The real truth about Faith is that none of us knows very many real truths, and very few of the Facts we believe are believed on much more than Faith.
The Fanaticism Of Faith
A while back I wrote an article about how my Faith somehow became stronger despite taking a college class on the academic study of the New Testament. In it, I claimed that by being faced with what were considered historical Facts about the Bible, I gleaned a smidgen of truth about Faith. This, in turn, not only made my Faith stronger but made me even more curious about the history and religiosity of the Bible, and of Christianity as a whole.
I didn’t reject what was being taught in the class, but I chose to see it from another point of view. Indeed, I saw what I was learning as another way in which God wanted me to understand Him – knowing me better than I know myself, He knew what would pique my interest.
In one of my frequent reposts on the article, an acquaintence of mine – after reading – commented on Facebook that it was dangerous of me to choose Faith over Fact. If he didn’t know me better, he claimed, he would find me fanatical enough to have the potential to strap bombs to myself.
I thanked him for thinking so highly of me, and argued that while fanaticism is indeed a real thing, suggesting that I was glossing over Facts in lieu of an unyielding and unreasonable Faith was rather dubious. After all, so much of what he believed – things he called “Facts” – were taken on a matter of Faith.
Even the Facts that he labeled as “Science”.
This went over about as well as you would think it would.
Taking Faith For Granted
My acquaintence is not the only person who uses Science as a “Fact” to dispute the “Fiction” of Faith. This has been, for a long time, the basic tool that Atheists have used to present Christians and other religious folks as “crazy”, “unintelligent”, “unhinged”, or “Ender Bowen”.
But I would argue that today’s understanding of Science comes with a lot of “taking it for granted”.
In reality, it requires just the same amount of Faith.
What Makes Something A Faith
Have you ever been to New York City? Have you seen the Earth go around the Sun? Did you witness Joan of Arc burning at the stake?
If you’ve never been to New York City, how do you know it’s there? How do you know the Earth is going around the Sun if you’ve never seen it yourself? If you didn’t witness Joan of Arc burning at the stake, how do you know that’s how she died? How do you know she existed at all?
Oh, c’mon now! Of course New York City exists. If I were to declare that it didn’t, millions of New Yorkers (and the people who have been there at least once – which would include me) would declare me an imbecile. To be fair, when one declares that Heaven doesn’t exist, I don’t hear a whole lot of argument from those souls hanging out there.
Nonetheless, if you’ve never seen, witnessed or experienced it in some form or another, then what you think of as a truth or a Fact is really a matter of Faith. Not blind Faith, per se, but Faith nonetheless.
“But… I’ve seen New York City on live TV!”
“But… I’ve watched the New York Yankees play on MSG!”
“I have a Yankees jersey!”
Okay, so that means an article of clothing featuring what we presume to be a professional baseball team exists, but in and of itself that doesn’t mean the team it represents does.
That’s right, Emily, I’m saying the Yankees don’t exist! (We’ll see how well that goes over – probably 0 for 2).
Hogwarts doesn’t exist (or does it?) but I can certainly get a lot of merchandise that might suggest otherwise.
Ridiculous, certainly. But if you get down to the basis of what it is I’m presenting here, it makes sense. Without actually experiencing these things yourself, you are taking them as a matter of Faith.
The Truth About Faith… On Whose Authority?
Let’s drop the New York City idea for a moment. Instead, we’ll talk about Port of Spain, Trinidad And Tobago. I’m betting that there’s a pretty good chance you’ve never been there. If you’ve never been there, then – based on my above suggestion – it’s plausible it doesn’t exist, correct?
But what if I told you I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. If I told you that, it’s very likely you would believe me. It’s very likely you’d say “Okay then, I believe Port of Spain does exist.”
So let’s suppose you do believe me. It’s still a matter of Faith, but because I’ve come to you with a measure of authority – having seen it myself – Port of Spain is now definitely a real place that exists. Right?
Now I want to tell you that God has spoken to me before. Very clearly. Very obviously. I’ve experienced Him working in my life.
Your reaction might well be that that’s complete nonsense. That I’m crazy. But why? You’d never been to Port of Spain, but when I told you I’d been there – that I’d experienced it for myself – you had no problem agreeing that it existed. You took it on my authority that it was, indeed, there.
But when I told you God not only existed but that I had experienced Him myself, suddenly my authority was called into question. You would think I had just said Donald Trump’s hair was real, because I’ve touched it. (It isn’t, because I haven’t).
Thankfully, I didn’t damage my credibility to the point that you changed your mind about Port of Spain.
“It’s common knowledge that New York, The Yankees, and Port of Spain exist,” you say. “And experts have verified that the Earth goes around the Sun. Doesn’t a large enough consensus of agreement and the work of experts vouch for the validity of these things?”
Indeed, it does!
The Experts Of Faith
It is estimated that there are currently 2.4 billion followers of the Christian Faith. That’s an astounding 33% of the world’s population. Within this gigantic group of people there are millions who have claimed to have experienced God or Jesus acting in their lives, in some form or another. There are many thousands among them who have studied Christianity nearly their whole professional lives (if not more) – people we could safely call “experts” in their field. They say that God does exist. That He is real and present in the world. And they have what they claim to be evidence to support this.
Is this not consensus enough to vouch for its validity?
To be fair, however, if 33% of the population believes in a Christian God, then 66% must feel otherwise. Surely there are experts within these non-Christians who have presented credible evidence to suggest that Christianity is a complete farce, or that God doesn’t exist at all.
Is that not consensus enough to vouch for the validity of “there is no God”?
If “Fact” is based solely on the consensus of many experiencers and experts, then God both exists and does not exist. But that doesn’t make any logical sense.
So we cannot judge what is “Fact” based solely on “how much bigger one consensus is compared to another”. It’s not a game. Truth – the basis of Fact – exists apart from how many people believe in it. Things don’t become more true simply because more people believe.
Otherwise, at one time, the Earth really was flat. Many hundreds of years ago, the Earth was the center of the universe. In the early 20th century, minorities really were inferior beings destroying our gene pool.
And we know that stuff isn’t true.
Or do we?
“But science is a matter of rigorous testing, measuring, and experimenting with various hypotheses! That proves something, doesn’t it?”
Surely it must!
Faith As A Matter Of Scientific Testing
Radiocarbon dating is a process by which one can determine the age of an object containing organic material by measuring the amount of radiocarbon in a sample and then using that information to calculate when, for instance, that plant or animal died. This method has been researched and tested confidently, and is considered reliable up to about 50,000 years ago.
An expert with this method could take a sample of radiocarbon from the remains of a saber-toothed tiger and reasonably deduce that the animal died 12,000 years ago. After further research and testing, and a review by his peers, said expert could then publish his findings. And though he may not specifically say it’s a “Fact” or that it’s true this animal lived and died 12,000 years ago, it would likely be accepted as such.
Yet, the only way that you could say that these findings were true – that it was a Fact that this animal lived and died then – is if you could go back in time and observe that this were the case.
In reality, that’s the only way one could prove radiocarbon dating works at all. Sure, it’s plausible, and it’s probable, but we can’t say it’s true. It’s not a Fact.
To be clear, I’m not refuting the reliability or legitimacy of radiocarbon dating. I think it’s legit, and a fascinating way to gain insight into our planet’s history. I believe it works. But that belief is still a Faith.
If someone did go back in time and confirm that this animal died 12,000 years ago, your determination that this was true would still be based on Faith – because you wouldn’t have seen it for yourself.
Even the expert in this story is drawing his conclusions on a matter of Faith. Well-informed, tightly researched and rigorously-tested Faith. But Faith nonetheless.
I have the utmost respect for the enterprise of science. I love science! If it weren’t for science, we wouldn’t live in the amazing world we live in now! I wouldn’t be able to waste away hours of my life binge-watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 or pay off some bills driving Uber. Without science, we would all probably go about our day eating raw meat and sitting in the dark.
But at the end of the day, what science can’t ultimately prove, it has to guess at with whatever evidence it has at its disposal. That means it has to take a leap of Faith.
And so do you.
Why Faith Is Necessary
Every morning when you get in your car, you have Faith that you will make it to your destination. You have Faith that your house won’t burn down while you’re gone or that your little daughter is in good hands at day care. You have Faith that you will be paid for the work you’re doing and that you’ll get to see that concert you’ve had scheduled on your calendar for months.
If the weatherman says that it’s going to be sunny tomorrow, I’m going to take that on a matter of Faith and schedule my day accordingly.
I don’t ask how the microwave works. I just have Faith that it does.
We have Faith that the world isn’t going to explode today. Or that things will be better tomorrow.
To some extent (nearly every extent) we can’t really get through the day if we don’t take anything on a kind of Faith. Without Faith, would there be a reason to live? I don’t know. But I certainly think that without Faith we’d all hide in our own respective corners, terrified of our own shadows.
The point is that, agnostic, atheist or religious, we all have Faith in something. In many things. In many of the same things.
We all hide behind information and figures that we misconstrue as truths and Facts.
The real truth is that none of us knows very many real truths. Very few of the Facts we believe are believed on much more than Faith. And if there are things we believe that are true, it’s highly unlikely we could possibly know that as anything more than a matter of Faith.
In the end, what we choose to have Faith in comes down to what we’ve experienced. It comes from those unique things each one of us has tested, measured and experimented with along the path of our respective Journeys. It’s something we each have to guess at with whatever evidence we have at our disposal.
As regards the concept of Faith, no matter what it is we believe, it turns out we actually have a lot in common.
And that’s where Science and Religion start to look very similar…