If there’s nothing wrong with me…maybe there’s something wrong with the universe!
-Beverly Crusher, Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Remember Me”
I heard this the other day: “Scientists have faith in their assumptions.” Not. To get at understanding science and faith I think we need to do some house cleaning. What is faith? To explore this question our first order of business will be to throw out the Lectures on Faith. They weren’t written by Joseph Smith, they aren’t part of the scriptural cannon, and they’ve done a lot of damage. So with a bit of impish delight I give them the old heave-ho. Yet, so much of our discourse with each other in the church seems informed by this work’s misconceptions & digressions. It makes us say things like: “The farmer has faith that if he plants his wheat seeds in the Spring, it will turn into a fruitful harvest in the Fall.” or “Because I have faith in the laws of electricity and wiring, I am motivated to go through the actions of flipping on the light.” Thus faith of this sort provides motivations to act in a world of uncertainty. This is dangerous and silly.
When I was on my mission, we were encouraged to read the harmful works of Grant von Harrison to learn how faith works. Faith was kind of a positive mental attitude that disavows any doubts and which combined with exacting obedience constrains God to do your bidding. If we had faith we would baptize, have good mission stats, and in general be highly successful missionaries. Eventually, after our missions, the application of these principles would make us rich. We all were going to be millionaires just like our mission president. So they would say ‘have faith’ and I would squint my eyes and try really really really hard to do it. Do what? Yes, exactly. That was the problem.
Here’s my take. We know everything has its opposite, light/darkness, open/closed, elves/orcs, etc. What is the opposite of faith? The temptation is to say, ‘doubt.’ This is the way we talk, “Overcome your doubts”, “Don’t doubt, have faith”, “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt.” This is unfortunate because doubts are the very structure of faith. As Paul Tillich has noted, faith is not really found except in the presence of doubt. Faith always stands vis-à-vis doubt. Doubt provides the contours and negative space in which faith is found. Faith is always embedded in doubt. How can we make a leap of faith if there is no chasm?
The 911 twin-tower highjackers didn’t have any doubts. They did not have faith either.
The trouble is that Lectures on Faith perspective sees faith as a kind of inference. That if I see the sun rise everyday in the past, I can have faith that it will rise tomorrow. That’s not faith that’s induction. There is a difference. Faith can’t mean to line up the reasons to believe something, notice you are a little short on reasons but believe anyway. Accepting Pascal’s Wager is not faith (if you haven’t heard this wager check out wikipedia).
This is what I think. Faith is never a “I have faith that . . .” it is always a “I have faith in . . .” Faith by my lights is a relationship–with someone. I have faith in my wife’s love for me. I can have faith in God. I can never know that my wife is not a CIA agent on long-term assignment and been assigned to me by the government to pretend to love me (it is possible, just unlikely—or is it?). But my faith in her allows me to believe that isn’t the case. Faith ‘in’ allows me to make such inferences, but they are not the inferences themselves. The inference to a ‘that’ are not the same as faith ‘in’. Faith then, along with those things which make up a cluster of family resemblances like, hope, trust, courage, love all involve relationships with others. We can have faith in God, but not faith “that God will . . .”
Faith ‘that something is the case’ is just a confusion with probability and inference. Inference is a good way to make bets. It’s not faith. Faith is a relationship.
Obviously this needs a little development. But it gets me started on some views of science and faith. Because science is all about doubts.
One night about a year ago I could hear my nine-year-old daughter crying upstairs. I asked what was wrong. She burst into a flood of more tears and said that in primary they had said you should never doubt that Jesus was real and that he loved you. She said in a heart breaking voice, “But sometimes I do doubt it. I do and can’t help it. Is he mad at me?” The question captures what I mean by faith. She doubted, but she was worried about her relationship with who it was she was doubting. I told her to hang on to her doubts. “They are what make your faith real.” Without doubts, I told her it’s not faith. In the morning she looked up from her cereal and said, “I’m hanging onto my doubts!” I told her good job. Keep it up.