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Faith and Reason – inseparable

Q: Archbishop J, why do you believe God exists (part 5)?

Many modern thinkers have proposed that faith and reason are diametrically opposed. If you have faith: it is blind and has no reason. If you have reason: it is clear sighted and needs no faith.

This is a false dichotomy that has created the modern challenge. We live in binary consciousness—either faith or reason. This is not the best human perspective on reality. This mode of consciousness has brought major achievements through science and technology. It has also brought great destruction to our planet, the oceans, and to people.

St Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Faith and Reason opens the conversation very differently. He says: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves”.

Science and faith

Faith and reason are inseparably linked whether we like it or not. Faith is not irrational, and reason is not without its own leaps of faith. Faith is defined as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something”. In the case of science, the faith is in the laws of the universe.

In an article refuting the claim that science is based on faith, by Phil Plain says: “The scientific method makes one assumption, and one assumption only: the Universe obeys a set of rules. That’s it. There is one corollary, and that is that if the Universe follows these rules, then those rules can be deduced by observing the way the Universe behaves.” This is the point.

The so-called one assumption, that science is willing to name is really a major assumption. But there is another: humans have the capacity to observe and interpret phenomena into a meaningful and useful system. If you use the word ‘belief’, then you see the truth. At the very foundation of the scientific method, there is faith in the universe and faith in the human.

If the universe came through evolution there is no good reason to justify the belief that the universe obeys a set of laws. That, too, is a kind of faith. Faith both in the nature of the universe and in the nature of the human who can observe and interpret these laws. Nor is it reasonable to believe that we have the capacity to recognise and interpret these laws.

Why does science work? This is a vital question. If everything came into being through chance, there should be no laws of nature to look for.

So why did the first scientist look for patterns and laws in nature?

Why should we expect the universe to have recognisable patterns?

Why did the first scientist go looking for these patterns?

Why do we humans have the capacity to go looking and expect to find recognisable patterns in the universe?

There are a whole lot of questions that have no reasonable explanation. There is a leap from reason to the actions that brought science into being. If we believe the universe is a product of random evolution, we still begin with a belief.

Faith and Reason

Faith has to be reasonable. The propositions of faith cannot be irrational. This is vital for the truth claims of religion. If we sweep back through the origins of the universe and DNA, the first building blocks of life, we can see that the belief in a creator is reasonable. Something had to ignite the Big Bang.

Remember nothing moved from rest to motion without a cause. That something, the philosophers called the “unmoved mover”. That something had to be eternal, it could not have come into being, it also had to exist outside of space and time since these only came into being with the Big Bang.

The real dialogue between faith and reason that grabs me is DNA with its proteins and amino acids. How did the first simple organism first come into being? Every argument of science is irrational. By that I mean implausible.

The communication system with its ‘alphabet’ in this basic building block of life is more sophisticated than the computer. It sends and stores messages with a larger alphabet than the binary computer alphabet. More than this, its messages bring things into being. By the message sent variations in a species occur and new species are brought into being.

The stumbling block for me: if there was no intelligent designer, how did such a sophisticated system emerge with the first emergence of life? Stephen C Meyer in his book, Signature in the Cell, relates a conversation with Douglas Axe a leading figure in DNA research.

Axe, in his experiments on a functionally significant 150-amino-acid section of a protein that had a very specific use, the odds of everything aligning just right for a very simple 150 amino acid simple structure says

“In conversations with me, Axe has compared the odds of producing a functional protein sequence of modest (150-amino-acid) length at random to the odds of finding a single marked atom out of all the atoms in our galaxy via a blind and undirected search. Believe it or not, the odds of finding the marked atom in our galaxy are markedly better (about a billion times better) than those of finding a functional protein among all the sequences of corresponding length” (Ch 1).

If this single event finding a single protein of very modest length is so improbable, then the event that caused the first living organism is equally improbable to have happened by chance.

Call the being what you may, Intelligent designer, God or whatever, it is highly improbable and irrational to believe that life happened by some random event; by constitutive parts happening to find each other and assemble themselves with the capacity to reproduce themselves, through a complex internal communication system.

Key Message:

Faith and reason are inseparable and need each other. Both contribute to the human and the capacity to grow and develop. Faith without reason is bad faith. Reason without faith is improbable.

Action Step:

Consider the benefits that we have from science. Also consider the benefits we have from a life of faith. Now see both as interdependent

Scripture Reading:

John 20:24