​​Chapter 2  A Rational Christian Faith in a Scientific Age 

An effective and lasting Christian faith must be built on a foundation of truth.  That truth must come from both the Bible and  the physical world.  If one builds faith on a misunderstanding of either of these, that faith will be flawed to one degree or another.  Once built that faith must be continually refined and updated as new knowledge is discovered.  Faith must be “updatable.”  If it is not it becomes obsolete as new knowledge is discovered and understood.  An obsolete faith may fail in time of trial and test.  What is the safest update for faith?  Truth ...From any source!

The first overarching question for a true and lasting faith is examining the basis, or foundation for being a theist, atheist, or agnostic.  One can give evidence and defenses for each of these faiths, but no scientific proof for any of them.  One has to base one’s faith on what is evaluated to be the best evidence.  Thus, faith is an individual’s judgment.  That judgment should be based on the best truth and evaluation possible.  Every human has to answer the faith question for himself or herself, whether they are an intellectual, a laborer, or somewhere in between.  That is the reality of being human.  We want to base our faith and our lives on the best evidence.  That is the concern of this chapter. 

In reality, most simply base their faith on what others convince them is true or on the faith of the culture in which they grew up.  This is a “hit and miss” way to develop faith. 

Faith based on the physical world…

For me one of the strongest physical evidences for an intelligent, creating, eternal, supernatural, being or beings is the complexity of life itself and the long history of that life through the enormous amount of time revealed by the geologic and archaeological records.  The detailed evidence of that time and progression of life forms and human cultural features is given elsewhere in this book.  Only an eternal, intelligent, living being would have been around for that amount of time to direct the development of life through these processes.  I believe the Bible alone gives us the best understanding of that  being.  Most miss understand how the Bible should be understood.  It is not to be understood as divinely inspired, word for word, literal truth in every part of it.  A critical reading shows this is not true.  Scholars have known this for a long time.  A true understanding of geology, paleontology, and archaeology show that some of it should not be taken as literal history.  But to imply that none of the Bible’s content is inspired is also wrong.  The Bible alone gives us a grand purpose for this human life and how to live it.  We need to upgrade our understanding of what the Bible is really telling us.

Even Charles Darwin had a hard time shaking his faith that there is a creating God.   A quote from his autobiography, written near the end of his life, reveals this.

“Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight.  This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity.  When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.

This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species; and it is since that time that it has very gradually with many fluctuations become weaker.” (Charles Darwin 1958:77)

I believe Darwin’s materialist friends eventually talked him out of this basic belief in God.  I also believe this was done by his acquiesce to the materialistic faith and irrational philosophy of his associates, not because his evaluation of the physical facts required it.  Of course, Darwin and his materialistic friends were countering the faulty, fundamentalistic understanding of the Bible held by the religious leaders of his day that could not be supported by the facts of the physical world that they were discovering.

Walter Alvarez, a University of California at Berkeley geologist who discovered the initial evidence for a collision of an asteroid with the earth that was part of the final death knell to the dinosaur world has written a book titled: A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves.  From a materialist point of view it certainly is most improbable!  Under the direction of an intelligent God it is not improbable.  It is incredible, but not improbable.  The faith required to believe it happened by mere random natural processes should be judged in the light of the overwhelming odds and evidence against such processes.

Francis Collins, former director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and former leader of the human genome project, was an atheist in his college years.  He eventually developed faith in the existence of an intelligent God by what he saw and experienced.  He explains the progression of that faith in his book, The Language of God.  I think his faith is significant to consider even though I would strongly disagree with his conclusion that God fashioned that creation purely through the “natural” forces of random mutation and various natural selection processes.  Certainly these processes played a part in what we find today but to say that they were the basic cause of all the development staggers my imagination in light of the evidence in the fossil record.

Definitely there is a great deal of time and “evolution” or development in the geologic record of the earth and life upon it.  This is dealt with in more detail in other chapters and will not be repeated here.

The changes through time are incredible.  The genetic system is fantastic and complex.  The same basic system is functioning throughout the living world.  The judgment that needs to be made is whether this fantastic system developed by purely random natural forces or by intelligent (supernatural) direction.  It seems to me most likely that intelligent direction was the dominating force.  The genetic system was built to make random changes through time, giving variety to life and flexibility to adapt to new environments.  Natural selection does work to a limited extent.  This is what Charles Darwin discovered.

The “evolution” of dogs over the last several hundred years is an excellent example of this change.  Dogs almost certainly started with wolf DNA.  By artificially (intelligently or accidently) selecting that DNA humans have produced a great variety of dogs.  Natural selection has continued to produce the wolf.  This illustrates the possibility for great change in at least some of the living DNA systems and the difference between natural and artificial selection driven by intelligence.

But many changes in living organisms through time contain evidence of much more extreme and different changes than wolf to dog.  And it begs the question of whether these changes were random and natural, induced by artificial selection, or made by direct chemical manipulation of the DNA material by intelligent forces.  Human intelligence used artificial selection to produce a great variety of dogs within a few hundred years.  Did supernatural intelligence agents function in a similar way over vast periods of time in the geologic past to produce the myriad of vastly differing living and fossil organisms?

Partial evidence of those physical changes can be found in the geologic record.  How those changes were made has to be filled in by judgment of the evidence and faith.  This is true for the theist, agnostic or the atheist.

To have a faith based on the Bible we must understand what the Bible really is and what it is not.  If we take the naïve fundamentalist approach that every word of it is the direct, infallible, written “word of God,” to be taken literally, we deceive ourselves and draw wrong conclusions.  To attribute it to uninspired guesswork of men also lacks substance.  We must accurately and effectively sort out the Bible’s true meaning.  This is no easy task.  It is a narrow path.  The fundamentalist approach is an “easy and broad path.”   Unfortunately that path doesn’t stand up in the light of truth from either the Bible itself or the physical record of the earth.

I treasure the Bible but am no longer a fundamentalist.  One who makes every word of the Bible literal and true is a false witness to the facts of the Bible.  Doing this sets the Bible up for rejection by those who have the critical knowledge and understanding of either the physical world or of the Bible itself.

Such an understanding should not undermine, discredit, or devalue the Bible.  It should make the Bible more understandable.  The Bible is the most valuable and important book humanity has.  It is not just “The Good Book,” it is “The Best Book.”  Anything found written here that seems to contradict these conclusions is a misunderstanding of what has been written.  The Bible reveals the nature and character of a beneficent, intelligent Creator God.  It reveals purpose for human life and the key to gaining immortality if one is willing to accept that as fact.  A true and correct understanding of it is absolutely necessary, but difficult to get.  The Bible contains the “Words of God” but everything in it is not the direct “Word of God.”  One must sort out the difference… The wheat from the chaff… The human from the divine…  “The gold from the common rock.”

Only by removing the concept of perfect infallibility of the Bible can we come to a correct understanding of it and the physical world.  If we say the errors found in the Bible are indeed true and not errors, we are false witnesses, denying the truth, and invalidating the book!  Such lying action is condemned by the Bible itself.  The Bible is something different than what the extreme fundamentalist sees.  We come to this conclusion by accepting truth as our measuring stick.  To make every word of the Bible 

perfect and literally true is not what we find.  That type of infallibility is an incorrect way to understand the Bible.  The humans who wrote the Bible were imperfect and some items in the Bible reflect that imperfection.  It would, however, be a serious mistake to allow this reality to discredit the important truth contained in the Bible.

What the Bible is…

Most stories of Genesis 1-11 are teaching stories, not science or literal history.  Perhaps it filled the gap between an original creation and Abraham for a people who, at the time, could not have possibly understood the realities of geology, biology, paleontology, and prehistoric archaeology.  This has worked effectively for nearly 3,000 years until human understanding of these fields reached a level that required a revised understanding of these storied origins.   Genesis 1-11 appears to have been written to give an explanation that was in accord with the commonly known “science and history” of the Mesopotamian area when it was written.  “When I was a child I thought as a child.  When I became an adult I put away childish things.”

Genesis 1-11 stories set up the introduction of Abraham.  The rest of the Bible continues to be about the story of Abraham’s family and their interaction with the creating God.  Promises made to Abraham by God continue to come to pass in remarkable ways over literally thousands of years.  His family did not die out.  It is rather one of the best recorded and most long lived family histories of which we have record.  His family, both literal Israel, and the adopted (“grafted in” …Romans 11:17; Galatians 3:29) Christians, have created, preserved, and disseminated the Bible throughout the world.  This family has survived, multiplied, and created the Bible that is a record of human interaction with the creating God.  The Bible provides a gold standard for right ethics and moral living. 

The Bible has taught and informed ethics, justice, and morality to the Western World.  What other book has had such a dominating influence?  Its ethics and morality have certainly not been explicitly followed, but it has had a definite positive influence on defining right from wrong for any who would pay serious heed to it.  History supports the veracity of the promises that were made to Abraham later in the book of Genesis.  Not only would his family continue and greatly multiply but they would be a benefit to the rest of the world.  The written Bible is a major part of that benefit.  Promises made over 3500 years ago continue to be fulfilled today!  This has got to be another added basis for faith.

Whether the biblical stories of the patriarchs are precisely accurate and true history are questions which are probably impossible to answer.  They were likely verbal stories that were transmitted for years before being written down.  Verbal stories can easily vary from actual reality.  Archaeology does reveal, however, that the times of the patriarchs conform generally to what the stories tell us.  The actual events of the stories would not be preserved by archaeology.

By the time of the exodus more certain factual material can be determined from the geologic and archaeological record.  Certainly Egypt would not record such a defeat by the Israelites.  We should not look for it in their written records.  It is not in the nature of Egyptian records to admit such a defeat!  The physical evidence of the exodus is covered in another chapter.  Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah, son of the most probable Pharaoh of the exodus, did, however, record Israel’s presence in Palestine on a stele written about 1207 BCE.  This is the first secular history of the nation of Israel that we have.  So he knew of the people called Israel and he stated that he had wiped them out (which, of course, he had not).  Was this done to “pay them back” for how they had outwitted his father years before?

The settlement of the highlands of Israel by invading groups at the time of the biblical settlement of the land is well witnessed by archaeology (Finkelstein 1988).  The absolute identification of these people as “Israelites” has not been possible by archaeology.  Those who want to discredit the Bible have postulated multiple other scenarios to explain what is found.  The biblical “miracle at Jericho” is a question that is difficult to prove by archaeology.  It must remain an open question.  By the time of the Israelite monarchy, and from that time forward, the secular records of archaeology and history  give abundant evidence of Israel’s existence generally in accord with the biblical record.

The New Testaments times are abundantly witnessed in the archaeological and historical record.  Physical archaeological proof for individuals should not be expected.  Even for Jesus.  What did he do that would leave identifiable evidence in the physical archaeological record?  We have abundant written evidence for His existence and teaching.  His miracles have to be judged based on the veracity of eyewitness accounts.  Physically, they can be neither absolutely proven nor disproven.  Faith, what we believe, has to be based on evaluating the best evidence available.  Faith is not science and thus repeatable and provable.

Consider Jesus.  He was born to a couple of whom it is recorded that they did not have sexual intercourse until after His birth.  Of course we have no way to prove or disprove that statement.  It is a faith issue not a science issue.  Would a powerful, intelligent Creator have the power to place a selected sperm into Mary’s womb without sexual intercourse?  Modern doctors without the power of God can do it.  Why not God?  Keep in mind that Jesus is connected to the line of David through Joseph as his father, not Mary his mother.  Matthew 13:55-56 indicates that Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters.  Mary obviously did not end her life as a virgin if we believe this statement in the Bible.

I believe the spiritual genius of Jesus is the greatest proof for us that He was whom He said He was.  I don’t discount his miracles.  I believe they happened and that He was resurrected after he was killed.  Else why would His disciples have believed so fervently and sacrificed their lives for that belief?  But there is no way to scientifically or otherwise to absolutely prove that the miracles or resurrection happened.  We can only make a judgment based on what we read.  Faith is after all a judgment, not science that can be proven by repeating a matter.  Science is a wonderful tool but only works on repeatable physical phenomena.  Many important things in life are not repeatable and cannot be proven by science.  That is simply the way it is.  On the other hand, we would be foolish to set our faith against something that can be proven wrong by scientific methodology.  Many fundamentalists do this.

One can examine over and over again, from many different angles, Jesus’ spiritual teaching and judgment on matters of life and living, comparing them with the spiritual understanding of the trained religious leaders of His day.  How could an unschooled son of a builder from a small obscure town in Northern Israel come up with such timeless spiritual understanding?  Perhaps His mother taught him to read and he questioned learned masters of the law in Jerusalem when He could as He grew up, but He somehow had more help and far greater understanding than this.  How and where did He get it?

The Bible is a book written, edited, assembled, and copied by humans who are imperfect in their works and judgments.  The Bible reflects this in many areas.  To blindly deny such problems when interpreting it is hiding one’s eyes from what is true.  Truth and good judgment must guide one to correctly understand the Bible. 

While scholars have spent hundreds of years studying and arguing over how the Bible was put together and its varied interpretations, yet even the unlearned can understand its clear simple instructions for life, ethics, justice, morality, and a viable faith.  These basic moral instructions should form an important part of one’s faith.   Their functional logic of how to create a truly workable social system and society is a major evidence for the Bible’s true significance and value.   While these ethical values and character traits may currently seem unattainable to typical humans they are ideal standards that allow for a truly utopian society when applied correctly and continually.  They are the most reasonable and logical goals for living.  They are just not the easiest to attain.

For clarity of meaning let’s examine the core of these moral and ethical character qualities to define and confirm their value.

At the very base of this core are the  two concepts: love for God and love for neighbor.  Next are the simple Ten Commandments given to ancient Israel early on.  These, if anything in the Bible, are “the words of God.”  To these were added statutes and judgments on how to effectively run a physical nation.  Many of these can also inform us on how to effectively live our lives and structure society.

The Sabbath command is perhaps the one most rejected and questioned.  When kept, it assures one of a mini vacation from routine work every seven days.  This “time off” provides physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual rejuvenation.  Jesus said the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  The religious leaders of His day had turned that commandment upside down and made the Sabbath a burden to be endured rather than enjoyed as a pleasant and refreshing time.  This is one example of Jesus’ spiritual genius.

To the weekly Sabbath were later added seven annual Sabbaths.  These Sabbaths have morphed in meaning from national memorials in the time of Ancient Israel to projections of “Kingdom of God” events in the Christian era.  They instruct and remind one of the overall goals and future events of the Kingdom of God that Jesus and the Old Testament prophets taught.  These annual Sabbaths, however, have been largely ignored, changed, or rejected in most of modern Christianity.  Thomas Aquinas specifically shows how they have been “morphed” by the Catholic Church into its modern Church holidays. (Aquinas  1952).  The New Testament records how Jesus kept these annual Sabbaths during His life as a human.  Perhaps Christians would gain substantial benefit, spiritual understanding, and group unity by doing the same.  The mere ritual keeping of these annual Sabbaths is not an end in itself.  The knowledge, faith, character training, enjoyment, and group social cohesion that they produce are perhaps the most important goals of these “Holy Days.”

 In addition to the Ten Commandments, Jesus, the Apostles, and the rest of the Bible allow us to put together a simple list of behavior and character qualities that summarize the character traits for living a biblical Christian life.  These character qualities can be listed in simple terms but are remarkably complex in application. 

Consider a partial list of them.

Love and respect – Honoring others and wanting them to have the same benefits as we want for ourselves.

Joy - Happiness.  Emotional well being.  Being an enjoyable person for others to be around. 

Peace – Lack of strife, contention, and competition with others.

Patience – A willingness to work and wait for what is desired.  Emotionally stable, not volatile.

Kindness – Warmth and generosity to others.  Merciful and forgiving.

Goodness – The Golden Rule.  Doing to or for others what we would have them do to and for us.

Faithfulness  – True to one’s word and commitments, including marriage vows.

Meekness and Humility – Not seeing one’s self and needs as more important than others.

Self Control – Ability to control one’s thoughts, words, desires, and actions.

Being a productive, giving person – A beneficial, producing member of society.  Not a mere parasite.

Faith – Confidence in God and in others

Hope – A positive attitude, working for, and expecting, the best outcome.

Knowledge – Knowing and accepting what is true.  Valuing truth.

Understanding – Ability to put knowledge together in its true context.

Wisdom – Ability to make good decisions based on true knowledge and understanding.

Justice – Giving full value for value received.

Mercy and Forgiveness – We are all human, make mistakes, and need compassion and forgiveness from others.

Thankfulness – Positively appreciating what we have, not only concerned with what we want or need.

Submission to legitimate  government – The only way groups or organizations can function effectively.

Diligence – Not being careless, sloppy, lazy, or indifferent in the way we pursue our goals of life.   

Repentance – A willingness to change what one believes or does when shown to be wrong.

 These are moral and spiritual character qualities taught by the Bible from one end to the other.  Many are the qualities Jesus said would be found in those conforming to His teaching.  These are sustainable character qualities that allow intelligent beings to live together effectively and in peace.  This moral excellence should be one of the greatest proofs for the Bible’s significance.

The logic of this morality should help support faith and belief in the Bible.  The New Testament offers eternal life.  If someone is going to live with others for eternity, these qualities are essential!  These character qualities are good for the individual and for those with whom the individual interacts.  The true goal of a Christian life is thus a most reasonable and practical preparation for eternal life. 

It is also instructive to examine some of the behaviors and character qualities that the Bible states are to be excluded from the Christian life and faith.

Worshipping, obeying, or serving any supernatural entity or “authority” other than the creating God.

Creating a false physical image of the invisible God.

Witchcraft and sorcery – No superstitions, casting or fearing spells, or dealing with the occult.

Lawlessness – Disobedient and rebellious action against duly constituted law and order. 

Murder – Illegally killing other human beings.

Hatred – Unreasonable animosity toward other humans.

Anger – Uncontrolled and unreasonable emotional outbursts.

Sowing discord – Creating strife among members of a group.

Slander and gossip – Knowingly spreading the problems and faults of others.

Pride, arrogance, and conceit – Holding one’s self worth and abilities far above others.

Lying and deceit – Truth has always been a basic biblical value.

Theft – Taking for one’s self what rightly belongs to others.

Covetousness and envy – Desiring anything that properly belongs to someone else.

Unhelpful and/or excessive sexual practices – These undermine and destroy the permanent faithful bond of a husband and wife.  They destroy the nurturing family environment and stability in society.

Hedonism – Allowing excessive physical appetites and pleasures to control one’s actions.

Greed – Always wanting more than one has or deserves.

Selfishness – Looking only to one’s needs and desires.  Ignoring the needs and desires of others.

Unmerciful – Not willing to have compassion on those in need.

 Irreconcilable and Unforgiving – Not willing to be reconciled with others after an offense.

Unthankful – Not appreciating what one has or has been given.

Untrustworthy – Unfaithful to word, duty, promises, or directions given.

It is my conclusion that the positive moral character traits are the gold standard for human behavior while the negative ones should be eliminated.  This is the core story of the Bible.  It is also evidence for a greater intelligence behind the biblical message.

Some churches during the 2000 years since Jesus have greatly altered and complicated the simple story of the Bible.  One would greatly benefit by going back to the Bible to define what really constitutes the basis of the Christian faith as originally described in the Bible.  Churches are an important necessity but it is very difficult, if not impossible, to fully institutionalize the Christian faith.  There is little history of this having been done successfully for any length of time.

The biblical conclusion for those who do not eventually develop the qualities of life that allow them to live peaceably and productively with others will eventually need to be eliminated, not tortured and continually punished forever.  Jesus likened it to their being thrown into the Jerusalem town dump… Gehenna.  He said do not fear those who can only destroy the body, but fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in such a burning dump.  The soul is apparently not immortal.

What more significant, practical, and rational goal and purpose for human life can be found?  While not provable by science, neither is it contrary to anything discovered by science.  It is outside the “science box” yet it resonates and is compatible with what is inside the “science box.”  It is a worthy basis for one’s faith.

The true Christian faith is not a sham façade of religious formula based on outward appearance.  It is a mind and character changing experience based on truth. 

References for Chapter 2

Alvarez, Walter
2017  A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves.  W. W. Norton & Co., New York.

Aquinas, Thomas
1952  The Summa Theologica.  Great Books of the Western World No. 20 Thomas Aquinas: II, pp. 301-302.

Collins, Francis S.
2006  The Language of God.  Free Press, New York.

Darwin, Charles
1958  The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809 - 1882.  W. W. Norton & Co., New York.

Finkelstein, Israel
1988  The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement.  Israel Exploration Society,  Jerusalem.