We seem to be fighting a two-front war. On the one hand is the question of science. It’s not just about evolution. That’s a symptom of the situation rather than the cause. The question is about what science is. Ask the question and among the responses you will likely hear “science is not faith.”
That’s a good one. But it is not a definition. At best it is a description of the context of modern science. But it is not a definition of science.
The second front is the question of reason. Is Christianity reasonable? Does the system to which we hold conform to logic? Does everything in it make sense? Or do we just hold onto it by “faith.”
Faith, it seems, sits at the crux of both questions. Now, ask someone to define faith. The most common answers I would dare to say are simple belief, belief in something that cannot be proven, or perhaps belief in what cannot be true.
The principles appear to be separated in the popular mind. Getting this to change will take a while. It does not help that churches maintain this idea with weak teaching. “Just have faith,” people are told, “and God will do what you need.” That giant gumball machine in the sky, as Joni Tada once said. God is reduced to something that we can manipulate.
It’s not just the weaker churches which do this. Sometimes we practice it by our virtues while not saying a word on the subject. Ever hear the principle that if we teach prophecy then a revival will come? Or if we pray enough then God will do great things? These are more than simply fleshly expressions. They separate our faith by redefining it. They lower God to some being that we might manage. Prayer becomes an expression of sentiment rather than our relationship with God. The most orthodox of churches can and do commit this error. I’ve been there and so have you.
There is of course an ongoing and generally positive relationship between people of faith and science. Nancy Pearcey recently provided some history behind the religion v science debate. It’s good. I would like to take the principle a bit further.
Cavanaugh on Faith v. Reason & Science
In The Myth of Religious Violence William Cavanaugh outlines the division between church and state. This principle preceded our Constitution by centuries. As a product of Rationalism what first happened was a redefinition of terms. After that came a new way of writing that maintained this distinction.
Beginning with a quote from Jonathan Smith, Cavanaugh says …
“Religion has no independent existence apart from the academy.” … Smith’s main point, however, is that religion is simply not found, but invented. The term religion has been used in different times and places by different people according to different interests. More specifically, the category religion as it is most commonly used is tied up with the history of Western Modernity and is inseparable from the creation of what Talal Asad has called religion’s “Siamese twin ‘secularism.'”
This invention of the academy created a division, albeit a false one. While Mr. Cavanaugh’s direction in the book is the issue of church-state relations he does find the science-faith distinction in his research. He provides this quote from Selengut.
Faith and religious behavior are not based upon science, practical politics, or Western notions of logic or efficiency but on following the word of God regardless of the cost. Holy wars, as this perspective makes clear, may not be amenable to logical and rational solutions. Faithful holy warriors, whether in Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine, or Florida, live in a psychic and social reality entirely different from the world inhabited by secularized people. They think and feel differently about life and death, war and peace, war and killing, or dying a martyr’s death.
In this Selengut acknowledges and places on an equal plane the division of science from religion just as he separates politics from religion. The distinctions, Cavanaugh notes, are frequently muddy.
… other prominent examples of political religions are Italian fascism and German Nazism. As early as 1912, Benito Mussolini was calling for “a religious concept of socialism.” It became commonplace among critics of the Mussolini and Hitler regimes, and among political scientists, to note the intensely ritualistic and all-absorbing nature of ideology in those regimes and to call it religion.
These systems were constructed with the presence of a deity. It is the absence of a deity which makes the task of defining religion difficult if not impossible, again noting its having been contrived for convenience sake.
Hurst on Faith v. Reason & Science
Hurst noted the distinctions though perhaps with not so much distinction in his argument. He noted that the dependence on Reason as the starting point was, when applied to theological questions, ultimately a skeptical issue. Quoting Wegscheider’s Institutiones Dogmaticæ:
Whosoever, therefore, despising that supremacy of human reason, maintains that the authority of a revelation, said to have been communicated to certain men in a supernatural manner, is such that it must be obeyed by all means, without any doubt,—that man takes away and overturns from the foundation the true nature and dignity of man, at the same time cherishes the most pernicious laziness and sloth, or stirs up the depraved errors of fanaticism…. As to that which is said to be above reason, the truth of which can by no means be understood, there is no possible way open to the human mind to demonstrate or affirm it; wherefore to acknowledge or affirm that which is thought to be above reason is rightly said to be against reason and contrary to it.
Even so he saw the need for a proper view of science.
Neither do we apprehend any ultimate disaster from the Skeptical Scientific School. Darwin, Buckle, and others have striven diligently to impress upon the public mind the opinion that there is an antagonism between science and revelation, and that it is of such character as to render Christianity a useless appendage to human society.
To this he provides a practical remedy:
Now, in order to counteract the influence of these sentiments, the evangelical theologian should take no partial or prejudicial views of science or of its necessity for the defense of Scriptural truth. … To all outward appearance there is an incompatibility between the claims of geology and the Mosaic cosmogony. Shall we say that geology is false, and the six days of the Mosaic narrative must be understood in their literal sense? This presents the dilemma either to reject geology as a spurious science, or to discard revelation.
There is a dilemma for the Christian. A battle, if you will. If revelation is true and science is accurate then we need a system to make sense of the situation. If revelation is false then the problem is ours and such so-called revelation deserves to be rejected. Alternatively if any particular science is either tainted or false then it deserves the same ends.
There is often a third way to resolve the problem. We may have a hermeneutic which needs to be corrected. As a simple example, I Kings 7:23 and the discussion of the value of pi has forced us to correct how we read. Shall we take this language plainly or shall we see other things in it and so correct what appears to be a mathematical error. Likewise if scientific inquiry is distorted by assumptions and presupposition we do well to challenge these. So Hurst goes further in his instruction:
We must not charge the errors of scientific skeptics to the department of inquiry in which they labor. The perversions and errors of science, and not science itself, are at enmity with revelation. Mr. Darwin’s theory of development seems to be in outright opposition to the Scriptural account of the animal creation. But there is no occasion of alarm at what he has said, for neither he nor all who think with him can invalidate the truths of Scripture. We should despise no theory that aims at our better comprehension of great truths; for the day will come when science, in its mature glory and strength, shall cast its human lustre on all the pages of divine truth.
The problem is not the science. The problem is in the mind behind the science. It is against that which we build our apologetic.
How we react is as important as the material we bring to the table. Hurst noted how hostility always creates allies for the “victim” of the attack.
The true way to meet the writings of skeptics in the Church is by calm replies to their charges, and by immediate ecclesiastical discipline. Every word or act that savors of tyranny or undue exaction creates friends for them, and when for them, for their opinions also. Mere general remarks in reply to their attacks will accomplish nothing. Little advantage would be gained if every preacher in Great Britain and America were only to say, “Bishop Colenso is in error.” But it will be a public benefit if he be treated with personal kindness of expression as a brother-man, his arguments examined, and their obnoxious fallacy proved. The Church should deal toward the foes of her own household with the greatest possible caution, else the reaction will be of lasting evil.
If this scenario sounds familiar, it is a tactic used frequently to promote an idea. Hostile opponents to an issue seem to be in the news more often than the sensible opponents. This builds a certain acceptance for the victim. We will do well to have our tone shaped by something other than rashness and hostility. These may have their place but do not provide us a sound apologetic in the eyes and ears of an audience.
What shall we do? If we continue to send our children to public school then we can expect no less than that they are taught this false dilemma. The home is the resolution, either by discussing these things or, in addition and not otherwise, providing an alternative educational venue.
Secondly, write and teach. Enter education and the academy and help correct bad history. Lest the myths be propagated for a few more centuries.
*** Cavanaugh, William, The Myth of Religious Violence, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 58  Ibid, p. 51  Ibid, p. 112  Hurst, John Fletcher, History of Rationalism Embracing A Survey Of The Present State Of Protestant Theology, 1867, Charles Scribner & Co (NY), p. 8-9  Ibid, p. 586  Ibid p. 587-588