Tuesday, May 15, 2007

On faith, doubt and evidence

Suppose an anthropologist found some DNA evidence in a garment that had indisputably belonged to Christ. Suppose further that analysis of the sample showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christ was the offspring of only one parent, a clone of his mother, if you will. What would change in your world as a result of hearing this? How would an evangelical atheist like Richard Dawkins live the rest of his life?

Would atheists seek to discredit the evidence? Would they propose that cloning was a procedure that had accidentally been discovered 2000 years ago, and was subsequently lost? Would they accept that Jesus Christ was what he and his followers said he was, the son of a virgin and, simultaneously, the Son of God? I wonder.

Would Christians jubilantly proclaim that they had been vindicated, and that their faith was now rewarded with the undeniable assurance that their gospel is the true Word of God? Would they finally have the confidence to proclaim the good news with the fervor of the early church? Would there be a new spring in their steps, new energy in their worship? I wonder.

Would young people, strangers, agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus suddenly flock to churches? Would that result in such harmony worldwide that we would very soon forget that animosity had characterized the world before? Would peace break out? I wonder.

You’ll no doubt recall the story of the rich man and the leper, Lazarus, told by Jesus to the Pharisees. Both die and the leper ascends to Abraham’s bosom, but the rich man goes to hell. The rich man begs Abraham to let Lazarus rise from the dead and go to his relatives to warn them of the horror they’re facing if they don’t repent. “If someone from the dead visits them, they will repent,” says the rich man in his torment. But Father Abraham is skeptical: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets they will pay no heed even if someone should rise from the dead.” The whole story can be found in Luke 16:19-31.

Jesus said that his miracles—actually surprisingly few given his power to turn water into wine, heal leprosy, even raise the other Lazarus from the dead—were done so that his faint-hearted followers would have their faith bolstered. He said to his disciples before raising Lazarus: “Lazarus is dead. I am glad not to have been there; it will be for your good and for the good of your faith.” Yet, having witnessed this miracle, the same disciples remained doubters, especially after it appeared that Jesus had been defeated through his own death and burial.

People will deny, deny (or, conversely, maintain, maintain) in the face of apparently irrefutable evidence, if denial or maintenance appear to be in their interest. There are plenty of indicators in the earth’s crust, for instance, that our planet was millions of years in the making (Carlsbad Caverns, Grand Canyon, Great Plains, Appalachian Mountains, etc.). Yet Christians of some fundamentalist stripes continue to declare that the Genesis account of creation is a history and that the Great Deluge had characteristics that reliably explain everything from the fossil records to the formation of the continents as we find them.

On the other side, it would probably take more than a rising from the dead to convince people like Richard Dawkins that the spirit of God is the Alpha and Omega of the universe. It appears faith is a choice, supported by evidence possibly, but not resting on it.

I wonder.

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