Faith and Knowledge

It seems that far too often you hear people referring to science pertaining to knowledge and religion pertaining to values.  I haven’t quite figured out what values are or why it is OK that they are not based in knowledge.  As far as I can tell, values flow out of something like truth that is unconnected to knowledge and is also unconnected to objective truth.  We seem to live in a world where scientific knowledge is the only thing that is objectively true, the only thing from which knowledge springs.  Values, religion, faith exist in some separate area of our brains that is unaffected by knowledge and even goes against knowledge.  

According to many, faith is diametrically opposed to knowledge.  It would seem to fly in the face of scientific knowledge.  After all knowledge can be tested; it can be explained; it can be attested to.  But faith, on the other hand, has no basis in knowledge; it is blind and, insomuch as it is blind, it is foolish.

I wouldn’t argue that a completely blind faith that set itself up against observable fact and knowledge is foolish.  But I wouldn’t characterize faith as such.  I dont think many of the great Christian thinkers throughout history would either.  This is how faith is described by Francis Scheaffer, a man who resided in Switzerland, at a place called L’abri and held classes for anyone who showed up at his front door.

Scheaffer argued that we really have two separate things we call faith.  The are different enough, he says, that there probably should be two different words.  But alas, we have but one.  Faith.  

Suppose we are climbing in the Alps and are very high on the bare rock and suddenly the fog shuts down The guide turns to us and says that the ice is forming and that there is no hope; before morning we will all freeze to death here on the shoulder of this mountain. Simply to keep warm, the guide keeps us moving in the dense fog further out on the shoulder until none of us have any idea where we are. After an hour or so, someone says to the guide: “Suppose I dropped and hit a ledge ten feet down in the fog. What would happen then?” The guide would say that you might make it till morning and thus live. So, with absolutely no knowledge or any reason to support his action, one of the group hangs and drops into the fog. This would be one kind of faith, a leap of faith.

The man who jumps down in the fog like this has no idea if there is a ledge there to land on. He simply knows that IF there is, he may survive. This is how some view Christianity – a shot in the dark, a blind leap of faith. There is some outside chance that it may be accurate, but simply not great enough to base life on and certainly not some kind of foundation of knowledge and truth. Now lets look at the other kind of faith – the kind that is practiced by Christians around the world.

(I’ll employ some paraphrase here, because his argument is rather lengthy.)  Suppose we’re in the situation he presents above, but instead of taking a blind leap we, enshrouded in fog, hear a voice saying “You cannot see me, but I know exactly where you are… I am on another ridge.” The voice claims to be that of a man who has lived in the mountains all his life, who knows these mountains very well. He claims that there IS a ledge just below and that we can easily drop to it and make it through the night.

We would likely not immediately drop, but ask the man questions to find out if he really knows what he is talking about and if he is a friend or foe. If convinced by his answers, we would then drop to the ledge and survive the night.

This is faith, but obviously it has no relationship to the first instance… The historic Christian faith is not a leap of faith in the post-Kierkegaardian sense because “[God] is not silent,” and I am invited to ask the sufficient questions in regard to details but also in regard to the existence of man.  I am invited to ask the sufficient questions and then believe him and bow before him metaphysically in knowing that I exist because he made man, and bow before him morally as needing his provision for me in the substitutionary, propitiatory death of Christ.

I need not say more.  Excerpts here are from “He Is There and He Is Not Silent.” This book and Scheaffer’s Escape From Reason are two of my favorites. I highly recommend them.

The fog can really close in!