Ghettoizing Faith

Some of my Christian friends like to remind me, in a very good natured sort of way, that science has nothing to do with belief in a Creator God. To be perfectly frank, this is a bitter pill to swallow. Both science and faith are important parts of my life, and I have spent many years exploring the relationship between the two. If my friends are right, this has all been a waste of time.

Of course, on one level, I know they’re right. No matter how big the telescope, I will never see God’s face in the starry sky. No matter how many times I play with funny colored liquids in the lab, I will never find my Lord and Savior at the bottom of a test tube. The Bible tells us that God is a spiritual being (John 4:24), whereas science limits itself to a study of the material universe. If a theologian and a scientist were asked the same question, “What part of reality do you study?,” they would have two very different answers.

The picture changes dramatically when we ask “What do we know?,” and “How do we know it?” Think about Paul’s discussion in the first chapter of Romans. Generations of pagans are without excuse, the apostle tells us, because the “invisible attributes” of God are clearly seen in “the things that are made” (Romans 1:20). In other words, we have always been able to find evidence of the Creator in His creation. Thanks to modern science, our ability to study the things that are made grows daily. The proof of God’s creative work is indirect, but it’s enough to ground our belief in a Creator. Whether we take King David’s awestruck contemplation of the heavens (Psalm 19:1), or Michael Behe’s sophisticated analysis of molecular machinery (Darwin’s Black Box), the design we see in nature is pointing us beyond and above the material world.

My friends, I suspect, have committed a category mistake. They have confused questions about what is real with questions about what and how we know. Thinking, quite rightly, that religion and science study completely different things, they have mistakenly concluded that human observation (the “how”)  can tell us nothing about God and His creation (the “what”). Theologians and scientists have packed their respective fields of study into separate, hermetically sealed boxes.  Faith has been driven out of academia and public life, and into the ghettos of Bible-believing churches that still recognize the force of David’s brilliant confession.

The fault lies on both sides. Enlightenment skeptics attacked belief, but religious thinkers were quick to concede the point. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) could only offer a wager: just bet that there’s a God in heaven, because there’s no way to know that He really exists. For Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), faith meant taking a risky leap across the chasm of doubt. No wonder ultra-Darwinist, Richard Dawkins, could define faith as “blind trust,” and religious belief as something we hold “in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” Folks, he got that definition from us.

Dawkins doesn’t stop there. He describes faith as “one of the world’s greatest evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.”

Eradication is an interesting turn of phrase. During World War II the Nazis herded Jews into ghettos before shipping them off to various extermination camps. The word “ghetto” became synonymous with any neighborhood in which a particular group was forced to live. Dawkins may not be advocating the literal gassing of Christians, but he’s dead serious about the destruction of their faith. With movies like Expelled highlighting the fate of Darwin dissenters, there can be little doubt that believers are being forced out of mainstream academic life. If Christians retreat from reason and science, the church will disappear from its spiritual ghetto as well.

Like it or not, our understanding of the natural world is on the spiritual frontline. It will do no good to tell ourselves and our children that science is completely irrelevant or opposed to Christian faith. God has never wanted us to believe in spite of the evidence. The empty tomb, the appearances of Jesus after His death on the cross, and the recorded testimony of those facts, show that faith must be grounded on reasonable belief. That is true for the resurrection, and it is true for the creation as well.

[A version of this article appeared as “Taking Faith to the Ghetto” in Think, November 2008, p. 39.]

© 2008 – 2010, Trevor Major. All rights reserved.

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