Dear Russell & Friends,
I hope this Saturday morning finds you well. Yes uncleE and other friends in Australia, I realize it is almost Sunday. This has been a week like all others. One fiftieth of another year elapsed. I do not know what proportion that year represents of my supposed middle aged life. A treasured work colleague one year younger than me died suddenly yesterday. His partner, our community, and I grieve.
Because I don’t know if I’m in the middle or a day from the end, the conversation here means more to me. You mean more to me. I’m sorry for doubting it. No — that’s not true. Doubt is part of who I am and a reason I feel drawn to you. Reason. That’s what I’d like to address this morning. I’m grateful to Mike for his guest post and the respect that he showed in our home here. He is a thoughtful atheist who is willing to talk.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)
Mike quoted this scripture in a dialogue with Eric (uncleE) about evidence and faith. It started with a comment that Mike offered in his guest post. I’d like to provide the paragraph before as well for needed context.
I’m all about secularity and think people should be free to choose religion or non-religion. If anyone tried to take religious folks rights away to choose a religion, I would be in the front lines with them.
However, I will not pretend that I agree with religion – Christian or otherwise, and I’m certainly not adverse to sharing my views and doing my best to convince others to embrace evidence based thinking instead of faith.
The first paragraph is important to me because I need to emulate it. I need to stand for people whose convictions I do not share. I live in America, an imperfect place. But one blessing that I should not take for granted is the ability to speak without being stifled. How can I realize that blessing without defending it for another? That was the core of Mike’s first paragraph and I appreciate it.
The second paragraph is important to me because Russell and I have often reached a point of impasse here. Is the word instead correct? I feel that it is the pivot of the sentence at least, likely the paragraph, perhaps the thesis.
Back to Mike’s scripture reference. It is one of my favorites and I chose to use the King James Version because I remember it from childhood and it has the words evidence and faith in close juxtaposition. As a Christ follower in a scientific vocation, this verse has meant the world to me.
Is faith blind? Is it always required? The text in Hebrews says that faith is the substance of things hoped for. Is faith needed for things already realized? Probably not. I do not have faith for a table. I’m sitting at it. Is faith the substance of my hope for my children to follow Christ? It is. Is faith separated from hard work? By no means. My favorite epistle is James. Martin Luther called it the epistle of straw. I don’t particularly like Martin Luther. James said that faith without works is dead. So, if my faith that my sons will follow Christ is to have life, should I lead an authentic life worthy of imitation? I argue yes. I have faith – – belief – – in what I hope for but have not yet realized. That faith is coupled with effort. I can not have faith that Mike and I can continue respectful dialogue. I have to be willing to write letters and to carefully read his.
Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Allow me to be clear. I am an old earth creationist. I believe that God created the universe by authoring natural laws and allowed us to evolve to sentience. I don’t think he directed every mutation. He could have, but the scientific evidence does not point that way. I don’t believe that Genesis is literal. I do believe it is completely true. As a student and lover of language, allegory has never bothered me. In biological science, I have some degree of expertise. In physical science, I have enough knowledge to plumb the depths of my own ignorance. In social science, I have compassion, but not Mike’s degree of professional knowledge, expertise and practice. As an aside, social workers are some of my favorite people on earth. How is faith evidence? Did I take on faith the existence of Pluto? It could have been another light source that we didn’t understand. In a thin way I did before the photos came back, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I take on faith that my life will continue if it ends tomorrow. That is a bold claim that I can’t prove. My personal version of Pascal’s wager is this: if I’m wrong I won’t know it — the can’t lose position for an egotist like me. That is a statement of faith.
Faith is my belief in the things that I have not witnessed, accounting for the fact that even what I witness, experience and remember are constructed in a brain so complicated we barely comprehend it. Is faith required for history? To some extent. Only modern history is recorded verbatim and one first run movie or internet meme will convince you that future generations may believe nothing that we so confidently record. But I don’t really consider it faith to believe that Jesus Christ existed. That is a consensus amongst historians just as the existence of the third Roman emperor Caligula is.
Do I need faith to believe that Jesus was God incarnate? I do. Scripture claims that he was. I can question the veracity of that Scripture. I can rightly question the legitimacy of eye witness accounts. I can rightly question even the existence of a supernatural. I can rightly ask why some claims of deity survived and others did not. There are few active temples of Zeus remaining. At every point in my chain of logic for belief, there are legitimate questions that skeptics ask. I don’t have answers for them all.
I’m open to the possibility that I live a dichotomous life – – evidence in my professional pursuits, faith in personal. But that doesn’t feel quite right. I see the effects of faith as evidence. There was a call to comfort when our professional friend was taken so quickly. There was an impromptu memorial at our place of work. We remembered his life. There was an urge to pray – – a hope that there was someone greater who cared about our grief. Is that urge evidence? It could be. All human societies have displayed the behavior of worship. Is that behavior evidence? Perhaps not. Perhaps it is an accident of our genes that made the paranoid and delusional more likely to survive. But it could be.
Time to close this James Joyce style post. I’m not even sure that I’ve asked or answered any good questions and for that I apologize. I suppose I just needed to write, and in a time of sudden loss this post took a different flavor than it would have otherwise. I do have one question that may be useful.
embrace evidence based thinking instead of faith.
How would the meaning change if “in addition to” replaced “instead of”?
Pascal – – 1:16
photo credit: “Bascula 9” by L.Miguel Bugallo Sánchez – self made, Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Bascula_9.jpg.