Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Faith, Science, and The Simpsons

In response to my post on "The Worship of U2, Part One", my friend Bruce left a comment questioning the relationship between post-modernism and science. My reply to his comment began to grow so long that I just decided to adapt it here as a post. As I am not an expert on post-modernism, my comments are part guesswork, but I think he is right in exposing the often inconsistent attitude that post-moderns can have towards science and other products of a modern worldview. I think, however, that this is natural. Very few people are wholly consistent in their worldview and I suspect that most are really a mixture of modern and post-modern thinking. This may be part of why the term "post-modern" is so highly problematic in the first place. In fact, I think this inconsistency has marked the relationship between faith and science as well. Christians are quick to attack science as an unholy discipline whenever it appears to impinge on cherished beliefs, but then praise it to high heaven whenever it appears to support cherished beliefs.

One of my favorite representations of this dichotomy comes from The Simpsons in an episode dealing with faith vs science (although I think the application of post-modern vs science works here as well). Following the purported archaeological discovery of an angel skeleton in Springfield, a riot between pro-religion and pro-science people breaks out . Moe is part of the pro-religion mob which is running around attacking science as an outdated and failed discipline. Of course, this being satire, the character of Moe functions here as a representative of the often inconsistent Christian worldview with respect to science. In one scene, Moe loudly proclaims in response to a televised news report on science, "Science. What's science ever done for us? TV off!" (as the TV responds to his voice command). Later, Moe helps to lead an enraged mob in an attack on scientific institutions in Springfield. As they are setting fire to the Museum of Natural History, a dinosaur skeleton falls and pins Moe to the ground, prompting Moe to exclaim, "Oh, I'm paralyzed. I just hope medical science can cure me."

Later, this leads to a court trial in which Lisa is accused of having destroyed the angel skeleton. Judge Snyder announces that in addition to addressing this potential misdemeanor, the trial will also settle "the age-old question of Science vs. Religion." When the skeleton is found intact, Judge Snyder issues his decision: "I find the defendant not guilty. As for Science vs. Religion, I am issuing a restraining order. Science must stay 500 yards away from religion at all times."

That of course is not possible. Worldviews are not simply replaced by another one like switching out spark plugs in a car. "Post-Modern" is certainly a misnomer if it is taken to represent a brand new worldview that is uninfluenced by what came before. Most younger members of churches are really, I think, I curious blend of older and newer ways of looking at the world. That may be where the challenge lies.


At 9:55 AM, Blogger Fajita said...

Excellent post.

At 10:23 AM, Blogger Bruce said...

Great synopsis of the Simpsons. Wish I had more time for that show and wish it wasn't quite so nutritious for the darker side of myself. It's writing is outstanding though.

On science and post-modernism, it seems somehow we want a science today that is guaranteed to aid us in producing community and reversing social injustice. Of course that can never be guaranteed. I wonder if perhaps the lessons on the danger of the Enlightenment have been lost (or not even been taught) on many. My guess is "yes." I know I didn't learn about the optimism for the 20th cent. until grad school. Of course 2 world wars and the decline of "civil"izations I think have to give us pause about the limits of science and education for making a more just world.

Or as Paul said, "though they have a fantastic appearance of wisdom, they have no value for checking self-indulgence." However if Christ were the Lord over these things then we could sing with Bono, "Of science and the human heart there is no limit, ...Love and logic keep us clear, Reason is on our side." And Psalm 127 reminds us as well, "Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain."

It seems that God is happy to use science for his purposes but he refuses to be surpassed by it.

At 12:08 PM, Blogger Sermoniac said...

Reading this post makes me think that Hegel's dialectic was correct.

At 1:27 PM, Blogger KMiV said...

Coming from Portland (the land of the Simpsons) I do love them. Whenever we drive downtown we see Lovejoy St., Flanders AVe., Wickam Ave. Springfield, OR has its heros.

I did like this episode. Although the one about Rev. Lovejoy resigning was also a great commentary on religion.

While some are offended at the Simpsons' poking fun at religion the book, "The Gospel According to the Simpons" has excellent points. What Groenig says about us makes us reflect, laugh, and rethink what we are called to be in this culture. The Simpsons are always open to religion/God. They just need someone to make it real. As Homer said, after Lovejoy returned to the pulpit and told how he saved Ned from the baboons, "Now that's religion!"



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