Conviction and Complexity 3

Continued from “Conviction and Complexity 2.”

God is always more than we think we know about him. He is inexhaustible. The Bible is much more than any of our current views and interpretations of it. It continues to speak to people of vastly different beliefs and perspectives, to reveal surprises to receptive readers, both delighting and challenging them. These convictions about God and the Bible govern my approach to science / faith relations, and I commend them to you in these relations as well.

Truth. I believe in the ultimate harmony of all truth. I may or may not be able to see or hear that harmony at any given moment, but I suspect that each of us seeks it out, to bring coherence to the complex dimensions of our lives. Truth is complex, and the pursuit of truth is complex. Different people have legitimate parts to play in seeing and clarifying truth, even as different tools are needed to understand different dimensions of life.

Science reveals truth. As I understand it, “science” is both a process and a result. It is a way of seeing the world, exploring it, analyzing it, and testing one’s grasp of it. It is a way of knowing. It is also a result: the data, the findings, the analyses, the conclusions. In my own engagements with science, I have tended to focus on natural sciences (e.g., geology, biology), as opposed to other fields of study (e.g., social science, political science).

Faith reveals truth. In addition to studies of the Bible and life experiences, the writings of Karl Barth, an early- to mid-twentieth-century Swiss theologian, have taught me much about faith as a way of knowing, especially in his work on St. Anselm. In effect, Barth argues that one cannot fully know the Christian faith until one commits to it and tries living life as a disciple of Jesus. Only then can one know what it is like to see the world and experience it as a follower of Jesus. Only then can one discover whether there is truth in Jesus’ teaching, for example, to love one’s enemies. One cannot try to establish that truth from a different position in relation to Christ. One must love one’s enemy to know if the teaching of Jesus is true. In this and analogous ways, faith is a path to truth.

Science / Faith. Science and faith both reveal truth, and they are both legitimate paths to truth. Some (not most!) scientists and science supporters are inclined to dismiss faith as a legitimate truth pursuit. Now, to be sure, I have witnessed versions of faith that I would consider illegitimate, but one should patiently seek the wisdom to discern good and bad forms of faith, and not dismiss all faith just because some people live theirs rather poorly, or even just fail to articulate their faith in ways one finds compelling.

I also cannot help but wonder, when there are such lashings out at faith, if these reactions stem from frustrations or pains that are not immediately obvious on the surface? Maybe it runs deeper and is more personal than we sometimes realize? Complexity.

On this note, do not buy into stereotypes of scientists. For a more factual, scholarly study of what scientists really think about religion, read Elaine Howard Ecklund, Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think (New York: Oxford, 2010).

On another side, some people of faith dismiss science, even if they claim to support science. Such believers often support a redefined version of science. That is, I have not seen any Christian in my context think of himself or herself as “anti-science.” In my experience, no one wants to be “anti-science.” Instead, some Christians redefine “science” and make their own judgments as to what does and does not count as real science. Convenient.

Many Christians simply do not understand science: how it is done, who is actually doing it, what the results really are, and how to make sense of it. This lack of understanding does not prevent some Christians from forming strong opinions about science, however. A word of caution to Christians who handle science, however: if you misrepresent what science really is and does, is this not a violation of our shared command not to bear false witness (Ex 20:16)?

Real Christian faith has nothing to fear from science. After all, if God is more than even our best and hardest-earned thoughts about him, and if the Bible is more than even our best and hardest-earned understandings of it, then what should people of faith be afraid of? Does God disappear if the earth bears record of things we did not know happened? Should the Bible be tossed in the garbage can if we find that a formerly-clear interpretation is now inadequate, and we find ourselves pushed to read it again?

Christian responses to science should be carefully thought out and provisionally enacted. I might be wrong. You might be wrong. Being wrong may deliver a blow to my ego, but it does not mean that truth is not real, or that my pursuit of truth was not worth it. The relationship is far more complex than this. Truth is far more complex than this. By all means, let people of profound faith explore science / faith relations. Let them proceed with conviction, but let that conviction include the commitment to understanding the complexity of life, of our world, and of what it takes — and whom it takes — to understand our world more faithfully and more truly.

Comments Welcome!