In a conversation several months back, a friend confided in me about his examination of biblical Christianity: “Honestly, I think it is a bunch of fairy tales.”
Having been persuaded toward atheism very early in my life, I wasn’t offended by his statement; rather, I appreciated his candor and in a certain sense understood his skepticism.
Then Alex Rosenberg, in a recent debate at Purdue University, issued an emphatic challenge to those who embrace a real God who intersects with human history: “Do not make yourself vulnerable to reason and evidence. … You cannot accept that faith is reasonable … (you can embrace) faith and not reason.”
To Rosenberg, it is as if one who trusts in God is saying, “Don’t bother me with the facts, ma’am. I’m happy here in my superstitious cocoon.”
Why is there all too often this vast chasm between faith and reason? Are they so utterly opposed that they cannot be reconciled? Or possibly, is there an unnecessary quarrel about the essence of reason (viewed as producing inarguable fact) and faith (viewed as generating unsupported opinion) that can be honestly and reasonably bridged?
For many thinkers living in or near the “Age of Reason” — Newton, Kepler, Pascal, Descartes, Copernicus, Galileo et al. — segregation of faith and reason into non-overlapping areas would have meant intellectual suicide.
Instead, these intellects considered both areas as valid and complementary, with one often being able to uncover sound answers the other could not. And this did not mean each sphere could not be tested and refined, either, if the evidence led in that direction. The thinkers knew rigorous scholarship required honesty and humility in methodology and results to guard against the introduction of personal bias.
For a recent example, until the last hundred years or so we had very little idea of exactly how the universe came to be, even though the biblical model strongly affirms a distinct beginning initiated by God. Then along came Albert Einstein and his groundbreaking relativity equations, which purported to mathematically explain the origin of the universe.
Though his theories have proved out incredibly well in the past several decades, what has been largely ignored is how he responded to his own equations demonstrating the universe had a beginning.
Uncomfortable that the math pointed unflinchingly toward a single event and then a rapidly expanding universe, Einstein injected — without evidence — a fudge factor called the “cosmological constant,” which retained a static universe, one with no need for a beginning (or a Beginner).
But shortly thereafter, Edwin Hubble’s observations validated an expanding universe consistent with Einstein’s original relativity equations, without the added constant.
Finally approached by Georges Lemaitre, a highly accomplished mathematician and priest, Einstein, to his credit, revised his equations and called his injection “the biggest mistake of my life.”
That integration of faith and reason can be done well is also a guiding principle found in Christian scripture, where we’re encouraged to examine God’s revelation and also ponder the natural world.
In Isaiah, God exhorts the Israelites, “Come now, let us reason together,” and in Job, “Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?”
Paul likewise says to the church at Thessalonica, “But test everything; hold fast what is good.”
Using one’s mind is not seen as contradictory to but actually supportive of faith in the biblical God. The Belgic Confession of 1561 captures this idea concisely by tying together the natural and supernatural realms as vehicles through which God reveals himself to us.
At once these ideas recognize man’s limits in understanding some things, but not all things; that we are finite creatures, but God is not; to discover truth, but not to define truth.
My skeptical friends might ask whether this tradition has carried over to present day, or do modern Christian leaders want us to check our brains at the door in favor of just accepting some feel-good truisms? It seems the answer is “yes” to both at times.
One can always seem to find some folks fleecing the flock and misusing Scripture. Yet on the other side of the equation, leading thinkers such as William Lane Craig, Nancy Pearcey, Hugh Ross and Ravi Zacharias are challenging the canard that faith and reason are somehow bitter, irreconcilable enemies.
The good news is truth is never opposed to examination — it always holds up and requires only curiosity and honesty to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if the journey makes us a little uncomfortable.
Wayne Wilkins is a Mechanicsville resident and the owner of Quantile Marketing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you have a personal experience with faith or ethics you’d like to submit for publication? Send your Faith & Values column to Paige Mudd at email@example.com.