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Do Science and the Bible Conflict?
By Judson Poling
ZondervanCopyright © 2003 Willow Creek Association
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDISCUSSION ONE
Isn't Christianity Based on Blind Faith?
Faith Like a Child
A little boy raises his hand in Sunday school. "Teacher, how do we know there's a God?" The teacher smiles and answers, "You can't know; you just have to believe in him by faith." A little girl raises her hand. "What's faith?" The boy blurts out, "Oh, I know the answer to that one. Faith means believing something you know isn't true."
Is that what faith is: belief that flies in the face of evidence? Maybe that's too harsh. Maybe by faith people mean believing even when you don't have evidence. This definition seems to fit a lot of people who claim to be Christians. Christianity is, after all, a "faith," so it must mean that the followers of Christianity are people of faith. But too many Christians remind us of the person who was heard to exclaim, "My mind's made up; don't confuse me with the facts!" They are people commended for belief and rebuked for doubt. The Bible isn't to be picked apart; it's meant to be read and believed. Isn't a child held up as an example of how to have faith? What child resorts to a detailed, scientific analysis of anything?
It is often pointed out that the Bible is prescientific. Jesus and the apostle Paul were certainly not scientists. And many of the followers of Christianity have argued for decidedly unscientific views: the earth as the center of the solar system, the sky as a hard shell covering the earth, a view of disease that says demons rather than germs cause sickness, to name just a few. Throughout history, science has been tolerated by the church only as long as it hasn't contradicted matters of faith. And when it has contradicted faith, science has been asked to bow politely and leave the room.
It seems fair, in light of history and experience, to propose that religion-and Christianity in particular-is based not on experimentation and analysis but on faith. You either believe or you don't, and what ultimately convinces you will be some sort of experience (imagined or otherwise) or visitation by God (or possibly nothing but your earnest desire to believe) rather than study and research. Robert Heinlein, the prolific science fiction writer, observed in Notebooks of Lazarus Long, "History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it." If that's truly the case, no wonder science and religion have not gotten along well.
It is also true that it is futile to try to convince someone of spiritual dogma by using reason when the essence of it is not something reasonable (for example, belief in an unseen God who can't be known through material means). The skeptic predicts it won't work, and the true believer says it shouldn't work.
So what's the point of a reasoned approach to Christianity, when the whole system is based on faith?
OPEN FOR DISCUSSION
1. On the continuum below, mark the spot that best indicates how you were brought up to believe in spiritual things.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
The Bible It's okay to Spiritual Religion is
says it, you ask some truths should foolishness
believe it! questions. be carefully
2. On the continuum below, mark the spot that best indicates how you were brought up to believe in science. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Science proves Science doesn't Science is often Science is the
there's no God. prove or irrational and enemy of God
disaprove God biased
3. Which of the following definitions of faith can you most relate to? Explain.
Faith means believing something you know is not true.
Faith is a "great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence."
Faith is "based on a deep-seated need to believe."
Faith is simply filling in the gaps when you have probability but not certainty.
4. Mark the following statements true or false, according to your current way of thinking. Give reasons for your answers.
____ Faith is required to believe in God, because there is no evidence for his existence.
____ If you have reasons for something, you don't need faith; if you have faith, reasons don't matter.
____ It is foolish to believe something just because a spiritual authority says so.
____ There are plenty of reasons to believe in Christianity; faith is just quicker and easier than reason.
____ God prefers that people believe in him by faith, but will give reasons if he has to.
5. Christianity is called a faith; it is not called a science. Does this matter to you? Why or why not? What would need to change for it to be called a science?
6. In your opinion, is Christianity based on fact or on faith? Explain your answer.
7. How certain are you that your current perspective on the truth (or unreliability) of Christianity is correct? What would lead you to greater certainty about your current position? What would lead you to serious doubt about it?
8. What do you think of the statement "Christianity sometimes goes beyond reason but not against it"?
While it is true that faith is a part of Christianity, the Bible nowhere commands-or commends-putting faith in faith. Christians are instructed to put their faith in facts and ultimately put their trust in a person, Jesus Christ. Blind obedience to any message without examining its reliability is not biblical Christianity-it is a great way to get sucked into a cult! The Bible commands people to investigate, not to put faith in everything that comes along. People should put trust only in worthy recipients. This is why idolatry is so forcefully condemned-not because God has an ego problem but because any "god" other than he will prove unreliable.
Peter, one of Jesus' closest disciples, did not appeal to his readers to blindly accept his message. He made it clear that there were objective facts which were reliable, and that there were also fairy tales to be avoided. "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Peter 1:16). The people of Berea were commended because when the apostle Paul preached in their city, they made sure his message had validity: "The Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11). Such examples make it clear that faith is not credulity, and careful investigation and inquiry ought to be normal operating procedure in the spiritual realm as well as elsewhere.
9. What do you think is the role of reason in the life of a Christian? What are the limits of our powers of reasoning?
HEART OF THE MATTER
10. Why do you think some people become angry when they are asked to put faith or trust in God?
11. Why do you think some people get angry when they are asked to give clear reasons for what they believe?
12. Do you think anyone is capable of living without some kind of faith in something? Why or why not?
CHARTING YOUR JOURNEY
With this session you're beginning a journey. Keep in mind that you do not need to feel pressured to "say the right thing" at any point during these discussions. You're taking the time to do this work because you want answers and because you're willing to be honest with your doubts and uncertainties. You may also have others in your life who would benefit from hearing about what you'll be learning. So use these sessions profitably-ask the tough questions, think "outside the box," learn from what others in your group have to say. But keep being authentic about where you are in your process.
To help you see yourself more clearly, throughout this guide you will have an opportunity to indicate where you are in your spiritual journey. As you gain more information, you may find yourself reconsidering your opinions from session to session. The important thing is for you to be completely truthful about what you believe-or don't believe-right now.
13. On a scale from one to ten, place an X near the spot and phrase that best describes you. What reasons do you have for placing your X where you did? (Continues...)
Excerpted from Do Science and the Bible Conflict? by Judson Poling Copyright © 2003 by Willow Creek Association. Excerpted by permission.
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