A friend recently passed along an article from USA Today titled “Why Certainty About God is Overrated.”
The article told the story of John Polkinghorne, a world class physicist who also has the reputation of being a leading voice on the relationship between science and faith.
Polkinghorne maintains that “We don’t believe in quarks because we see them. We believe in quarks because the theories that have quarks in them work.”
The physicist becomes a bit edgier when he says that, in a similar way, theories that have God in them work. While saying he sees enough evidence for God to believe, and to stake his life on those beliefs, he says that if pressed for proof, he cannot be absolutely and objectively sure.
The article, by author Dean Nelson, goes on to suggest that Polkinghorne’s honesty is a welcome admission in a “modern age doesn’t seem to hold much room for uncertainty or doubt.” After giving polarized examples from both religion and politics, he says the result of absolute certainty is “a demonizing of one group by the other, a rejection of compromise, and behavior by adults that none of us would tolerate in our children.” Imagine,” he adds, “what that debate might have looked like if someone from either side would have said, as the comedian Dennis Miller used to say at the end of his rants, “Of course that’s just my opinion. I might be wrong.”
Interestingly, I recently read an opinion piece on Foxnews.com by Ian Morgan Cron that described, “Five words [that] could prevent the public brawls between Christians who differ in their opinions on social and theological issues.” Those 5? “But I might be wrong.”
So in an age when “proof” is used by science to mean “observable, measurable, repeatable, certainty,” how much room is there in honest faith for doubt?
Seems to me that we are talking about a range of issues: semantics (requires clarity of what we mean by “doubt”); honesty (who among us can say that we never doubt even those things we stake our lives on); attitudes of humility and love (what many resent is when we require them to live by our certainty).
The Apostle Paul wrote, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2Tim 1:12). He was referring to what he had come to believe and know about the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. I resonate with that kind of confidence even though I live with the tension of an “insect-like” mind that occasionally gets stuck on all kinds of thoughts/doubts like “how and why would there even be a God in the first place?”
Then I read the Apostle James who adds that the person who doubts is like a wave of the sea blown and tossed by the wind, and that such a person cannot expect to receive God’s help (James 1:5-8). But I don’t think James is talking about not having an honest doubt. After all, the context is about situations that “test our faith.” How can our faith be tested if there is no thought of doubt that we need to deal with?
I find JB Philips translation of James reasonable. His rendering is that “those who ask God for wisdom must not have secret doubts as to whether we really want God’s help or not.”
So let’s talk about it. What do you think? Can we, like the physicist Polkinghorne, admit that our faith is tested by all kinds of situations that leave us, in some respect, with the lack of “proof” and “certainty”– that requires faith in what we find most reasonable and sure?