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Friday, May 06, 2005

More on Faith

This interview with Dr. Francis Collins, one of the leaders of the human genome project, in Christianity Today Magazine is well worth reading. Excerpt:

I think of God as the greatest scientist. We human scientists have an opportunity to understand the elegance and wisdom of God's creation in a way that is truly exhilarating. When a scientist discovers something that no human knew before, but God did—that is both an occasion for scientific excitement and, for a believer, also an occasion for worship. It makes me sad that we have slipped into a polarized stance between science and religion that implies that a thinking human being could not believe in the value of both. There is no rational basis for that polarization. I find it completely comfortable to be both a rigorous scientist, who demands to see the data before accepting anybody's conclusions about the natural world, and also a believer whose life is profoundly influenced by the relationship I have with God. Science is our most powerful tool for studying the natural world, but science doesn't necessarily help us so much in trying to understand God; that's where faith comes in.
(via Emily) I have been contemplating a post on faith again, stimulated by this Mystic Knight post. This interview seems a great intro to that post. I suggest you read the entire interview and then come back and read my meager offerings. As an aside, I find the entire concept of the proseletyzing atheist to be a bit amusing. I have always been amazed by the power of Faith to change individuals and alter society. Admittedly, some of the actions of people motivated by faith have not been good. There have been bloody religious wars, inquisitions, and of course, modern international terrorism has a powerful faith component as well. It is plain though, that Faith has an immense amount of power. Like all sources of power it can be used for good or ill. That alone though hardly seems to be a reason to discount it or try and do away with it altogether. Scientific advancement shares this characteristic with Faith, but I don't know of any atheists who would advocate that society eschew science because it presents dangers. What exactly is faith, and why does it exist is a fundamental question. It seems that humans have a deep desire to form a mystical connection to the unknowable. Many atheists claim that this is merely the result of thousands of years of societal programming and hidebound traditions. That seems to me to be an insufficient explanation. It also ignores the profound personal effects that faith can have on a person. A good portion of my outlook on the world is utilitarianism. Things that work deserve a certain amount of respect, even if we don't understand exactly why and can't explain it fully. In my personal observations, those people with a great deal of religious faith (and I don't mean they loudly proclaim it, instead they tend to devoutly live it) are happier, and better, people than those who do not share this trait. This seems to be a characteristic of people of deep faith regardless of the actual religion they practice. Pope John Paul II and the Dali Lama are well known examples of the type of person I am talking about. There a countless others, most of whom you wouldn't realize had this deep well spring of faith unless you knew them well. I am not one of those people. I am too honest with myself, at least in this circumstance, to rationalize that I am not one of these people because I am smarter than them, or I have freed myself of their silly superstitions. I lack deep faith because of pride. I am unwilling to submit. Some would claim this is a strength, a positive character trait. I am not so sure about that. It is I think relevant to examine how and why faith can go bad. I think that faith goes wrong in the same way that science can go wrong. When you have discovered a great truth, their is a tendancy to assume that because you know this truth their is now nothing that is unknown. One answer becomes all answers and the search for further knowledge, further truth, is abandoned. This leads to dogmatism and intolerance. The solution is of course obvious, and espoused by both science and religion, although infrequently followed: humility. I have mentioned in several comments on various sites, an analogy made by Kim Stanley Robinson in his book The Years of Rice and Salt. To paraphrase Robinson, Gods words fall to man like rain upon dry earth. The result is mud, which although lacking the purity of the rain, is nonetheless good for life. I think that all the many forms of mud, the worlds religions, derive from the same pure rain. All contain elements of base earth (humanity) and none are the pure substance. As such, religious people should be willing, even eager, to learn from one another and to try and discover knowledge that they currently lack and gain greater enlightenment. This doesn't mean taking a relativist view, or abandoning one's principles, or even the trust in one's particular faith. It does however mean being willing to explore, with an open mind, other systems and other beliefs. It also doesn't mean that all faiths are necessarily equal, and that we cannot, as individuals, choose from among them. Just because all religions are mud, doesn't mean that some mud doesn't have more pure water than others. You can trust in the mud that you have without closing your mind to the possibility that their is better mud out there somewhere.

7 Comments:

Anonymous TheAnchoress said...

Good post, David, I linked to it.

5/06/2005 09:31:00 AM  
Anonymous tsykoduk said...

Good post Dave - well thought out!

5/06/2005 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger Mystic Knight said...

Well said Dave!

I would like to point out that the men of deep faith you spoke of are truly great leaders because of there ability to believe so strongly in their respective religions.

Unfortunely having deep faith in something does not make that something true.

Take Wiccan followers for example who have a strong belief in their religion. Some are just as deeply faithful as the men you mention, but we all know their religion is fairly new in the grand scheme of religious creations go.

It doesn't really bother me if a scientist chooses to believe he is merely discovering what he feels another great scientist has created, but it seems a bit silly to us non-religious types.

5/06/2005 03:58:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

I don't think I admire those people and others because they have faith or because they believe strongly. I admire them for the quality of character that they display. I also admire them for the internal peace with the world and deep capacity for joy that they seem to possess. If those qualities are a result of their faith, which they would claim and I am inclined to believe, that certainly shores up my belief in faith and it's power.

If you have faith in something, and that faith has demonstrable results in quality of life and altering the nature of man, then I would argue that that does make it 'true.' We believe in gravity and electricty because of the effects we observe them to have, rather than direct observation in and of itself.

The Wiccan believers of course claim lineage from an anchient belief system as well, but I don't think that is truely relevant to my post anyway. If, as I claim, God (Goddess, the Great Pumplin, whatever) occassionally dispenses wisdom to mankind (the rain in my allegory) then that can happen recently as well as anchiently. Indeed, one would expect that to be the case.

If any scientist was researching human genes and thought that because they gained greater understanding of them they had created them, I would find that silly. The point of the scientist story though, is that it is hubris to believe that a logical, rational person cannot posses faith. It would seem that this man is logical and rational, his contributions to human knowledge mean we should afford him that respect at a minimum. If such a man can also possess faith, the qualities must not be incompatible as some claim.

5/06/2005 08:07:00 PM  
Blogger Random Gemini said...

Albert Einstein is believed to have said something along these lines when asked what he would say if the theory of relativity was wrong.

"Then I feel sorry for God." His reasoning, was that the theory of relativity was such a beautiful, artistic thing that it would be a shame for it not to be the work of God.

Even the most logical minds most certainly can have faith.

5/06/2005 09:10:00 PM  
Blogger Mystic Knight said...

Some more thoughts from Einy can be found on Tsykoduk's site.

Einstein was a great thinker, and one of these days I'm going to delve a little deeper into his life to find out when he said what he did and why he changed his outlook on some of his ideas. Would make a difference in quoting him if some sort of timeline from his life were understood instead of random quotes from various life experiences.

In addition, the founders of this country are often quoted out of context based on whatever direction the conversation is trying to be taken. Often, it's the larger picture that must be understood when quoting someone.

So what did all of that just mean? I have no idea what Einstein actually thought about God at each level of his life, but it's time to dig out some Einstein research material and do some learning.

5/09/2005 06:43:00 PM  
Anonymous tsykoduk said...

It should be accepted by all that faith can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon how it is used. Also - there are too many stories of how faith has transformed lives for the positive to dismiss it out of hand.

There are several ways to look at it. My personal take, is that we all have abilities that we cannot tap. Through belief in some external entity (or what ever smoke and mirrors we wish), we can free our the parts of our minds that are fettered by the cultural reality that binds us day to day.

For me, it's a question of moving beyond the need for the crutch of godhead - and realizing that I have the ability to change my life for the better. I believe very strongly in personal empowerment, and there is no more empowering feeling then to be able to look at a portion of your life, good or bad, and say "I survived that, I prospered then, I learned the lessons that I needed to learn" rather then "I was to weak - I needed to be carried through that".

Our culture is steeped in taking power away from the individual, and giving it to the government, the Godhead, the leaders.

"We need laws to regulate how hot our beef is cooked until, because we might get sick if we order it wrong!"

"Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you you'd walk with me all the way, but I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you most you would leave me." The Lord replied, "My precious, precious child, I love you and would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you."

"I was only following orders!"

As a Culture, we need to move beyond laying the blame for our weakness at some one else's doorstep, and take responsibly for our actions, our choices and ultimately, our feelings.

5/16/2005 03:37:00 PM  

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