You know what I mean; assumptions like if a person is a Harvard graduate, he or she must be smart. Or anybody who becomes a plumber or a carpenter isn’t likely to be reading philosophy at night. Or Texas really is God’s country.
OK, maybe not that last one about the Lone Star State, but here’s another one that is clearly among the most important influences on American public life these days: Modern science has liberated us from the shackles of beliefs and values based on ancient myths.
There are multiple variations on the theme but what they all come down to, more or less, is the unstated assumption that “science” is the only path to truth. Anything that claimed to be truth prior to, oh say, 1900 is almost prima facie considered by the current generation to be wrong or worse.
I would bet next month’s paycheck — assuming I get one! — that if you asked 100 randomly selected congressional aides about this, the vast majority of them would quickly agree with that proposition.
A closely related proposition and one that also has profound influence on the way issues are analyzed on Capitol Hill is the idea that there are “facts” and there are “opinions,” and public policy ought always be based solely on the former, not the latter. Stuff like faith and patriotism are mere opinions.
So, think about this: To be “true” in the scientific sense, according to this assumption, something must be observable, repeatable and measurable. That being the case, it must also be concrete, material. That means it cannot be non-material, or, to put it bluntly and in layman’s terms, there ain’t no such thing as the “supernatural” or “spiritual.”
So much then for the fundamental claim on which the entire Christian faith rests – the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, the Son of God. Given the science assumption, Jesus may have been a great teacher, an itinerant preacher with a real knack for turning a phrase or maybe just a lunatic, but what He couldn’t be is dead, buried and then alive again on the third day.
Normally at this point, I would launch into a discussion of the many apologetical “proofs” for the veracity of the Resurrection claim. But there’s another way to go at this issue and that is to examine the historicity of the claim.
Brit N.T. Wright — a former university lecturer/turned bishop, delivered a lecture some years ago in which he made an extremely persuasive case for the proposition that:
The Christian claim was from the beginning that the question of Jesus’ resurrection was a question, not of the internal mental and spiritual states of his followers a few days after his crucifixion, but about something that had happened in the real, public world, leaving not only an empty tomb, but a broken loaf at Emmaus and footprints in the sand by the lake among its physical mementoes, and leaving his followers with a lot of explaining to do but with a transformed worldview which is only explicable on the assumption that something really did happen, even though it stretched their existing worldviews to breaking point. More of that anon.
What we now have to do is to examine this early Christian claim more thoroughly, to ask what can be said about it historically, and to enquire, more particularly, what sort of ‘knowing’ or ‘believing’ we are talking about when we ask whether ‘a scientist’ can ‘believe’ that which, it seems, ‘the resurrection’ actually refers to.
I could give you the link to the text version of Wright’s lecture, but it’s so much better to watch and listen to him deliver “in person” via this video:
Thanks, by the way, to Wintery Knight for bringing this superb lecture to my attention so that I can share it with all my friends and future friends on Capitol Hill. Wintery Knight notes of Wright that he “has taught at Cambridge University, Oxford University, Duke University, McGill University, and lectured on dozens of prestigious campuses around the world. He’s published 40 books.”
In other words, Wright is somebody to whom we would be wise to pay attention. That is not to say I agree with everything he says because I don’t. But his point about thinking historically is an important one, especially if you happen to work in a job in an institution in which making history is an everyday occurrence.