Part 3 of a Dialogue on Faith
It was one of those rare, perfect nights where the moon was nowhere to be seen, and the clouds had parted in the sky, making way for one of nature’s few sights readily visible to every man: a luminous, shimmering blanket of stars swept across the sky vibrant and stunning. It is one of the few sights that does not diminish, even with time.
The Christian and the skeptic both lay on their backs in a grassy field, peacefully gazing heavenward, lost in the wonder of it all.
The skeptic broke a long silence.
“What do you think the ancients thought about all of this?”
“All of what?” the Christian asked, all too ready for a conversation, as he felt that this was really the perfect time for it.
The skeptic’s hand swept a wide arc toward the heavens.
“All of it,” he explained. “After all, we’ve only just come to understand it all ourselves.”
“Have we really? I would say that perhaps we’ve just begun to understand it,” the Christian clarified. “Though certainly we’ve made a good start.”
“I think that maybe you’re prone to underestimating just how much we’ve learned in the past century.”
“I don’t know that I do. I am well aware of the successes of science, but I think that maybe none of us has any idea just how much there is left to know,” the Christian explained. “But of course we don’t—the very nature of ignorance is that one never quite knows just how much more is left to be learned. But I would suggest that we’re really not much closer to the end of the matter than we were when we began.”
“I thought you might say something like that,” said the skeptic. “And I’m sure you would never admit the one truth that every legitimate scientist knows: the more we know about the heavens the less need we have for religion.”
“No,” answered the Christian, “you’re certainly right about that. I would never admit to it. Only rarely do I admit to things that aren’t true.”
“And this is why we will never make any headway in our discussions,” the skeptic, quite seriously. “You won’t admit something that is plain to every thinking person. You are blinded from the truth by your willingness to believe in myths and superstitions.”
“Just because I won’t admit to it doesn’t mean that I’m not willing to discuss the question,” said the Christian quickly, “but you must allow me to question the premises of your assumptions.”
“Fine. Question them.”
“When you say that everything we have come to know about science has left us with less need of religion, where is that assumption from? Did you hear it from within religion? I highly doubt it. This may be the sorts of things that skeptics speak about together, patting one another on the back, but it’s certainly not something you hear within the walls of a church. I don’t remember ever hearing murmuring within Christianity of how woeful it is that the world has so little need of our faith. Where is the fear that Christianity should be feeling?”
“It’s something one learns just by looking at the world,” the skeptic declared.
“Looking at which parts of the world?”
“The facts of the world. Don’t you agree that scientists are seeking naturalistic answers the questions of existence in the universe?”
“I couldn’t agree more.”
“And don’t you also agree that, in some respects, science has done a remarkable job of explaining things that were previously though inexplicable?”
“A truly remarkable job,” the Christian admitted. “Science continues to move forward in thrilling leaps and bounds! In just a few hundred years we’ve explained gravity, motion, atoms and, most recently, the cosmos! I certainly would be lying if I said I wasn’t continually impressed.”
“Then you’re only a step away from admitting my point!”
“I do see how it would seem that way.”
“But of course you do! It is the most obvious point in the world! For centuries—for thousands of years, really—man has been inventing vast, intricate mythologies to explain the things that couldn’t be explained in any other way, and now science has solved the problem!”
“You’re speaking,” said the Christian, “of the ‘God in the gaps.’”
“Exactly. You’ve said yourself that science has answered questions that previously seemed unanswerable, and with every answer, religion is rendered more impotent.”
“That is true of some religions, certainly,” the Christian admitted. “For example, Ra is almost certainly unnecessary. Who has need for a sun god when we have a working understanding of nuclear fission? Likewise, meteorology means we don’t need a god of thunder; modern medicine means we don’t need any gods of healing.”
“I’m surprised that you would admit it so easily!”
“Hardly. I’m admitting that we don’t need the panoply of gods invented by men to explain things that could not be explained. I’m admitting that we don’t need mythology. It’s fortunate that I don’t worship any of the gods of mythology—I worship the Christian God, about which science has had absolutely nothing to say!”
“But it says everything! Science has opened up the secrets of the universe! We finally know just how great and awesome this universe is thanks to modern cosmology. Christianity is so focused on man and the earth, that has never been able to comprehend the universe! It’s sad, really.”
“It might be sad,” said the Christian, “if it were at all true. But it simply isn’t. Christianity may believe that there is something special about men, and something unique about the earth—and though scientists have done everything in their power to prove otherwise, both of these statements are supported by an overwhelming weight of evidence—but it has never had any illusions as to the vastness of the universe.”
“But how could a religion so narrowly focused on man possibly comprehend the universe?”
“Simply because Christianity has never focused on man! Or, rather, it was never supposed to. Other religions are about men, Christianity is entirely about God. And when the focus is rightly placed on Him, man is put in his place.”
“And what place is that?”
“A very odd place indeed! Man may be important—he is certainly the glory of creation!—but he is also humbled, because he is always seen in relation to his creator. It’s no wonder that King David wrote, ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, or the sun of man that you care for him?’ Do you really think that in saying this David really misunderstood the insignificance of man? Or what about the book of Job? Remember that God asked, “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?” In saying this do you really believe that He was somehow making something small of the heavenly constellations? Of course not! God’s message to Job—a message that continues to this day—is precisely the opposite: who are you to even begin to fathom the magnitude of my creation?”
“But that’s just it! We have begun to fathom it! Maybe you’re right—maybe Christianity has always believed that the universe was great, but that only proves my earlier point! God was invented because man thought he would never be able to understand everything—but what a difference a few thousand years makes!”
“What a difference indeed!” the Christian acknowledged. “It has offered detailed explanations of quantum mechanics and general relativity.”
“Indeed it has.”
“And by them we know why planets revolve around stars, why we stick to the earth, and what kind of things we’re made of.”
“We can survey the paths of stars and galaxies and turn back the clock to discover just where they were in the past. We can follow it all the way back to the very beginning, where everything is compressed into a neat, infinitesimally small point, outside of even space and time.”
“And what could be more beautiful than that?”
“That is certainly impressive—but don’t you admit that this is where science ends?”
“Of course it is! That is the moment in which the laws of physics, as we know them, break down.”
“Right. It is the point, beyond which, we really can’t know anything. The point beyond which we need to have faith.”
“I’m sorry that it’s not appropriate scientific terminology, but it seems perfectly straightforward to me. There is a point, beyond which, we all, Christian and humanist alike, admit that we cannot empirically know something. It is the point, beyond which, faith is required of every man. Humanists have faith that there is some physics at work beyond the physics that we know; Christians have faith in God. The difference is not that of faith versus non-faith, the difference lies in the fact that I acknowledge and embrace my faith, while yours is hidden and ignored.”
“Even if that’s true, my faith is based on science,” said the skeptic.
“No,” the Christian responded, “your faith is based on the hope that somewhere, outside of what we can observe, there is something that is simply not God. My faith is in precisely the opposite. And, to be perfectly honest, I can’t help but thinking that my faith is considerably more rational. I don’t suspect that you would agree
“I certainly don’t.”
The Christian smiled.
“That only means the dialogue will have to continue.”