Thoughts on Faith and Science (Part I)

Thoughts on Faith and Science (Part I) July 9, 2013

If theism is true, then we might see God.1 No greater good can be imagined than seeing the Good. If we needed a motive to examine theism, no better exists. Christianity demonstrates that the Good became a human being in the person of Jesus and loves humankind enough to save us from ourselves. If we need a reason to hope Christianity is true, then Jesus is it.

Hope is a start, but not enough. Hopes lack the substance needed for a reasonable life. Faith is hope with substance, enough substance that it sustains every human activity, including science.2

Pity the atheist who cannot believe such things, but pity him more for the reasons he sometimes gives for his unbelief. To use science to promote atheism is like using a man’s child to prove he does not exist.3

Science was discovered by theists with contributions from all the great monotheistic religions, but finally given modern form in the Christian world.4 Whether in Eastern Orthodox Russia or Western Catholic Italy, science was a child of the Faith.

Like all children, the relationship with the parents was difficult, but the bond has never been fully sundered. William of Ockham developed his Razor, urging thinkers not to multiply entities needlessly, partly for theological reasons.

He knew a wise God would create rationally. Secularists may scramble for reasons to accept this basic idea of modern science, but monotheists (Jews, Christian, and Islamic) start with it.

Faith leads to science, it certainly is not the enemy of science. Christians believe, so we love to do science.

What is faith?

Any word used in many contexts and by many English speakers for a long time picks up baggage. “Faith” is a word used by so many, in so many different ways, for so long that it is easy to get confused. I have heard people use it as a synonym of “hope” or as another way of saying that something is unlikely.

Internet atheists sometimes claim that faith is believing things despite the evidence, but I suspect that they have confused the witty Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce with serious philosophy. Bierce, a Victorian gadfly for comfortable religion, defines faith this way: “Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.”5 Two billion Christians globally makes me strongly suspect I could find a Christian who believes this one, but not one who understands his religion.

Christians need not, of course, concern themselves with popular English ways of using “faith,” but in the more technical sense used by Christians, including in Sacred Scriptures, when they have talked about Christianity. Some Christian thinkers are so tired of misunderstandings of this technical term that they have advised abandoning it for “trust,” but that would be a shame.

After all, despite changes in popular usage only a philosophically illiterate person turns to older English translation of Nietzsche’s The Gay Science for ideas about homosexuality.

A standard, more technical, Christian definition of faith is less witty than Bierce, but more interesting if one worries that Christian faith might go to war with science. A standard Evangelical Christian work for a lay audience defines faith: “The word is used in Scripture (1) most frequently in a subjective sense, denoting a moral and spiritual quality of individuals, by virtue of which men are held in relations of confidence in God and fidelity in Him; and (2) in an objective sense, meaning the body of truth, moral and religious, which God has revealed . . .”6

In the first sense, I don’t see how “faith” and “science” could clash unless one presumes “science” can define morality or show God does not exist. Science cannot do the first and has not done the second.

Science, which tells what “is,” determine what “should be” no matter how much science discovers, so it cannot define morality. As for a relationship with God, science may have shown a certain sort of god with certain properties does not exist (Zeus has no palace on Mount Olympus), but not that other gods do not exist.

The great monotheistic religions postulate a God totally different from “gods” in most forms of pantheism. Like mathematical objects, His being is nonphysical. The results of His actions in space-time can be studied by science, but not the actions themselves. If He exists, as Christians believe He exists, then His essence exists transcends natural laws. For a scientist to “study” God or refute His existence using natural science would be as impossible as experiencing a three dimensional being in two dimensions. Two dimensions can simulate a three dimensional object, as Joss Whedon can trick my eyes into seeing the Avengers in 3-D, but never fully contain one.

The transcendent may not exist, but the study of the non-transcendent, such as nature by science, will not prove it. It was an intellectual fashion in the middle of the twentieth century in philosophy to argue that no rational discussion of the transcendent was possible, because the terms used by religion to describe God were incoherent, but that fad has faded in philosophy of religion.7

It is this sense of science and “faith” where it makes sense to say that religion and science do not overlap or do so only slightly. They are two separate and compatible ways of knowing. A secularist may claim that the spiritual dimension does not exist, but he cannot use science to do it . . . unless he can show natural science has explained everything or is likely to do so.

One need not even be a theist to think physics is not going to replace metaphysics. Information, personality, mathematics, logic itself is not reducible to physics. Mind and matter seem like different stuff. You can build most physical objects out of Legos, but you cannot build a number with even infinite Legos and infinite time.

If either mind or matter is “all,” then mind seems a better candidate. Life might be a dream God’s mind and boats still be rowed by men, but nobody has yet to describe how matter and energy make the ideas in dreams. Most Christians have believed that Mind came first and then matter, but that both irreducible type of “stuff” was needed.

Religion, philosophy, literature, and all the arts are mental means of knowing about the “higher things.” Science tells us about the material world using the products, mathematics and science, of mind.

Unger’s second definition of faith is the sense of religious faith that must be meant when people talk of the clash of religion and science. Christianity as a religion revealed certain “truths” to humankind and the Faith is a list of those truths. All revealed truths dealing with the physical world could be shown to be likely or unlikely by science.

It is easier for science to confirm a revelation is probably true than false. If revelation says there were “lions” in the Holy Lands in Bible times, then finding one lion carcass in the Holy Land at the right time proves that this claim is true. On the other hand, if no remains of lions are found in the Holy Land are ever found, that makes possible, but does not prove that they never were there.

Christianity depends on a claim that science could (in principle) disprove: the body of Jesus that went into the tomb was transformed and came out.
It might be that the “spiritual body” in part transcends the limits of science, but the empty tomb and the transformation itself would not.

A camera could not have capture all that was happening to the body of Jesus in the tomb, but it could have seen that He was there and then He was not. The most important things that happened to Jesus were beyond science, just as the most important things that happened at my wedding are not captured in the picture.

You can hear my vow my vows, but you cannot see the change it made in me before God and that company.

1 Read Canto XXXIII of the Paradiso and know hope. 
2 Hebrews 11:1
3 Compare the intellectual wreck of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (Mariner Books, 2008) with a more thoughtful secularist David Berlinski The Devil’s Delusion (Basic Books, 2009).
4 See the Soul of Science (Crossway, 1994) by my colleague at HBU Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton.
6 Unger, Merrill F. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Chicago: Moody Press, 1988. page 396.
7 Ed Weirenga gives a good defense of the sensibility of many divine attributes in The Nature of God Ithaca, Cornell University Press.
8 Bart Ehrman is no great friend of traditional Christians, but even he sees no hope for this atheist urban legend. See his Did Jesus Exist? Harper One, 2013.

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