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Faith and science: notes on a discussion

The basics

Science and faith are often seen as in opposition to each other – as if science threatens religious belief while religion undermines the rational process of deriving understanding from evidence. The suggestion’s made that you have to choose one or the other: science OR God.

Fundamentalists and the ‘new atheists’ alike want to impose that choice on people – but both are wrong. Science and faith can reinforce one another – like two wings of a bird: both needed if the bird’s to fly. If they seem to be in conflict, the right course is twofold. First, to try and understand what the science is saying, and whether it’s a maverick view or the result of consensus among many scientists, backed up by extensive evidence; and second, to think more carefully about what faith, or typically the Bible, is saying. Some sections that you had seen as literal history mighy in fact be interpreted figuratively, for example, just as the parables of Jesus have aa spiritual significance rather than being simple accounts of events.

Religion has some obvious benefits too, filling what could be alarming gaps – providing the basis for morality, values and so on, avoiding mere nihilistic science.

Faith, science and evidence

We talked about faith and evidence, with one view being that we’re asked to believe even without solid evidence (like Abraham being asked to leave Ur, going ‘out in faith’) while another stresses that faith isn’t ‘blind, but evidence-based - noting that the Bible devotes much space to rehearsing evidence that showed God can be trusted to ‘deliver’, because He’s done so in the past.

We talked about not always taking things literally or viewing the simple ‘surface’ meaning as the main one – drawing a comparison with parables – and about promises not always being fulfilled in the way we expect (some Jews rejected Jesus because they were expecting a liberator from the Romans).

Are people fearful of combining faith and science? Extremes are attractive, and beget other extremes. Moreover, views and predictions can be more readily believed if expressed with certainty and confidence, even if those characteristics aren’t fully justified. Uncertainty, on the other hand, is something that’s often difficult for people to handle.

So dogmatism is a problem – but that said, one shouldn’t call into question the genuineness of the Christianity of fundamentalists or of others – that’s not for us to do.

We moved on to think briefly about some positive impacts on faith that a scientific worldview can bring. For example, realising that God (and Jesus, when with God?) is outside time and space helps dispose of the long-running argument about the ‘preexistence of Christ’ and makes sense of Jesus’ enigmatic words ‘before Abraham was, I am’. Other doctrinal controversies can fade away, too.

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