Saturday, January 17, 2015

Faith Seeking Understanding

Every Monday evening I join several friends for a chat in one of our local Dublin pubs.  Like the Inklings of Tolkien and Lewis fame (although none of us are remotely famous or as intellectually elite as those Oxford guys), we gather to discuss what we would describe as the biggest issue of life - God.  We sometimes wrestle with questions like "Why do we even believe in a God?", or something similar, but most of the time, we focus our conversations on the ramifications of our beliefs.  In the words of Anselm of Canterbury, we do theology - faith seeking understanding.

Last week we discussed the primeval narratives of Genesis.  This week we'll be talking about cosmology, evolution, and creation from a Christian perspective.  Can one believe in the Big Bang and evolutionary process while maintaining an orthodox Christian faith?  On the flip side, can one who holds to a faith in the resurrected Jesus explore and embrace many of the mainstream scientific theories and descriptions of the origin of the universe? 

I am not a scientist.  I hold a degree in humanities (with an emphasis in history) and another in theology, but I have an amateur's interest in the scientific endeavor.  In other words, I'm not opposed to what science can tell us about the functions and origins of the material world around us, but I wouldn't be an expert in that field.  I do know however, that science is limited in what it can explain.  By definition, the scientific method limits itself to what can be observed in nature and what is repeatable.  History, by contrast deals with events that are essentially unrepeatable - they happen one time and's history!  Historiography is an art, not a science, though it certainly sheds much light on our understanding of how things got to be the way they are.  Theology and philosophy engage with both history and science, but much of their primary focus deals with metaphysics - things that are not materially observable the way an organism might be studied under the lens of a microscope.  All of these disciplines are important in coming to a fuller understanding of reality.  In fact, music, poetry, other forms of literature, both factual and fictional all aid us in our quest for meaning and purpose.  Not any one of these disciplines would be sufficient on its own, but together they create a beautiful mosaic.

 Life is complicated and life is messy.  Life is simple and life is beautiful.  The world around us is amazing and the world around us is dangerous.  The world around us is scary and the world around us is awe-inspiring.  As I type this blog, the sun rises over the Irish Sea and Howth Summit as its rays cascade down the  undulating coastline of North Dublin.  At the same time, I just happen to notice that at this point of the earth's rotation the light of the sun has now become visible at 53.3478 N and 6.2597 W.  Both of these statements are true and tell us something about reality, but in different ways.

I would encourage persons of faith to have a strong enough faith to be willing to explore all that is available to learn about God, life, and reality from the various arts and sciences.  Likewise, I would encourage the skeptic to at least hold open the possibility that there may be more to this world and this life than is explainable simply through the discipline of science.  As we begin a new year - a new beginning, one might consider exploring the book of beginnings, Genesis.  But rather than looking at this account as if it were a modern science or history text book, I would suggest that you might approach these narratives with an open mind that is willing to explore all that poetry, story, and most importantly theology would have to say about God, humanity, and the way the world works.  For a primer, have a look at this clip featuring John Polkinghorne, Alister McGrath, NT Wright and other scholars, theologians, and scientists.  Happy explorations! - Shay

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