Finding the right balance between faith and intellect (or perhaps it's pride)

(Allison Garrett) #1

I apologize in advance if this is already on the forum. I don’t really think so, but someone else may disagree.

I often find myself trying to find the right balance between faith and intellect. What I mean is, on the one hand, while I find discussions about faith and science endlessly interesting and I feel like I could spend a lifetime learning more about it, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not what I would think of as “mission critical.” Whether one interprets Genesis as literal or not isn’t exactly a prong on the sheep vs. goats test. But at the same time, as Dr. Collins pointed out in his book, it is immensely important that the world knows that this school of thought exists and understands the foundation of it. I can attest to that importance as I was once the wayward 20-something who no longer felt fulfilled by what I saw at the time to be my parents’ “cartoon god” who makes the dinosaur bones look old to test our faith and mostly exists in a pile of platitudes and meaningless cliches. And when atheists and Christians alike seem to agree that you can’t believe in God and science, that leaves budding young minds with little choice but to pick one.

So I often find myself torn between these two concepts in my mind of how to handle communication with other Christians as well as non-Christians. For the most part, I don’t think it’s all that detrimental that creationists change their mind because, as I previously mentioned, it’s not ultimately mission critical. And even though I might not agree with their literal interpretation, oftentimes they are still demonstrating childlike faith, which in itself I can admire–even somewhat envy–and I believe is also pleasing to the Lord. (Granted, they could also be acting out of pride and arrogance, so it really depends on the individual.) Also, considering that I live in the southern part of the United States, how Genesis should be interpreted can be a touchy subject. Even well-meaning discussion can quickly devolve into a kerfuffle. People here are very protective of this central tenet, and I feel as though I may be unintentionally placing a stumbling block in front of them (Romans 14:13-23) know that the subject will upset them so I tend to avoid it altogether. But at the same time, that’s not helping those who are silently wavering and drifting away. I see this happening with my 17-year-old niece, and I want to both respect her parents’ wishes and also reach out to her without it seeming like I’m trying to influence her away from their views.

And then on the other side of things, I have a desire to be respected and thought of as intelligent by my non-Christian circles and I often work–perhaps too hard–to distance myself from the stereotypical Southern Baptist Christian common to this demographic. For instance, I have a small ichthys tattoo on the inside of my left wrist. Not too long ago, one of my Biology professors caught a glimpse of it and it seemed in that moment his perception of me in terms of my ability to truly appreciate and participate in the field of Biology started to change. I then found myself looking for opportunities to make sure he understood that I accept science and evolution and I have no intention of bending Biology to fit Theology and how I see the relationship between science and faith. And perhaps there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but also it reminded me of the book The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis where he talks about Christian intellectuals who have become so engrossed in proving the existence of God that they treat him as though he has nothing more to do than to simply exist.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on finding a good balance between all these dynamics so that we faithfully and graciously fulfill our duty to these different segments of society, being other Christians who disagree, those who are confused and at a crossroads between their faith and science, and the outside world who often sees Christians as blind and ignorant and therefore not to be taken seriously.

(Christy Hemphill) #2

I know how you feel. (I just finished an MA program in Dallas last year, and I attended a Southern Baptist Church while I was there, so I mean I really know how you feel. I was/am a “liberal” ex-Chicagoan and I experienced some culture shock.) I think this is always a tricky situation that requires wisdom and discernment in the moment. In my experience it is easier to get out of the “all Christians are this way” box with non-Christians than with fellow Christians, which is unfortunate. And it is very hard to talk about science with Genesis literalists without sounding condescending.

You mentioned pride in the context of faith and intellect. I think one thing I have realized over the last ten years or so is that intellect becomes an idol when you have the expectation that you should be able to understand everything and have a good answer for everything. I think this is maybe more of a trap for people for whom thinking and learning have usually come pretty easy (there are a few of those nerd types around here). When you run into a question or a problem with the Bible or God or faith, it is a temptation to think that if you just read enough books and articles and debates and discussions, everything will fall into place and you’ll be able to neatly bundle things up to put on the “makes sense” shelf. I have been convicted of how many times I have felt entitled to understand things. For me, letting go of pride has often meant letting some of my hardest questions just stay unanswerable and living with the tension.

(Allison Garrett) #3

Ah, yes, Dallas is… an interesting clash of ideologies. It seems to be a city of extremes because while there’s plenty of traditional conservative Baptists and megachurches, there’s also a large segment of modern secularists. If I decided to reject religion, I’d have plenty of open arms to run into. I’m not originally from here, but it’s where I’m at for now.

You provide some very perceptive insights, and truthfully even touch on some things that I didn’t consciously convey in my original post, but they are often true for me nonetheless. Speaking of the nerds around here, I really enjoy reading the posts on here, particularly from experienced biologists because, if I’m honest, one thing that pride has driven me to is overly removing God from creation in my efforts to prove to the academics that I fully accept “secular” science (this ties into my statement about trying too hard to distance myself from Genesis literalists). Call it an “over-correction,” if you will. It’s refreshing and even empowering to familiarize myself with the thoughts and views of others on here. To me, Biology (especially Molecular Biology) cries out to a creator, but I’ve been unsure of how to reconcile this with the desire to be accepted among scientists (again, pride).

Okay, maybe the astrophysicists are over my head, but hey, that’s why they’re rockstars as far as I’m concerned :wink:

(Casper Hesp) #4

Thank you, such praise :scream:.

Actually never thought about becoming a rockstar… Maybe I should change my career path.

:milky_way::telescope: + :guitar::notes: = ?

(Jon Garvey) #5

Casper - you have to learn guitar as well as Brian May to be an astrophysicist AND a rock star!

(Casper Hesp) #6

I know the band Queen of course but I have to admit I had to google Brain May’s name to find out who he is. Who knew that an astrophysicist-turned-rockstar actually already exists on this planet. You have to try really hard to come up with an original idea these days!

(Allison Garrett) #7

I hope I’m not going too far astray from topic, but there’s actually already a rockstar astrophysicist that makes music videos and posts them on YouTube. I’m a pretty big fan, if I do say. I’m always walking around my house singing about black holes and Feynman diagrams… and I don’t even know what the latter is (but at least my neighbors think I do!)

He doesn’t play guitar, so don’t let that stop you. You’ve had this dream for, like, several hours now. You can’t give up after all this time!

(Jon Garvey) #8

Casper - the days of just being able to become a rock star without proper qualifications seem to be past. You need a degree in performing arts, at least, even to be considered. Looks like you’ll be stuck in that dead-end astrophysics business for a while to come!

(Jay Johnson) #9

I lived in Dallas for 25 years. Your analysis is spot-on. I spent a lot of time keeping my thoughts to myself in the church setting. It doesn’t exactly make for true fellowship. In any case, welcome!

(Allison Garrett) #10

Thank you, Jay. It gives me hope that maybe there are other “subversives” out there in the pews. I tend to be more shy and introverted in a crowd unfortunately. Perhaps I should look for steely glances, or we can work out a signal or something. Ancient Christian pilgrims would identify each other by one person drawing a half circle in the dirt with their staff and the other would draw the opposite half circle and it would create the ichthys. Perhaps one of us could draw the fish and the other could put little feet on it (the Darwinian symbol) :grin:

(Mervin Bitikofer) #11

The Heresy-Hunting Inquisitors (HI There!) are probably in training even now to be on the lookout for you. :spy:

But lest you think you are alone in any ‘subversion’, I’m pretty sure nearly everybody refrains from saying everything they are thinking while fellowshipping in large groups of (even ostensibly like-minded) people. As any husband would tell you, in the interest of keeping his marriage intact he doesn’t always just spout off everything that might come into his mind! Multiply that up to any group dynamic where there is a large collective investment in keeping that group together not at each others’ throats, and you get the picture.

On a more serious note …It does lead one to reflect on what signals they send to potential questioners sitting in their midst. One signal: “Your questions are not welcome here – go get them answered in internet forums instead. If you doubt our accepted orthodoxies we don’t want to hear about it in our sacred safe place!” Or another message: “Your questions are welcome here and we would love to answer them as best we might or at least work through them with you if we can’t answer them to everybody’s satisfaction. But we’ll love you and fellowship with you regardless.”

I’m guessing the latter group gets the bigger leg up on what and how each other is thinking (still not completely open books, mind you).

(Curtis Henderson) #12

Welcome, @Alli! I’ve poked around here for a while, but have enjoyed becoming more active recently. You’ll find a pretty darn healthy community of fellow molecular biology nerds mixed in with all types of other nerds!

In all seriousness, you bring up a very good general observation. @christy brings up a strong point, that we often do have a tendency to think and analyze our way through “sticky” scientific and theological issues, rather than relying on God’s revelation in His timing – and accepting the fact that it may not be in this lifetime.

I’ve lived in the Houston area (not so different from Dallas) for most of my life, so I can certainly identify with the intermixed dual culture issues! We have recently begun to attend a non-denominational church after decades of Southern Baptist fellowship, so looking forward to experiencing a new dynamic that will likely be a little more accepting of my personal viewpoints.

Thanks for opening up this discussion!

(Allison Garrett) #13

From what I’ve observed, it’s a bit more nuanced than this. Most churches welcome questions from visitors, newcomers, and those who are curious. I think the issue lies in “perceived apostasy”. We see the same underlying insecurity in very fanatical pockets around the world where it’s okay for an outsider to be a different religion, but apostates can be put to death. When it comes down to it, people tend to be okay with others innocently not knowing the answers, but when someone has thought about the evidence and still come to a different conclusion, then that becomes a threat.

I recently listened to a podcast and–I believe–the neuroscience department at UC Irvine (I could be misremembering the university) conducted an interesting study and found that when a person’s “protected values” are perceived to be threatened, the brain lights up the same pathways that become active when a physical threat is presented. So the brain treats protected values as “the self” in the same way it treats the body as “the self” whether it’s conflicting evidence or a bear in the forest. I think these studies do shed some light on why disagreement in this particular area can create such a strain.

(Allison Garrett) #14

[quote=“cwhenderson, post:12, topic:35674, full:true”]
Welcome, @Alli! I’ve poked around here for a while, but have enjoyed becoming more active recently. You’ll find a pretty darn healthy community of fellow molecular biology nerds mixed in with all types of other nerds![/quote]

Right?! Wow, literally every page of my biology textbook has something on it that’s mindblowing! And just to put that in context, it’s the biggest book I’ve ever seen. I could literally rob a bank with this book.

Every. Page.

Yes, I get caught in this tangled web more than I should, I think. About 10 years ago, I was waiting for an elevator in the lobby of the building where I worked at the time. This older man walked up and stood next to me. He was part of a construction crew that was working in one of the offices. He was wearing dirty old clothes that had bits of chalky debris and a worn out hat. We smiled and he asked how I was. I just threw out a standard line fitting for “conversation with strangers on an elevator” and mentioned something about it being Monday, you know, something banal.

A huge smile came on his face and he said no matter what day it is, it’s a great day for him because he can walk to work in the sunshine and thank God for this beautiful day. He was practically glowing. I can’t remember verbatim, but he didn’t say much more than that because I was only going one floor up. But what I took away was that here was this man who seems to be disadvantaged, and yet he reminded me of Paul who talked about you never know when you may be entertaining angels unaware. I’ll never forget this man.

This memory I keep often convicts me when I fall into a pattern of over-analyzing.

(George Brooks) #15

Great story, @Alli… and in my view, the really good stuff is just around the corner… when the swift chariot swings low to pick me up !!!

Godspeed, chariot, Godspeed!

(Mervin Bitikofer) #16

I meant to come back and add some nuance to my stark and exaggerated contrast, but you beat me to it, though perhaps in a slightly different direction.

I made one side sound all bad and the other all good, which was hyperbole in the service of a point. My own self-critique, though, is to add that the side that welcomes questions (so-called ‘seeker friendly’ groups) can end up being enslaved to seeker-status. I.e. they may be so enamored of the always-questioning intellect that they become “answer-hostile”. In doing so their seeker friendliness is no more than another dogma in disguise. And what I pejoratively labeled more of a “seeker-hostile” situation can just be a group that, while friendly enough towards any questions people want to raise, may nevertheless see the need to move forward in a unity of consensus according to settled convictions. A dissenting or doubting seeker may tend to feel (whether justly or unjustly) left behind or ignored in such a group. So I do realize that no group will fit these archetypal extremes perfectly though some may try hard, and we all land somewhere in the continuum.

(Albert Leo) #17

Allison, I spent my entire career (67 yrs. ACS) surrounded by scientific colleagues who politely tried to convince me that my Christian Faith somehow reflected badly on any intellectual gifts I might have had. If you have some spare time, you might find my story worth perusing.
Al Leo

(Allison Garrett) #18

Ah, yes, the “So open-minded your brain falls out” crowd! This was very insightful and I’m glad you followed through on it. Even the best intentions can be twisted and used against us spiritually. It makes me think of another book by C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. I can almost hear Screwtape advising Wormwood that if his charge goes to a church where they are open to questions, see to it that they are so open to questions that they preclude any real answers. Or as Lewis better put it, the devil doesn’t mind at all that you are a Christian so long as you’re not following Christ!

(Allison Garrett) #19

I will definitely read it! I already have several entries from this site marked to read next week after finals, and one main reason I was so glad to find this site is that I had hoped to hear the stories of others who have worked in scientific fields and how they managed it. Thank you for sharing this!

(Marvin Adams) #20

You cannot have faith without intellect and no intellect without faith. If you deny one you lack both.
The linguistically logic definition

faith= to trust in the truth of something in the absence of proof

requires the capacity of reasoning to come to the conclusion that allows one to employ trust. In fact the whole structure of faith has to be ultimately reasonable, so only a fool would wish for an unreasonable god.

Now your acceptance amongst scientists should not require the rejection of a creation narrative as a good scientist would be aware of the requirement to adapt the complexity of the explanation of a subject to be adjusted to the knowledge of the audience thus not consider the creation narrative to be objectionable to science, but if you insist in a point of view that interprets God making man from the dust of the earth to mean that a little bearded man sat by the riverbank making mudpie humans you might struggle being taken serious not just by scienctists.

I have to say I loved reading Aleos story bringing forth well presented rational arguments. Tho only thing I would argue a bit differently is the fall as to explain the critical point here to be the eting from the tree of self realisation, as the self is realised in the rejection of authority over it. This is why the narrative is a beautiful poetic description of puberty, including the discovery of your private parts that are not any more under the control of nature but under your own control.

Demanding to be taken serious by other humans is a human right and nothing to do with pride. You will find those who do not take others serious exist on either side of the divide of those who claim faith in God or not, as is the ability to make fools of ourselves. Only in those who claim to possess no faith you will find a disproportionate level of disrespect for others as they are not reasonable, some claiming to have no faith in their intellectual superiority because they think it to be proven.