Do Both Science and Christianity Require Faith?

Do Both Science and Christianity Require Faith?

In a New York Times editorial, Paul Davies made this provocative statement:

Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith—namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.

Davies basically argues that scientists must largely accept that the laws of physics work without having an adequate understanding of why they work. Nothing about the laws of physics specifies that they must appear the way they do or that they should exhibit the regularity, order, and understandability that they do. As you could imagine, the claim that science is founded on faith produced some rather strong reactions—which you can read in a conversation that took place at the Edge. The responses highlighted three important points.

First, many of the responses seemed determined to sever any connection between the practice of scientific and religious faith. For example, Jerry Coyne replies that scientists’ belief in the reliability of the laws of physics is “not a matter of faith. It’s a matter of experience. In contrast, the tenets of religion are truly based on faith, since there is no empirical data to support them.” He further states that “the lack of a current explanation for why the laws are as they are, however, does not make physics a faith. It only means that we don’t have the answer.”

Second, Coyne’s response (as well as others) shows that many scientists misunderstand the true definition of Christian faith. Lawrence Krauss echoes Coyne’s sentiments and declares that “the scientific method continually refines and changes our understanding of physical law, whereas religious ‘truths’ have remained largely unchanged.” Both of these scientists imply that science operates on logic and facts, whereas religion operates on feeling and belief.

However, as my colleague Ken Samples says, “biblical faith is confident trust in a credible or reliable source.” Testing and probing is part of the process of determining the credibility and reliability of a source. Contrary to Coyne’s assertion, the reliability of the Bible is supported by empirical data. For a couple of examples, investigate the big bang and early Earth.

Third, clearly many non-Christians have an inaccurate view of biblical faith. However, I think Christians should be responsible for articulating an accurate description of the Christian faith. Let me provide an example that clarifies how talking about God’s work in our lives can help dispel this misunderstanding.

A job interview brought me to California for the first time. Two months later, my family and I moved into an apartment I rented—sight unseen—over the phone. Before we even began the journey from the Midwest (where we were living at the time), we had some concerns. All of our family and friends lived in the Midwest. On top of all that, neither of us wanted to live in California, plus my pregnant wife was suffering back problems. Yet we made the move. One could call this blind faith since we were moving to an unknown place, dealing with significant health issues, and leaving the support of our extended family—all because God told us to.

However, this would miss the point that I had great confidence in God’s plan for our family. I had seen his work in my parents, and they trained us in the Christian faith. I had personally encountered God numerous times on mission trips and skiing trips, in my time at college, and during graduate school. I had studied under intelligent, knowledgeable Christians and had learned how to defend the reliability of the Bible. And I had seen Christ transform various aspects of my life as I sought to follow him. In other words, I had an abundance of evidence saying that following God’s direction in my life was the best way to live. Rather than blind faith, I was exercising confident trust in a credible source.

As I read the responses to the article by Paul Davies, I sense people rejecting Christianity, at least in part, because they see faith as ignoring the evidence. This provides an opportunity for Christians to show the rational, evidence-based nature of the Christian faith. And it allows us to make the case that God (and his revelation in the Bible) is a credible, reliable source worthy of our confident trust.