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by Jacob Ninan
“Scientific temper is a way of life—an individual and social process of thinking and acting—which uses a scientific method, which may include questioning, observing physical reality, testing, hypothesising, analysing, and communicating” (Wikipedia). This term ‘scientific temper’ is attributed to none other than Jawaharlal Nehru who described it as, “the scientific approach, the adventurous and yet critical temper of science, the search for truth and new knowledge, the refusal to accept anything without testing and trial, the capacity to change previous conclusions in the face of new evidence, the reliance on observed fact and not on pre-conceived theory, the hard discipline of the mind—all this is necessary, not merely for the application of science but for life itself and the solution of its many problems” (Discovery of India). Nehru contrasted this with the way of religion as he understood it, where belief is supposed to be blind and unquestioning.
If our faith is blind and unquestioning because that is how we have received it, we are likely to squirm when someone else questions it and we do not have an answer. If we have just accepted a worldview without thinking much about it, we would find it difficult to stand when our own experiences raise questions we do not have an answer for. Knowing Jesus as the Truth, and knowing the spiritual truths He reveals to us in His word, is the anchor that can hold us safe in the midst of the storms of life. Like Pilate, many are asking nowadays, “What is truth?” and for an increasing majority of people, truth has become nothing but a personal opinion. Our faith needs an anchor of eternal truth that will hold in times of pressure.
Sad to say, many leaders tell people to ‘just believe’. They tell them that reason is the enemy of faith, and they do not tolerate anyone who asks questions. Many young people leave the church because their leaders do not give them or do not even have answers for the questions they are struggling with. It seems to be a fact that the greater majority of people just learn to comply with whatever demands the church or society makes on them and do not ask questions. In that way their religion is the opposite of what a scientific temper calls for, just as Nehru observed.
But is true faith really incompatible with the scientific temper? Can it stand under the scrutiny of thinking minds or is reason really opposed to faith? Or is it, as some people think, that faith is entirely on a different plane altogether with no overlap with scientific enquiry and validation?
Of course, science deals with material things that can be handled, measured and tested, and faith deals, not with imaginary things but with things on a spiritual plane that are indeed real but which cannot be handled with material tools. But if we look at scientific temper, not as something that deals with physical science but as a ‘way of life’ which questions things before accepting them and which is willing to look at alternative explanations before arriving at conclusions, we can see that this is nothing but the approach that the Bereans took at the time of the apostle Paul (Acts.10:11).
If we are listening to a famous preacher, do we accept his teachings just because he is a famous preacher? That would be unscientific because famous preachers can also be wrong. His fame does not give him invincibility or infallibility. If we were to look at it with a scientific temper, if we know that what he is famous for is his healing ministry, for example, we have to recognise that teaching doctrines is not his strong point. If he is a famous Bible teacher we would recognise the possibility that he could be right, but finally the real way to make sure is to verify what he says with the word of God.
If a famous sports star or a film star gets converted and starts speaking about his experiences would we receive his words without questioning because he is known worldwide (not for his knowledge of God but his skills or looks)? Do we Indians know how not to be overwhelmed by a white western speaker or a highly educated or wealthy person because of these factors?
This is evidently a use of our reason to identify possible wrong teaching. Jesus has actually told us to judge false prophets (we can include, by implication, false teachers, false miracle workers, etc.) by their fruit (Matt.7:15,16). How can we possibly do that if we are not allowed to use our reason?
When we read the Bible and come across the passage where God made a way for the people of Israel to walk through the Red Sea, our reason, based on our knowledge of how things work on earth, seems to tell us that this cannot be true. So, many try to suggest alternative natural explanations for this. This gives believers the idea that we should not use our reason but trust in God. But the problem here is not really with the use of our reason. In this case our reason has not taken into consideration the fact that God is almighty. He who created from nothing all that we see now can also do anything He wants with the laws He has made. Once we bring that into the picture, it becomes no longer difficult for reason to believe that passage.
What this illustrates is the fact that our human reason can find it difficult or impossible to accept the things of faith without support from the knowledge of God. But that, by itself, does not rule out the use of our reason in the proper way, i.e., by letting our reason work along with the knowledge God gives. In this way, we can still have a scien
Things can be disastrous if we do not use this scientific temper in dealing with different aspects of our spiritual life. If we are sick and we refuse to take any medicine believing that God is able to heal us, we would not be using our reason properly. We would certainly be right in believing that God has the ability to heal us without medicine. But what we also need to take into consideration is the fact that He does not always heal in a supernatural way. “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psa.115:3). There are many things He can do, but He only does, from among them all, things He is pleased to do. Sometimes He is pleased to heal us through medicine, and that is why He has provided men with wisdom and knowledge in the use of medicine. If we insist that He should do what we please, are we not being unreasonable?
If we have got into a mess in our life because of our folly and finally go to God and ask Him to clean up this mess, what would we expect Him to do? Most probably He will help us to clean up things and teach us to be careful in the future. Isn’t that reasonable? In some cases He may do a miracle. But we go wrong if we demand that He does one every time we want. But what some preachers tell us to do is only to pray and expect Him to do the cleaning up in a miraculous way.
God is the one who created us in His own image, and one part of that image is our ability to reason. Why would He ask us to leave it aside and ‘just believe’? Of course, the original unblemished image He created us with has been distorted because of sin, and we need to learn to use our reason in subjection to Him. We also need to fill up our mind with His word so that when we use our reason we have enough understanding to be able to use it in the right way. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom.12:2).
God does tell us not to lean on our own understanding but to trust in Him (Prov.3:5). Without trusting in God our understanding can lead us astray. But He expects us, after we trust in Him, to use our reason and not to be like animals who live only by instinct (Psa.32:8,9).
-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, June 2015
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