Co-existence of Faith and Reasoning (or why I believe in Science AND Religion)

I read this article on NPR today which asks, Does Science Require Faith?

Anyone reading this blog knows I’m a religious person. Yet, I’m also deeply logical. I might have majored in English, but have always been interested in science. I am naturally curious, and spent the first 17 years of my life really thinking that I’d be an astronaut one day. (Most people get over that phase by age 10 or so). The point is, I find myself in a not completely unique situation – especially amongst Mormons: I’m a Mormon that also believes the theory of Evolution. I find that science is helpful for our species as a whole. I think that it behooves us to understand more about the world around us in a scientific way. I know that there is a lot that we don’t understand about our natural world that is not answered by religion.

Yet, I also know that God is God. He is the master astro-physicist, biologist, chemist, physician, neurologist, etc.

Sunset in Maui - Haleakala...both science and religion in one picture!
Sunset in Maui – Haleakala…both science and religion in one picture!

So, I found these two paragraphs in the NPR article especially interesting:

Sometimes faith is used as an alternative to reason, a way to designate (and sometimes denigrate) beliefs that are aren’t based on arguments or evidence, or that aren’t assessed critically. On this view, science and faith almost certainly conflict; science is all about arguments, evidence and critical assessment.

At the other extreme, faith can simply mean something like a guiding assumption or presupposition, and on this view, science does require faith. Science as an enterprise is based on the premise that we can generalize from our experience, or as “The Mathematician” put it, that induction works.

And this is exactly what I want to address:

Faith – not an alternative to reason

I can tell you, if faith was truly an alternative to reason, then I wouldn’t be a Mormon. It helps to understand exactly what faith is.

“And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” – Alma 32:21

Often, we spend a lot of time focusing on the first part of the definition: “ye hope for things which are not seen…” but this isn’t all. Alma includes one more qualification for faith: which are true. If you believe that the world is flat, you can believe it with your entire heart. You can believe it to your death. But it is merely belief and not faith because faith is belief in something that is true. I know…there may be a few more concerns with what I’m saying, but follow me for a second.

Truth, with a CAPITAL T, does exist

Oh, as an English major, I had plenty of class discussions about truth. I had a teacher challenge us by saying, “You can’t find a definition of truth. Truth is relative. What is true to you may not be true to me.” And, to an extent, I understood what he’s saying.

But he’s wrong.

He was questioning conventional wisdom, often confused with truth. After his class, I went to him and told him my definition of truth. I have to admit, he didn’t seem very excited when he heard my answer. I approached him, saying: “I’ve got a definition of truth for you.” Originally, I think that he eagerly expected me to say that Jesus Christ was the truth and the light, but his demeanor changed when I quoted the following scripture:

“And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;” – Doctrine and Covenants 93:24

Seriously, can you think of a better definition of truth? Truth is not relative because truth doesn’t change. Pretty awesome–especially when you then apply this definition to the scripture in Alma: faith is believing something that is true – that is, was, and always will be. Back to my earlier example: the truth of the matter is the earth is round. It is right now, it was, and as long as the earth exists, it will be. Our opinion of the matter doesn’t change the truth.

And in this way faith and reasoning dovetail quite nicely.

Of course, I feel like there are still a few unanswered questions: how can you be sure you have faith, that you are believing in something true when you don’t have a perfect knowledge? This is when I rely on past experiences and tools that the Lord has promised each of us: namely the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The Holy Ghost will both sustain our faith and testify of truth

You can get a sense of the truth even without empirical evidence through the power of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead, which means he is omniscient and omnipotent. Additionally, His role is to guide us to truth and then testify of it.
We learn:

“And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” – Moroni 10:5

Now, just because this is simple doesn’t necessarily mean it is easy. In fact, I have spent the better part of the last 35 years trying to discover how the Holy Ghost speaks to me. The whisperings of the Spirit are whisperings they are nuanced. It requires great discipline to hear and understand what the Spirit speaks to my soul. I am not always holy or able to “hear” what He is teaching me. His method of teaching is line upon line and precept upon precept. It is also still and small, which can get smothered in a world that is loud, big, and fast. Additionally, gospel learning and understanding is a rather scientific process: we are taught in The Doctrine and Covenants to first study out the solution of our problems in our minds, then pray to see if it is right. In other words, we hypothesize, and then through prayer and work, we test out our hypothesis. Sometimes, we get it right. The Holy Ghost sanctifies the experience for us, and we through the spirit and a measure of reason, gain understanding or answers – we may feel a burning in our bosom or we will feel enlightened (See Doctrine and Covenants 6:15, Doctrine and Covenants 11:13, and Doctrine and Covenants 76:12).

However, there are times when our hypothesis is proved wrong, and this is displayed through a “stupor of thought.”

Even Alma, in the Book of Mormon, asks us to experiment upon the Word.

Faith isn’t passive. It isn’t some abstract belief that we hang onto irrationally. Instead, it is rooted in reason–reasoning that surpasses our mortal understanding.

And I suppose that this, in my mind, is where science and faith intersect. Neither the best scientists nor the most faithful saints are bound by “conventional wisdom”. They think. They test out their theories. They believe that there is more to this life than we understand. They seek. And they find.

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:” – Matthew 7:7

What do you think about science, religion, reason and faith? Can they co-exist? Is it a silly argument? Are they at odds with one another?


4 thoughts on “Co-existence of Faith and Reasoning (or why I believe in Science AND Religion)

  1. Jennifer

    I remember taking a biology class in college, and it strengthened my testimony. I kept thinking-Heavenly Father- you’re brilliant, what intelligent design.
    I remember Whoopi Goldberg talking about science and God, and she said what if the Big Bang was just God clapping his hands?
    I love this talk by Elder Maxwell- “Our Creator’s Cosmos” It blends science & religion perfectly.

    1. Thanks for the comment and the link to the article. I can’t wait to read it. 🙂

      I know what you mean – the more I learn about the world around me, the more amazed I am at the brilliance of God. I feel grateful to be a member of this church, too. Many other religions are not as open to science.

      I think that when it comes to the creation, we Mormons believe in Creative “Periods” rather than 24 hour-days. This makes believing both science and religion so much easier. Who knows how long each creative period lasted. I doubt they were of equal length. And I can’t even begin to imagine all of the creations that existed and were extinct long before man came along.

      Anyway…all of this is speculation for me. But I get excited when I feel like the worlds of science and religion converge. 🙂

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