Misunderstandings about Faith and Science, an excerpt from “Is Atheism Dead?”

November 16, 2021

This excerpt is from Chapter 22, “Problems with Atheism: Faith and Science Are BFFs” from my book IS ATHEISM DEAD?

To understand why faith and science are not at all incompatible, we must clarify what faith is and what science is. For example, many people mistakenly believe that “faith” means believing in things that are not actually true. They seem to think that faith exists on another plane from all else, and that we can believe things “by faith” that are not rational. This is completely false, but it is another false idea that the New Atheists have exploited. Of course there are many beliefs—including religious beliefs—that are simply wrong, and thinking people are simply obliged to separate them from those that are true. But the New Atheists stubbornly refuse to do this and absurdly lump all religious beliefs together, refusing to look at the facts. Ironically, this puts them in the same category as the enemies of Galileo who refused to look through his telescope, fearing the facts might change their hide-bound opinions. So of course any educated person of faith knows there are elements of any faith that are challenging to believe, but no thinking person would say it doesn’t matter whether those things are true. Truth inescapably matters. Some religious beliefs—like the resurrection of Jesus from the dead—are difficult to believe, but no one who is a Christian could say it doesn’t matter if it actually happened. But there are other religious beliefs that are difficult to believe because they are actually not true, so we should not believe them.

For example, the New York–based writer Julia Day gives us the following ummation of a Norse creation story, which few would think compatible with the scientific and historical accounts of things. No one reading it today could say they believe it.

There was nothing in the beginning. Not sand, sea, heaven, or earth. But then there was Niflheim—the Mist Home. From the Mist Home came twelve rivers. When the rivers spread north they froze, and everything was ice. From the ice came Ymir, the first frost-giant. Ymir was not a god, and eventually he turned evil.

A cow formed from the ice that created Ymir, and from her teats came enough milk to feed four rivers. Ymir fed on the rivers, and the cow fed on the salt in the ice, and after she licked the ice for three days straight a man named Buri emerged. Buri had a son named Bor, and Bor had three sons. One of his sons was Odin, the most powerful god of all.

Evil Ymir and the three sons of Bor had a showdown, but eventually Odin and his brothers prevailed. Ymir’s blood became the sea, which drowned all but one of the frost-giants. Bor’s sons dragged Ymir’s corpse into the middle of Ginnungagap. His bones became the rocks, his hair became the trees, his skull became the sky, and his brain became the clouds.

Then, Bor’s sons turned two logs into a man and a woman, and the man and woman created two children so beautiful that the gods became jealous. They pulled the boy, Moon, and the girl, Sol, up into the sky and enslaved them forever. Sol will forever drive the chariot that carries the sun, and Moon the chariot which carries the moon.

The idea that the New Atheists would throw a story like this in the same category as the entire Bible—which is a vast library of historical chronicles, parables, narratives, poetry, and pastoral letters, among other things—is both silly and lazy. If atheists are going to cast stones at religion, they should specify which religion and should say which aspects of that particular religion are at issue. If that is too difficult, we may save ourselves the trouble of taking them seriously. Faith should never mean believing in things that are not actually true.

As we mentioned, Christians unequivocally believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but they also understand that the resurrection of a human being from bodily death is neither easily understood nor believed. They know that if it happened, it is a miracle. Like the Big Bang, it defies everything we know from science, but there is too much evidence for us to ignore it. Whether it happened matters. If it didn’t happen, the entire Christian faith falls apart. Christians cannot simply wave away the issue, or fudge it by saying yes, but it only happened “in the spiritual realm”—or that it happened “metaphorically” or that Jesus “rose in the hearts of his disciples.” Any serious Christian knows facts matter, and the fact of the resurrection matters most of all. So whatever miracles we say happened must actually have happened, or we must reject both them and the faith that insists upon them.

If someone said their faith teaches that a giant frog is holding up the earth, we cannot say, “That’s fine for you to believe. That’s your faith.” We must understand that anything that is not true for anyone is not truth at all. Some things might be difficult to believe but are still true. The idea that the universe began in an explosion nearly fourteen billion years ago is one of them. Other things might be difficult to believe and are completely false, like the idea that the moon is made of green cheese. Other things that are easy to believe might also be false, like the idea that George Washington wore wooden teeth. The only vital question in every case is whether these things are genuinely true. Whether or how we can prove it is a secondary issue. So faith is not some vague way of thinking that can assert things that aren’t true.


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To read more, order IS ATHEISM DEAD? today!