Monday, October 18, 2010

Does Faith Depend on Biology?




Some have postulated before if there is, in fact, a strictly biological component to faith. For example, many scientists, mathematicians, and left-brain dominant individuals are Atheists. They see no role for a higher power, since the scientific process and deductive reasoning can reduce the unexplainable to mere coincidence or chance. To them, the universe is as neat and orderly as an algebraic equation. Taking delight and contentment in perfection, the same formula or theorem always works the same way and always produces the same result. I never doubt the constant need for people whose ways of looking at the world are so different than my own, but they also present significant challenges. Getting on the same page without confusion is not the least of these.

Right-brained people like me, by turn, have often experienced that which cannot be explained by human thought alone. Few of us find the mystical to be an abstraction. The world is full of experiences that words and concepts cannot accurately reproduce or reflect. We often see the analytical concepts so useful to others as mere constructs of the human imagination. Absolutes are few and a variety of interpretations can answer the same query. This certainly explains why Quakers gather together, since they have similar characteristics in common, though I have noticed the same qualities in other people of faith. Faith groups often contain many of the same occupations and life experiences. As I believe it, Kingdom of God is open to all who would believe. Until a person attains faith, of course, he or she will always have doubts and be skeptical.

At the foot of the mountain, a large crowd was waiting for [Jesus and his disciples]. A man came and knelt before Jesus and said, "Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. So I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn't heal him."

Jesus said, "You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me." Then Jesus rebuked the demon in the boy, and it left him. From that moment the boy was well.

Afterward the disciples asked Jesus privately, "Why couldn't we cast out that demon?" "You don't have enough faith," Jesus told them. "I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible."


Even now, we still are without a convincing canon of complete comprehension. I speak of religious belief in particular, but this also applies to every area of human life. Faith does not contradict seemingly contradictory pursuits. Those who prefer complete precision in thought and expression may find that the messiness of belief in God takes them out of their comfort zone. But I do know that not believing now does not imply not believing forever. On that subject in particular, I have heard stories of heavily analytical people who developed faith through personal tragedy and prolonged suffering, either by themselves or by someone close to them. For the first time in their lives, they were suddenly forced to contend seriously with the fact that it is quite possible to be mercy of something that cannot be calibrated or measured to the micrometer.

I've written about two particular skill sets, but my argument can be expanded. Those who practice medicine sometimes fall into the same way of thinking, though not always. Specific fields of practice are more inclined than others, since human knowledge is severely limited in some areas and more complete in others. A psychiatrist, for example, knows just how insufficiently understood is the human brain. A practitioner whose job responsibilities are rather routine and perfunctory might think otherwise. But regardless of occupation and brain hemisphere, faith and belief put us all on the spot from time to time. I may intuitively sense the unexplainable, but my own perception can sometimes lead me to conclusions which are inexact or flat out wrong.

As animals, we attempt to make our own way through life, responding to the environment and climate that lies before us. We also are provided the gift of intellectual reasoning and with that the ability to ascertain the presence of the Divine. Our conception of either is not as crystal-clear as we would wish it to be, but perhaps we should appreciate the ability to even be able to perceive a fraction of that complexity. I know I have been fortunate to have scaled those heights before and come away awed from the experiences, my faith restored.

If we did not experience periodic discomfort, we would not grow. Having our views challenged will not kill us, nor cause us undo pain. There is room for much learning, provided we open our ears and eyes to it. Sometimes we chart a course that is unhelpful, so being redirected in a healthier direction is often what it takes to correct us. Our lives are not fully ours to own or claim. Some of us, however, are more stubborn about surrendering control of the helm.

1 comment:

Lilly said...

I have thought a lot about this myself. You see, I love math. I have an intuitive ability to see patterns. Math isn't just easy- it's delightful! If you could sit me in front of math puzzles all day, I'd be happy as I get. Similarly, I love formal logic, musical patterns, etc. This would generally put me well on the "left brain" side of the world. And while I write poetry, it must be in formal meter. I have no talent for composing the music I love to hear. A deconstructed "rock" ending still sounds like noise, or something unfinished to me.
But I hold to a philosophy of asking why: why does this pattern work, is there a counter-example, or must I leave it unproved but working so far?

The atheists you describe- those strictly logical, love things fitting perfectly together and leave no room for higher Being (God, or whatever have you)- they don't subscribe to any metaphysical worldview. They are strictly technologists. And quite simply, I've come to believe they have a lot more in common with the fundamentalists who can only understand the Bible as "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth". There is no room for error, no room for creation, no room for ambiguity. There are many fundamentalist onto-theologies, but wether it be of dominionist or atheist bent, they both share that rejection of a metaphysical worldview and impose a technological view that says we can measure the worth of a human soul here, with the tools we have. and we can do so perfectly. The religious right claims to have the full knowledge of God while the Atheists say there is nothing of God in their formulas for human worth, for happiness, for the meaning of life.