(This article appeared in the ODT on Friday June 1st, 2018)
This column has been called ‘Faith and Reason’ for some time now begging the question of how the two are related. For some, of course, the very nature of faith disqualifies it from any semblance to reason. For them it is, by definition, un-reasonable, that is, a belief not sustained by normal boundaries of reason. Certainly God’s existence doesn’t seem to be a testable theory. This very fact has caused many to label faith irrational and therefore absurd. But there are many things which operate perfectly well in life which are also not reducible to scientific testing.
Love is not a ‘rational’ phenomena in the sense of being able to be explained by scientific enquiry. Nor, for that matter is consciousness. Science hasn’t been able to explain this so far. Beauty is another very powerful phenomenon that cannot be explained scientifically and neither, for that matter can friendship. We can know something about these things but what we do know certainly doesn’t explain them or provide a ‘reason’ for them.
Furthermore one must ask why we need a scientific theory of something before we consider it to be real or, indeed, useful. Only very good physicists can really understand electricity enough to explain it fully and yet we use it every day without giving a single thought to explaining it. The fact that GPS systems, in order to be accurate, have to be calibrated to take into account the way time is effected by gravity can be explained by specialists in the field, but again, we use these tools everyday and most of us are content to use them without need of an explanation.
Even the world’s top scientists can’t explain why ice has less mass than water or why hot water freezes faster than cold or why a bicycle works to keep its rider upright (no it isn’t because of the gyroscopic effect apparently!)
But none of this matters because whether we can explain it or not – it works; it produces something that is useful and helpful and so our lack of a reason for it working doesn’t trouble us. And this is why the dismissing of faith on the basis that it is not explainable is not very persuasive. If faith works, if it makes us a better people, if it guides us into a peaceful and productive existence and a life of health rather than disease we should grab it with both hands and give ourselves to it even if the outcomes are only partially achievable in our own lives.
Now, of course, some argue that faith has not made us better people but has been responsible for religious wars, bigotry and prejudice; one can’t deny that the Church has been implicated in and even responsible for all of these at certain times. However, we should also recognise the great good conferred upon humankind through the Christian faith including, for example, the invention of modern nursing by Florence Nightingale, the pioneering of modern science by virtue of the demythologising of the natural world, and the invention of the modern general schooling system through the parish schools of Britain, to name just a few.
Add to this the fact that every human institution has been responsible at some point for producing incredible harm including modern medicine (the thalidomide tragedy), politics (communist purges in many former communist regimes) and modern economies (the last and latest Wall Street crash) and it becomes clear that anything human, no matter how true and right, has the potential to be used for evil.
Furthermore, the existence of mistakes in a fallible and very human church doesn’t disprove the notion of God’s loving and gracious existence just as the mistakes and negligence of some in other fields of human endeavour doesn’t negate or disprove the knowledge or validity of that community.
The faith of the Christian community rests on the basis of an highly credible historical witness and a rational examination of the alternatives. It rests on the promise of a life lived to the fullest – the best life possible and it rests on almost 2000 years of contribution to the societies within which it has been practiced.