As someone who actively engages in both theology and science, I was intrigued by Patrick Sorrells’ most recent column title. Dialogue around the value of faith, and how it is put into practice, is critical to building a stronger personal understanding of one’s faith. However, I found Sorrells’ article to be in need of a few different lenses, and some clarifications of misguided language.
To begin, I agree with Sorrells’ statement that faith is not the same as stark ignorance. However, it makes no sense to use this understanding to pit religion against science. This argument has been fueled by people on both ends defining each other in perfunctory ways, and refusing to imagine each other complexly. In his writing, Sorrells has created two polar opposite characters, each at opposite ends of the faith-versus-science argument. In reality, faith and science are much more cooperative than is sometimes recognized, and there plenty of people who do support that unification. Unfortunately, it is the creation and endorsement of simple characters like Sorrells’ that drives some people to agnosticism and atheism when they are in that key time of transition and development, often during college.
Faith and science, while not mutually exclusive, do not have identical functions. Pastor and paleontologist Ken Olson, in his book “Lens to the Natural World,” discusses how science attempts to answer questions of “what” and “how,” while faith and religion seek to answer questions of “why” and “who.” We would not expect the Bible to explain phenomenons of physics, nor would we presume that science would inform us what the meaning of life is.That said, both religion and science contain an element of mystery—the search for a better understanding of something. Yes, faith is the belief in something which may or may not have evidence that can be perceived by humans, but it is a fragile, weak faith indeed that simply settles there and does not pursue what it means to live in the world as a religious person, especially when more scientifically-generated thought could contribute to that pursuit.
Furthermore, Sorrells interchanges “scientific evidence” and “proof” a bit too loosely. Those who actively study science know that applying the scientific method is a circular process that can produce quite a bit of supportive material for a hypothesis; however, science never proves anything. Some hypotheses have generated enough supporting material to become theories and laws, but that still does not equal “final answers.” When it comes to faith and religion, then, I cannot prove either of those. However, there are times when I face the world and experience things that would personally support my faith in God. And in those instances, I allow my exposure to the world to rework the information I am using to support my core beliefs. Frankly, that example is a kind of application of the scientific method to personal faith, and I would encourage Sorrells to view the arguments he encounters as means to better inform the supplementary material supporting his own theology. Faith should be allowed to grow, not forced to remain stagnant. After all, “people should not shy away from becoming more informed about topics of importance to them,” as Sorrells himself stated.
That very statement brings me to a final point. Sorrells’ overarching theme for his article seems to be that it is difficult to be a Christian because people will write you off as being uninformed, blind, and stubborn, to use Sorrells’ own words. As discussed above, this is based on oversimplified caricatures of people and ignores the dignity and complexity of the faith experience of the person with whom you are arguing. Sure, there are the Richard Dawkins types of people in the world, but it is not useful to just be frustrated by encountering disagreement (and frankly, those people probably do not care if you feel insulted, anyway). Sorrells’ presentation also ignores the opportunities for exploration of a middle ground between the two subjects, which could be an enriching experience to someone’s faith and world perspective.
Moreover, I hope that Sorrells is not surprised that Christianity is no cakewalk. Perhaps being more flexible in thought and less patronizing toward those who disagree with him would serve Sorrells. As for those who encounter similar frustrations as outlined in the original article, encourage others to see value in faith by living and thinking in multifaceted ways. Do not define people who oppose you in overly-generic terms; you will only receive that back from them, and then you both lose. I am sure Sorrells and I differ in fundamental theological understanding, but I have found the above principles to be useful in my own faith life. And even if my ideas do not work for him, I hope that they may be useful for someone else who chances upon this article.