Over my first few posts, I’ve looked at how faith has been a struggle for me, but how I’ve ultimately come down strongly on the side of believing in the truth of Christianity and some of the reasons for that decision, as well as explaining the concept of faith. Over the next few weeks, I want to examine some of the reasons for faith that I listed in my initial post, and give a little more detail about them.
The first topic I want to address is the topic of science and faith, although to be precise, I am referring far more to the debate about the origins of humanity – evolution and creation. I dare say that virtually all of us are fine with science when we’re talking about repeatable events and technology in our life (as in, we all agree that science has a method and it produces results that we can acknowledge as valid). But the matter of origins is a different one, because it can’t be repeated and most of the evidence is circumstantial or based on speculation. This has been a topic of significant interest to me for years, and one that gets a lot of attention in our North American society. But before I even touch on anything remotely scientific, I think that there are a few details we need to examine so that we can approach this topic reasonably instead of fanatically. So, here are a few things I want you to think about before we dive into the scientific (and later, Biblical) details.
How qualified are you?
The obvious first question for us to ask is, how qualified are we to deal with scientific matters? Let’s be honest, the field of science is a vast and hugely technical one, and most of us aren’t qualified to weigh and assess the different arguments. For example, where would you rate yourself on the following scale?
- Virtually no scientific knowledge. Don’t know, don’t care.
- I can answer basic questions, don’t mind science
- I enjoy science and research questions that I have
- I love science, study it hard, and (likely) have a science degree and job
- I am an expert in at least one scientific field and informed in others
I would put myself firmly in group 3, and have been tempted at times to pursue a degree or career in science, but life has taken me other directions. I would guess that the vast majority of people fit into groups 1-3, and only a small percentage make it to group 5. This makes it very difficult to have a strong, studied opinion. It’s not impossible to be informed, but we run the risk of holding strong opinions that are, quite simply, wrong.
Quantity of Information
Another challenge facing us “average” people is the sheer quantity of information available to us in our society. There is a reason that this is called the information age. The amount of research that is available to us at any given moment is staggering. A quick Google search on “ human origins” came up with 18 million articles! While obviously a lot of those results would go in completely different directions than just scientific knowledge, and much of the information would be repeated, it still highlights the fact that there is too much information for any one person to know it all. The average person is bombarded with conflicting viewpoints and has very little ability to discern which are credible, and which are pure nonsense. Which leads to another problem:
Disagreement in the Research
There are a lot of very smart people in this world. Many of them are scientists who have devoted their lives to research and study scientific issues, and in particular, issues related to the origins of the world and humanity. But the reality is, they don’t agree with each other. If you have ever watched a debate between scientists with differing points of views, it becomes evident very quickly that there is significant disagreement about which studies or science is accurate and valid, which sources are credible, and even the definitions of many of the concepts that are being debated. The so-called average person is left struggling to know what is most significant and who is performing a slight-of-hand.
Another source of confusion is the shifting of scientists from one school of thought to another. While there are many variations of beliefs regarding origins, as a Christian I notice four different groups that jump out. There are the atheists and/or naturalists who believe that everything has a natural cause and that God doesn’t exist or at least doesn’t participate in creation and our world at all. Then there are Christians that fit into three different categories: Those who believe in God but believe that he created the world through natural means (theistic evolution, such as that espoused by BioLogos); those who believe that he interceded supernaturally and directed the evolutionary process (Intelligent Design such as the Discovery Institute); and those who believe that God created the world in six literal days as laid out in the Bible (Young-Earth Creationists such as the Institute for Creation Research). Note: I point to these organizations and web pages only as examples of each view. Explore them or others at your leisure to get an idea of the different views.
Each of these different viewpoints can claim scientists who are considered experts in their fields (doctorates, professors, researchers, etc.). And each group holds people who were “led by the evidence” to move from one set of beliefs to another. There are atheists who used to be Christians but scientific study led them to abandon their belief in God. But there are also atheists who have become Christians and joined one of the Christian camps and who were led that way by the science that they were studying. And there are Young Earth Creationists who have become Intelligent Designers, who have become Evolutionary Theists, and so on. Who knows how many people have moved from one camp to another, or if one is more common than another? So ultimately, we’re left with a bunch of different scientists, usually very intelligent people dedicated to their science, who can’t agree on how things got started. And if they can’t agree or even make up their own mind, why do we think that we can provide all the answers to the questions of our origins?
The lie of objectivity
This brings up a point that many mention regarding Christians who are scientists. The argument is that because the Christian believes in God and the Bible “by faith”, this means that they are reading their own beliefs into their research and are not objective. First off, I would just like to remind you of what I just pointed out – that many scientists have become Christians because of the science that they are studying, not in spite of it. Science influenced and led them to change their beliefs, not the other way around.
But more importantly, the reality is that it is very hard, if not impossible, for anyone to be truly objective. Everyone brings a whole lot of previous experiences and a set of beliefs to their life. Every atheist, every Christian, every person has a million different things that have shaped their lives, their presuppositions, and the lens that they use to interpret their findings. We are not truly objective, no matter how hard we might try. The best we can do is try to be aware of the influences in our life and the worldview or beliefs we are bringing to our work and life. Any scientist, whether Christian or not, is approaching his or her work with a specific worldview and history which influences how they do their work, and in particular, how they interpret their data. Obviously, some data is more open to interpretation than other, but the point remains the same. The atheist and naturalist who has already written off the possibility of God and supernatural intervention, for whatever reason, is no less guilty of interpreting according to their worldview than the Christian. Which leads me to the next point…
The role of faith
This is a tricky one to explain. Basically, the thought or accusation is that Christians “live by faith”, while science is based on facts. What people often mean by this is that Christians don’t care about facts, or that there is nothing provable in Christianity, while science is all about proof and demonstrable facts. The idea is that one is based on belief or faith (implying lack of evidence), while the other is based on study and proof.
I want to push back against this on a few levels. First of all, as I explained in my last post, faith is based on knowledge. So I have faith in Christianity because I have studied the historical records and analyzed it from many different angles, and have come to believe (have faith) that Jesus is the Son of God. Similarly, I have studied the origins of the earth and humanity from many angles, as best as I am able, and I have come to believe (have faith) that the evidence points to the existence of God. Many other people far more intelligent than me have come to the same conclusion. So we have faith in God’s existence and his creation because of evidence, not in spite of it.
But the reality is that other people have investigated the same issues and come to a different conclusion. They have decided that the evidence is against Jesus being the Son of God and God being the creator of the world. We all look at the same evidence, and arrive at different conclusions. So why is one side (Christians) accused of being irrational or against evidence? If the evidence was so clear that (virtually) everyone agreed, then there would be no faith involved. But if significant numbers of people disagree on an issue, then both sides are exercising faith when they choose to believe something, because the evidence is not strong enough for it to be conclusive. In other words, both sides live by faith.
To expand this point, think about how we analyze the information we receive. We are bombarded by news reports and studies that talk about the advances or changes in our understanding of human origins. Depending what you read or who you listen to, the investigations point one way or another. Even the same study can be proclaimed as evidence for evolution (or creation), then ripped apart by opponents for various reasons, or turned to demonstrate the opposite of what it was originally claimed to show. Each person has to analyze the information and make a decision about what reports are valid and accurate. Since many of us don’t have the critical abilities to verify the accuracy of a scientific study, we base our choice of who to believe on any number of things: how does this match up with other studies? Do I trust the person that authored this study? Does it match up with my already decided worldview? Does the author, or his opponent, sound more credible? Not even scientists rigorously review every single study that comes out, though they are more likely to review and critique at least some of them. What I’m saying is that the study of our origins is loaded with faith choices that we all make. There is simply too much information for us to weigh, and most of it is far too technical for us to understand, so we trust (have faith in) the people that we’ve chosen to believe and listen to. And often times, the reason we’ve chosen to believe them has nothing to do with the actual evidence, and much more to do with other factors. So both sides “live by faith” – that is, everyone chooses to believe something they cannot absolutely prove, but which has some evidence to support it. And both sides think that the evidence supporting their beliefs is overwhelming. But if it was, we wouldn’t be having this debate, would we?
Just one further note related to this. At present, the “majority opinion” in the scientific community comes down on the side of evolution with no need for God. I think it’s fair to ask whether the majority opinion is always right. Many of the people who hold this view were brought up in a society with an aggressive anti-supernatural view and taught with the assumption that either God didn’t exist or that science was proving He wasn’t necessary. God was an old-fashioned belief from a primitive or uncivilized time. It is natural, given this base assumption, that most people will assume that evolution is true without even examining it closely. I am curious how many of the people raised within this belief system have ever pushed back against this assumption and tested to see if it is valid. I don’t have an answer for that, but I suspect that there are a lot of unrecognized assumptions in the beliefs of many scientists, and that these assumptions influence their work.
So, what do I want you to take from this? Just a few things.
- Humility – be honest about your own scientific knowledge, even if you’re a scientific expert. When it comes to the question of origins, a lot of very smart people hold to a lot of very different views. And while many (most?) of them hold those views because they believe that’s where the evidence points, many (on both sides) probably hold them because of underlying assumptions and beliefs. And those of us who are not experts especially need to hold our scientific views loosely.
- Faith – acknowledge where you are exercising faith, or better said, that you are choosing to believe many things that you have not personally examined closely. How many experts and opinions do you believe that you have never actually studied? How many tests have you done yourself as opposed to simply accepting the conclusions of others? What are the assumptions or motives underlying the different experiments and how they are reported and interpreted? How well do you know the character and the credibility of the people you are choosing to believe? Why do you choose to believe them over other people that you have also not studied? I suspect that you will discover you know very little about most of these people and experiments, including the assumptions that have gone into them. The reality is, in order to do our job and live our life, we need to believe in a lot of people and things that we simply can’t study – we don’t have the time, knowledge or energy to personally validate everything. But we do need to be honest about the amount of untested faith we are demonstrating.
This post pushes us hard towards skepticism, and I don’t apologize for that. No matter where you are personally in your view regarding the origins of humanity, I think we need to examine our position closely. There is a lot of arrogance in this debate, from both sides, and the vast majority of it is misplaced. I think it is crucial for all of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, to acknowledge that there is still far more that we don’t know about the scientific details of our origins than we do know. And quite frankly, many of us waste a lot of time arguing about details that we’re not really qualified to argue about.
Over the next few posts, I will lay out where I stand on the scientific evidence, and then what I think the Bible points us to in regards to creation. My next post in particular, about the scientific evidence, is certainly not intended to answer all the questions or prove one thing or another. I will simply be explaining the items that stand out the most to me and which have led me to a stronger faith in the Bible and in Jesus, as opposed to throwing Christianity out altogether. You, of course, will have to do your own research, examine your own biases, and draw your own conclusions.
As always, feel free to drop any comments below. I won’t always respond to them in timely fashion (my life is busy like anyone else’s), but I will definitely read them. Until next time, then, God bless.