faith and knowledge

One can “know” something through faith, and one can “know” something through the rigorous testing of the scientific method, or the amassing and weighing of evidence which is the method of the humanities and social sciences. These are at least three different means of arriving at knowledge; are the types of knowledge they produce also different? Which method is superior, for which purposes? And when the knowledge arrived at by these three are different, how do we judge between them?
For the religious person, there is an obvious answer: knowledge through faith is superior to the others, and if the others contradict what we “know” through faith, they are wrong. In actual practice, however, the relationship is more complex and different people of faith arbitrate between the above in different ways.
What I study is essentially Biblical archaeology. Most of those within my discipline prefer the more PC term Near Eastern archaeology, but since my studies have encompassed a significant amount of Biblical studies as well as archaeology and history, I might as well call it that. The archaeological evidence, as it attests to the period of history treated in the Bible, at certain points stands clearly in conflict with the biblical history; and overall the way the Bible is treated is as a human document. In fact, there really isn’t a way to combine what I know by faith with what I know by scholarship; the two can’t always mix. What I present as knowledge in scholarship must be evidence-based; what I know by faith can’t be evidence-based, or it wouldn’t be faith. As a Christian, how do I deal with this?
There are a few different possible approaches:
(1) Compartmentalization: Don’t allow the two to mix. One part of one’s brain is the faith part, that hears and believes the Bible and what one hears in church; the other evaluates claims based on the evidence and processes accepted by one’s discipline. Don’t give the two any ground on which to fight it out, since in fact there is no common ground on which the two can engage.
(2) Complementarity: Scholarship is a supplement to faith, but if they contradict each other, one of two approaches must be taken: deny the scientific consensus by attempting to use science (as in creation science); or allow that science may have the facts, but the Bible has the spiritual truth behind the facts (a more mainstream interpration of evolution vs. creation).
(3) Humility: The Bible is the Word of God, a gift from our Lord. Our rationality is also a gift from the Lord. They can’t be separated, but our rationality along with the rest of our lives must be put under God’s yoke. Our minds and understanding are too small to understand the whole truth, and they are beset by sin so that both our natural understanding and our understanding of God will be flawed, even though God graciously reveals Himself through both. If there is a conflict between the Bible and science, it doesn’t mean either is wrong; it means that our understanding is imperfect.
So far, my belief by faith and scholarship hasn’t come into direct conflict. I’ve had to parrot off the documentary hypothesis on exams, but nobody demands that I actually believe it.

4 Responses to “faith and knowledge”

  1. KDC says:

    And isn’t it falling into disrepute somewhat in any case? I mean the JEDP. Now there’s like 20 different documents and subs and etc etc…
    You should come to the next Following Christ conference and talk to people about this. Or check out which you may find helpful.
    Heck, I just want to see you guys! Maybe you can find an excuse to come when the baby is old enough to let us sleep more than a few hours a night. At this point, baby is still negative 3 weeks old so it is also a good time, but my guess is we won’t see you that soon!

  2. michele says:

    Wow, only 3 weeks left! Hardly seems possible to me, but you guys are probably more than ready.
    People seem to be clinging tenaciously to JEDP, claiming it has “explanatory power,” though most think the situation is more complicated than that…the phrase “sacred cow” comes to mind.

  3. KDC says:

    Haha! Good one. Though I don’t know if the Hindu texts have a documentary hypothesis yet… maybe it’s more of a golden calf.

  4. michele says:

    heehee, that sounds appropriate! KDC, I’m guessing you guys are pretty busy right now, but if you see this would you email me your email address? I’m not sure whether we have the current one…

Leave a Reply