As any casual reader of this site can surmise, it doesn’t take much to get me going on a long-winded rant about any number of issues. But something rather significant has been looming large in the back of my mind for quite some time, and I haven’t addressed it: namely, since when does “science” make religion irrelevant?
From my earliest years I have adored the study of the natural word. Almost every field of inquiry into the observable universe holds my rapt attention. Whether it’s where the lines of the theoretical blur almost into the fantastical — or down to the established fundamental laws of nature — I am a nerd for science! I almost named one of my children after Sir Isaac Newton, for cryin’ out loud. I have a total “man-crush” on celebrity astrophysicist Neal DeGrasse Tyson. Carl Sagan is my homeboy! But what I don’t understand is how the study of the physical cancels out a contemplation of the metaphysical.
Where did it all go wrong? Even a cursory, elementary school survey of scientific history reveals the part religious adherents have played in the development of the scientific method. Whether it’s Muslim scholar Ibn al-Haytham, devout Roman Catholic astronomer Galileo Galilei, or Protestant physicist Johannes Kepler, the study of the natural world need not detract from one’s beliefs. Talk to any of the brilliant men and women who work at the AgriLife research center in Overton — scientists whose work is published and studied throughout the world — most, if not all, are regular church-going folk.
One can look to the Old Testament for an ancient example of “scientific rationalism” confronting a nonsensical idea. Scripture records, in the 7th century B.C., the prophet Daniel — an ancient Hebrew captive of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar — conducted a scientific experiment complete with a hypothesis, a control group, a treatment group, and a conclusion. At the end of the test, Daniel’s hypothesis was proven true and God was given the glory.
Just as it is within the confines of the natural that we are able to better examine and understand the material, it is from the abstract we are able to comprehend that which is immaterial.
Nature knows nothing of morality. Can you explain accountability to plants or animals? Just try reasoning with the weather sometime, especially in East Texas — the rain falls on the just and the unjust, however rare it might be in Rusk County during the summertime.
Science investigates, but belief interprets. It is as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.” No, science and religion are NOT rivals, they should be teammates — working together within a holistic paradigm to understand our universe and how we are to live within.
“What about facts!” you might protest. “Science is only concerned with the facts!” But what is any fact but an idea that has found to be consistent? All facts are interpreted facts. Interpretation is the role of philosophy and, yes, for religion too. For, while science may be able to provide the “what” and “how,” it is faith from which the “why” is answered — whether that “faith” comes from a cross or a microscope.
I cannot understand how one must vacillate from one extreme to the other in order to be thought “faithful” to either science or religion. Why is it either/or? Why not both/and? Surely there’s room for each at the other’s table. Whether we plumb the depths of human understanding in the abstract or the particular, we still come away with wonder. At least, we should.
When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages — when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life — we feel wonder. We realize how infinitesimal and yet remarkable we are as creatures to even be able to fathom a thin glimmering of the infinite ocean flowing out before us. This soaring feeling is wholly immaterial and yet something common to all times, places, and people — a unique spirituality that surrounds, penetrates, and binds us together.
In the presence of beautiful works of art, remarkable human achievements, or selfless acts of courage, we all know we are not simply random and chaotic collections of matter.
But that there is something — however mysterious we may think it is — which unifies us all.