The Tension Between Faith and Fact

Is there tension in your faith? Do you struggle with blind acceptance of what can be seen versus what cannot be seen? How much are you willing to let science answer matters of faith? How often do you let matters of faith attempt to refute scientific fact? Is your faith a pendulum swinging between reason and belief? A lot of questions to ask on a Thursday afternoon, but here are a few thoughts on the necessary tension between faith and fact.

Defining the Tension: Political Affiliations

In “The Call” by Os Guinness, the concept of tension is presented in a context of the “politicization” of religion. Guinness writes:

“…the problem of politicization is the lack of ‘tension.’ Called to be ‘in’ the world but ‘not of it,’ Christian engagement in politics should always be marked by tension between allegiance to Christ and identification with any party, movement, platform, or agenda. If that tension is ever lacking, if Christian identification with a political movement is so close that there is not any clear remainder, then the church has fallen for a particularly deadly captivity.”

There is a clear necessity for tension in our spiritual life. Are we allowing our political affiliations to draw us away from the very nature and spirit of Christ or do we weigh each and every decision with thought and prayer, not rushing to rash and “easy” answers?

If you are completely honest with yourself, there are certain lifestyle and political issues that make the tension often unbearable:  Gay marriage, pro-life versus pro-choice, whether Democrats are more evil than Republicans (and vice versa depending upon who you ask), evolution.  These issues have literally split churches in half over the years because of the answers that people stand upon.

But what about the “smaller” issues that are many times overlooked because they are perhaps less modern and not in vogue? Are they creating tension in your life? Are you a workaholic or a couch potato (sloth)? Are you jealous of what others do or have (envy)? Do you want more and more money, wealth and objects of desire (greed)? What about pride, gluttony, the rest of the seven deadly sins and the Ten Commandments?

Tension exists whether we choose to accept it or not and as you and I weigh each question, what happens to the level of tension between what we believe and what “reality” is perceived to be?

Is There Room In Religion For The Reality of Science Fiction?

In a fabulous TED talk from TED 2009 called Juan Enriquez Shares Mindboggling Science, Enriquez begins his talk with an analysis of our economy and finishes with three examples of how as a society we can turn the economy around in the future:

  1. The ability to engineer cells.
  2. The ability to engineer tissues.
  3. Robots.

These three topics are exciting, yet terrifying at the same time, because they are the science fiction of my youth becoming a reality.  The ability to engineer cells and tissues will help the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, body parts and organs grown and replaced without needing to rely on a donor match, antibiotics and drugs that are “programmed” to eliminate disease, the sky truly is the limit. The sky becomes that much closer as you look at the development of robotic skeletal structures that are intelligent (watch the TED talk above for some amazing video of a self-correcting walking robot).

All of this excitement and possibility begs the questions, how much tension are you feeling when you really think about the impact that these technologies could have on the human race? Are you feeling the tension between the miraculous nature of supernatural healing and the ability to be a modern-day deity that can cure us of our humanity? How about the tension between creation and evolution?

To further the tension, Enriquez believes that human beings will eventually evolve from Homo sapiens to a new species, Homo Evolutis, “Hominids that take direct and deliberate control over the evolution of their species…and others.” A very interesting view that in a lot of ways makes sense and yet fills me with a sense of caution: “Am I putting my faith in man or God?”

Caution and consideration for the ramifications of progress can be best viewed in a handful of science fiction films that tell strong stories about the morality and ethics of scientific and technological progress in the future:

  • Gattaca – Genetic engineering the perfect human species leads to a new way of discrimination based on an individual’s DNA.
  • Terminator – Machines become self-aware and war against humanity.
  • Matrix – Humans live in a virtually, fabricated world of the mind while their bodies generate electricity so that machines can be powered.
  • I, Robot – Robots are developed and governed according to the Three Laws of Robotics until an evil corporation develops an off-switch in the next-generation of robots in order to maintain control of the human population.

Science fiction is fast becoming a reality, but it does not replace religion by any means. It does, however, generate a tremendous amount of tension in regards to where we continue to place our faith:  In the abilities of man or in the power of God?

One Final Question of Tension: Tectonic Forces or Erosion?

The Siq, as seen in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, is a 1km-long (0.62 miles) fissure that leads to the ancient city of Petra, Jordan. It ranges in height from 300 to 600 feet, roughly as tall as a 50-story skyscraper. It was created by tectonic forces, defined as “forces that are generated from within the earth that result in uplift, movement, or deformation of part of the earth’s crust,” and smoothed over time by water erosion.

In 2000, I was privileged to travel to Israel and Jordan for two weeks and witness first-hand the awe-inspiring enormity of the Siq. On the tour, it was told to us by our tour guide that since the earth is only 6,000 years old, it took a couple thousand years for the Siq to form. Enter tension:  Is the earth 6,000 years old or millions of years old?

Theoretically the fissure could have been created instantaneously by shifting tectonic plates and the smoothing could have occurred over thousands of year. It could have taken thousands of years, even millions of years, but ultimately it comes down to accepting that there is going to be tension between believing what is written in The Bible and what is written in the scientific journals of the modern age.

Which leads me to ask the real question of this post:

What Do You Do With The Tension?

Do you use the tension to tear down the viewpoints of others?

Do you allow the tension to destroy your faith?

Does your faith lose power and meaning because of scientific advancements or the hypocrisy of political agendas?

Or does the tension simply lead you to a place of humility, acknowledging that the answer eludes even the smartest man or woman?

3 replies on “The Tension Between Faith and Fact”

Chris, I hope you dont mind this response as I come at your questions from the opposite end. I am an atheist (the sort of one best described by
Goparaju Ramachandra Rao
in “Positive Atheism” back in 72 rather than the frothing Dawkinsian variety) so whilst I can see where the tension you describe can exisit for those of faith I have not experienced it myself nor does it cause me any great concern in the way you form your closing questions above.

Primarily I am a mathematican and since I am not a shy retiring type (ask Bruce) there are many occasions when I have had conversations with people of faith where just the topics you descibe above have appeared.

Looking dispassionately at those conversations they seem to fall into 3 types similar to yours above.

A. Those whose faith burns inside them bright and hot. For them the tension is vitally important,. They stand against whatever part of science or secular society they feel is in direct or sometimes indirect opposition to their faith. Their stand against this it is the mast to which they pin their colours and rally behind. It is alsmost as if without that tension they would not get as fired up and would feel less
for it.

B. Those whose dogma is tempered with both a hint of secular pragmatism and enjoyment of what the modern world has to offer. For they see the tensions as opportunities to learn, to push back our fraill understanding of the universe, our place in it and the only difference twixt them and myself is they are loking for the way their God (or Gods) fit in. Again like those in (A) the tension is mostly a good thin g.Needless to say it is not as much fun having “a full and frank” disccusion with type B, for we have too much in common 😉

C. Those that worry mostly in silence that they are failing in some deep spiritual manner when they are faced with the world that sayss “X” and a faith that says “Not X”. These are the folk I fear for as they have no real escape from that tension, they are truly caught tween a rock and a hard place ! So rather than face it they will opt for a state of willful ignorance in order that they may maintain their faith in “Not X”. I would rather they look at the issue criticaly and the precepts of critical thinking do not seem to be taught any more .. (oh my grumpy old man is showing) and form their own view on the topic, which even if that view reinforces “Not X” is more healthy than a state of worried ignorance.

So I would say.. The tension is important and yes even for an athiest like me I too am lead you to a place of humility, acknowledging that the answer eludes even the smartest man or woman … but i would add “For now” 🙂



Thank you for taking the time to write a succinct and truly honest response to my post.

First off, I am humbled that you shared with me your responses from the opposite end. I definitely do not mind this response and I have a tremendous amount of respect for you taking time to offer your insights. Thank you.

What really stood out was your analysis of group C: “These are the folk I fear for as they have no real escape from that tension, they are truly caught tween a rock and a hard place.” There is so much truth in that statement. One of the hardest things in the past for me was to reconcile that tension when I was immersed in what I would call the “Christian Bubble.” When only one viewpoint is present, the tension feeds on the tension that others feel and overall grows larger. What do you do when the tension needs to be released? Is this the root cause of war and hatred in the name of “radical fundamentalism?” I’m not sure, I guess all I have at this point are questions.

I definitely identify most with group B at this moment in my life, but I would strive to be group D, which is a group of people that are merely living day to day the very best they can, sharing life with others, listening to each other’s stories, and trying to make the world a better place. But that could just be my idealism…

Thanks again Steve! I appreciate your viewpoint.

Chris, you ask a question that I myself pondered for awhile. Are we putting our faith in the abilities of man, or are we putting our faith in God?

The path to my answer started with something less futuristic than robots, though no less technologically important to modern society: commercial air travel.

I hate flying. I understand the science of it, and for years I wanted to be a pilot. As did every boy who grew up watching Top Gun. My problem with flying is not one of fear of flight, it is a problem of control. I know that air travel is safer than automotive travel, but the illusion of control while driving pacifies my fear of risk.

The conclusion I have come to regarding putting faith in man or God is that putting my trust in another human IS putting my trust in God. The pilot of that plane is also a creation of God, so he has been given the gifts necessary to manage air travel via the Divinity. Putting my trust in his ability is how I trust in God.

It keeps me from panicking while flying anyway.

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