of the academic dissecting room (p. 97).

It is important to remember that not all truth or knowledge comes from scientific endeavors, but also sometimes from our own subjective life experiences and perceptions. Determining whether the commandments are “true” (i.e. they impart specific blessings for following them) in large part results from our personal experiences living and applying them.

My experience of the science/faith question has been a sequence that could be summarized as: ‘innocence, then painful tension, then (mostly) resolution’, and this sequence has been followed in more than one area at various times. By ‘innocence’ I mean the initial feeling that I enjoyed, namely that thee is no tension whatsoever; science is the fascinating study of one aspect of God’s great creative work. By ‘tension’ I mean the difficulty that the natural world does not always, or in all aspects, look like the work of a good creator, and that ultimately there is no unavoidable conclusion one way or the other regarding questions of origins. . . . By ‘smooth resolution’ I mean that most of the intellectual difficulties that have bugged me in the past have eventually fallen away as I learned to see the resolution, but this does not precent my becoming aware of new ones (p. 101)

This is true for me as well. It has been, at times, a rocky road of discovery, synthesis, and paradigm shifting, but I have found satisfactory answers to most of my pressing questions about the existence of God, the Church’s truth claims, issues with the scriptures and Church history, etc. There are still issues I’m rattling around in my mind, but I have witnessed a positive trend in finding answers to my most pressing questions.

People fear that the same or an even worse risk associated with letting God be an arbiter of right and wrong. Obviously, it can be abused when people claim to speak for God, but at least we are free to call that abusive. The truth of the situation is not to be feared but welcomed, because it is not that God invents moral dictates arbitrarily (what a contemptible notion!). Rather, the situation is comparable to that of a judge in a human court of law: the judge does not invent the law and is not above the law, but is trusted to discern the law. The difference is that God can always be trusted. He can be trusted both to see clearly and to decide fairly (p. 105).

This is, needless to say, a very Mormon view on God’s relationship to eternal laws, judgement, etc.

Finally, speaking of atheistic determinism, Steane write:

We must reject these mechanistic claims, and believe that any argument leading to them is faulty, even if we can’t immediately see the fault in the argument or its premise. We must do this partly because such arguments are self-destroying. If our thoughts are only ever inexorably channelled or randomly thrown by microscopic rules, with no appeal to higher-level concepts such as reason and assertion, aesthetics and value, then we cannot reason and the ‘argument’ is not an argument, merely a sequence of utterances, and the word ‘imply’ is meaningless in all human languages. It amounts to arguing, on ‘scientific’ grounds, that science itself is a grand delusion (p. 116).

An acquaintance of mine who is a physicist recently made this same point in a e-mail exchange with me on this topic.

From a philosophical level, believing determinism undercuts our ability to trust anything about science. Unless we had freedom to conduct experiments, to interpret the data, to make informed conclusions freely, how can we trust any of it? If something chose what experiment we ran for us, or if something chose what interpretation we made for us, how can we trust anything? If we have no free will, for all we know, how we do science and what we take away from it is forced upon us and thus we have no way of having any faith in the enterprise.

I will continue reading through Steane’s book and posting more money quotes as I find them. So far I am highly impressed with Steane, and highly recommend him.