I am pretty sure Richard Feynman once said something like, “In science, we have to have the courage to say, ‘We don’t know,'” and in context he was criticizing the religious mindset. (If someone knows the exact quote, let me know and I’ll update the post.)
Believe me, having gone through an extensive period of “devout atheism” (my term at the time) where I thought Feynman was the coolest guy, I totally understand why he would say that. And I have cringed at some Christians who, say, try to use the Laws of Thermodynamics as a “refutation” of Darwinism when it’s obvious they don’t really know what they’re talking about.
Yet on the other hand, I can also see how the believers in modern scientism (not to be confused with actual science) are similarly overconfident in metaphysical positions, without even realizing just how dubious they are. For example, the people who say they follow only the dictates of logic and reason (not superstitious books) will say that in science we must be empirical; we can’t invoke the hypothesis of a “creator God” because that’s not testable. Yet when you point out that the constants of the physical universe are apparently “fine tuned” to support intelligent life, they explain these observations by theorizing there are an infinite number of possible universes, and so we–as intelligent life forms–shouldn’t be surprised to find that we reside in one of those universes where the charge on an electron is juuuust right. They seem not to realize that hypothesizing the existence of an infinite number of universes that are, by definition (at least in some frameworks), undetectable with our equipment is somewhat awkward in light of their statements about a deity.
Let me come at this another way. Atheists will point to something really awful, like the Holocaust, and demand, “Why would a good God let this happen?” I have learned from personal experience that it is by no means a mark of my humility and moral courage to say, “I don’t know.” Instead, I am mocked for admitting I can’t explain everything within my framework. “Oh ha ha, how convenient, ‘God works in mysterious ways.’ Admit it, there is no explanation.”
So to sum up: When an atheist empiricist says, “I can’t explain everything in my framework; my knowledge is incomplete; at some point I have to say, ‘I don’t know,'” this is the mark of true wisdom. When a Christian says, “I can’t explain everything in my framework; my knowledge is incomplete; at some point I have to say, ‘I don’t know,'” then it is the mark of an intellectual swindle.
Finally: This is what faith actually means. Contrary to confident assertions otherwise, faith does NOT mean, “Turning off your reason” or “Believing the irrational.” No, an example of faith would be, “I personally can’t give you a convincing explanation of why the Holocaust happened. However, the Bible DOES give us specific explanations of why God let other injustices occur, such as Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery and of course the torture and murder of the greatest Man to ever live. Knowing the character of God, I have faith that His plan is good, and that one day it will make sense to me, even though right now I can’t explain much of what He allows.”
If you scoff at this, be careful in how you frame your objection. Make sure you wouldn’t equally knock down someone who says, “I can’t currently reconcile the physical laws of gravity and quantum mechanics, but given my understanding of nature, I believe that there *is* an underlying order to it all, which will be beautiful once people learn more about it.”