Written by Ronald R. Cherry, MD
Science is the process of determining the behavior of matter (the universe) using observation, testing (controlled observation), and reason; with reason defined as the ability to observe, comprehend and accept self-evident truth. Faith is any belief undiscoverable by science, which is to say any belief based on that which is unobservable and un-testable, which is to say any belief which is beyond the discovery of reason and science. This definition of faith was expressed by John Locke:
“Where revelation comes into its own is where reason cannot reach. Where we have few or no ideas for reason to contradict or confirm, this is the proper matters for faith… that Part of the Angels rebelled against GOD, and thereby lost their first happy state: and that the dead shall rise, and live again: These and the like, being beyond the discovery of reason, are purely matters of faith; with which reason has nothing to do.” John Locke
Religion contains faith that eternal God created matter (the universe) with a finite beginning - a supernatural belief not based on direct observation of that which preceded the Big Bang. Atheism contains faith that matter (the universe) is uncreated and therefore eternal; a supernatural belief which likewise cannot be based on direct observation. On the other hand, atheism may be the expression of belief that the universe created its self de novo; an irrational and un-scientific belief which violates the first law of thermodynamics and Einstein’s law of mass-energy equivalency: E=MC2. Mass can be converted into energy, and visa-versa, but neither mass nor energy can create its self from nothing - only nothing can come from nothing. The most basic laws of science tell us that outside power is a requirement for the creation of nature’s mass and energy; so, we are left with either an eternal God who created our finite universe with a Big Bang (religion), or an eternal un-created universe (atheism).
We have been taught that atheism is only an expression of what is not believed (God), but it is never explained that atheists, of necessity, must believe in an eternal uncreated universe. It is self-evident that our universe is finite in time and therefore created by God (religion), or the universe is infinite in time and therefore un-created (atheism). Both beliefs are based on that which is undiscoverable by scientific observation (beyond the discovery of reason) and therefore both beliefs are faith - no one can see God (without revelation), and no one was or could be present to observe the beginning of a universe with no beginning. Since a self-created universe is un-scientific, the atheist is left with belief in an eternal un-created universe - the irreducible basis of atheist faith. Many who think of themselves as atheists are only able or willing to express what they do not believe (no belief in a Creator with no beginning), but the only alternative to this lack of belief is belief in a universe with no beginning – a truth left un-considered. Only the agnostic can escape faith by an inability or refusal to choose between the two faiths.
There is no conflict between religion, properly understood, and reason; they are in fact mutually exclusive. Reason is simply the ability to understand and accept self-evident material truth which is physically observable and which can often be expressed mathematically, i.e.: reason is science. Religion is not based on reason or science; it is based on faith in the eternal God of creation - a belief which is undiscoverable by scientific observation (reason); a belief based on that which is unobservable and un-testable; a belief which is beyond the discovery of reason and science. Likewise, atheism is not based on scientific reasoning; it is based on faith that the universe is eternal; a belief which is also undiscoverable by scientific observation (reason); a belief based on that which is unobservable and un-testable; a belief which is beyond the discovery of reason and science. It should go without saying that nobody was or could be there (other than God) at the beginning of anything (the universe) whose origin stretches back into the eternal (infinite) past. Science and reason are relevant to the universe which we can all observe, but faith (not science and reason) is relevant to the origin of the universe - two entirely different subjects.
Some atheists have defined faith as any belief which is in conflict with reason, that is to say any belief which is refutable by scientific observation; this is actually the definition of error. Most atheists define faith as acceptance of an idea in the absence of observable evidence, which is to say a belief undiscovered by reason - but a belief undiscovered by reason is not necessarily a belief beyond the discovery of reason. Accepting the idea that a new species of beetle exists in the Amazon rain forest in the absence of observable evidence is a type faith - an idea yet undiscovered by scientific observation - a belief undiscovered by reason - yet the belief may well be confirmed when such a beetle is finally discovered (observed) with the passage of time. Belief in God (religion) or an eternal un-created universe (atheism) are ideas in today's world which are not only undiscovered by reason (undiscovered by scientific observation), they are ideas beyond the discovery of reason because in both cases there is an absence of observable evidence or proof which, barring revelation by God, will not change with the passage of time.
Faith is actually any belief which is beyond the discovery of reason; beliefs beyond the discovery of reason cannot be in conflict with reason. Since God is undiscoverable by scientific observation (reason), then belief in God becomes faith. By the same token the origin of an eternal un-created universe is also undiscoverable by scientific observation (reason) since no person was or could be present to observe the beginning of a universe whose origin stretches back into the eternal (infinite) past and thus, like God, has no beginning. Atheism, like religion, is based on faith - a truth which for now lies undiscovered by most people – both religious and atheist.
Faith in a good and rational God can be made tangible and rational by accepting the individual’s infinite and therefore equal value in the eyes of such an equalizing Creator; value which thereby renders to individuals corresponding equal unalienable rights to life, liberty and the fruit of creative labor in pursuit of happiness – a view held by our Founding Fathers and expressed in the Declaration of Independence, and similarly before them by John Locke.
“The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our’s.” John Locke
As with John Locke, Albert Einstein understood that there is no conflict between faith and reason.
"The doctrine of a personal G-d interfering with natural events could never be refuted... by science, for it can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot." Albert Einstein
Religious faith in God will end when scientific knowledge finally sets foot into the domain of God; at that point men with religious faith will finally possess direct and observable knowledge of God through revelation. Atheistic faith in an eternal un-created universe cannot have such an end point, because scientific knowledge, barring revelation by God, will never be able to set foot into the domain of the eternal past, that is to say we will never have scientific knowledge of the origin of an eternal un-created universe since no person was or could be present to observe the beginning of a universe with no beginning. Reason is capable of comprehending the universe but not the origin of the universe - the latter requires faith.