1 Peter 3:15: "...but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;...".(ESV).
There appears to be an age-old conflict between faith and reason. Non-Christians will object to the idea of faith on what they believe are reasonable grounds. Christians, on the other hand, believe that faith is perfectly reasonable. An exploration of faith and reason can lead us to interesting places in the contemporary world of apologetics. We will proceed on the basis that 1 Peter 3:15 seems to suggest that "reason" and "hope" (or faith) are compatible, possibly even inseparable.
That compatible relationship is certainly not always obvious. Famed theologian Karl Barth, in acknowledging the seeming difficulties of rational understanding of faith, states:
"Moreover, all the articles of our Christian belief are, when considered rationally, just as impossible and mendacious and preposterous. Faith, however, is completely abreast of the situation. It grips reason by the throat and strangles the beast. ... But how can faith do this? By holding on to God's word and by accounting it right and true..."
We have to wonder if Barth really meant to be so derogatory towards rationality, or reason. Surely reason can be a pathway to faith. Our ability to communicate with language, after all, can be said to depend on our ability to reason, to think logically. Our ability to read and write is a very rational exercise. We translate reality into symbols, or words, then arrange the symbols into patterns, or sentences, and then presume to understand one another when we use them. A brilliant scholar like Barth has to be called a man of reason as well as faith.
We know, of course, what Barth means when he says that faith must strangle reason. How often, when discussing matters of God with a beloved non-Christian friend, do we encounter that complacent resistance that seems to say "religion is all right for you, but I am logical, hard-headed. I have to see it to believe it." How do we explain that virtually everything he sees around him is evidence of God?
How do we explain it? With "gentleness and respect," of course (see 1 Peter 3:16). We remember we were once non-believers ourselves. And we will admit that even as we live out our lives of faith, we will occasionally be assailed by doubts or apathy. In this short mortal life, we never stop being human (with all the obvious implications). Reviewing the foundations of our faith can help to prepare us for difficult times.
Karl Barth is not the only great scholar who has wrestled with issues pertaining to faith and reason. In Not a Chance: God, Science, and the Revolt Against Reason R.C. Sproul tries very hard to understand the language and presumptions of scientists, and the philosophers of science. Causation is an important concept in most scientific endeavours, and what could be more challenging to a rational scientist than the question of what caused the universe to come into being. Yes, the universe.
For Christians, the answer is obvious: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1)." For some of our friends who do not seek the gift of faith, this statement is something of a provocation. They see no reason to believe that God created the heavens and the earth and they are determined to figure out who or what did.
In this debate, as in other debates involving philosophy and science, we are sooner or later going to hear the word "chance" being used as if chance were a cause. Indeed, French scientist Pierre Delbet has gone so far as to describe chance as a law:
"Chance appears today as a law, the most general of all laws. It has become for me a soft pillow... but this is a scientific pillow."
We can imagine these words being spoken in a French café filled with cigarette smoke and the clinking noise of wineglasses in the background, but how can a reference to "chance" as a "law" and a "pillow" in the same sentence indicate scientific thinking?
Another example would be Voltaire, who has stated: "What we call chance can only be the unknown cause of a known effect." R.C. Sproul has a bee in his bonnet about these vague references to chance which can frequently be found in scientific literature. The word "chance" properly used, does not mean "cause." Chance does not cause anything. It describes a probability, as in "there is a good chance of something happening" not cause, as in "random chance caused certain molecules to come together to create life." Sproul states:
"Attributing instrumental causal power to chance vitiates deduction and the rational. It is manifest irrationality, which is not only bad philosophy but horrible science as well."
It is ironic perhaps that a theologian should be calling scientists to account, that he should be out-rationalizing the rationalists.
This brings us to a fascinating book by Lawrence M. Krauss, entitled A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing. Krauss is a cosmologist, well-trained in physics and mathematics, yet he too appears to rely at least partly on chance or "accident" as part of his grand explanation of things:
"It is merely an accident of our circumstances, due we think to rather more profound factors we will get to later, that we live in a universe that is made up of matter and not anti-matter or one with equal amounts of both."
Accident! Who caused this accident? We hope they were insured. In a more restrained way, we simply ask, along with Sproul, how can "accident" or "chance" be properly used to describe "cause"-in particular, the causation of the creation of the universe.
We can always ask "what caused God?" but then we are ignoring the generally accepted definition of God as omnipotent and eternal, that which we simply cannot go beyond. Yes, there is a boundary or two to human understanding. There is nevertheless much that can be discovered in science, and Christians can and do join in on all sorts of scientific enterprises. Far from stifling faith, the complexity and beauty of scientific discovery can promote our sense of wonder and our joy. How can a Christian look at Hubble photographs of deep space and not remark-"here is God's creation!" What a privilege it is to be a thinking, feeling human being, and to be able to exult in the beauty of the universe!
Before immersing ourselves in some aspects of Krauss's theories, let us remember that no communication can take place without language, and that there can be no hope of logical reasoning without language. In his Preface, however, he states, (most assuredly): "Not only has "why" become "how" but "why" no longer has any verifiable meeting." Lexicologists the world over will be surprised to hear this. It is even more remarkable a statement when we consider the subtitle of his book makes use of the word "why"-"Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing."
We must have some admiration for the audacity of a man who purports to be able to answer this question. We must, furthermore, give credit where credit is due-- he is a good writer: persuasive, clear and sometimes witty. A reader will occasionally feel that he understands what the author is talking about. No small feat, for the author discusses Newtonian physics, Einstein's theory of relativity, and quantum mechanics with rapid-fire assurance.
How does Krauss explain why there is something rather than nothing? We must first understand the context of his inquiry:
nothing I do not mean nothing, but rather nothing-in this case, the nothingness we normally call empty space. That is to say, if I take a region of space and get rid of everything within it-dust, gas, people, and even the radiation passing through, namely absolutely everything within that region-if the remaining empty space weighs something, then that would correspond to the existence of a cosmological term such as Einstein invented.
With this solid base of understanding, we are now prepared to follow a discussion about particles and anti-particles, apparently first understood by physicist Richard Feynman in 1949:
"... a single electron is moving along, and then at another point in space a positron-electron pair is created out of nothing, and then the positron meets the first electron and the two annihilate. Afterwards, one is left with a single electron moving along."
This, it seems, is it. This is the core idea of how something comes from nothing, and how the universe comes from empty space. One more thing: "the particles that appear and disappear in timescales too short to measure are calledvirtual particles." While we cannot claim to understand fully Krauss's explanation, it appears that in order for various equations in physics to balance out, virtual particles must exist, and they must come from nothing. For most of us, this falls short of being a satisfactory answer to the question posed on the cover of the book. There is more to Krauss's book, some of it very interesting, much of it very theoretical and at least a bit of it rather disappointing, as there are numerous atheist and anti-theist references. It seems that, to Krauss and his friend Richard Dawkins (author of an afterword to the book) science will always be antithetical to religion and faith of any kind. What can we do but pray for them and be glad that our God is not a virtual particle?
Then again, remembering the thesis of this essay is that faith and reason are compatible; perhaps virtual particles are just another device in God's toolbox. Perhaps God has designed, planned and implemented such particles for his own purposes and our discovery, like so much else in science. Krauss appears to have inadvertently laid foundations of compatibility for faith in other respects. For example, he asserts that we are all made of stardust: "One of the most poetic facts I know about the universe is that essentially every atom in your body was once inside a star that exploded."
Okay-and the atoms arranged themselves into me by...chance? Not a chance, as Sproul would say. Some of our hard-headed friends will no doubt be relieved that they now have an alternate explanation to Genesis 2:7. Instead of "...then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground...;" they now have a scientific explanation-"we are all, literally, star children, and our bodies made of stardust." Is this just an amusing similarity between explanations or something else?
Christians are of course, always interested in questions pertaining to Biblical interpretation. We can and do differ on how to discern meaning. Shall we take a literal, historical approach to understanding every part of the Bible? Or do some parts demand a literary approach-God's meaning found in story and symbol? Yet another perspective might be that we should spend less time interpreting and more time obeying, particularly such principles as "love your neighbour." But these important questions are of interest only to those who either have or seek a faith relationship with God.
Perhaps the most remarkable assertion of Krauss and other cosmologists, however, is that of the possibility of multiple universes:
"A number of central ideas that drive much of the current activity in particle theory today appear to require a multiverse. ... Almost every logical possibility we can imagine regarding extending the laws of physics as we know them, on small scales, into a more complete theory, suggests that, on large scales, our universe is not unique."
Krauss, a self-described anti-theist, would scoff at notions of heaven and hell. He nevertheless thinks that the possibility of multiple universes is perfectly logical. Once again he appears to have inadvertently laid a foundation for the compatibility of science with faith. We would never suggest, of course, that science has to be compatible with faith-science is what it is, and faith will continue to be the relationship that God intended us to have with Him. But isn't it interesting when those who strenuously oppose the idea of God find themselves offering theories either similar to or supportive of the reasonable belief of God?
We could stop there, but why not let ourselves be ushered into the world of faith by a man who has done so for millions of people? One Billy Graham has preached the gospel for many years and has recently written a book entitled The Reason for my Hope: Salvation. Graham quotes 1 Peter 3:15 (above) and at least at the beginning, joins into the apologetic fray. He cites historical sources such as Josephus, the ancient Jewish philosopher, for evidence of the existence of Jesus. He quotes also Julian the Apostate, a fourth-century Roman emperor for critical yet cogent evidence about Jesus and the Galileans. Graham also quotes supporting statements from notable people throughout history: Rousseau, Bach, Van Gogh, Byron, H.G. Wells, Charles Dickens, Daniel Webster-all had admiring or respectful remarks recorded about Jesus Christ. We may be sure that each gave careful thought to the compelling history of Jesus Christ.
Reasonable evidence supporting Jesus is one thing-but what is the supreme reason for believing in Jesus? Graham never lets us forget it is all about salvation. This is a man who has spent his life talking about the implications of Christ dying on our behalf, and rising from the dead. He states: "No matter how much knowledge you gather, no matter how much proof you accumulate, you will never know the Lord Jesus Christ without taking the certain leap of faith that salvation comes only from him." There is a world of convincing evidence about Jesus-it is called the New Testament. It beckons us to a personal response; and to a lifetime of faith experience and study.
As we draw near to the end of this discussion about faith and reason, we might consider Acts 17:2-3:"And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on the Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ." Paul "reasoned" with them, "explained," and "proved." Paul did not, apparently, say: "I've got a gut instinct about Jesus. Humour me." No. Reason is an integral part of the evangelical mindset. We must invite questions from our beloved hard-headed friends and patiently encourage them to read and research, to delve and discern. And, when we are feeling discouraged, we must do the same thing for our own benefit.
Indeed, the best evidence of all is Scripture. As Graham writes: 'As I meditate on the infallible proofs from Scripture of the life, death, and resurrection of this One solitary life, it occurs to me that there is a tremendous amount of convincing evidence-evidence that would be acceptable in any court of law as to the validity of Christ's resurrection." We have come full circle, in a sense, for we began this whole discussion with Karl Barth insisting that faith "grips reason by the throat and strangles the beast." We think this was colorful hyperbole on Barth's part, and there is no doubt he and Graham are on the same wavelength when it comes to the importance of Scripture-"holding on to God's word and by accounting it right and true." There is also the matter of the Holy Spirit which can be said to transcend reason in the verification of the truth of Scripture.
Faith and reason-it is a broad field of inquiry indeed. In this brief discussion, we have considered firstly that all language, all clear communication, requires the device of reason, or logic. Secondly, that in the realm of scientific endeavour, where "reason" supposedly reigns supreme, the accuracy of scientific language, and scientific presumptions, can be called into question. Thirdly, we observe that some of the results of scientific inquiry can open the door to spiritual speculation, rather than close it. This we have described as the compatibility of faith and reason. Fourthly, when considering the reasonableness of faith we can discover a wealth of evidence from extra-biblical resources, historical commentary, and of course Scripture itself. No reasonable inquiry into the foundations of faith can lightly dismiss this documentary evidence.
Why is there something rather than nothing? Why was it necessary for Jesus to die for our sins? Why? Why? We won't shrink from asking those impossible questions, nor will we claim to have facile answers. We will acknowledge the element of mystery in the faith relationship. We will also, as we have so many times before, let our eyes and our hearts wander, in faith, to John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever should believe in him should not perish but have eternal life." Amen and Hallelujah!
Patrick McKitrick Contemplation and Meditation
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