Clashing Believers


And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
(Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach”)

The other night I read on Facebook yet another exchange of caustic comments from true believers self-righteously misrepresenting their own faiths. One army spoke as Bible believers, the other as science believers. I sat at my computer as on a darkling plain.

The Facebook narrative told of a young couple unable to conceive. They turned to the process of adoption and having agreed to adopt another woman’s offspring when born, suddenly found themselves the adoptive parents of her triplets. The second surprise came when the adoptive mother-to-be was told by her physician that she was pregnant with twins, making the childless couple very quickly the parents of five babies.

The thrust of the narrative was the delight of the parents of five who celebrated their family’s explosive growth as a gift of God. One person commenting bellowed his disgust at the mention of God as though God had anything to do with the conceptions and births which he declared completely matters of biology. In reply, the defenders of the other faith told him to read his Bible which, they said, would show him that nothing happens except by the will and design of God.

For decades, I have been puzzled by the assumption of some Christians attempting evangelism that they can prove the reality of God or the messiahship of Jesus by peppering unbelievers with Bible verses, as though everybody accepted without question the authority and undeniable truth of Scripture however simplistically and unsympathetically interpreted. What sense does that assumption make? “Read your Bible,” and it will supposedly prove to you that you must accept what you don’t believe.

So it is that faith is, indeed, trust.

I have been reading and studying the Bible all my life, and it has never proved anything to me because it cannot, though it has persuaded me of much that matters most to me in life. All that I believe at the highest and deepest levels of my faith derives from the Bible’s various witnesses to the truth of God, but God’s truth is redemptive love which no argument can prove. So it is that faith is, indeed, trust. I cannot prove even my wife’s love for me, which I trust with all my heart, and I can see my wife, hear her voice, feel her head on my shoulder, and remember with her the joys and distresses of our shared life. But prove her love? No, I cannot. How then can I prove the redemptive love of God whom I cannot see?

Scientific investigation has revealed to us the “how” of human fertilization, conception, and gestation. Scientific method enables us to identify the conditions under which these events occur as well as conditions that can prevent or abort the process and conditions that may change to enable conception where it had not occurred previously despite many attempts. So, in the sense of “how,” yes, the conception of the twins following the adoption of the triplets can be explained biologically. But the true believer in a kind of non-scientific scientism declares without qualification that biology explains all there is about conception and childbirth. Really? How can such a declaration be supported scientifically? It cannot. Does information about the natural process eliminate the possibility of divine will and purpose? No. Is there a “how” to the birth of a child but no “why” beyond the continuation of the species, and for what purpose does the species persist? These questions science cannot answer or even properly ask. The declaration that there is nothing real beyond that which our senses can perceive (even when enhanced by instruments) is unscientific nonsense. It is a faith declaration in which the faith is an uncritical belief that science is the revealer of all truth – all the truth there is. This faith, which I’m calling scientism for want of a better name, abandons science as a method of investigation and prediction to embrace it in distorted form as the object of worship and adoration then lift it as a weapon against all who dare suggest there is or even might be more truth than science can reveal.

Scientific investigation does not need God as a factor to be considered scientifically.

Scientific investigation does not need God as a factor to be considered scientifically. Indeed, God is not such a factor and cannot be considered scientifically to explain occurrences within the natural world. What I may call a miracle (a salvific intervention by God) still happens by a natural process, and only that process is available to scientific investigation. If asked whether the event was a miracle, science can only go mute. Too many people, however, hold the delusion that if science cannot explain the event then it must have been a miracle or the counter but kindred delusion that if science can explain the conditions under which the event occurred then it was not a miracle.

There has long been a pulpit joke about the boy on the roof who suddenly feels himself slipping off. Desperately he cries out, “God, help me!” A moment later, the boy says much more calmly, “Never mind, God; my pants caught on a nail.”

It is entirely possible and even reasonable to explain human reproduction biologically and still thank God for our children and, further, to rear them as people who belong to God and whose lives are entrusted to us as a stewardship for God. It is also reasonable to believe in the redemptive love of the God to whom the Bible bears witness and use birth control methods to prevent unwanted conception. It is wrong, I contend, to claim biblical validation for the notion that everything which happens within this world (including every conception) happens in accordance with the will and purpose of God. I have addressed this harmful misunderstanding of biblical faith here (in an earlier blog post) and in further posts about conception by rape linked from that one. Biblical faith has no need or right to disregard biology, and science has no valid scientific reason for dismissing other people’s faith in God.

So I listen as true believers in the Bible misrepresent biblical faith and as true believers in science misrepresent scientific method. Neither, of course, convinces the other of anything, but together they go on speaking condescendingly at each other.

What troubles me is not that people rant on Facebook but that such misrepresentations of faith and science misinform the young about both, inflame prejudices, misdirect public policy debates, and push bad laws. Science should not be a play toy for people who detest religion; neither should the Bible be a weapon for people who wish to force their beliefs upon others or dominate public policy.