Posted by: dacalu | 16 April 2014

Faith in Religion and Science

Today I had the honor of speaking about the environment in faith and science at Harvard Divinity School. Students sent me questions ahead of time, allowing me to format these responses.

Question 1: Is “faith” in religion the same as “faith” in science?

This question comes up frequently in modern “creationist” (anti-evolutionary) literature. I think it represents both a very good insight into how we reason and a very bad analogy.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines faith as: “Complete trust or confidence in someone or something


Version 1: Faith as complete trust in someone

This is how I see my relationship with Jesus Christ and this is how I see faith in the Christian context. It has to do with trust that a person will do the right thing even when I do not understand what they are doing or what the right thing is. It means I have a personal relationship with God, who has done good for me in the past and will, I hope, do good for me in the future.

I do not have this kind of faith in the abstract concept of religion. I have this kind of faith in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion (at least on good days). Nonetheless, I (almost always) have this kind of faith in God through Jesus. I believe this is what is meant by “salvation by faith alone.”

Version 2: Faith as a foundational confidence in some proposition

My life and my reasoning are based on some fundamental assumptions that I cannot say I know to be true. I believe that the universe is (partially) comprehensible and that I can (partially) comprehend it. I believe that this endeavor will be worthwhile. I also believe in an unmoved mover and the existence of a “God” with whom I converse. I say that I “believe” these things in the sense that I cannot get by without them, despite the fact that the empirical and logical evidence for them is weak at best. They are axioms, which I am at liberty to doubt, but nonetheless see no viable alternatives.

I have this kind of faith in the abstract concept of reason, the methodology of science, and the traditions of Anglican Christianity.

Version 3: Faith as strong confidence in a specific intellectual proposition (arrived at through sound reasoning)

I have near complete confidence that the theory of gravity is a good way to look at the universe, even that it matches up closely with reality. That confidence is founded on the version 2 confidence I have in comprehensibility and the efficacy of the scientific method. Likewise I have very high confidence in the fundamental goodness of all people, but only based on rational arguments founded on version 2 confidence in a good creator God.

Generally, I don’t use the word faith in this way.


I think version 1 is the type of faith proclaimed in scripture and central to Christianity. Any attempt to substitute versions 2 or 3 for version 1 is what Christians call “Gnosticism”, the belief that our best end lies in possessing knowledge, rather than being in relationship with God or, in other words, believing salvation comes from knowledge.

So, no. “Faith” should mean radically different things in Christianity and science. In Christianity it means trust in Christ as a person. In science and religion it can also relate to foundational beliefs and clear reasoning, but those should never be confused with a healthy relationship with God.


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