Fact vs. Faith?

With an average viewership of over 18,000,000 people, CBS’s hit show The Big Bang Theory is one of the most popular sitcoms on television. Now in its twelfth, and final season, The Big Bang Theory will be the longest-running multi-camera sitcom in television history with 279 episodes. The show also boasts some of the highest-paid actors on TV, with some characters making around one million dollars per episode.¹

Christianity and The Big Bang Theory
The plot revolves around two highly intelligent physicists and self-proclaimed nerds, Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper. Both Leonard and Sheldon, though academically brilliant, are at a complete loss when it comes to social interactions. The two roommates and their friends have mishaps and adventures as they collide with a social world that they can’t explain. Along the way, they encounter a few Christian characters, who are nearly always portrayed as lovable, backwoods idiots who don’t think for themselves, but instead take things on blind faith. Here are a few examples:

For Sheldon, evolution is fact. Creationists are fools who rely on fairy tales. This is the standard narrative of our culture. Evolution is taught as fact in schools and widely proclaimed as truth in our textbooks, museums, and national parks. The theory dominates academia, and challenging the theory is often met with scorn. We are often told that the scientific consensus is squarely in favor of evolution and that anyone who believes in creation, though well-intentioned, is ignorant, denying the facts, or just plain silly.

Further advancing these views is the spinoff show Young Sheldon, which recounts the childhood of Sheldon Cooper. Raised in a Baptist family, Sheldon is the odd man out; he doesn’t believe in God and accepts science as absolute truth. He is shown to be sharp, intelligent, and never afraid to confront “stupidity” (usually in the form of religion) wherever he finds it. Young Sheldon perpetuates the dichotomy between fact and faith.

 

Another prominent character on Young Sheldon is pastor Jeff—the classic straw man,² a toothy, smarmy sort of buffoon whose logic is all over the place in service to his faith. Throughout the series, pastor Jeff and young Sheldon have frequent run-ins, and pastor Jeff always comes out the fool. He is unable to answer Sheldon’s questions, refusing to offer explanations for difficult Bible passages and showing an overall lack of thoughtfulness. In the above scene, Sheldon lays out the problem: “Science is fact. Religion is faith. I prefer facts.” Of course, it sounds much better to prefer facts, so it’s really easy for people to identify with Sheldon. After all, who wants to be like pastor Jeff?

Presuppositions and Schaeffer’s Two-Story Theory
Both The Big Bang Theory and its offspring, Young Sheldon, demonstrate the simple idea that Francis Schaeffer identified years ago. According to Schaeffer, the concept of truth has been split in two. First there are facts (lower story)—things we can know with certainty. Second, there is faith (upper story)—a personal and subjective thing that we can’t really know to be true or false. Schaeffer called this theory the “two-story theory of truth.” It looks like this:

Faith/Values/Convictions


Science/Fact

According to Schaeffer, when people abandoned the idea of God, they also lost the concept of a unified view of truth.³ Faith was no longer informed by facts and evidence but completely separated from it. According to this model, people can believe whatever they want as far as religion goes. They just shouldn’t pretend like it’s actually true, because all we can really know is science.

The problem is that science cannot provide meaning to life, even if it can explain much of the universe. Without something to provide meaning, people often lose direction and slip into despair or hedonism. In order to solve this dilemma, people leap into the upper story to provide meaning. Faith and religion become things to soothe our troubled minds. They give us comfort. They’re a warm fuzzy feeling. Though not technically true, faith becomes at least something that helps us get through this hard life. Some people, however, consider even this a weakness and look with scorn on those who have any kind of faith.

Science, on the other hand, becomes the only way that we can actually know something to be true. If you can’t prove it scientifically, you will be laughed out of the room. However, for those who would argue that science is the only means of knowing truth, we must ask how they arrived at that conclusion. Did they use science to come to the conclusion that science is the only way to know? Of course not. This belief is a presupposition—something they believe prior to considering evidence.

Everyone has presuppositions. Christians presuppose God. Atheists presuppose no God. There may be good reasons to believe or not believe in God, but presuppositions are things that we take into account prior to considering the evidence. Our presuppositions are our starting point. Christians begin with the “God who is there” (Schaeffer’s way of saying that God actually exists) and work from that belief. Atheists start with themselves and try to build meaning into the universe.

It’s important that we examine our presuppositions carefully. No one has ever been able to absolutely prove or disprove God’s existence. But before we dismiss the idea of God, we need to ask if there are good reasons to believe in God’s existence. We also need to be aware that our presuppositions tend to color how we see the evidence. It’s often difficult to be objective, but it doesn’t matter whether we want God to exist or not, we still must answer the question, are there good reasons to believe that he does? We must say candidly that dismissing the idea of God or creation because it is “faith-based” is lazy. It is to pretend that atheists do not have presuppositions. Atheism and Christianity are both faith-based. The question is, which system does the evidence best support?

Christian Caricatures vs. Thoughtful Christianity
Unfortunately, Christians can be just as guilty of holding illogical beliefs as The Big Bang Theory portrays them doing. You will notice that the character in the second scene does not attempt to defend her own belief in creation. She merely accepts the idea of a dichotomy between fact and faith. She throws her belief into the realm of opinion. Instead of making good arguments and investigating the evidence, Christians sometimes just accept the dichotomy and say things like, “it’s all a matter of opinion,” or “have more faith in God” or “just believe.” If this is our response to difficult questions of faith, then we can’t really complain about the way Christians are portrayed on the show.

But this caricature of Christians is unjust, because it commits the fallacy of generalization. It takes the position of a minority of Christians and applies it to all Christians. However, there is no reason to think that all Christians think this way or that Christianity teaches blind faith. And even if some Christians accept things on blind faith, we shouldn’t pretend like they are the only ones who do. Plenty of people accept science or other things without really thinking through them, and there are many things that we believe that we can’t always give a step-by-step argument for. The important thing is not having everything figured out (because no one does), but being open to the evidence.

Despite popular portrayals of Christians as ignorant and unthinking, Christianity actually has a rich intellectual tradition—from Augustine and Aquinas to modern philosophers like William Lane Craig and Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. Furthermore, Christianity does not teach us to have blind faith in God. We can look to the Bible itself for the evidence of this.

For instance: While arguing for the Resurrection of Jesus, the apostle Paul remarks that if the resurrection did not occur, then our faith is worthless (1 Cor 15:14). He also lists a whole host of people who saw the risen Christ (1 Cor 15:3-8), many of whom would still have been alive at the writing of 1 Corinthians. This does two important things: First, it grounds Christianity in history. Christianity isn’t just a warm fuzzy feeling that God is out there and loves me; no, Christianity can be examined, discussed, and debated. Second, Paul essentially tells his audience, “if you don’t believe me, ask these other eyewitnesses.” Paul doesn’t ask anyone to believe the Resurrection blindly. He puts the weight of Christianity on the backs of eyewitnesses. That’s how confident Paul was in Christianity’s truth.

As Christians, we must be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads. And this is where our faith comes in: we can have faith that that God’s truth is not afraid of any question. We can have faith that God is stronger than our ability to make arguments for Christianity. We can have faith that God is good, even when the immediate evidence seems to suggest otherwise. The Scriptures are the record of how God has, over and over again, proven trustworthy. In the end, you will have faith in something, but what will it be? Will you look outside yourself to “the God who is there” or will you start with yourself, hoping that you can arrive on your own at all the right answers?

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