It may be inexplicable, but faith can be a power for good

Richard Dawson
Richard Dawson
This column has been called "Faith and Reason'' for some time now, begging the question: Are the two related?

For some the very nature of faith disqualifies it from any semblance to reason. For them it is, by definition, un-reasonable; that is, a belief not sustained by normal boundaries of reason. Certainly God's existence doesn't seem to be a testable theory. This very fact has caused many to label faith irrational and therefore absurd. But there are many things which operate perfectly well in life which are not reducible to scientific testing.

Love is not a "rational'' phenomena in the sense of being able to be explained by scientific inquiry. Nor, for that matter, is consciousness. Science hasn't been able to explain this so far. Beauty is another very powerful phenomenon that cannot be explained scientifically and neither can friendship. We can know something about these things, but what we do know certainly doesn't explain them or provide a "reason'' for them.

Furthermore, one must ask why we need a scientific theory for something before we consider it to be real or, indeed, useful. Only very good physicists can really understand electricity enough to explain it fully, and yet we use it every day without giving a thought to explaining it. The fact that GPS systems, in order to be accurate, have to be calibrated to take into account the way time is affected by gravity, can be explained by specialists in the field, but again, we use these tools every day and most of us have no need for explanation.

Even the world's top scientists can't explain why ice has less mass than water, or why hot water freezes faster than cold, or why a bicycle works to keep its rider upright (no, it isn't because of the gyroscopic effect apparently!)

But none of this matters because whether we can explain it or not - it works. It produces something that is useful and helpful and so our lack of a reason for it working doesn't trouble us. This is why the dismissing of faith on the basis it is not explainable is not very persuasive. If faith works, if it makes us a better people, if it guides us into a peaceful and productive existence and into a healthier life, we should grab it with both hands and give ourselves to it even if the outcomes are only partially achievable in our own lives

Others argue that faith has not made us better people, but has been responsible for religious wars, bigotry and prejudice. One can't deny that the Church has been implicated in, and even responsible for all of these at certain times in history. However, we should also recognise the great good conferred on humankind through the Christian faith. Consider, for example, the invention of modern nursing by Florence Nightingale, the pioneering of modern science by virtue of the demythologising of the natural world, and the invention of the modern general schooling system through the parish schools of Britain to name just a few.

Add to this the fact that every human institution has been responsible at some point for producing incredible harm, including modern medicine (the thalidomide tragedy), politics (communist purges in many former communist regimes), and modern economies (the latest Wall Street crash). It quickly becomes clear that anything human, no matter how true and right, has the potential to be used for evil.

The existence of mistakes from a fallible and very human church doesn't disprove the notion of God's loving and gracious existence, just as the mistakes and negligence of some in other fields of human endeavour don't negate or disprove the knowledge or validity of that community.

The faith of the Christian community rests on a highly credible historical witness and a rational examination of the alternatives. It rests on the promise of a life lived to the fullest - the best life possible - and it rests on almost 2000 years of contribution to the societies within which it has been practised.

Jesus said, "I have come that they might have life and have it to the fullest.'' This provides us with one of his explanations for faith - that we might live our life to the full. This should be uppermost in our minds when we consider Christian faith; not whether it can be explained by science or by reason.

In my life as a Christian minister, I have seen again and again the power of Christian faith to transform people's lives and help them towards a fuller realisation of their true humanity.


The Rt Rev Richard Dawson is moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand.




In Genesis the only requirement was to believe God's words when He said to not take part in eating of a certain tree. That is what faith is. It is believing God's word to be truth. Sin came as a result of believing that God was a liar and that what he warned would not happen.

We are able to interpret Genesis as metaphor, and therefore temporal instruction by scribes, not from God.

In that regard, the scripture is an ancient lesson to 'know your place, don't seek knowledge and, if anything goes wrong, blame the Women'.