There are two approaches we humans have traditionally taken to seek the truth. The first way is existential and begins with experience, observation, and reasoning. We review our experiences and those of others; we observe all the phenomena we can; and, then we make our reasoned conclusions. The second way is transcendent and begins with revelation, listening, and faith. We receive God’s revelation, listen to the witness of the saints, and accept by faith the revealed witness. Both ways represent valid approaches to truth-seeking. For the last 400 years, however, they’ve taken divergent paths: the first becoming the exclusive property of scientific rationalism and the second the purview of religion. This divergence is unnecessary. That’s not to say both approaches are the same, rather it’s to say that both are valid approaches in seeking the truth. Plus, this historic divergence is beginning to end since some theoretical physicists are beginning to sound like Christian mystics when they speak about the universe.
Many people confine science to the realm of facts and religion to the realm of opinion. But this isn’t fair to either. All science begins with a point of view that’s based on both fact and opinion. When scientists observe phenomena, they have to interpret the data collected. This requires making a judgment as to what about the data is important and what’s unimportant. Although they bring an informed opinion to their work, it’s still an opinion. Religion requires faith. As John Polkinghorne has observed: Many people seem to think that faith involves shutting one’s eyes, gritting one’s teeth, and believing six impossible things before breakfast, because the Bible or the Pope or some unquestionable authority tells us so. But faith cannot be based on such things. Faith, if it’s going to have integrity, has to be based on what is true. It can’t be a placebo-like crutch to lift our spirits, says Polkinghorne. So, we ask questions. How did life begin? Does life have meaning, purpose, and destiny? Both the existential and transcendent approaches are important in answering such questions. To be fair, faith does require a leap, but so does science. Einstein’s theory of relativity was a leap. It was a hunch based on what he thought should be true. That sounds much like faith.
The Bible is the witness to faith. The disciples were huddled in fear as Pentecost’s fire came upon them. Afterward these same fearful disciples were in the streets proclaiming Jesus as risen Lord. Imprisonment, beatings, and even death wouldn’t deter them from that proclamation. Could a vague feeling or a temporary group psychosis fuel such an impassioned determination to proclaim the Gospel? Even to skeptics, it’s hard to deny what occurred after Christians proclaimed Jesus rose from the dead. So, all human beings are people of faith. We are just more obvious about it than agnostics or atheists. Faith, however, isn’t certainty. As Hebrews states: “It is the evidence of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). All ways of knowing have limits. Regardless of approach, existential or transcendent, we’ll face limits to what we can know. In truth, the more we know; the more we realize just how much we don’t know. Faith asserts that there are some things that will always pass human understanding.