Why Faith Goes Beyond Mere Reason

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  – Matt. 6:34 ESV

I spent some of last night’s wee hours struggling with such cares concerning what are the best subjects (if any) to learn.  Since my chief interests are in the sciences, but include many other areas as well, I thought, concerning the ideas of practicality and usefulness of such knowledge, could be totally beyond use.

But as I have observed many times in the past, much of my knowledge will pay good dividends.  For example, why does bird excrement contain white and dark portions?  (Urinary products, primarily uric acid, are excreted in a combination with the actual feces.) Or, speaking of white and dark, the “white” breasts and the other, “dark” poultry portions (i.e., drum, thigh, and wing) represent differing rates of metabolism in the muscles (which, basically, is the meat before slaughter).

Physics is the reason why a Volvo commercial is false if it was to stop suddenly in the face of an obstacle.  Good for the rescued kid crossing the streets, bad for the driver with her inertia paced on her by a sudden stop.  And another ill-advised product I actually own:  an alarm clock that projects on the ceiling in the dark.  But here’s the catch:  in dark enough conditions, the center of the retina dominated by cones, will not respond in darkness.  The certain portions of the alarm clock numbers cannot be seen directly, so unless you skim around, you may get the wrong picture.  Likewise, you can’t see a dim star looking directly at it,  but you can when you look next to it.

I could go on and on about these things, but knowledge of any kind is a good investment no matter what it is used for.  After all, may come in handy in various situations.  For example, two botanical words:  “pinnate” and “palmate” refer to leaves concerning the veins of the leaf, compounding (when leaflets, while isolated, are really one subdivided leaf), and even the pattern of lobes on certain leaf margins.  (Thank you, Britannica.  But sorry, I can’t infringe your copyright, so no picture here!) Together with many other traits that are useful for identification, it may led a nice hobby to observe properties of plants.

And reason is a gift from God, despite many secular claims otherwise.  But all these unbelievers:  atheists, agnostics, deists, secular humanists, freethinkers, whatever, consider reason superior to religious doctrine (which is obvious by their disbelief of God).  Reason is good, but if it gets to an excess, it could take it into a powerhouse of planning and worrying about what could happen, rather than trusting a loving God and His providence.

And that was my very antidote, around 2:30 this morning, I put such matters in the hands of God, and immediately saw a better insight of the information.  Now I am much happier, and was asleep just after about 3 AM (and slept till 8 or even 8:30)

So, if you get anxious or frustrated from excessive reasoning, especially when it deals with personal problems (as opposed to appropriate uses of reason, such as asking questions and observing what happens as say, in scientific research or financial planning), turn it to prayer!

Bottom line:  Focus on learning for now, then you’ll have a arsenal of knowledge to use for different needs.  As always, one day at a time!

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Testimony: Three Dilemmas, All Handled by Faith

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  (John 10:10, ESV)

We’re going to discuss three issues I faced this morning and that a man of faith like me can handle, of course, with patience.  Unbelievers are stuck with their reasoning power, and while God imparted to all persons (Christians and otherwise), Christians have the power of faith, which goes beyond reason to solve much more profound problems that mere reasoning cannot.

  1. Missing wallet
    All this time it was under the bed, within the past few days.
  2. Could not turn on my computer with Apple password, which I have forgotten since I seldom use it.
    I called Apple, after I asked my mother what their phone number.  Upon getting to obtaining the serial number, I talked to tech support, and worked my way through the procedure.  I now have a new password for turning on my computer.  Hooray!
  3. Lack of olive oil
    Of secondary importance to breakfast, but essential for many omelets and other cooking ideas.  While I was busted, a friend brought me to a local convenience store, and bought it for me.

You can see in this testimony, “God’s sovereignty, man’s responsibility,” a central doctrine of Reformed theology (“Calvinism”), the Protestant theological tradition I belong to.  While we trust God’s is sovereign over all events of history, man is still responsible for those very deeds, that is, those which are within his control.  So despite loads of criticism (and I’m not trying to convert you to such belief), Reformed Christian doctrine, in my humble opinion,  is one of the most God-glorifying, man-humbling, and indeed beautiful expressions of Christian faith.

But in any faith tradition, always be thankful for what God does for his “sheep” (i.e., Christian believers). and to give more abundant life on earth, as well as eternity with him.

Putting God In Charge of All Intellectual Pursuits

Our individual lives are a tiny fragment of all time.  Yet God gave us a mind to learn, reason, analyze, and create.  We must therefore come to terms with certain areas of our transient lifetime, and let our intellect follow suit.

1.  Unlike God, knowledge always changes.

Consider great minds like Newton, Descartes, Franklin, Jefferson, Pasteur, Einstein, and sundry others.  Some were Christians, some were not, the important thing to remember is that we have moved far beyond the potential of their time.  Yet they never got to see this later activity and development.  Not to get too morbid, but all people should consider what they have achieved and leave the achievement of future generations to God.  In the case of Christians, we could care less what happens on earth once we enter and eternally enjoy the overwhelming and magnificent heavenly fellowship with God and his people.  That’s at least how I see it.

For practical consideration on this earth today, we must accept the fact that we will never know everything.  As a budding scientist (and most likely a biologist of some sort), I understand that people in my bunch may make discoveries (or at least participate in such activity), but those discoveries always change.  A college textbook used when one is say, age 20, will be a dinosaur (no pun intended) when one is 50.  Yet people aren’t chasing after newer editions.  Instead, they keep up to date with scholarly periodicals focused on their field.  While some people love holding onto their textbooks, others would rather limit it to those books that are relevant as a reference, especially in the courses most pertinent to your current job.  The rest might as well be rubbish.

2.  Only God is omniscient and only He knows the “exact truth”

Earthly information is not only subject to change, it is also really only a shadow of the exact truth.  Whether antiquated or cutting-edge, all human knowledge is fallible.  Even the Bible, God’s Word, is subject to interpretation.  (This causes splits in churches, but that’s for another post.)  In any case, what is quite commonsense today was highly arcane at one time.  Newton was quite intrigued by the falling apple, which we now know as the law of gravity, which is now a mere staple (unless you wanted to study it in detail).  Same thing with living cells (the name came from the resemblance to a prison “cell”).  And let’s not forget Franklin’s kite, which could have put his life in jeopardy.  Copernicus and Galileo were the first heliocentric proponents, yet they got some pretty nasty treatment from the Inquisition, etc.

Whatever it is, science is an interpretation.  Hypotheses and theories change over time, and they are the backbone of science.  Another type of scientific statement, the law, is a more stable, observational principle, e.g., Newton’s three laws.  Even they could occasionally be modified.

Conclusion

All human endeavors (including science and many others) are imperfect.  Thanks to Jesus, we now enjoy the freedom of exploring our world, sometimes to a scientific extent.  And that includes people like me.  As Thomas Aquinas put it, if faith or reason need to be chosen, pick faith.  There is nothing wrong with reason, but it is always secondary to faith.  God created our minds, not vice versa.

Because knowledge is a creation of the Creator, it should never be worshiped.  It may very well be fruitful to detach from books that it would be time to move on from, as you have learned many of the main principles, though perhaps not all the details, and certainly not verbatim (hardly anyone can do that!)  I think God is in action when “pruning” the knowledge that is not needed.

Seeing God’s Wonders in Scientific Details

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction
— Prov 1:7, ESV

Right now I am reading an article (obtained from the online Britannica subscription service accessed through Community College of Philadelphia, where I currently attend) about the invertebrate phylum known as annelids, or segmented worms.  I have learned tons of neat facts about these critters, but for the sake of space (and relevance to the real point of this post), I will only mention a few very striking ones.

-Leeches, a class of annelids, known for their “medicinal” species used in centuries past by sucking blood, actually can be a source of a “real” (i.e., chemical) medicine!  Known as hirudin, it is an anticoagulant (blood thinner) that might be a better natural alternative to popular prescription blood thinners like Xarelto and Pradaxa (claimed to cause serious risk, including that of death).  Maybe this natural remedy could be better, but since I’m not a medical doctor, who am I to compare?  But hey, it sure is practical and thought-provoking!

-Some “sedentary” members of a class of annelids known as polychaetes actually make tubes into the ocean floor.  Their skin secretes a substance, which may include components such as mucus and calcium carbonate (known in various common forms such as limestone, marble, and chalk), which binds to marine sediment.  Wow, this is a marriage of the inanimate with the animate!  (I now pronounce it tube and worm.)

-Wait!  You may think a “defecation dilemma” may result from this since the anus is trapped in the tube.  Guess what, no problem, a side groove is the way for the feces to be expelled into the waters.

-Finally, earthworms have minute, perhaps microscopic, eyes all over their body.  Yikes!

So much for the annelids.  Now, reflecting on the Scriptural heading, you really don’t know anything unless you know God.  If you fear God (i.e., worship and have awe for him, out of love, not terror), you will gradually increase in your intimacy with Him.  After all, God created nature, and science is simply its interpretation.  Science is to nature as theology is to Scripture.

Many readers think many substantial detail in scientific discussions can be overwhelming, trivial, technical, unnecessary, whatever.  Or as the old cliché goes, they could be “gory.”  (Quite a strong word, isn’t it?)  While I am by no means pushing memorization of the entire material (very few people have truly photographic memories, and I doubt, IMHO, I would even qualify).  But they shape a piece of writing (fact or fiction), and give substance to it.  And when detailed to a substantial (though often not excessive) degree, instead of dismissing the ins-and-outs, an interested reader should appreciate God’s creative power therein, to the best of his ability.  One’s awe and recognition for God will increase, regardless of the information’s practicality, or lack thereof.

Yes, atheist Stephen Hawking can go on and on about his knowledge and insights on astrophysics, but he (most likely) may just be hoarding knowledge to impress.  Or some other motive.  But as a fellow human, it’s not my prerogative to judge him.  Only God knows his motives.  Ditto for secular scientists dead and alive, like Darwin, Haeckel, Svante Arrhenius, Linus Pauling, Ernst Mayr, Richard Dawkins, the list goes on and on.

Incidentally, as for the second part of my verse, atheists, according to the Bible, are cited as “fools” (Ps 14:1).  Fools would rather act as “know-it-alls.”  Whether instructed directly by another person, or indirectly from written material (which can often be posthumous!), a believer will appreciate it more than an unbeliever.

So, no matter what your brain capacity or “tolerance” for details in a written work, make the most out of those that you can.  Always jump “in and out” of whatever you read!