A Review of Faith & Doubt: Science and Religion in the Search for Truth
As a microbiology professor who also identifies as a Christian, Dave Wollert is personally aware of the struggles critically-thinking, science-minded individuals have when it comes to engaging with both science and religion. Can a scientist be a legitimate scientist and also believe in God? Can truth be found in religion as well as in science? Dave believes the answer to both questions is yes. And he’s written and directed a film to invite science-minded people to consider the possibility of coming to a ‘yes’ as well.
Faith & Doubt: Science and Religion in the Search for Truth, available on Vimeo, affirms that science can indeed tell us a lot about reality. The scientific method, which observes, quantifies, and codifies relationships of cause and effect, works very well in giving us formalized understandings of the natural world. It has brought about revolutions in agriculture, engineering, medicine, and a plethora of other practical endeavors that affect our lives.
But Faith & Doubt goes on to point out that science as a means of discovering the truth about all of reality is incomplete. This is because the empirical sciences are by definition limited to the study of physical, material reality. Only that which can be reduced to matter and energy can be observed and quantified.
Wollert rightly notes that science operates through “an empirical lens,” and he suggests a “layered” approach in the search for truth. Science is but one layer, and religion or theology can be another valid layer.
I like a number of things about what Dave Wollert has done: He’s stepped out in a well-meaning attempt to bridge the perceived divide between science and faith. My guess is, it takes some courage for a biology professor, to “come out” as a theist and adherent to any form religion. Contrary to the materialistic paradigm, Faith & Doubt acknowledges that there are metaphysical realities and points out that science is by definition incapable of telling us anything about them. And relatedly, he acknowledges that certain facets of human experience, such as the desire for meaning and purpose, are realities that do not fit into a materialist paradigm but that should be taken into consideration in one’s quest for truth. I also like very much that he mentions the importance of information as a newly discovered element in our understanding of nature, and notes that “leaps of faith need not be blind.”
But as thoughtful, intelligent, and well-meaning as I take him to be, I didn’t find Faith & Doubt to be a helpful resource. Truth be told, I found it impossible to reconcile with some foundational truth claims of the biblical worldview. Here are the aspects I found troublesome and why:
The supremacy of the Darwinian metanarrative: Wollert identifies himself as an evolutionist, but not a dyed-in-the-wool Darwinist. I don’t see a problem with invoking evolution as an explanation for how living organisms change over time, but Faith & Doubt goes quite a ways beyond that, invoking Darwinian evolution as the presupposed explanatory lens for the origin of life itself, of information, of human consciousness, and then of the later developments of human culture, including religion and theology.
I’m sure Wollert knows a lot of things about microbiology that I don’t, but to my knowledge there is no evidence that unguided processes produce information or life from non-life. That Wollert presents life and information as products of Darwinian evolution (rather than Darwinian evolution as a product of life and information), suggests that, for him, materialism takes precedence over theism as the unifying explanatory synthesis. In other words, the physical narrative presented by (materialistic) science is the primary explainer, and the metaphysical narrative presented by religion merely enhances and complements it. This philosophical outlook may coincide just fine with a number of other world religions. But it presents a direct contradiction to historic Judeo-Christian theology.
Pantheism: The Gospel of Thomas is quoted: “The Kingdom is inside you and it is outside you. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone and there you will find me.” And in a section about the grand unfolding drama of creation, the narrator comments, “It seems that in us, the universe has evolved to the point of becoming aware of itself.” These expressions are more pantheistic (or panentheistic) than theistic.
Syncretism: Wollert is asking materialistic-leaning thinkers to consider the merits of religion. So I see no problem with him avoiding overtly Christian terminology. But he makes no distinctions between a wide variety of religions. At one point the viewer sees a chart with symbols from six different “religions,” while the narrator tells us that, “The classic texts of our great traditions offer some encouragement. For they tell us over and over, whether in myth or direct philosophical and theological language, that [God] will show itself to us … as ground [of all being]. All of the major religious traditions have insisted that [God] is trustworthy … is ultimate support, absolute security, eternal care.” To lump religions together this way is at best, poor thinking. At worst, it gives ground to an “All roads lead to God” soteriology (doctrine of salvation) that flatly controverts biblical Christianity.
Universalism: The final section is an invitation to “try out” belief in God, so to speak. Perhaps you could say it’s this film’s altar call. “What would happen,” the narrator asks, “if we allowed ourselves to plunge into [God]? … Religion is the passionate search for [God] and for an ultimately solid ground to support our existence. … Suppose that the ultimate environment of our lives, as distinct from our immediate, social, and natural surroundings, is unconditional love. In such an environment, … there would be no impossible criteria to fulfill in order to gain acceptance and self-worth. … We are redeemed fully to the core of our depth by its generous acceptance. … Our creator understands the transformative state of our emergence into being and accepts us with grace.” At this point, the film has clearly parted with New Testament Christianity.
If I were to give Dave Wollert the benefit of the doubt (which I am willing to do), I’d say he’s trying to tell atheists that God exists, that he is good, that he loves them unconditionally, and that he will accept them. If I were to try and reconcile these conclusions with New Testament Christianity (which I cannot do), I would have to say that the first three statements are certainly true, but the last one is only true in light of the cross of Jesus Christ. To say otherwise is to contradict Christ himself.
And so to suggest that God accepts us unconditionally apart from Christ or the cross is problematic in the extreme. According to the New Testament and according to Christ himself, it’s a matter of life and death, which is why I cannot recommend Faith & Doubt without this qualification.
Still, bridging science and faith is a worthwhile endeavor. Wollert’s target audience is science-minded non-theists. That’s an excellent audience to target, as there’s never been a better time in modern history for summoning the empirical sciences to argue for the theistic worldview. I would suggest speaking the language scientists know best, which is evidence. Here are some excellent, evidence-based arguments for belief in God:
- God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, by J. Warner Wallace. Click here for a summation of the book and how to make a case for theism to non-theists.
- Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, by Stephen C. Meyer
- Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, also by Stephen C. Meyer
- Does God Exist?: Building the Scientific Case (TruU) – This is not a book or film, but a 10-video lecture series designed for high school graduates headed to college. Click here to see a trailer.
- Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design, by Perry Marshall – This is a very enjoyable and informative read, but I don’t think Marshall has broken any deadlock. He just makes a design argument (and a very persuasive one, by the way) without using the phrase “intelligent design.”