This article was first published in the ABR Electronic Newsletter, June 2005.
One of the privileges I have as Website Coordinator of ABR is that I get to answer varied questions in e-mails. This often offers an opportunity to be "salt and light." I would like to share one exchange from some time ago, edited for this Newsletter. An anonymous writer opined:
One must look for facts in Science not truth. Truth is for religion and philosophy. One must not use science to validate or make a point to others that their religion is right because as I said science must search for facts not truth. Otherwise faith will blind your eye. This is just my opinion nothing more so please no Bible quoting but if you have a valid opinion please tell me I am always open to new ideas but not preaching.
I replied as follows...
Thanks for your e-mail. I'm not sure what kind of answer you're prepared to accept. Your own preexisting philosophy will bias you one way or another at the outset, so that if I make a point that clashes with it, you'll likely dismiss my point offhand. But since you say you are open to new ideas, I will take the time to reply.
First, a word about me. In college I majored in medical technology and later attended seminary, which have given me ample opportunity to reflect on the interrelationship between facts and faith. I also have a hearing impairment severe enough that I cannot hear any sounds without external aids, and this has influenced my philosophy of the "knowability" of facts and truth. With this background, I'd like to wrestle with the issues you raised.
You said, "One must look for facts in Science not truth." In claiming this I think you are creating a false dichotomy. "Facts" derived from direct observation by the five senses, when they are functioning within normal parameters - not under the influence of drugs or alcohol or extreme tiredness, nor being observed by indirect means which introduce an interpretive factor - can safely be regarded as "truth" in particulate form. Facts are snippets of truth, true in and of themselves without regard to other factors. They can only be facts if, by definition, they represent reality, and therefore are true in and of themselves. Can I safely assume you agree with me here? Reality is what is factual, and it is only factual if it is true.
Now, when one leaves the realm of our own five senses and the things directly perceived thereby, and turns to evaluate the "facts" presented by others, an unavoidable subjective element immediately enters in. When we must depend on the testimony of other people, to some degree the factuality (truth) of their "facts" is opened to doubt. At this point the factuality of a thing must be determined by other means than our personal, direct observation. We are forced to evaluate a thing's factuality by two standards: internal consistency of the data, and common testimony. And this is where the issue of faith - wrongly restricted by many to the realm of "religion" - impacts the realm of "science" as well.
Carried to its logical conclusion, the mindset that limits "facts" to one's own five senses, and regards anything requiring "faith" as nonfactual, would force one to say that ANYTHING that cannot be objectively determined to be factual by direct personal observation is not really a fact. But actually, we exercise faith every day. Marvin Lubenow had some interesting, pertinent comments on this in his book, Bones of Contention (page 195):
We smile at the statement attributed to Mark Twain: "Faith is believing what ain't so!" Actually, to have faith is to accept reports of matters that we have not personally verified. As such, the normal person exercises faith hundreds of times each day. We act on faith in virtually everything we do. To personally verify everything before we act on it would leave no time for anything else. Faith is so basic to everyday life that we do not even recognize it for what it is.
Thus, much of what we consider to be factual, we do so because we believe in the trustworthiness of our fellow man. We accept the testimony of our fellow humans quite readily. I have never personally seen an angler fish, but I have seen photographs of them that I have no reason to believe were doctored, and therefore accept it as a fact, as true, that such creatures exist. This conclusion is strengthened when I read reports by others who have seen them, and I have no reason to believe there is some conspiracy afoot to make me believe in the existence of imaginary angler fish! Rather, in the face of such persuasive evidence, I'd be considered a fool NOT to believe in angler fish - even though the evidence, as far as I am concerned, is ultimately based on faith.
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Why, then, is that part of human experience labeled "religion" - generally as a derogative term by its detractors - evaluated by a more rigorous standard of evidence than what we deem sufficient to determine what is factual in normal life? The Jewish and Christian religions have a huge volume of testimony, much of it recorded in the Bible but also reflected in many other ancient writings, that bases their truth-claims on factual reports. If we readily accept what scientists like Cousteau tell us - that there are wonders in the deep that you and I will probably never see with our own eyes - then why are so many reticent to accept written eyewitness reports, testified to by multiple individuals, of miraculous happenings and even personal encounters with supernatural beings? How is this different from accepting the eyewitness reports of a dead French scientist about strange life forms in the ocean? Why is one dubbed "religion," whereas Cousteau's journals constitute "science"?
Today our government spends millions of dollars in taxpayer money in a vain search for evidence of extraterrestrial life, for which there is not a shred of evidence, yet the media and a large segment of the populace are content to let this go without complaint. Yet these same people are quite willing to ignore, and even suppress, the testimony of the many thousands who claim there is a real "ET" dimension out there, one wherein is a God Who has repeatedly broken through into our sphere of existence and interfered with the normal course of nature, with the results recorded as sober, factual history. To accept one type of evidence as fact, labeling it "science," and not the other, labeling it "religion," is hypocritical and demonstrates only the philosophical bias of the individual, not the factuality (or lack thereof) of what is reported.
You also said, "One must not use science to validate or make a point to others that their religion is right because as I said science must search for facts not truth. Otherwise faith will blind your eye." In the last couple of paragraphs, I used an example from science to show that faith comes into play in accepting the existence of angler fish. Why then is it regarded as wrong to follow this principle consistently and carry it over into the area artificially labeled "religion"? It is not preaching to point out that in the Bible we have a fairly big book, internally consistent throughout, largely written as sober history, that basically says, "God exists, he started the Jewish nation in such and such a way, he did such and such things in the lives of real people living in a real world. He brought Jesus into the world at a certain point in time, who lived, died, rose from the dead, was seen by over 500 eyewitnesses at one time after he died, and so affected the lives of his closest followers that they turned the Roman world upside down, even being willing to die for the truth they knew." These people had facts which passed the tests of internal consistency of the data and common testimony. Their facts do not deserve to be ignored or belittled as mythic or imaginary.
The reason why the Associates for Biblical Research does its research and publishes its data is because the facts, interpreted by the most honest standards we are able to determine, are consistent with the historical reports that come to us in the pages of the Bible. The cities the Bible says existed in the ancient past have been shown by archaeology to really exist. Inscriptions have been found that prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that people spoken of in the pages of the Bible were real people, had a real existence and factual experiences. We are determined, by reporting these things, to pull the rug out from under the feet of the liars and deceivers who would tell people the Bible is just a book of fairy tales. It is not, and we have the facts to back up this claim.
But how a person responds to the facts is up to them. Some remain locked in denial their entire lives, refusing to even consider the possibility that those ancient eyewitnesses reported facts as true as those of Cousteau. Others, however, allow themselves to think that maybe, just maybe, those reports were true, and the Bible is more than a mere book of moral and ethical guidelines - it may actually be revelation of otherwise unknowable Truth from a Supreme Being. It is these people that ABR wants to encourage. To do this we present to them the archaeological evidence that points to the trustworthiness of the Bible in the realm of history, hopefully leading the seeker to conclude that it is reasonable to accept its testimony about the spiritual dimension of life as well. We also share the scientific facts which, looked at from a perspective different from the antireligious bias which pervades the halls of academia, points to a Master Designer, not blind chance plus billions of years. When such truth-seeking people investigate further and become convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior, they are spiritually "born again" (John 3:3) in some very real but impossible to explain manner. The experience of being born again adds a new, spiritual sense to the five natural ones, and through it, the experiential reality of the unseen spiritual world is gradually unfolded. Yes, the process leading to this involves faith, in relying on what others have said and experienced; but so does belief in scientific data that we ourselves have not personally experienced. And faith continues to be the essential ingredient for further growth as one matures as a child of God.
In closing, I'd like to mention how my hearing loss has influenced me. I know there is such a thing as a world of sound. How? Well, partly because I used to be able to hear, but mainly because everyone around me testifies that sound still exists, regardless of the fact that I am stone deaf; it did not cease to exist for everyone else when it stopped for me. Similarly, the point can be made that Heaven exists and is populated by beings of a spiritual nature, but we are all handicapped by lacking the ability to discern it. Is it such a difficult mental leap to conjecture that there is a mode of existence that we are not equipped to detect, a plane of existence where dwell God, angels, and a risen Jesus with wounds in his hands? Can we factually say that, in our five senses, we have all that is needed to comprehensively assimilate everything there is to possibly know as fact? I don't think so. So we go to the Bible for the needed information - and eternal life is the result for all those who accept its facts by faith.