Faith and Reason in the 21st Century


As a way of introduction, I am both a chemist and a lay minister. This comes as a surprise to many people because, in today’s society, you are either one or the other but never both. If you declare that you are a scientist, then you are automatically labeled as a god-hater, atheist, and with such derision that you make Commander Spock of Star Trek fame look warm and fuzzy. On the other hand, if you declare your belief in God, then you are apt to be labeled as delusional or other similar terms. In the world of today, there does not appear to be any thought that one might be a scientist and still believe in a transcendent God.

In looking at my life, I have come to the conclusion that I made the decision to become a lay minister long before I made the decision to become a chemist. But I put my skills as a chemist to use long before I put my skills into being a lay minister in the United Methodist Church. Now, it never occurred to me while I was going to college and studying chemistry that there would ever be a conflict between what I read and studied during the week and what I did on Sundays in the church. In fact, when I was in college, I saw many of the same faculty attending the same church that I did and I saw other faculty members attending other churches on the same block. It did not appear to me then that there was a conflict between science, logic, reason, and faith.

So I try to do both and I try to do both equally well. For science and its attention to logic and reason do not conflict with faith. What bothers me is that people do not see that science and faith approach life from two different views but with one goal, and that is to explain the world around us. Science can tell us about how this planet was created and it can explain how life became what it is but science cannot explain why the planet was created or why life is the way it is.

The fundamental question of life is always “why?” Science and faith are both prepared to answer this question; it is just that the answers, like the sources, are mutually exclusive. We, individually and as a society, are not often prepared for answers to questions that are in themselves complicated and confusing.

We need both faith and reason in today’s world. Faith is a belief in things unseen; reason is the result of what you see. Both are clearly needed in this world and yet there are too many people who would willingly sacrifice one for the other. And while there is an historical and justifiable basis for the conflict, it seems to me that today’s conflict is more a conflict between two groups, each representing the extremes of faith and reason, for the control of your mind and your life.

Each group wants each one of us to declare our allegiance to their god. And woe unto you should declare that you will follow neither but will follow the one true God. Those are harsh words, I know, but I hope that they are words of truth.

The church and science have always been at odds with each other. Throughout time, science has always shown what many considered Biblical truth to be false and the organized church would not accept the change. There isn’t a one among us who hasn’t marveled at how long it took for the Catholic Church to declare that they may have made a mistake in finding Galileo guilty of heresy some 500 years ago while at the same time accepting the concept of evolution. Still, we are quite willing today to let so-called Biblical groups attempt to control the direction of science and education.

But that was a struggle between people, not a struggle within one person’s mind. And it was a struggle by a dying church as it attempted to maintain a control on society that was being threatened by the changes in society. When you compare the struggle of the church with science in the Renaissance period with the struggle of the church today with science, you might have to look at the calendar in order to know that it is 2008 and not 1548.

Faith is a belief in things unseen, yet too many people in the church today want to you to accept their version of things unseen and not to question what it is you see. God gave me a mind and a soul and He expects me to use it; I am not a heretic or condemned to hell because I chose to question what God has laid out before my eyes. I should be considered a heretic if I were to accept without question what others tell me to believe.

Some will tell you that the earth is several billion years old; others will insist that it is relatively young. The evidence suggests that it is old so those who argue for the young earth have to invent an answer that explains the difference. And the answer is inevitably that God made it that way. The earth is really very young but God put it together so that it appears to be very old. If that is the case, then either God is playing a trick on us or He is lying to us.

It is not the age of the earth that bothers me. It is clearly older than me and it is probably going to be here long after I am dead and buried and a part of the earth. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that God would not perpetrate a lie about the age of the earth nor would he play a trick on us. For if He put the evidence before us and He wants us to decide for ourselves what the evidence means but the evidence is a lie, then how can anything He said or did be considered the truth. How can we say that God loved us enough to send His Only Son to be our Lord and Savior and save us from slavery to sin and death if it was a lie?

But if it is the truth, and only faith can tell you that; then how do we live our lives? I grew up in a society that used the Bible to justify segregation and the oppression of people. I was just coming of age when we introduced the phrase “under God” to declare our moral superiority over communism in the fifties. Over the years I have seen those who call themselves Christians transform God from “I Am Who I Am” and “Our Father, Who art in Heaven” into “I am what you want me to be” and “your most obedient servant”. Jesus offered us the role of the servant as a model of our life; we are to be the servants for others, others are not to be our servants. I cannot stand by and let people transform the basis for my faith into a reason to control others.

And I am not letting those who proclaim science as the ultimate solution or as a reason to similarly control others. We may trumpet the ability of science to develop vaccines and wonderful energy resources but the same ability to do that produces weapons of mass destruction that cause death and destruction beyond the scope of wars before. Science may offer answers but science cannot explain human nature. And if those who proclaim goodness and justice are inherent in each other, what is the explanation for evil? If goodness and justice are inherent in some while evil and oppression are inherent in others, what shall we do? For everyone who says that the problems of the world are a fault of religion, we can find many problems that come from science and man’s inability to choose the right path.

What we need to do is say that science and faith are a part of our lives. Through science we will find the tools and the means by which hunger, illness, homelessness can be overcome. Through faith we will find the power and the strength to go out into the world and bring food, health, and shelter to the world. When we say that we are a Christian, we say that we seek a world in which the hungry are fed, the sick are healed, the naked find clothes, and those without shelter have shelter. When we say that we are a Christian, we say that we will do for others those things that Christ did for us.

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Presented at the Hopewell Reformed Church (Hopewell, NY) men’s breakfast on 9 August 2008

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One thought on “Faith and Reason in the 21st Century

  1. Pingback: At What Point? « Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

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