Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Science and Faith

For years, scientists have been talking about the "Big Bang" - the idea that the entire universe came into existence from a tiny speck of nothing that exploded into everything. And for years, Christians have pushed back against this idea, always at odds, it seems, with science in general because of this one thing. Because of this one very important thing. Because of this question over how the world came to be.

Science has a fairly noble goal. I think it's natural to man to want to know what he can know, and to want to know everything. That is, after all, why Eve ate the fruit of the tree. That's why she gave it to Adam. Man has always wanted to know. The trouble is, there are some things we just can't know. There are some things that will always come with a certain measure of faith.

Even science comes with this faith. No one has ever seen this original nothingness; he must take it by faith that it ever existed. No one has seen the way a germ forms or how a genome is built, but he traces it back by faith that there is a process and puts his understanding on that. And in this sense, science is a myth (in the traditional sense of the word). It's just a story man has given himself to make sense of his world. Science, of course, would say the same about faith - that it, too, is a myth. That it's just a story man has given himself to make sense of his world.

Fair enough. But here's the rub. Here's where science and faith stray from one another, and this is really the difference we're fighting over:

When science comes up against information that challenges its faith, it changes it story to make the new information work. Studies have recently come out, for instance, challenging the Big Bang idea. And you can already see science loosening its grasp a bit on the idea. Studies come out claiming one thing, and then a few weeks later, the exact opposite is "proven" and science is content to bounce back and forth between the two and is equally comfortable with either being true, according to whatever is the latest research. It never has to expand its faith; it merely redefines it whenever necessary so that it is always believing what it seems necessary to believe at any given time. 

Faith, on the other hand, expands itself to encompass new information. When the faithful come up against the impossible, it draws new lines around it and grows to meet the need. Faith extrapolates the information from what we know to whatever new thing we've come in contact with and figures out how they both fit into the same story. Our story doesn't change; we do. Our God doesn't change; we do. 

And this is the tension between science and faith. It is the question of whether our world is always changing...or we are. 

What's easy to miss is that we're not so far apart on this issue as it seems. Science will tell you it's looking for a constant world. It's looking for a world that doesn't change. That's the goal of science - to establish and predict the world according to its own order. It assumes there is an order. It assumes the world is fairly stable and knowable. And it assumes that if we can ever understand this, we can know how to live in it so that neither us nor the world will ever have to change (except, of course, where we decide to change it, which we can do with the right science). In real life, however, this hasn't worked out. Science is always declaring the change in the world, swinging like a pendulum between one thing and another thing entirely, and not, it seems, nearing any place to settle in between. Science is no closer to the answers to the big questions than it was when it began in the Enlightenment.

Faith isn't so concerned. It doesn't worry about the answers so much as the questions. Faith is always asking not what the world is but how we're supposed to live it. Faith is always growing, always changing, always pushing toward peace, toward a way to be in this world without worrying so much about such things. Faith doesn't worry about whether the world is changing. It cares more about how we are changing, about how we are becoming better (hopefully) at doing this thing called life. Not at understanding this thing called life. Because faith understands there are some things we just can't know. And shouldn't worry about.

So that's the real difference between science and faith. It's not what we believe about the world. It's not the story we tell ourselves to make sense of this place. It's why we tell ourselves these stories. Science tells the stories so that it can change the world without having to change ourselves. Faith tells the stories so that we can change ourselves, so that we can change the world.

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