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The Imaginary Divide

• Greg Boyd

Today we jumped into a new sermon series, “A Priest and a Physicist Walk Into a Bar…” which explores the (supposed) conflict between faith and science. So we opened it up by looking at the origin of this assumption that faith and science are at odds with one another.

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We all have always heard people say (atheists often but sometimes Christians, too) that faith and science are at war with each other. There is an assumption that science is about being rational and faith is about being irrational. But Greg has always thought that science and faith are complementary. Of course there are points of tension, but overall they should work together, with one taking over where the other leads. This matters because it is this mistaken belief that keeps people from taking Christianity seriously, and causes many people to leave.

Case in point: 97% of scientists believe humans evolved, but only 24% of evangelicals believe this. This is why there is a perception that faith is anti-intellectual. The number one reason given by young people who leave the church is this disconnect, there is a perception that if you’re going to be a Christian you have to check your brain at the door.

Greg’s own experience validates this. He was a fundamental pentecostalist in high school, but then his first semester at the U of M he took Intro to Evolutionary Biology. Partly because he needed science credits, but partly because his plan was to dismantle the argument for evolution! He had read three books on it and thought he was an expert. His grand vision was that he would convert people and maybe even convert the professor!

Well every point he brought up the professor had an effortless response to. Other students were starting get annoyed by his interjections.  By the end of the semester, he felt he had no choice but to give up the faith. He didn’t want to, but felt he had to because it was proven wrong. Those nine months after giving up faith were the worst of his life.

He got lucky in that he was able to come back to a revised faith, but many people give up and never come back.

So where did this dichotomy, that faith and reason are at odds, come from?  Well, it’s not from the Bible.

Matthew 22:37 tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your MIND.”

Acts 1:3 says that Jesus “presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.” He did not expect them to believe just because he said so. He knew they would need proof/evidence.

And 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” The word used for answer is “apologia”, it evokes the argument you might hear from a defense lawyer.

God expects us to use our minds and think. We are expected to take what our mind was meant to do (think) and direct it towards God.

The Bible is in fact very rational and assumes faith should be, too. So where did this idea that faith and science are opposed to one another come from?

To answer this, Greg shared a video called The Philosopher’s Corner. In it, they teach that Pascal said we should believe in God, because belief is “practically useful.” But Kierkegaard, the 19th century philosopher adopted Fideism — a school of thought that says religious belief has to come from faith alone. It says arguments and evidence kill the thing that is great about faith which is wonder and mystery. “The fantastic thing about belief in God is that it’s entirely irrational — you can’t do it with your brain.”

Greg points out that Kierkegaard was a good thinker, so this is not actually a fair representation of what he believed. It is true that he emphasized how irrational it is to believe in one who is fully God and fully human, and he did say that reason can only take you so far and then you have to take a leap. But he never suggested that the leap itself is something that is irrational. In fact it is very well informed.

“For dialectics [meaning the reasoning process] is in truth a benevolent helper which discovers and assists in finding where the absolute object of faith and worship is… Dialectics itself does not see the absolute, but it leads, as it were, the individual up to it, and says “Here it must be.”
– Søren Kierkegaard, “Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments” page 436

What he is saying is that reasoning can point you in the direction of truth but it can’t get you all the way there. You do have to take a leap at the end. Faith always goes beyond reason but does not (and perhaps should not) have to go against it. You might end up believing some things that defy reason like Jesus being fully God and fully human, but it is because you’ve got good reasons to affirm that.

This aversion to reason definitely was taught by many thinkers and preachers though. In fact Luther taught this, believing that human reason is fallen and so you can’t trust it because it can be used by the devil to deceive us. So we have to trust authority, not our own reason.

And Tertullian famously is quoted as saying, “I believe because it is absurd.” [Though it is worth mentioning that some scholars dispute he actually said or meant this, while others argue he did]. Greg heard this one quoted a lot in grad school because it became the centerpiece of “existential absurdity” which was a fad in the 70s. It was almost like the more absurd the better. But this whole position is ridiculous because there are far more absurd things to believe than that God became human. Why stop there? Why not believe God became a tadpole or a sock?

There is another kind of Fideism held to by the theologian Karl Barth (who is otherwise a thinker that Greg very much admires).
He said:

“Belief that the Bible is the word of God presupposes that the Bible has already proved itself to be the word of God. But when there is this proof it must be a matter of the word of God itself. We have to recognize that faith is a miracle and it’s a miracle which we cannot explain apart from faith, or rather, apart from the word of God in which the faith believes. Therefore the reality and possibility [of faith] cannot be maintained or defended at all part from faith and the word.”

What he is saying here is that you can’t have any evidence or reasoning that the Bible is the word of God, rather if you believe that the Bible is the word of God, that itself IS the proof that the Bible is the word of God! The problem with this argument is that it is viciously circular. You can’t simply repeat your belief when someone asks you why you believe it — even though people do do this very thing all the time!

We are supposed to be able to give a defense for why we believe what we believe. If you have not arrived at your beliefs through thinking about them or your own reasoning, then the only way you got them is that you must have inherited them, whether from your parents or the church or the culture at large. This means that you have them by chance — if you had been born in a different circumstance then you’d believe something else. But things we believe are supposed to be TRUE, they are supposed to match reality. And truth cannot be determined by chance. You can’t roll dice to determine whether or not something is a fact. If truth is the goal, the only way to get there is by thinking and considering options. And this is the biblical position.

Imagine a group of 10 people go on a walk in a forest and they get tired and take a nap. They wake up to the crackling of fire and smell of smoke, they know there is a fire but they can’t see their way out of the forest. But they can’t agree on what direction will get them out of there. Why do you think this is the right path between those trees as opposed to that clearing over there? You have to look at evidence and use your thinking. Maybe you’d see your footsteps from when you came in. You’d use your reasoning. It’s the only way to go about deciding which path to take.

You can wish that the evidence was stronger but you can only act based on the evidence that you have, not on what you wish you had. Reason can only take you so far but at some point you have to commit because you only have so much time. You can spend a lot of time asking questions and gathering evidence, but at some point you have to act.

And to not act is to act. Agnosticism is having faith that the world is the kind of place where it is appropriate to suspend judgment indefinitely, where you have the right to demand a higher level of evidence than what you’ve got. But you don’t know if that is appropriate, that assumption itself is an act of faith. You might be wrong about that, and in fact Jesus had some teachings about that. There is no non-faith way out of the forest that we find ourselves in.

Everybody has faith because we live in a world with woefully limited certainty. Everything else is a best guess. For example, every time you leave the house you have faith that you will get to your destination safely. You don’t know that you won’t be hit by a bus or that a piece of a satellite won’t fall on you, you are exercising faith (based on the reasoning that these things are rare).

You really don’t realize how much faith you have until you interact with someone with a phobia. There are people with agoraphobia who will not leave the house because they don’t have that faith that something terrible won’t happen. But you did. It’s because you had faith that it wouldn’t. You didn’t know it for certain. You took a chance.

And when you fly in a plane or sleep in hotels, or eat at restaurants or go to sporting events, it’s the same thing. Every time you are going beyond the evidence of what you absolutely know for certain and acting.

Much of the bad rap that religion gets stems from Galileo, who like Copernicus before him believed that the sun was the center of the solar system. The church however had always taught that the earth was the center, so they used their authority of the church and the authority of the bible to squash a scientific view that was arrived at through reasoning and evidence. This is the first (or earliest notable) time in history that the church pitted faith against reasoning and evidence.

Galileo’s response to this was actually very good and is a good place for us to start as we reconcile this tension. He said that the Bible is the word of God so it should be taken seriously, but that it is the story of God — there is also the story of nature and it has things to tell us. We are supposed to have loving dominion over it, so we should listen. We should interpret the two together.

Galileo quoted St. Thomas Aquinas in saying “All truth is God’s truth.” Because God is self-consistent, and the truth of the Bible will correspond to the truth of nature, if we are understanding it correctly. So when we find what appears to be a conflict, we should assume that there is a deeper truth that will resolve the conflict, it’s just that we don’t fully understand it yet.

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Topics: Defense of Christian Faith

Sermon Series: A Priest and a Physicist Walk Into a Bar…

Downloads & Resources

Audio File
Study guide

Focus Scripture:

  • Matthew 22:37

    He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all
    your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind."

  • Acts 1:3

    After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by
    many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty
    days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

  • I Peter 3:15

    Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.

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7 thoughts on “The Imaginary Divide

  1. OZZY says:

    I love this new series! Oh man… This is going to be great. I loved the first message, and I can’t wait for the other ones! A series like this is so much needed. Thank you, Greg!

  2. Lorie says:

    Makes sense!

    I am a former atheist and I hate to say this but at the risk of sounding insane, the argument I have at the time is hearing the Holy Spirit.

    I look forward to listening to more of this series so I can have an ‘argument’ for why I believe that will be more accepted by another.


    Lorie Anne

    p.s. I live in Illinois but am a ‘podrishiner. If there is a woman who would like to mentor or explore the benefit of the doubt book with me, I can provide my Skype.

  3. Kevin says:

    Why can’t ‘the truth’ come by divine revelation? Many people are not educated in theology or in philosopy and I, personally, know just enough to be dangerous. In fact, my psychologist says it’s my critital nature that gets me in trouble. Most believers end up believing a particular faith belief because their emotions during a church service were elevated and some charismatic preacher, or educated theologian influenced them. The bible says faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Isn’t that enough? Doesn’t that ‘hearing’ bring about revelation knowledge even when most people can’t explain it?”
    My most recent theory is that God will have to give everyone a pass and He must universally save everyone due to the fact that most people can’t know why they believe what they believe; they can never fully know the unknowable.
    If God wants me to understand something then He needs to go ahead and inplant it into me and He’d better not cast me into outer darkness because i’m wrong headed or hard headed. Personally, I ‘felt’ closer to God back before I had a sounder interpretation of scripture. That new information has not brought about transformation in me.

    1. Jerry says:

      I concur with Kevin 100%! I agree with what Kevin commented: “The bible says faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”

      John 1:14 “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”

      The word of God is Jesus and as Kevin said: “WE all get a pass”. This current life is practice for eternity and where we start, when Jesus returns, is a result of to what degree we follow the word of God Jesus.

      1 Corinthians 3:12-15 “If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

  4. Mike says:

    Greg is a guy that has to have all of his “arguments” in place, and has a strong desire to be able to explain everything he believes, down to the smallest detail. Not everyone is like that. Some hear God’s Word, which causes the Spirit to begin working within them, and they respond to the Spirit. They don’t need to research all other religions, to determine which is correct. They don’t need a 5-minute speech to explain why they believe what they believe. They just need their personal testimony of how God reached THEM.

  5. Wren says:

    Greg and the other teaching pastors,
    My husband and I have listened to sermons for a number of years off and on. Since we moved to Okinawa we have listened more regularly. I am very analytical and went to school where I earned a degree in science with an emphasis in Biology. I then went on to get my teaching certificate. I have struggled to explain to people that the more I learn about science and the world around me, the more I believe and am in awe of our amazing God. I currently teach at a christian school in Okinawa and I am definitely the odd man out because how can I believe in an old earth or evolution. These sermons are amazing and I plan on using them in my classroom. On Fridays my science classes have Faith Friday where we discuss science and God and how they don’t have to contradict each other. I plan on using this sermon series for my Faith Fridays to help my students (who are predominantly Japanese) understand so much more than I could possibly convey. Thank you for hitting out of the park again. Next time we visit the states we want to make a stop in Minnesota to visit Woodland Hills. I think we would get the award for the farthest traveled podrishoners!

    1. Jerry says:

      I went to my 50 year Cretin HS reunion. I spent some time talking to three successful people. One had made a $300,000 matching donation to the school. All three were huge supporters of the school but all three no longer believe in God. They went to Ivy League schools and I imagine a professor messed up their thinking. I got a call from the school asking for a donation. I asked the young man what he was taught concerning the age of the universe. 6000 year old he said. I can bet he will encounter a professor like Greg Boyd did and this kid will be toast.

      Five years ago, when I first started listening to Greg I quickly came to realize Greg did not think the universe was only 6000 years old. I had never liked reading books, spent all my time writing computer code, but having retired I started reading. I have now read over 500 books in all areas of science and emergent church thinking. I have been compiling information and I have placed it out on SCRIBD. I’m at 217 pages and will end probably at about 500. My goal is to get people to put their thinking caps on; engage their frontal lobes. Here are a few examples of what I’m putting together.

      At the turn of the century the Cartesian/Newtonian reductionist watchmaker view, what we see, was perceived as 100% of reality with one small problem to be solved concerning the strange rotation of the planet Mercury around the Sun. What happened in the process of resolving that one small problem was Relativity eliminated the Newtonian illusion of absolute space and time; Quantum Theory eliminated the Newtonian dream of a controllable measurement process and Chaos eliminates the Euclidean Laplacian Cartesian fantasy of deterministic predictability.

      Concerning Relativity and Quantum Theory the 3 key players, each winning a Noble Prize, were Jewish.

      Albert Einstein (1921) for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.

      Niels Bohr (1922) for his services in the investigation of the structure of atoms and of the radiation emanating from them.

      Wolfgang Pauli (1945) for the discovery of the Exclusion Principle, also called the Pauli principle.

      Three Jewish scientists, Israeli-born Arieh Warshel and South African-born Michael Levitt together with Austrian-born Martin Karplus, won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Belgian Jewish Scientist Francois Englert shares 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics with Peter Higgs. (Higgs Boson)

      The rapture ready people would say the church has to be swept away so the Jewish people can have their turn but I’m pretty sure they are having their say right now. God is using them big time. (This is not in my article – just a personnel beef)

      The Nobel Prize is an annual, international prize first awarded in 1901 for achievements in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace. An associated prize in Economics has been awarded since 1969. Nobel Prizes have been awarded to over 850 individuals, of whom at least 27% (or without the peace prize over 34%) were Jews. Although Jews comprise less than 0.2% of the world’s population (or 1 in every 500 people), overall, they have won a total of 26% of all the Nobel Prizes in economics, 39% of medicine, 41% of Physics, 31% of Chemistry, 19% of Literature and 11% of all peace awards.

      2016 Nobel Prize Literature Bob Dylan born Robert Zimmerman and raised in a tight Jewish community in Hibbing, Minnesota. “it may be the devil or it may be the Lord but you gotta serve somebody”. Mimetic Theory

      The Fields Medal and the Abel Prize are the mathematician’s Nobel Prize. For Chaos theory (2014), a Jew, Yakov Grigorevich for his fundamental contributions to complex dynamical systems, ergodic theory, and mathematical physics won.

      Science would call God a higher power however this all ties well with the mission of Jesus except for one thing that has become a problem in Christianity. Science has no room for an angry higher power.

      I’m pretty sure that’s Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists main beef. 911 really spiked them. (Again not in the article)

      I wanted to add an argument to Greg’s five:

      In the second decade of the 21st century, when science and technology seem to be at the peak of the power, when their influence has spread all over the world, and when their triumph seems indisputable, unexpected problems are disrupting the sciences from within. The 21st century is supplying scientific answers for dualisms prior explanation failures.

      The fundamental proposition of materialism is that matter is the only reality. But in biology and psychology the credibility rating of materialism is falling. Physicists own credibility rating has been reduced by physics itself, for four reasons:

      First, some physicists insist that quantum mechanics cannot be formulated without taking into account the minds of observers. They argue that minds cannot be reduced to physics because physics presupposes the minds of physicists. (Oops I think Greg said that)

      Second, string theories and M-theories are currently untreatable, so “model-dependent realism” can only be judged by reference to other models, rather than by experiment. It also applies to countless other universes, none of which has ever been observed.

      Third, since the beginning of the 21st century, it has become apparent that the known kinds of matter and energy make up only about 4% of the universe. The rest consists of “dark matter” and “dark energy.” The nature of 96% of physical reality is literally obscure.

      Fourth, the Cosmological Anthropic Principle asserts that if the laws and constants of nature had been slightly different at the moment of the Big Bang, biological life could never have emerged, and hence we would not be here to think about it. Did a divine mind fine-tune the laws and constants in the beginning? (Well Greg said too – that last week)

      Adding, from a biology stand point, most biologists were convinced that all the problems of biology would soon be solved in molecular terms, and this enthusiasm gave a great impetus to the human genome project. But this confidence is now waning as developmental biology continues to defy any simple explanation in terms of molecules. The assumption that genes code for the characteristics of organisms is thrown into question by the “missing heritability problem.” And it turns out that the inheritance of acquired characteristics, now called epigenetic inheritance, is common in both animals and plants.

      To avoid a creator God emerging in a new guise, most leading cosmologists prefer to believe that our universe is one of a vast, and perhaps infinite, number of parallel universes, all with different laws and constants, as M-theory also suggests. We just happen to exist in the one that has the right conditions for us. This multiversity theory is the ultimate violation of Ockham’s Razor, the philosophical principle that “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity,” or as Antoine de Saint-Exupery said “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” It also has the major disadvantage of being untreatable. And it does not even; succeed in getting rid of God. An infinite God could be the God of an infinite number of universes.

      Here’s the link. This is what I would tell a loved one who has lost their faith. Wren hopefully you can find something useful for your class.


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