Lately I’ve been reading books on scientific theory and practices. I have always had an interest in science, though never enough to really put much advanced study into it. Much of what I’ve read I don’t understand at all. It goes completely over my head. But nevertheless I find myself fascinated by the bits and pieces that I do understand, and eagerly try to connect the dots to gain greater comprehension.
I often find myself considering that age-old debate between science and faith. It’s one I’ve never really understood. I have never once thought of science as some kind of rejection of God or the Bible. Neither have I considered faith as a refusal to accept the knowledge that science has to offer. Why would I? If God made all there is in this universe, then those things which science uncovers are the tools he chose to use to do it. And faith remains as the pathway to a relationship with something which dwells outside of what scientists call the laws of nature.
To suggest otherwise is to be like a character in a book that either denies the writer or fails to acknowledge the reality of the world that is written. Neither is open to the full experience, and leaves something missing from our lives.
But I do believe that science has something important to teach the faith community, which many traditions have sadly been lacking. In my reading I am frequently drawn to the fact that science, as its most defining virtue, asks questions.
That’s how it works. It is why it exists at all as a field of study. It asks questions. And when it comes up with answers it immediately asks more questions about those answers. Many Biblical literalists, when presented with scientific ideas such as evolution, immediately respond with “it’s just a theory,” suggesting that it is just a flimsy notion with no substance. Here they are misunderstanding the word “theory” as “hypothesis.” A theory is, in fact, an explanation of some aspect of the universe which is supported by measurable evidence. Once a theory is proposed it undergoes constant questioning by the scientific community. As those questions are explored, and answers are determined, the theory is refined; changing in smaller or larger degrees to accept new evidence. A theory may be completely disproven, but this is rare and generally is replaced by another theory which more effectively encompasses the data.
The point is: science not only accepts questions: it depends on them. Nothing is ever certain, but is constantly tested and refined, so that theories are authoritative and useful for understanding the natural world.
But then there is faith. It’s a different kettle of fish, I know. By its very nature, faith precludes the possibility of substantial, measurable evidence to support it. Sooner or later we are called upon to accept something not based on what is provable, but rather on a spiritual understanding.
And that’s okay. It’s more than okay: it’s wonderful. Faith gives us things like love, mercy, and justice: things of which no amount of scientific study will ever find a single particle.
Unfortunately, we historically (and, in some cases, still do) demand that faith be unquestioning. To ask questions is often seen at best childish, and at worst blasphemous. Many times I’ve been in Bible study and have listened as those attending reflect on how, when they were younger, it was unheard of to question the priest, or the Bible. That was a good way to anger your parents and have your neighbours whisper about you behind your back. How refreshing, they tell me, to now be able to ask all the questions that have been on their hearts for years, and maybe even get some answers.
Faith needs to be questioned. It needs to be tested. When we come across a difficult Bible passage, or a confusing part of our liturgies or traditions, we need to feel invited to ask whatever we want. We need to explore our faith and see where that exploration takes us. That’s how it grows. God gave you a brain, an inquiring and discerning heart: for you to use. Jesus sat with his followers and answered their questions. Early Christians gathered together and discussed and debated their faith so that they would grow closer to God.
Sometime in our past we stopped doing that. Then one day the world got much bigger. TV and the internet proclaimed ideas and beliefs far different than our own. Our children turned to us to ask questions and we silenced them, refusing to answer. Maybe we ourselves didn’t know the answers, because the same thing had been done to us in our day. And so they walked away, seeking answers in other places, for good or ill.
If there is one change that needs to happen in the life of the Church it is this: we must ask questions. One of my favourite authors once wrote, “The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.”
Take my advice. Join a Bible study. Sit with friends (or over Zoom, if you must) and talk. Explore the scripture. Try to answer every question you have, and then question your answers. Be uncertain, and let that uncertainty build you a greater, purer, and more fulfilling faith than you have ever had before. Amen.