Not So Blind Faith

The evangelists for atheism—Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the gang—like to contrast science and reason with what they call the “blind faith” of religion. There may be some religious folk whose faith is unquestioning, but the most faithful people I know are also among the most clear-sighted and probing, and critics who see only caricatures and stereotypes might do well to have their own vision checked.

No one sees more clearly the problem of evil, for example, than the thoughtful person who believes that God is good. In fact, belief in a good God is part of what makes evil an intellectual and moral problem. If there is no God, but only “nature red in tooth and claw,” then suffering is still terrible but it’s much less of a puzzle. It’s just the way things are.

People do terrible things to one another, and nature is one great cauldron of competition sitting on top of tectonic plates that cause earthquakes under skies that stir up hurricanes and tornadoes more or less at random. Awful things happen, but it’s what you’d expect if the underlying cause is randomness and there’s no one around to redeem it all. That’s why existentialists of an atheist bent are often a rather somber lot. It’s not because they see more clearly, but because they only see the obvious.

Science in the last century or so has taught us that things are not always as they seem. In fact, the most fundamental levels of reality are not only invisible but mind-bogglingly counter-intuitive. Quantum mechanics explains a great deal, but it’s famously weirder than we can imagine. And it turns out that only about five percent of reality consists of ordinary matter and energy; the other 95 percent is “dark,” meaning that it can’t be detected through normal physical means but its existence is inferred from things we can perceive.

The reality of something we can’t see but can infer through other kinds of experience starts to sound like thoughtful people’s understanding of God. If 95 percent of physical reality is inherently invisible, is it really so strange that the Creator behind it should also be invisible? And if science-minded people protest that science demonstrates things through experiments and is reliable in ways that faith is not, we might point out that science offers only peripheral vision for many of the most important things: beauty, love, play, and moral values, for example.

If faith in God is about a relationship with a Person, then the kinds of experiences that go into relationships are more relevant to religion than the experimental methods of science, even though both have to do with invisible realities. It appears that “seeing” is more subtle than some people imagine, and believing may not be so blind after all.

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