Bishop Geoffrey Rowell on Faith and Science

Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, the Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, has a very thoughtful essay on faith in the Times, that argues that faith is essential to any human activity (including science and politics)--and the only real issue is where we put our faith. In doing so, of course, he uses a different view of faith than the straw man ("Faith is belief without evidence") that is often used by atheists in denouncing faith as unreasonable. Here are some highlights:

It was Michael Polanyi, the philosopher of science, who recognised that for a scientist to test a new hypothesis they had to have faith in that hypothesis. Faith seeking understanding was as true of science as of religion, though a faith that was indeed a reasonable faith shaped by compelling evidence. Belief, he argued, was the source of all knowledge. “Tacit assent and intellectual passions, the sharing of an idiom and of a cultural heritage, affiliation to a like-minded community: such are the impulses which shape our vision of the nature of things on which we rely for our mastery of things.” We need what he called “a fiduciary framework” if we are to have any knowledge. Without it, knowledge is impossible. As St Augustine said: “I believe in order that I may understand.”

A few weeks later I spent some time in Romania, an Orthodox country, which suffered much under the communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. As with Russia, there has been a renaissance of religion after the fall of communism. Orthodoxy is deeply rooted in the identity of that country; it is a significant example of what Newman said about living religion – it is “a mould in which nations have been cast”. What gives a country identity is an overarching story with a transcendent reference that explicitly and implicitly binds people together. “Religion”, after all, means that which binds. When that “overarching story” becomes merely a matter of opinion, societies dissolve. In the Book of Proverbs we read that “where there is no vision the people perish” –or, as the Hebrew more precisely means, “the people unravel”. Without a shared faith and a shared vision springing from an understanding of human nature and human flourishing that encompasses life and death, sin and redemption, we are reduced to merely political arrangements.

We have to live by faith, for we can live in no other way. The question is, in what shall we put our faith? The seductive attractions of advertisers, the many gods and lords of fashion, of possessions that possess us, the addictions that undermine our human integrity, all compete for our allegiance. In the end, the Christian gospel teaches us that the God who is love, and who comes down to the lowest part of our need, is the God who made us for Himself. “You are made to love, as the sun is to shine,” said that sunniest of poet-priests, Thomas Traherne. When my niece says in her wedding today the simple words “I will” to her husband, and two young people give themselves to each other “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death is do part” they will witness to their faith in the God of love made known in Jesus Christ and an openness to the reality of His transforming grace. When the distraught and weeping Mary Magdalen, whom the Church commemorates tomorrow, heard in the garden on the first Easter Day her name called by the Risen Christ, her life was turned around. She was caught up into the life of the new creation of the God who is the conqueror of sin and death, and was told to share the good news of that new creation. It was that faith and that good news that shaped England and Europe, and has shaped countless lives and still has power to do so today.

Read it all here.


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