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Metaphysical Technology

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In this week’s Acton Commentary, Dave Phelps looks at the case of Susan Torres, a woman who gave birth while reported to be brain dead. The case was considered by some to be a miracle. Others with a more material bent looked at her as merely a corpse, kept alive by advanced medical technology to incubate the child.

Phelps’ commentary points out that a great many physicians, schooled in the sciences, retain a belief in God. A “surprising” poll indicates that doctors attend church more regularly than most Americans and a majority believe in some sort of afterlife.

Should we really be surprised? Religious faith is capable of making room for God-given talent such as medical healing, as St. Basil the Great pointed out in the fourth century in his Long Rules:

Each of the arts is God’s gift to us, remedying the deficiencies of nature, as, for example, agriculture, since the produce which the earth bears of itself would not suffice to provide for our needs … The same is true, also, of the medical art. In as much as our body is susceptible to various hurts, some attacking from without and some from within by reason of the food we eat, and since the body suffers affliction from both excess and deficiency, the medical art has been vouchsafed us by God, who directs our whole life, as a model for the cure of the soul, to guide us in the removal of what is superfluous and in the addition of what is lacking …

So then, we should neither repudiate this art [medicine] altogether nor does it behoove us to repose all our confidence in it; but, just as in practicing the art of agriculture we pray God for fruits, and as we entrust the helm to the pilot in the art of navigation, but implore God that we may end our voyage unharmed by the perils of the sea, so also, when reason allows, we call in the doctor, but we do not leave off hoping in God.

Read the full text of “Miracles of God and Miracles of Science.”

John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in news and publishing fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.


  • Robert Masters

    I appreciate it when a religious based organization speaks on the dichotomy between religion and technology. In America more so than in other parts of the world we have a history of threading that needle with success. The difficulty that many who lean on the side of technology over religion have is that the religious tend to stymie advances in technology at least for a time, (Take stem cell research or birth control pills for examples).

    The writer does make one statement that needs to be addressed. He states that there should not be a competition between faith and reason.

    Faith is the belief in things not seen or proven by facts and reason is the use of facts to draw conclusions. Since faith excludes the use of facts it therefore is anti-reason. The terms are, by their nature, in competition. Wishing away the nature of the two terms doesn’t change that.

    It may be better said that the two have different purposes and that where facts contradict faith, facts must prevail. In the case of medical practice we wouldn’t want doctors performing prayer therapy on a tumor when science and experience tell us to cut it out or use chemotherapy. That doctor would be guilty of malpractice.

    There is competition between faith and reason and we should deal with that competition rationally by excluding faith in all decisions where we know the facts.

  • CRW

    I want to respectfully point out to Robert that his understanding of faith is incomplete. Faith, while it is believing in the unseen, does not “exclude the use of facts”, nor is it “anti-reason”.

    Speaking for the Christian faith, Jesus said that “you shall KNOW the truth”-know, not grope around aimlessly, ignoring facts and having faith in something obviously false. In His mind, fact is to provide the faithful with confidence in their belief, not be in conflict with it.

    Bottom line: if we accept that God is a God of truth, fact and faith have a symbiotic relationship, rather than one of competition.


  • David Michael Phelps

    I would like to reply to Mr. Master’s comment about the relationship between faith and reason and their supposed competition. Rather, I will let someone much more competent than I make the point:

    “Reason itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.” –G.K. Chesterton.

    For one of the quickest and most concise conversations on the dangers of completely compartmentalizing reason away from faith and imagination, see the opening chapters of Chesterton’s great work, Orthodoxy. I think here you will find that I am not wishing away the nature of the two terms at all; in fact, I suspect that your assertion that the two terms are necessarily exlusive is matter unprovable by reason, and, therefore, a matter of faith. In other words, here your reasons depend on a sort of faith.
    In fact, your insistence that these two terms are exclusive seems to me to miss my point exactly. That we even have these terms “faith” and “reason” begs some common first premise that is, ultimately, unknowable by reason itself. It is a matter of faith that we have in common the terms of our reason, language.

    (For other great explorations of the nature of language, see anything by Owen Barfield.)

    And as to the question whether birth control is an ‘advance’ in techonology, we can leave that packed term for later :)
    As always, thanks, everyone, for your thoughts.

  • Bill Hartwell

    As Netjer teaches us, human beings are God’s hands. If you want God to do something, it is up to you to act in Its name.

    In terms that Americans generally understand, Mr. Masters is correct regarding the opposition of faith and reason. The usual American understanding of faith is based on a certain prominent thread of Christian teachings, which can be summed up as one of my professors at North Central Bible College stated: “When there is a difference between faith and facts, the facts are wrong.”

    This is why faith and reason are seen as being in opposition.

    CRW, it’s important for you to understand that in the minds of many Christians, to “KNOW the truth” has absolutely nothing to do with facts, and everything to do with blindly believing the literal words written in the Bible, without consideration of context, history, or the state of scientific knowledge at the time they were written. This is not reason. This is faith as they understand it – and thus, as it is presented to those who do not follow their religion. This blind, thoughtless belief is the reason so many people outside Christianity see faith and reason as being in diametrical opposition.

    For that matter, this blind, thoughtless belief is the reason that those of us who understand God in terms other than those of Dominionist Christianity find the idea of those Christians achieving their Dominionist goals to be so frightening. Their own presentation of their beliefs, and the actions that follow from them, make it clear that the rest of us are in mortal threat should they achieve their goals.

  • Bob

    “Doctors receive their talents from God”.

    Do they really? I thought they went to medical school!!! Seriously though, doctors no more receive their talents from God than a mechanic, programmer or fast food worker. If one was to do a study, I think there’s a good chance it could be determined that most doctors (or anyone good in their field) develops their skills by studying, observing and practicing. Their skill is determined by their training, not by their faith and has little if anything to do with whether or not God exists. If you don’t believe me, next time you’re sick, why don’t you go ask a priest to heal you instead of a doctor. If it’s all about God, the priest should have no problem at all fixing you up. For the rest of us, I’ll be looking for someone with a little more experience!!!

  • David Michael Phelps

    I am afraid you mistook me. Obviously I do not propose that doctors recieve their skills directly from a Divine Being sans training. And I unaware of where in this article I suggest that doctors are not necessary for treating the sick. But I think your comment, like Mr. Masters’s earlier, serves to prove my point. You are creating a split between our work and God’s, between medicine and faith. This split colors how we look at techonology and knowledge as an ‘either us or God’ mentality. Surely all truth, including medical truth, is God’s truth.
    But I do agree with you completely when you say “doctors no more receive their talents from God than a mechanic, programmer or fast food worker.” Indeed, doctors receive their talent just like mechanics, programmers, and fast food workers do, because human work is a the fulfilment of one’s humanity.
    Lastly, nowhere do I suggest that the doctors’ skill comes from their faith. In fact, as Ettiene Gilson said: “Piety is no substitute for technique.” So again, I think you may have missed my point here.

  • Asagai Allen-Barton

    Whenever someone contends that “faith” and “reason” are diametrically opposed to one another shows a lack of understanding of the symbiotic nature of the two. Everything that a person believes requires a measure of “faith” that is drawn upon from a reasoning process. And at the end of every reasoning process comes action requiring “faith” in that reasoning process. For example, as I come to a rope bridge across a ravine I come to the point of action, is it safe to cross on this bridge and will it hold me? I can “reason” that it is safe because I have seen others larger than me cross it. The material it is made of has been known to be sturdy. And I know that it have survived a long period of time and many season changes. But ultimately I have to commit an act of “faith” in that bridge. My “faith” is based on my “reason” and my “reason” has led me to my “faith”. When we debate things of science and of religion we must remember the same applies. The sciences are merely the reasoning processes from which we gather “faith”. You must place “faith” in that process in order to act. Where many go wrong is saying that “faith” has nothing to do with “reason” because they manipulate or misinterpret the reasoning process. A person that has “faith” in God does so by “reason” and not the absence of. You can attack the reasoning process in which they use but cannot state emphatically that they came to this act of “faith” void of “reason”. Being an Atheist is an act of “faith” based on the person’s “reason”. Since it is impossible for any man to prove the non-existence of anything, Atheist have “faith” in their “reason” for not believing in God.

  • RWM

    Reasoning does not require a basis of known (true) facts. Faith does not require reasoning. They hold different places in an epistemic structure. Faith is more fundamental than reasoning.

    That you do not know my thoughts, does not diminish the fact of them. It is simply that my thoughts are unobservable by you. If you trust me and I assert the fact of my thoughts verbally, then you accept it by faith. Do you question the validity of the reasoning in this paragraph? This is faith-based reasoning. Faith is a proxy for unknown fact. If I am untrustworthy, then reasoning based on faith (concerning my thoughts) will lead you to the wrong conclusions.

    God is omniscient, meaning He knows all the facts. I trust Him. He is trustworthy. I believe His assertions to represent the truth (i.e., the facts) based on faith. Thus, I am confident I draw correct conclusions when reasoning based on that faith.

    To belabor the point, if reasoning were limited to a basis of known fact, then science could not advance. Advancement in science is fundamentally a matter of reasoning about things unknown to the interlocutors. Postulates and hypotheses are presented to explain the observed facts, while asserting things unknown (like predicting future observation, establishing the value of physical constants, etc.) When evidence (observed facts) contradicts the hypothesis, we reject it and move on to the next. In most cases, the hypothesis is never provable, but it is bolstered by evidence and becomes accepted theory. We then advance further through theory-based reasoning. E.g., are the assertions in the theories of relativity fact? We don’t know, yet look at all of the advances in science based on the theory.

  • AAH

    You are on point with your comments regarding faith and medicine. Studies have shown that those suffering from illness who pray tend to recover better than those who do not.
    One point I would like to make is that faith and medicine do not compete against each other, they more or less work hand in hand. Depending on your belief it’s all about where you give the credit. In a politically correct society you can call something a miracle without offending anyone because an ahtiest will attribute the miracle to the doctor’s talent and a christian will attribute it to God. Everyone’s happy.

    This is not the relationship with evolution and creationism. These two are competing ideas about the creation of the earth. What is amazing to me is that evolution is considered fact. They call it the THEORY of evolution, not the fact of evolution. To beleive in evolution takes as much faith as beleiving in God. I can’t show you God and no one on the face of the earth can give you a shred of evidence for evolution. The falacy in modern thought is that scientists do not beleive in God. Most notable scientists do beleive in God because they know that the randomness beleived to have caused the big bang and the evolution of man in impossible. That’s right, IMPOSSIBLE. Most scientific eveidence for evolution can be refuted by christian scientists who hold a beleif in Biblical creation. The way the evidence reads has to do with that side of the fence you are on.

  • Bill Hartwell

    If you denigrate evolution because of the word “THEORY”, you obviously do not understand the use of THEORY in a scientific setting. There are many things that are considered THEORY. For example:
    Germs as a cause of illness
    Vitamin C as a preventative of scurvy

    To a scientist, calling something a THEORY means that it has been tested and not proven false.

  • Bob wrote:
    “God is omniscient, meaning He knows all the facts. I trust Him. He is trustworthy. I believe His assertions to represent the truth (i.e., the facts) based on faith. Thus, I am confident I draw correct conclusions when reasoning based on that faith.”

    The problem is that we don’t have physical examples of that truth. Yes, we have the Bible, the Koran, etc, etc, but they were all penned by man. Ultimately, you are putting your faith in the word of who ever wrote those words. That’s not to say there isn’t great wisdom to be had by reading them, but it’s a leap of faith to say that the words came from God.

    BTW, I’m not trying to bash, just show that faith in God isn’t the only explanation feasible. And also that the very idea of God is, as far as we know, a very human concept. Ie- humans came up with it.

    I do like science though because the scientific method gives us a way to validate theories and establish them as fact. Religion doesn’t offer that ability. I know many here will argue that point
    (eg- prayer). But I just mean that religion doesn’t offer it in a manner that is consistently verifiable. At least not that I’m aware of. I wish there was, but in the end, it always comes back to faith. Based on my experience with religion, my faith is lacking. There is a hope, but I would say right now I lean more towards more scientific/biological explanations for consciesness. At least those theories are based in consistently demonstratable and verifiable fact.

    Anyway, sorry for rambling.

  • David Michael Phelps

    Your argument for prefering science is a common one. Let’s apporach it this way: Who, What, Where, When, How–all questions for science. But Why…this is a question science cannot answer.
    From another angle, consider this: science means, as I think you would agree, a method of observation. But here is a question that science itself cannot answer: does science have access to all truth?

    Excellent discussions, everyone.

  • RWM

    You are correct. Faith that \”God is\” is most fundamental. In a similar way, faith in the assertions of scientifictheory leads to greater discovery and knowledge. Faith in God is necessary before you can experience Him fully and personally. Very real experiences in my life are evidence that my faith in God is valid, but I had to have the first faith. My experiences are fact in the same way the predictions of a scientific theory are fact (once they are observed). The prediction support the theory, my experiences support my faith (and it grow).

    Bottom line is that you have to have that first Faith. As scripture says \”The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.\”


    BTW: don\’t apologize for the rambling; makes me feel like I must for mine.

  • David Gentile
  • VY

    I cannot understand how people say they do not “believe” in the theory of evolution. No one says they do not believe in the theory of gravity. Before you lambast evolution as a theory, learn what it means. Try going to college, or at least high school. The word theory in science means something that has been proven infallible. Just as there is proof of gravity when you drop something and it falls to the ground, there is proof of evolution everywhere you look, including human beings. For example, bacteria evolve to withstand antibiotics and extreme conditions through random mutation. Similarly, humans have evolved to have gall bladders to be able to digest meat more efficiently.

    Finally, Christianity is not the only religion in the world. Many Christians would like to think so and condemn everyone else to “hell” for not having faith in Jesus Christ. Just as there are biblical creation stories, there are Hindu creation stories and Native American creation stories. I refuse to be forced to learn creationism or intelligent design or whatever they want to call it. I find it interesting how the United States is the only country in the world who seems to feel compelled to try to incorporate this ridiculous idea into school curriculum. This is the reason why this country has become the laughing stock of the rest of the world. In the end, it is an unsubstantiated, untestable claim for the origins of the earth. It makes all other Christians around the world ashamed for using the Bible, a text written by a human, as proof of how the animals and the world were created.

  • An intelligent discussion of Intelligent Design vs. Evolution can be found [url=””]here[/url]. It includes six essays (3 Intelligent Design arguments 3 responses from Evolution). This article was linked in our most recent ANC newsletter.

  • Robert A. August

    Evolution is no more “science” than ID. Evolution is long on unsubstantiated speculation and short on scientific evidence. In fact the science we know today says evolution is impossible.

    Life cannot come from inert chemicals. Species always reproduce only there own species. There is NO, nada, none, zip evidence that one species has ever changed into another species. The 99.9%% complete fossil record shows no transitional forms where there would have to be millions. The dating of fossils is a ponsi scam and uses circular reasoning with no know reference. Dissipated heat energy cannot be turned back into useful energy to regenerate our dieing universe. Therefore the Big Bang is a Big Bust.

    It is the humanists that must rely on blind faith in natural mechanisms that don’t exist. These nonexistant mechanisms must show themselves in order to believe evolution is true. Five minutes after you die you will know the truth.

  • Bob

    RWM: tuxer wrote:
    “Very real experiences in my life are evidence that my faith in God is valid, but I had to have the first faith. My experiences are fact in the same way the predictions of a scientific theory are fact (once they are observed). The prediction support the theory, my experiences support my faith (and it grow).”

    No disrespect intended but, how do you consider those experiences “fact”? Is there no other plausible explanation other than God? Are they repeatable and independantly verifiable? This is the big problem I have when people attribute experiences and such to God. They may believe that God was involved, but that belief doesn’t make it fact, nor truth.

    David Michael Phelps wrote:
    “Let’s apporach it this way: Who, What, Where, When, How–all questions for science. But Why…this is a question science cannot answer.”

    I would disagree. Science answers the question of “why” all the time. Why did the gas truck explode? Because it contained a flamable liquid that was exposed to a flame. I guess it all depends on the question, and that’s not to say that science is currently unable to answer the “why” to every question. There are many questions that religion can’t answer the “why” to as well.

    “From another angle, consider this: science means, as I think you would agree, a method of observation. But here is a question that science itself cannot answer: does science have access to all truth?”

    Of course not, but that is only because of our own limitations. But does religion have access to all truth? Can a priest tell you who shot JFK? I think not. The difference is that science has methods available to determine the “truth”. Religion only has faith.

    I hope I’m not coming off as opposed to God. All I am saying is that people claim to have “knowledge” of God, experiences that “prove” that God exists, or try to put those experiences on par with science (see above). I used to have this kind of faith in God. After “playing by the rules” for 13 years, I found out my faith was misplaced and that the religion I had been following was a farce.

    So what does that say about God and “truth”? What does it say about God and “truth” that there are countless religions in the world, each claiming the “know” the truth, yet all at odds with each other? It tells me that religion doesn’t deal with truth, and God doesn’t give any knowledge of truth to those that show their faith any more than He does to those that have no faith in Him at all.

    When someone’s house burns down, people ask why such a tragedy occurs. Some will say it’s punishment for sin. Others will say God has his reasons and is testing the faith of the victims. Still others may say it was to provide an opportunity for greater blessings yet to come. The fireman will say it was because they were smoking in bed. Where is the “truth” in all that and who can prove their theory?

    “Why” is a very big question indeed. Why is it that we turn to some unknown being for the answers to questions that “God” has already said he isn’t going to answer in a way that is inexplicable any other way? Why is it we have to trust another man when he says that he speaks for God, or “knows” Him better than we do? Why is it that we are told to pray to God for wisdom, yet when we do and show faith in the “answer”, we are blamed when that answer turns out to be false? Why is it that in the end, the answer to our quest for “truth” is, “Have faith”?

    So here’s MY question for all of you: How am I supposed to have faith in God when the same God is answering the prayers of billions of people, yet giving them different answers to the same questions? How can one decern the “truth” through faith alone, and how do you prove it?

  • Given the discussion that’s been going on around the Acton site over the last week or so (on the blog here and here, in the commentary comments section, and in this week’s poll question), I’m pointing out this timely piece in yesterday&#