Faith not facts?
Have you ever been tempted to throw up your hands and say, “Let the scientists worry about the facts. All I need is my faith!”
The surrender of the facts can feel liberating. It empowers us to boldly proclaim, “I will believe, no matter what!” But is a fact-less belief big enough? Can it contain a meaningful gospel? My early experiences in the academic world showed me what that kind of faith leads to—a God who is muzzled and bound in a very small box.
Class in session: No souls allowed
As a ‘microscopic’ undergrad in the vast broiling stew of a secular university, I knew that my Christian faith made me an endangered species. Yet, the spontaneous generation of life from non-life would have shocked me less than the poorly chosen words of my religious studies professor, for whom a literal application of Genesis 1 and 2 to human history was not even worthy of class discussion.
“Those of you who hold religious beliefs should not feel threatened by anything I teach,” she said. “We are here to learn about facts, and if your faith is strong it shouldn’t be affected, because true faith has nothing to do with the facts.”
Nothing to do with the facts? The insult nearly caused me to evolve an extra artery, just so I could burst it. Was this the best solution she could provide? Were we to thank her for granting us the freedom to keep our beliefs so long as we kept them to ourselves, locked away in the land of make-believe?
Unlike most of my peers, I had grown up in a private Christian school where ‘secular education’ was a theoretical concept. I assumed ‘secular’ meant ‘neutral’, in the sense that no particular belief system was supposed to be elevated above another. The controversies over school prayer, sex education, and the creation/evolution debate had left me with no doubt that the system wasn’t working as intended; but I assumed that with the proper adjustments, we could find a middle ground where all sides could get along.
That faint hope met a sudden death on that fateful day in my religious studies class. The central idea of secularism (or more specifically, secular humanism)—about which Christians have written volumes trying to explain—became clear to me, all because of those simple words, “Faith has nothing to do with the facts.”
Our primary text for the religious studies course was the Bible. But since we were there to learn facts, not faith, we had to read the holy book in an unholy way. We learned that the creation story was pieced together from the myths of ancient Mesopotamia; Noah’s Flood was an exaggeration; Moses never parted a sea; and the prophets could never have spoken accurate prophecies. As for how the Bible came to be, our choices were limited to the Documentary Hypothesis or some similarly clunky explanation that required armies of editors altering one another’s work and embellishing Jewish history long after the actual events.1
The Big Picture: an atheist takeover
Myth. Error. Fraud. There was nothing neutral about those terms. There was nothing neutral about college in general. My neuroscience professor giddily declared human consciousness an illusion. My fiction writing course focused exclusively on a feminist deconstruction of the meaning of womanhood. My physics textbook assumed an evolutionary origin of the human ear. The faculty were not in lock-step agreement on every idea in every subject, but the glue that held them together was a fundamental belief that “faith has nothing to do with the facts”—that only material things are knowable, and only natural causes are acceptable explanations.
Christians sometimes think that by cutting their faith loose from facts, they are making their beliefs invincible against the scientific arguments of atheists. But in reality, the effect is the opposite. A faith devoid of facts is dead. The problem is not just that such a faith is logically indefensible, but that it eventually loses any content worth defending. When you separate Christianity from the sciences and history, atheism wins because the skeptic can merely ascribe your faith to wishful thinking.
Because schools and colleges no longer teach students that God formed Adam from the dust, the atheists step in to fill the void with a ‘scientific’ alternative (billions of years, perhaps billions of universes, and some very lucky dice). And so the process continues: the Bible loses its authority, Jesus is stripped of his divinity, the miracles become at worst hoaxes, at best mere natural phenomena the ancients did not understand. If you protest that science has gone too far, you will be reminded that religion has no place in science, and that the non-spiritual interpretation of the facts is therefore the only interpretation. Your shriveled-up mustard seed of faith will roll away, forbidden to speak to science, to history, to culture, to politics, to anything but your therapist.
Fed up with being locked in a box, I eventually transferred to a Christian college. There I was able to study the Bible, not as a fraudulent artifact of primitive civilizations, but as a message from a very outside-the-box God, freeing me from mine.
If Christians want to reconcile science with religion, we must begin by understanding that faith is not the opposite of facts, but the interpreter of facts. The Creator has reached down from heaven and revealed himself to His creatures, and his teachings can and must influence how we view our reality. If Christianity were just another abstract moral philosophy, science might safely ignore it. But our faith is so much more than a philosopher’s whimsical musings—it is a calling grounded in history and real-life events that have shaped the world we live in and are shaping the world to come. Our faith lives to the extent that our Jesus lives, giving wisdom, giving knowledge, entering into history, defying the ‘laws of nature’, and reigning over our minds.