Part 1: Faith and "Scientism"

November 7, 2015 admin

bible-1422390Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

How would you define faith?

In the popular culture, the concept of faith in the 21st century is often thought of as the opposite of reason; as contrary to an educated, informed position.

Faith is sometimes pictured as a young child closing their eyes, drawing a deep breath, and expressing belief in what they wish, but know is not true.

And as commonly witnessed in contemporary media, faith is contrasted as antithetical to science.

In fact, a popular philosophical position is gaining traction, a system of thought called scientism – the belief that all truth can be proven by science; or, that nothing is true unless science says so.

Beside the fact that it is clearly untrue, the position has a rather significant intellectual hurdle: it is self-refuting.

How can the statement “all truth can be proven by science” itself be proven by science? That truth-claim (and most others) cannot be subjected to the scientific method of experimentation, investigation and observation.

In fact, many things we believe to be true cannot be verified by empirical testing.

So what does that have to do with faith?

It has been said that faith is foundational to every discipline.

Even science.

British mathematician Dr. John Lennox argues that the very basis of scientific research requires faith. Lennox explains that science seeks “to discover the universe’s own intrinsic order and intelligibility, and that means that scientists have always had to believe before they start, that the universe has inherent order; if it didn’t, scientific research would be pointless”.

He pushes the point further: “Faith in something that has not yet been proved still is – and it always has been – a prerequisite for scientific investigation”.

And he draws the logical conclusion, simultaneously turning his intellectual guns on those like Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss who appear to promote scientism while dismissing the concept of faith: “so if the new atheists think that faith is irrational and delusional, they will have to say that the science on which they pin all their hopes is also irrational”.

Professor Sir John Polkinghorne (retired Cambridge professor of quantum physics) demonstrates the underpinning of faith to science: “physics is powerless to explain its faith in the rational intelligibility of the universe for the simple reason that you cannot do any physics without believing it in the first place”.

(Was Albert Einstein driving at something closely aligned when he observed, “the only incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible”?)

And we all employ rational faith as a significant component to the groundwork of other discipline:

  • the historian must believe in the existence of unchanging, factual truth. The interpretation of those events might be subjective; but faith in the existence of objective propositional truth is at the root of history, as is the reader’s default setting of belief that the historian is attempting to accurately convey what has happened;
  • when at the piano to create music, a musician exercises faith in the basic harmonic building blocks of chord structure – thirds, fifths, sixths, sevenths, ninths. Before hearing it, a competent musician has faith that artfully nuanced sound can be created by applying and bending the rules, and resolving in a way that is pleasing to the ear and compatible with the principles of harmony.

And we take action based on faith every day:

  • I’m to go to the clinic for my annual flu shot. A person I’ve never seen before will smilingly jab a syringe full of chemicals into my arm – and I’ll thank them for doing it!
  • we pull products of the grocery store shelves, and without much thought to risk, cook them up for our families.
  • we entrust our kids to daycare workers, teachers, coaches we hardly know, at least initially.
  • we fly in aircraft without knowing the training, character, or mental health of the one piloting the plane.

Any thinking person would consider these to be examples of rational faith – believing in something based on the supporting evidence. That’s the way life works.

And that’s the definition of true biblical faith.

Rather than God being an imaginary projection, He is the obvious conclusion to the evidence that streams past our faces every day: the evidence of history, and of creation; the image of God we see in other people; the inner witness of the Holy Spirit; the unparalleled confirmation of the Bible.

Far from being superstition or wish projection, biblical faith is about assurance, certainty, the conviction of that which aligns with reality.

To deny that is to suppress the truth, the rational truth that results from the process of thinking and believing – having rational faith in – the obvious conclusion.

Takeaway – This biblical principal has been repeated time and again in the pages of Scripture: we are called to respond to the spiritual light that has been given. That faithful response has always been rewarded by God; and no approach to Him will ever be successful in the absence of faith. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for…And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:1,2,6).