Yesterday I related a story in which my father admitted his own occasional doubts about God. Some might think it sacrilege to doubt God, particularly for a man of the cloth. I also noted in my opening post that there seems to be a lack of faith from certain political elements, a lack of faith in God, in democracy, and in other people. We’re going to start with religion, but I will get to science as well.
Many people equate faith and religion, and I think that’s a mistake. I tease a good friend of mine, the federal judge who married my wife and me, with the following joke:
Q: What’s the difference between a federal judge and Jesus Christ?
A: Jesus had moments of doubt.
Which Jesus did. So if some Christians insist that they know, absolutely know, that God exists and claim they never doubt Him or Scripture, does that imply that their belief is stronger than Jesus’s, stronger than God’s? It’s not a trivial question.
It turns out that the word ‘religion’ has nothing to do with theology, nor spirituality. The stem re- means ‘back’, or ‘behind’; and the stem lig- refers to binding, as in a ‘ligature’ or ‘ligament”. So ‘religion’ means to be ‘tied back’; or, to use the English idiom, to be ‘tied up’.
Faith, on the other hand, implies a lack of certainty and knowledge, which in turn implies doubt; and those, in turn, imply freedom. Which presents another interesting theological problem: if we never question what we believe, are we refusing free will?
Faith appears to be a harder pilgrimage than religion. Working from religion, from a viewpoint that one need not question – one is not allowed to question – would seem to be easier than working from faith, where doubt and questioning are constant. It would seem easier to go through life with blinders on, not only rejecting what you can’t understand, but insisting that it can’t be understood at all.
Faith vs religion is also a problem in science. I practice medicine, where science meets reality, and science frequently doesn’t come off all that well in the exchange. I am constantly confronted with things that don’t make sense, with patterns that seem to suggest something else may be going on beyond science-as-we-understand-it, and occasionally I even see what seem to be small miracles. My medical colleagues often dismiss these things. Perhaps I am gullible, or maybe even crazy.
Or perhaps they are tied up.
Medicine is fundamentally a biological discipline, and biology considers extraordinarily complex systems. I am often surprised at the ability of my biological colleagues to ignore contradicting realities right in front of them. And when I attempt to discuss these unorthodox (note the word) anomalies, their arguments sometimes resemble, in structure and approach, the arguments that I hear from the inflexibly religious.
It’s the messiness of reality. We don’t like mess. We want neat & clean, we want a philosophical, a metaphysical, ideal. The stridently religious, the garden-variety physician or scientist, we all prefer some orderly dogma to messy reality.
These insights are important to all of us who struggle to remove our own blinders. Because the problems I see in religion, and in medical practice and scientific research, seem to mirror problems I see in business and government, and even problems in families and communities.
In every freshmen science class college students are taught that a single experiment can cause scientists to completely change their minds. Scientists insist that they are unprejudiced, completely open-minded, impartial, logical.
Which is exactly what dogmatic religious adherents argue, while explaining away anything that challenges their world view.
I am certainly not the first to suggest that science is a religion. I hope, however, to make that argument stronger as we go.
But first, we have some other topics to cover.
Tomorrow: A Scientific Defense of Creationism
After that: A Theological Defense of Darwinism
Picture, Iris nelsonii. Common in south Louisiana, the iris is the symbol of faith, hope & wisdom; note all three suggest doubt and open-mindedness. Iris nelsonii was first described near Abbeville LA, and named by famed botanist Lowell Randolph for his friend and associate, Ira Nelson, a former UL faculty member, and the namesake of the UL Horticulture Center on Johnston St. next to Blackham Coliseum.
Photo by R.J. Sloan, via SIGNA.