Noted scientist and best-selling novelist Alan Lightman, a Memphis native, asks what are the boundaries between science and religion, the two greatest forces that have shaped human civilization. What are the different kinds of knowledge in science and in religion? And how do we come by those different kinds of knowledge? Members of the Faith in Memphis panel respond.
Some of the knowledge of religion is similar to the knowledge of science in that it is the result of human observation and analysis. For example, Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament such as the book of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes records conclusions about morality and spirituality which thinkers have reached after observing cause/effect and action/reaction in these areas. Rather than watching atoms or planets these authors have watched humans and circumstances. They’ve noted that certain behaviors tend to have certain consequences, and that specific lifestyles often lead to specific outcomes. They cover the “science of living.”
In addition, some of the information contained in Scripture about Jesus carries this same quality. For example, Luke introduces his Gospel by stating, “Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you…” (Luke 1:1-3 NLT). Writing his first epistle, John describes how “we saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands…We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard…” (1 Jn. 1:1-3 NLT).
But some of the knowledge of religion is vastly different to the knowledge of science in that it claims to come “from above.” Religion acknowledges that there is a limit to human understanding and that some knowledge must be revealed to humans by God. Jesus tells Peter that certain knowledge which Peter has gained has been revealed to him by the Father (Matt. 16:17). Paul writes of a “secret and hidden wisdom of God” which “God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:7-10, ESV).