Faith as a Basis of Knowledge in Religion and Natural Science
The relationship between faith / religion and science has through history stirred a debate that has taken on philosophical, scientific and theological aspects. Are the two compatible? Are they at totally opposite ends of the spectrum of life and the universe? This paper analyses the strengths and weaknesses of faith as a basis of knowledge in religion and natural science.
The Literature on Faith as a Basis of Knowledge in Religion and Science
The Harvard University publication The Friend (circa, 1871) posed some pertinent issues for readers regarding faith and science, issues that are just as relevant today as they were 141 years ago. For example, author William Evans, a minister with the Society of Friends (Quakers), explains that in the 1870s scientists were questioning the value of religious belief, and "…aiming to modify the theology and character" of the Christian church (Evans, 1870, p. 95). These questions "awakened…a tone of doubt and disbelief" that has produced "wide-spread unsettlement and uneasiness respecting religious belief," Evans writes. This resulted in a "…feverish spasm running through" Christian denominations, and causing church members to "break loose" from their faith (Evans, 95).
One kind of faith is based on "the reception of a truth demonstrated…by the correct reasoning of another" (i.e., science); a second faith is "…exercised in relation to spiritual and divine things… which…are beyond the sphere of the elements which the powers of reason are able to investigate" (Evans, 95). Hence the second faith must be based on the "accepted infallibility of the source producing it," which in Christianity, is the Word of God. This could be considered a weakness of faith, since knowledge is based on supernatural truths.
In the Methodist Quarterly Review (MQR) (1875) the author explained that science and faith are "…arrayed against each other…and are feeling for each other's throats." Science on the one hand "…demands that belief shall accept nothing but positive knowledge as a foundation upon which reason may build its structure." Religion, "…on the contrary, is based neither upon self-evident truth nor demonstration," the MQR states. Indeed, religion (think faith) doesn't claim "absolute knowledge as its basis" but rather it operates on a "preponderance of probability" while science claims to be fashioned "…upon absolute certainty" (28). Taking the argument a step further, Descartes believed that all a scientist -- and a faith-based person -- can know "…is the testimony of his consciousness." Consciousness "never deceives" (Descartes) and if one assumes God exists, then God would want him to "trust his consciousness" because God would not "…allow him to be thus deceived in the holy of holies of his being" (e.g., his consciousness) (MQR, 29). The concept of consciousness strengthens the argument for faith.
Joseph John Murphy has written (in 1873) a concise rationale for bringing together faith and natural science. His book, The Scientific Bases of Faith provides insights and questions that these years later still have relevance. What Murphy wanted to convey is his hope that science will "finally accept religion as not indeed the basis, but the summit and crown" (of science) (Murphy, 1873, p. 4). "Science is the basis of religion," Murphy explains (6), because "supernatural truths imply natural ones, and cannot be stated without presupposing them."
Man discovers the facts and truth about science "for himself," Murphy explains; but "those of religion are revealed" to him (6). Still, this contrast should not suggest that there would be antagonism between the two disciplines, Murphy continues. And thus since the physical sciences are to a great degree "based on the mathematical" and hence, the mutual relation of science and religion "ought to be just the same" (6). In fact, Murphy asserts, the "antagonism between science and religion…is purely imaginary" although the antagonism between those who study and teach science and those who study and teach religion "is, unfortunately, sometimes real" though that will disappear in time, he concludes. Attitudes like those of Murphy strengthen the relationship between faith in religion and natural science.
Alister McGrath argues that all truth originates in "human thought" and that humans are capable of developing "…a series of truths which are universal and necessary," and this concept is called "rationalism" (McGrath, 1999, p.…