Living and Growing: Knowing is not the same as believing

Posted: Friday, November 03, 2006

I know a great many things that I don't believe. Don't you? I know that the sun rises every day, but I can't say I believe it.

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On the other hand, I believe a great many things that I don't know. I believe that there is such a thing as the Aurora Borealis, but I can't conceive of how. I believe in thought itself. How in the world can such a thing be? I believe that I am a living being, but I don't know for sure what that means. What is life?

I believe that when a scientist tells me that a quart container filled with gas has 27 thousand billion billion molecules in it (that's 27 followed by 21 zeros) that he knows what he is talking about, even though I'm sure he has never seen a molecule of gas. When a scientist tells me that all matter is composed of electrons and atoms, I believe him but I know that he, too, is proceeding in an act of faith. Elements and compounds act as though electrons and atoms are present - and so the scientists have hypothesized their existence. They then go ahead as if the hypothesis is true - and experiments based on the hypothesis come out OK.

Writer Neven Barner says, "We live by faith every day and every hour. If we were limited to things we can nail down with absolute proof, we could scarcely move about at all." And then he says, "When we come to religious faith, the situation is precisely the same. Most of the great Christian convictions cannot be proved absolutely. They come under the heading of faith, not knowledge. They have to do with things unseen and eternal."

Many people have turned away from belief in God, belief in the Christian way, because they said they could not believe in something that could not be proved by scientific knowledge. But look about you - look at your life.

You and I move forward by faith every day of our lives, and the day the faith stops will be the day we stop. We cannot live without faith because we live in a universe the complete understanding of which is beyond our grasp. And even after standing on the moon, this is true. We are not saying that faith can dispense with reason. But when the utmost that science and knowledge can do has been reached, then we are forced into a venture of faith, not opposed to reason, but based upon and surpassing reason.

Each day we take risks whose outcome we cannot know, trust people we have barely - or never met. Opportunities for friendship depend on faith; chances to serve good causes depend on faith. How many of you have sent in your donations to Heart Fund, TB, cancer, March of Dimes, Salvation Army, Save the Children Foundation, CARE? Even opportunities to learn from superior minds involves faith in their integrity. But people who carry on their business and social life through faith will still say they cannot believe in God because he cannot be proved scientifically.

I said a short time ago that I don't know what life is. Certainly you can, by physical and chemical methods, analyze a body into physical and electrical components. But putting the same things back together will not produce a person. There's something here that we don't understand. But we'd better believe it, because here is where we find personality, where we find each other!

There is a difference between knowing and believing. But one does not supplant the other. To believe, we make use first of what we know and then go on from there. There is no substitute for the search for knowledge. Our belief will grow and be better founded with our increase in knowledge. But as one of my favorite writers, William Barclay, says about moving mountains, "If you don't have faith, you can't even move a piece of straw."

• Bea Shepard is a lay speaker at Douglas Community United Methodist Church.

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