Thoughts on Faith and Rationality
This being Good Friday, it seems like a good time to set down some of my thoughts about faith. (I've already spoken about faith and writing in a general sort of way, in an essay on my web site, Faith and the Difficulty of Writing. But that didn't focus specifically on faith in God so much as on faith in the Muse, faith in one's own abilities—with a kind of pointer toward a deeper underlying faith. It's that deeper faith that I'm thinking of now.)
I once received an email from a reader, who said he'd been stopped cold by a scene in my science fiction novel Eternity's End, in which a character who happens to be both an alien and a doctor speaks of her Christian faith. It's just a small point in the book, a bit of characterization, and a low-key way of saying that neither Christ nor religious faith have gone away in the future. Beyond that, the novel says nothing explicitly about Christianity (though the beliefs of the author are probably detectable in other ways). My reader was an avowed atheist, and he couldn't believe that anyone who took a scientific view of the world could also believe in anything so stupid.
How (the reader asked) could I just dismiss the scientific method, and the evidence for the Big Bang, for evolution, for...well, I forget what else, but you get the idea.*
After picking my jaw up off the floor, I wrote back: Where did you get the idea that any of that was true?
Some considerable exchange followed, but I don’t think he ever got the point that, yes, you can believe in science and in God.
Data points: I believe the scientific method is the best tool we have for understanding how the universe works. It relies on evidence, on cross-checking, on testing hypotheses to see if they stand up, on rational and critical thinking. Sometimes evidence that appears to support one explanation turns out to support a different explanation just as well, or better. I believe in the Big Bang, at least until a better theory comes along. I believe in evolution, same deal. I believe in God, a personal God who created the universe and each of us, and in his son Jesus.
Whoops. That last sentence may be in the wrong paragraph. That's not about science, that's about faith. And faith is different from science. But wait—they're both about ways of knowing, and of forming belief. So I guess they both belong in that paragraph about my beliefs, after all.
It's all about different ways of knowing:
- I believe in the findings of science because when I read about the research (I'm an avid armchair scientist), I know that people are checking each others' work and testing for reproducible results. Sometimes scientists lie and fake data, but they're always caught in the end. Sometimes they're wrong; sometimes results seem really cool—cold fusion, for example—but then don't pan out so well in the cross-checking. It's a continuing, changing story.
- I believe in God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, because of my personal experience of them. Is my belief rational? In part, yes. I was not able to believe, as an adult, until I convinced myself that God was a plausible hypothesis. I arrived at that point through studying the Bible and other books, and through many discussions with people who had knowledge and insights that I didn't. Only after I could accept the rational possibility was I able to be open to the real presence of God in my life, and to feel that presence. Does it happen that way for everyone? No, but why should it?
And so...I'm not sure where I was headed with this, but I wanted to share some thoughts that I've been meaning to write up into an essay, but never got around to. Good Friday just seemed like a really good time to start.
Maybe next I'll write about faith in God and writing.
*Note: my reader didn't ask if I was a Christian, he just assumed I was because a character in my book was. Guess what! Authors and their characters are not the same people! In this case, the character was a Christian, and so am I; the character was offended by profanity, but I am not; the character was an amphibious Narseil, but I am not. Or I wasn't, the last time I checked.