Questions on Faith and Reason

This past week, I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking with a class at Wentworth Institute of Technology.  As usual, I asked for questions before hand, so I could respond thoughtfully. Here are two more.  Excellent questions, this time around; thank you WIT.

What is a good explanation for people of faith’s lack of belief in sciences? Historically, it can be argued that all religious texts are the creation of people, and from a modern perspective are opinions not facts. Is it not possible to be both faithful and conscious of the fact that what you believe is opinion used to establish a social norm that is then traditionally effective at both controlling and fostering hate between people? 

I use language very differently than the author of this question, so let us unpack a few words.

  • I would say we use sciences, we don’t believe in them.
  • The question of what constitutes a fact represents a core issue for disagreement regarding these questions.
  • Religions are effective at fostering hate and love, controlling and liberating. It doesn’t work one way unless it can also work the other.

So I would repack it this way.

REPHRASE: Why do people reject scientific knowledge?

It conflicts with some other way of knowing that is important to them, often something that affirms their worth, their ethics, or their ability to function. To communicate, we need to find out what that other thing is. It’s rarely a question of poorly defended science. First we must find out what other, often legitimate goal the scientific knowledge appears to conflict with. Second, we can ask whether the conflict is real or only apparent.  Is there a way to achieve both the ends. Only third do we think about taking sides.

[For me, one of the most fundamental ethical commitments is to curiosity and love for the world around me. That means using all the tools at my disposal to learn more about it. Any way of knowing that conflict with this precept will run afoul of my Christian priorities before it gets to anything scientific.]

REPHRASE: Is it possible to be both faithful and conscious of how your faith impacts, and possibly impairs your epistemology.

Yes (but it can be very hard to hold onto this cognitive dissonance). It makes a difference how much you you value this awareness.

REPHRASE: Is it possible to be both faithful and conscious of how social systems have been used to dominate and harm others.

Yes. In fact Christianity puts this front and center with Jesus’ altercations with the religious authorities of his day.

Christians value the process of working out both value (what constitutes harm and what we should do) and social rules for limiting individual’s ability to do harm. We recognize the need to pursue these questions in community with others. Some things cannot be done well alone. At the same time, we recognize the challenges of institutions and struggle to make them accountable to God, morality, and truth.

Would you agree that teaching religion in a more philosophical way than strict all-or-nothing systems of belief would be a step towards global connection and peace? Religion and science shouldn’t be competing for the same prize of absolute truth because neither of them are; it should be understood that they are separate and mean different things, one being spiritual and one being physical.   

I agree that self-determination is a very important value. It is not the only value and must be tempered with some common limits (e.g., no harm to others, care for others, and common goals).

I agree that we should learn to value diversity of opinion, even foster it.

I disagree about science and religion being separate; they have overlapping interests. My prime example would be the meaning of concepts like human, person, alive, and value.


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