Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reconciling Faith With Reason

In his book, “Holy Ignorance”, Olivier Roy laments how religion has been privatized, weaned from the public life. The secular worldview, when divorced from faith, leaves us disenchanted, as it treats us like orphans of God, left in a morass of consumerism, every person reduced down to dollars.

Science has replaced our narrative with propositions and our faith with technology.

He describes how religion has become fanatical as it has come to divorce itself from culture. Such a religion, once unhinged from the world, becomes an antagonist to all that is alien to its self-conjured reality. Mr. Roy explains the modern trends within the church as it markets itself in creating church services that are more like productions, and with its emphasis on a “therapeutic” message, as being the symptoms of this cleavage.

We now live in the digital age. The computer screen or smart phone which you are using to view this blog, was produced by digital technology. Such technology was birthed from science. Science is governed by reason. It is from such reason that Einstein discovered E=MC2, giving us the power and threat we now face with Japan’s nuclear reactor meltdowns. Reason has authenticated itself through the power of the technology that envelopes us.

It is out of this same reasoning process that we are left with interpreting the universe as being approximately 13.7 billion years old, governed by a system of processes that produced the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that shook and swallowed so much of Japan. It is because of this reasoning process that we are able to predict lunar eclipses and the most recent super moon.

I see two ways to reconcile reason with faith. One is to separate scientific thought from its metaphysical assumptions, weeding out fact from fiction by discerning between its pragmatism and its philosophical assumptions. Here is an example that I have used before (and will probably use again):

Two men look at the Grand Canyon. One says, “Wow, look what a lot of time and a little water can do to create such a wonder”. The other says, “Wow, look what a lot of water and a little time can do to create such a wonder”.

Both observers have the same facts but different presuppositions. The presuppositions can sometimes be tested, but many times can not. When they can’t, they fall into the metaphysical category. The facts are certain, but the assumptions require faith to accept or reject.

Let me stress that all these models of the development of the universe from nothing ... from some point [like the primordial atom of the Big Bang models]... have to be seen for what they are: models, devoid of compelling experimental verification. The scenarios we develop from them are possible, and they illustrate various features we can follow up on, but none is ultimately persuasive. —Nothingness: The Science of Empty Space p296

The second way that I see to reconcile faith with reason is to hold some of my faith assumptions with less dogma. I see Christ constantly confronting literal interpretations, not allegorical ones. For instance, in John 6, Christ tells His followers that unless they eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, they cannot become His disciples. Many of His disciples deliberately turn away from Him. Why wasn’t Christ more careful about His wording? Was He not purposefully trying to provoke by separating out the literalists from those who could see the allegorical nature of His words?

I could point to other examples like when Christ stood in front of the temple and told His audience that in three days He would build up the temple (talking about His body, and not the literal temple in which He was standing in front of). Or how about when Christ was ministering to the woman at the well in John 4 and told His disciples who were concerned that He had not eaten in a while, that He had food to eat that they knew nothing about (John 4:32), talking not about physical food but about doing His Father’s will? Such allegorical interpretations free the Christian to believe that the world could be billions of years old.

I’m not sure how far to take this allegorical approach. For instance, I certainly do believe that Christ was and is a literal person. And on the subject of the age of the earth and humanity, I suspect that Dr. Russell Humphreys is on the right track by suggesting that if time is relative, we could be living on a young earth in an old universe….

The point is that I believe in a logical faith. Reason necessitates its own limitations. Faith compensates for them. Reason finds that there are limitations to what we can know. It is the reason people ask, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around, does it still make a sound?” As soon as we allow for even the possibility of things existing beyond our empirical knowledge, we open the door to faith.

If reason necessitates faith, faith rejects certainty. Show me someone who is certain, and I’ll show you someone that is faithless. Christ would often ask people, “where is your faith?” But if He really wanted to drive people toward the extreme of belief, why did He not ask, “where is your certainty?”

I am certain that I do not know what I think I know. I have faith that at least some of what I am certain about is wrong. Perhaps if scientists were less dogmatic about their reason, and religious people were less dogmatic about their faith, the reconciliation could be clear.

Here is the book review that inspired this blog posting:

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