A Devotion to Modern Science and Ancient Faith

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the philosopher imagined a group of people imprisoned in a cave since birth.  They are chained in a way that they cannot move.  Even their heads are immobile.  Behind them a fire casts light on a wall in before them.  Also behind them, but in front of the fire, is a walkway.  People pass over the walkway carrying objects in their arms and on their heads.  Some carry boxes; some carry statues of animals.  Of those on the walkway, the prisoners hear only distorted echoes bouncing off of the wall.

The prisoners see this movement and attempt to explain it to each other.  They theorize.  They detect patterns.  They make predictions.  Eventually they develop an entire, wholly valid cosmology describing the world they perceive. Still, what they see is just a shadow of a reality they have never experienced. It is a very strange scenario.

But it is just an absurdity, right? Just a allegory; a fairy tale. Maybe, but it helps us gain insight into the limits of our ability to perceive the world around us. For example, you have never seen a triangle.  Not really.  Sure, you can draw a triangle on the chalkboard and tell us the sum of its angles equals 180 degrees, but they don’t really add up.  You can attempt to get very close using a protractor, but all you will get is very close.  The sum of the angles of a triangle, by definition, is 180 degrees.  Exactly. Not a billionth of a degree off.  Not a septillionth of a degree off.  If an angle is off by an arc equal to the diameter of an electron a billion light years from the vertex of the angle, it isn’t a triangle.  It is an approximation of a triangle.

So you have never seen a real triangle.  The triangle on the board is a shadow on the wall. The models we use to approximate triangles provide us with the information we need to understand triangles but triangles are pretty simple concepts. Much of reality is more complex than the nature of a triangle.

Sure, we understand a lot about the physical world around us.  We categorize things and assign them nouns in order to identify them.  We study them and we predict their behavior. We learn and we understand.  Still, what we are seeing are approximations of the physical world. These approximations are the basis for our limited understanding of the universe.

One of the greatest joys in my life has been the feeling of awed wonder that studying and really understanding a scientific principle. A true understanding of the various aspects physical world is one of the highest experiences of which the human mind is capable. A true scientific understanding is like music and poetry and love and spiritualism… It is profound aesthetic joy.

But I have no doubt that, at our best, we are seeing but a tiny slice of the sum total of metaphysical reality.  No matter how well we understand what we see, hear, smell, touch and taste, our understanding is but a model based on our ability to perceive. We are limited by our physical senses and the constraints of the human mind.  There is no reason to doubt that there is more to the universe (multiverse?) than we can ever comprehend.    We are necessarily prisoners staring at a wall of shadows.

This realization changed my life. Rejecting egoism at the heart of the belief that I can see and understand everything was my first step toward Faith.   When I accepted that there is more to reality than we can perceive and comprehend, I let go of my arrogance and my cynicism and accepted that there is more to reality than I can see and touch.  I opened my mind and, lo and behold, something special happened. I was given a Gift.  It was real and it was substantial.  It is the Gift of Faith.

It is understanding. It is peace. It is Joy. It is knowledge.

Scripture is the message but what we read in the bible is also made up of shadows on the wall.  It doesn’t represent a literal interpretation of the world any more than does science but it gives us insight. It helps us understand what is going on outside of the cave in which we live. It tells us for the first time that the shadows are, in fact, shadows.  The hard part is that until you believe, there is nothing to believe in. Once you believe, the answers pour forth.

There is no contradiction between faith and reason or between God and Science. Science is beautiful and its pursuit one of my greatest pleasures.   Faith, however, allows me to know that there is a world beyond the cave in which we live. Once the Gift of Faith had been given, I was still able to see nothing but shadows, but I knew for certain that there is far more to the cosmos and that I have a place in it. Faith offers something that science never can: It transcends the shadows. Faith isn’t an illusion. It is very real; a substantial Gift. Today I celebrate the Message in the shadows that have been cast upon the wall before me. The Lord has given me the means to see in the shadows that there is more to existence than light and dark. The Gift is real. It is joy. It is wonderful. Happy Easter.

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14 Responses to A Devotion to Modern Science and Ancient Faith

  1. Tn-Cat says:

    Thank you.

  2. BaconNeggs says:

    RD thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights into faith and seeing the shadows and the unseen form.

    I am still not convinced by the view that blind faith, trumps reason and science however.

    This morning I actually went to Church – Westminister Cathedral in central London, with my Catholic wife.

    I was respectful, even if I dont understand all the rituals and nor did I simply go through the motions in Church because I still cant feel the faith, others feel.

    Unlike the past I find myself less cynical and resistant to Faith, I kept an open ear and eye in case of Revalation.

    Listening to the Bishop talk about love of Christ through the Resurrection, is still a big a leap of faith for me.
    But Resurrection as a kind of Redemption and rebirth, turning away from the mistakes of a past life and setting a course to be a good person, a better person, is what my heart and soul told me in Chuch this morning.

    I still dont have answer to the meaning of life and our purpose in this life but if all I can get is strive to be a better person even without the faith others have gained, I’ll take it.

  3. MadBrad says:

    You have put tears in my eyes this morning.

    You are 100% correct, Spock. Your method of Logic has served you well. Now it serves Almighty God and His children.

    He is RISEN!

  4. JCT says:

    Thomas the Apostle was known as “Doubting Thomas” in that he had to see Jesus after the resurrection and later had to touch his wounds.

    Not as many people follow the story on, as Thomas had “rock ribbed” faith as he evangelized after Christ’s time on earth.

    Peter denied Christ three times, reflecting the feet of clay that all of us share. But Thomas never made any such denial.

    I think all of us would rather have the experience of Thomas, but even as we have such an experience we discount it…coincidence, chance or “things coming together”.

    The Catholic faith has a Sacrament called “Annointing of the Sick”. It is sometmes referred to as “Last Rites”. I’ve been present when a Priest performed this Sacrament on a dying individual. The peace that came over the individual was immediate and profound. Of course, that could have been coincidence, chance or “things coming together”.

    Science can’t easily explain matters of the heart of mind, from the perspective of good or evil. Faith can’t be relied upon to grow higher yield wheat. But what a powerful pair, science within the context of faith, or faith utilizing science. More good things happen then evil when the two are mixed.

    I think the easiest way to make a decision on faith is to recognize that there are both good and evil in this world. For me, the promulgation of evil is unfathomable, yet every day there is a child abduction, or murder, or other act for which I cannot grasp the motivation. With less fanfare, good acts abound.

    I taught religious education for a group of older teens. Generally, that was the last place they wanted to be on a Wednesday night. I challenged them…if I could prove that one person’s good could outdo the evil of a century of despots, would they consider choosing good over evil in their lives. Each class accepted such a challenge, because it is fun for teens to do so. I then outlined the horrors of the 20th century against the good of Norman Borlaug. Norman’s “saved lives” dwarfed the murderers toll.

    Love your wife, faith will follow in time. God Bless!

  5. MadBrad says:

    Spock laid down another classic at the link that follows…


    B&E, have no Fear. God is NEAR!

  6. dukka says:

    Thanks….happy Easter!

  7. notamobster says:

    Happy Easter, all.

    BnE: My problem is not a lack of faith, it’s just that my brain tells me that the universal vicarious atonement doesn’t make sense. So many have found different explanations for the shadows, that I just don’t agree with any of them.

    I’m still open to the idea, I’m just waiting for……something. I don’t know.

  8. DocO says:

    Thank you, RD.

    You’re explanation of the roles of science and faith in our lives match very closely with mine.

    I feel moved to share with some of the other agnostics and other doubtful seekers my tale of Revelation.

    When I was in my early 20’s I experienced a profound crisis of faith. I had been raised Catholic but rejecting the Church because of the typical liberal assaults on faith in general and the historical failings of the Church specifically.

    I began exploring other faiths because I believed there was something Bigger and Better out there.

    I studied Buddhism and Hinduism and other faiths but everything fell flat.

    I studied Christian philosophers and apologists but all there reasoning and arguments seemed flawed.

    I went from nominal Catholic, to nominally Christian, to agnostic, to atheist, to nihilist.

    At the depth of my despair, lying in my bed, a beautiful thing happened.

    Out of nowhere a fully formed thought burst into my head, announced by these simple words. “You don’t need to know now”.

    This was not an “Aha” moment in which my subconscious thoughts had finally figured out some difficult riddle or math problem.

    This was a Revelation Moment. A Pure Gift. Not earned. Not deserved.

    The simple words “You don’t need to know now” conveyed this complete argument. There have been men far smarter, greater in experience, and so much more accomplished than you. And they have come down on both sides of the “Does God Exist” question. You are 22 years old, when you need to know the answer to this question you will know. Go and live your life, and let what will be will be.

    Along with this complete argument was an emotional aura. An aura of Love and Sadness. Love for me and my plight, and sadness that I was not ready to accept fully the Love offered.

    My ability to open myself up to the existence of God on faith alone started that day.

    I still struggle with faith and belief, but as I have learned, faith without doubt is mere credulity.

  9. R.D. Walker says:

    Doc: Thanks for sharing. My experience was similar… Catholic upbringing, rejection of the church, atheism that moderated over years to agnosticism followed by an epiphany or a moment of clarity. As you said, it “was a Revelation Moment. A Pure Gift. Not earned. Not deserved.”

  10. MadBrad says:

    Saint Thomas Aquinas could not have said it better.

    Maybe just as good but not better.


  11. Rich says:

    Thank you RD for a beautiful and insightful writing on faith, science and God.

    God is indeed wonderful, mysterious and personal. He does reach us individually, knowing just when and how to best reveal Himself to us.

    My story of faith is different but may be of interest.

    At age 38 I was a nominal Christian, having rejected the Episcopalian faith of my childhood in the arrogance youth. Nonetheless, despite having no religion I was searching for God. The whole Jesus thing, however, was just beyond me.

    I had been reading a thin book by Josh McDowell called More Than A Carpenter. In the book every few lines or paragraph had a scriptural reference from The Holy Bible. For some reason I found this very distracting and because of this my progress in reading the book was uncharacteristically slow.

    I went to bed one night, a nominal Christian and a passive liberal (for example, believing that abortion was OK), after suffering through a page or two of More Than A Carpenter and deciding with annoyance not to read any more of the book.

    I woke up the next morning with the gift of faith and a conservative outlook (knowing, for instance, with utter certainty that abortion was wrong). That evening I devoured More Than A Carpenter, and hungered for more such works.

    I have to imagine that God looked at me night as I slept a dreamless sleep and said, sighing, “I see that this one just isn’t making much progress on his own. Ah well, I guess I’ll just have to fix this Myself with him … again.”

    And thus I was given faith. I was then, and remain today, utterly clueless as to how it happened. I perceived nothing in the process – not even a dream.

    As life has gone on I have been graced not to have lost the overnight faith given to me. And trust me; such has not been for lack of trying.

    Since being given faith I have with varying vigor sought to understand it better. So I read the Bible (not enough … I still find it daunting to read), writings of the Saints, works of apologists, etc.

    And however poor my attempts to be in relationship with God are, I always remember that you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (going from memory here).

    Many focus on loving God with heart and soul.

    But God wants us to love Him with our minds as well. For He gave us our minds, in the image of Himself, with the expectation that we would use it to search for, find, and love Him.

    Thus real faith, even that given overnight by means unperceived but nonetheless miraculous, cannot ever be blind.

    As to science: any scientist that observes the wonders of the universe with all the order found therein without awe, and without knowing that an unfathomable intelligence must underlie it all, truly suffers from blind faith.

    And for such persons I pray that they might have a dreamless sleep one night soon where they go to sleep with blind faith and wake with un-blinded true faith.

    And I know that such can happen; because I am living proof of it, and proof of the personal love of a living God.

  12. DocO says:

    Thanks to all the believers, doubters and non-believers for sharing. This type of Fellowship renews my Soul.

  13. MadBrad says:

    This publication has become a weapon that defeats darkness. It is one of my favorite bits of reading that I do every Resurrection Sunday. I’ve also made it a point of sharing with others, especially those who say that Faith is the antithesis of Reason. This does bring chump change jibber jabber of that sort to a halt.

    He is risen!

    Happy Easter to the Revo!

  14. RJM says:

    He is risen, indeed!

    I grew up having head knowledge, however it wasn’t until I gained heart knowledge that I was given the gift of faith.