Philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) told the story of a king who refused to eat until he knew with certainty that his food had not been poisoned. The more he thought about how little he knew with certainty about his chef and his attendants, the more concerned he became. He finally starved to death. This story makes the point that everyone is operating on faith.
Atheists ridicule Christians for operating on faith not realizing that they depend on faith, and so does science. A classic example was a Greek scholar named Eratosthenes of Cyrene born in 276 BC. Eratosthenes noticed that on a specific day of the year, the Sun was positioned so that it illuminated the bottom of a well where he lived. From that fact, he had faith that the Earth was spherical.
On the day that the Sun shone to the bottom of the well in Syene (modern Aswan, Egypt), Eratosthenes placed a vertical rod in the ground at Alexandria and measured the angle of its shadow. Using the difference in angle of the Sun’s rays and the distance between the two locations, he calculated the circumference and diameter of the Earth with high accuracy. He even established the concept of latitude and longitude from his measurements. Scholars of Eratosthenes’ day ridiculed his idea because everyday experience suggested the Earth was flat and endless. They indicated that he was mistaken or his measurements were wrong. Their criticism did not sway the strong faith of Eratosthenes in what he believed.
A modern-day Eratosthenes would be Albert Einstein. His radical ideas were still not accepted by many in the scientific community some 40 years after he originally proposed them. The critics were silenced only when Einstein’s ideas could finally be tested and proven correct.
For many scientific discoveries in the past, that pattern has been repeated. A scientist operating on faith expressed a hypothesis based on his or her observations. The hypothesis could not be tested when the concept was proposed, but from that faith, something important was eventually discovered.
The definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 fits this scientific concept of how discoveries are made: “Faith forms the solid ground of things hoped for, perceiving as real what is not revealed to the senses.” (Amplified Bible).
–John N. Clayton © 2019