Last week, a simple, one-line tweet got me in trouble. In response to a link about dark times ahead, I wrote, “Why all the doom and gloom? Where’s the faith?”
My tweet in no way indicated that I believe science is wrong or that I think the coronavirus is a hoax. On the contrary, I wear a mask every time I go anywhere. I haven’t invited friends over in eight months, and our time with grandkids had been seriously curtailed.
Refusing to succumb to doom and gloom doesn’t mean I am in denial. I’m not blind or ignorant enough to believe bad things don’t happen to good people because God is going to prevent it. Experience and reality teach me otherwise.
My friend’s brother and sister-in-law died of Covid. Life isn’t easy and being alive means loss, discouragement and sadness. But I still have faith. Why? Because I believe we each have available to us a God-given spirit of resilience and hope that enables us to move forward with purpose and joy despite what the world throws at us.
Hostility to faith
I still don’t understand why my tweet generated such a firestorm, but here are some of the responses:
You are a religious zealot.
Go back to your fairytales.
You are old. (this person posted my profile picture along with her tweet) You might die of Covid.
Science is based on reason and evidence. Not faith.
You can’t talk reason with religious zealots who believe fables about talking snakes and pregnancy by way of thoughts in air.
People are weak and stupid, as the last four years have shown. I have faith only in entropy. All things will end, forever, amen.
Your god is a failure.
And on and on it went.
Wow! Up until this one simple tweet, most of my Twitter posts have met with crickets. I’m not used to hearts or retweets, let alone responses.
So what is it about an expression of faith that elicits so much hostility? These posts seem to indicate that a lot of people believe science and faith are mutually exclusive. They can’t co-exist. But how could an atheist declare with such authority that faith is foolish? This is as presumptive as the religious person claiming to have all the answers.
Those who disparage faith disparage the reality of mystery and the experiences and beliefs of billions of people.
To be clear, not all atheists disparage faith. Some see advantages to religion, even if they don’t believe in it themselves. Others believe a world of diverse beliefs and opinions is infinitely more interesting than a monotonous world of sameness.
Some unbelievers have been alienated by believers who were judgmental or by family that crammed a narrow, dogmatic doctrine down their throats. Others are mad at God for injustice and unfairness, even though they don’t believe in God.
Sometimes atheism elicits the same intolerant reactions from believers. The faithful go into overdrive, determined to convert the “unsaved.” Evangelism devoid of true caring and love seems as superficial as atheism that relegates all religious people to one narrow category.
It’s a mistake to assume that science has always been on the side of reason and faith has always been unreasonable. If you’re viewing things objectively, you realize sometimes science has been wrong, and sometimes faith has been wrong. To dig in our heels and deny either science or faith is a response that lacks depth and humility.
“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” Blaise Pascal
A scientific breakthrough that brings us vaccines and antibiotics or explains some mystery of the universe is heady, exciting stuff. But so is a mystical or religious experience that transforms a life. I believe we can embrace them both.
When faith is on the wrong side of reason
Faith is on the wrong side of reason when people claim exclusive knowledge of truth and use that assertion to persecute or malign others. Faith is on the wrong side of reason when it gives rise to wars or serves as a flimsy camouflage for hate.
But faith is on the right side of reason when it leads to love, hope, kindness, compassion, unselfishness, and encourages the best, not the worst, in us.
When science is on the wrong side of reason
Science is on the wrong side of reason when further revelation proves a scientific assumption wrong. And this happens a lot. All you need to do is Google when science gets it wrong to see that scientific theories are frequently debunked and replaced by newer theories.
We now know the world is constantly expanding, but scientists once assumed it was static. Spontaneous generation, the theory that life arose from inanimate matter, was proven wrong in the 19th century by the experiments of Louis Pasteur. Scientific racism, the theory that humanity consists of superior or inferior races, has been proven obsolete by human evolutionary genertics and modern anthropology.
“Whether it’s the right amount of vitamin D or the fundamental causes of poverty, bewildering scientific disagreement surrounds us. There’s an old joke: ask 10 doctors a question, you’ll get 11 answers.” (Kevin Zollman, What Means when Scientists Disagree, Scientific American)
“There are surprisingly few proven facts in science. Instead, scientists often talk about how much evidence there is for their theories. The more evidence, the stronger the theory and the more accepted it becomes.” (Peter Vickers, associate professor in the philosophy of science, Durham University)
I shared this tweet in response to my tweet: Science is based on reason and evidence. Not faith. But what if I tell you my faith is based on reason and evidence? Would you believe me?
Reason is defined as “the capacity of consciously making sense of things, applying logic, and adapting or justifying practices, institutions, and beliefs based on new or existing information.” (Faculty of reason-Wikipedia).
My experience has led me to believe that faith is logical, based on my existing information. Faith brings me joy in a troubled world, leads me to a kinder, better response, and strengthens me to face challenges. I find it more logical to believe that a universe of such intricacy and beauty was created by intelligent design. I am skeptical that our amazing world is the result of randomness and happenstance.
Maybe you think differently, but that doesn’t mean I am wrong. It means we agree to disagree. To me, faith and science are not incompatible. They are two sides of the same coin.
My husband was upset by the twitter responses. He thought I would be upset, too, so he was surprised by my indifference. But faith allows me to be indifferent. If my desire is to please God by being my best self, what does it matter what others think?
Genius Turner expressed it well in a post on this platform when he said, “It’s impossible to shame someone who is indifferent to the world’s opinions. After all, to Know Thyself is to trust Thy Perceptions.”
I know myself, and I trust my perceptions. I have personally experienced faith, and I know it can transform lives. This fortifies me against the judgment of those who have not found faith in their own journey.
“Faith is the substance of thing hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1).
We all have faith in something; that the sun will rise tomorrow; that life will get better (or worse); that we have a right to our opinions. Even the person who tweets, “People are weak and stupid, as the last four years have shown. I have faith only in entropy,” has faith in his belief.
I believe God is the creator of both faith and science. They are beautiful components of a life that is material and spiritual and mysterious. But mystery can be a gift, teaching us to seek and explore. The world provides us with glimpses rather than a full picture. This truth, more than anything else, should help us approach life with humility and wonder.