Tag Archives: Religion

Middle Ground

One of America’s most famous atheists, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, was on The Daily Show this week. The extended interview can be seen in 3 parts (click on them separately at the right). Dawkins gets his share of press coverage because of his very negative, very public views on religion. He’s not just a non-believer, he’s an evangelist. The two cornerstones of his perspective are that we shouldn’t believe in anything we don’t have evidence for, and that religion, particularly fundamentalism, has done a lot of harm. Let’s explore these.

Dawkins’ first point, that we shouldn’t believe in anything for which we don’t have evidence, is compellingly logical. Because science has done much to explain phenomenon that our primitive ancestors had little choice but to attribute to fickle gods, many have come to believe that it is only a matter of time before science explains the rest. Yet even the most widely accepted scientific theories have gaps. For example, the fossil record, which serves as evidence for evolution, is far from complete, and some specimens consist of only a few bones. As Dawkins admitted the other night, even the scientific method sometimes fails us. Like Dr. Dawkins, I believe in evolution, although that belief requires a leap of faith not unlike a belief in God. Similar leaps of faith are required to believe in plate tectonics, quantum physics, and other scientific theories, in spite of their considerable evidence. Many believe that evidence for God exists as well; yes, unverifiably in human acts and hearts, but also in the stunning complexity and fine-tuning of the universe. Many of Dawkins’ esteemed peers, across a wide spectrum of disciplines, publicly believe that they see the hand of a divine Creator in their respective fields.

Dawkins’ other point, that religion has done much harm, is irrefutable. However, despite numerous attempts by Stewart, Dawkins refused to acknowledge that religion has done any good. Ironically, Dawkins seems as dogmatic about religion as the fundamentalists he takes issue with. Dawkins equates religion with fundamentalism, not seeming to allow for a middle ground, although not all people of faith are fundamentalists. Many people, including myself, consider themselves seekers–open to possibilities on both the theological and scientific fronts. Many of us find no incompatibility with science and religion…God could easily have used evolution to create humans. I had always thought of scientists as open-minded, willing to explore all possibilities until we know for sure. Because with faith as with much of science, we can never know for sure. All of us must choose where we are willing to make our own leaps of faith.

“Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.”  –Voltaire


Dilemma

Rush Limbaugh said recently on his radio program that you can’t believe in both global warming and God. That leaves me with a real dilemma, because up until now, I’ve believed in both. I’m left wondering whether to have more faith in Rush as a climatologist or as a spiritual leader. I may choose neither.

The first person in my life to suggest that science and religion don’t have to be opposed was my 10th grade biology teacher. In a discussion that would probably get him fired today, he responded to a student’s question about evolution vs. creation that he didn’t see why God couldn’t have created the world using evolution. It was a revolutionary thought. For more than a century, the idea that science would eventually explain everything, displacing the need for God, has been pervasive. But a funny thing has been happening: as our understanding of many fields of science has deepened, a number of leading scientists have increasingly declared that they believe they see the hand of God in their disciplines. Dr. Francis Collins, the renowned geneticist who led the project to map the human genome and a devout Christian, called DNA “The Language of God” in the title of his book. Even the famous atheist Einstein rejected The Big Bang Theory for years because of the theological implications of a moment of creation. From biology to chemistry to astronomy, science and faith are slowly being reconciled, one of civilization’s best kept secrets.

It’s time to get the word out that we can believe in both. We don’t have to choose between rational thinking and being spiritual. I can believe in a God who used The Big Bang and evolution to accomplish the stories in the Bible. What a relief…I’m not sure which part of my brain I’d have been able to successfully shut down.

“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” –Winston Churchill


Is Current Religion Serving Its Purpose?

“Is current religion serving its purpose?” is the 10th question in Matador’s list of “20 Questions For Every Spiritual Seeker”. This is a difficult question, as there are so many different religions. Churches have routinely done amazing, even miraculous things in God’s name, while too often there have been others who misused the trust and passion of their followers to do things most of the rest of us are quite sure God does not condone. These examples always sadden me, regardless of the situation or the religion, as they add to the mistrust and cynicism of religion. But religions, just like governments or communities or any other human-created and human-led institution, are only a reflection of our own simultaneous capacity for both awesome love and abject evil.

So given its capacity for both good and bad, is religion serving its purpose? Let’s first examine the purpose of religion. Webster’s definition of religion is “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith”. If religion’s purpose is to provide us with a belief system, then it is not possible to pass judgment on how it’s accomplishing that purpose without examining every affected heart. I think the real question is for each of us to answer:  Are we getting what we should out of whatever relationship we have with our religion? Our religious institutions are there to meet a universal, human need for meaning. But while churches are there to help us meet that need, they cannot do for us what we cannot or will not do for ourselves. If we are to find that meaning, we must first have some level of openness to finding it. I find this to be perhaps the most ironic paradox of all of life:  for us to find the faith to believe, we must first have the faith to believe. This does not mean that there is no hope for us in finding faith, it only means that we may have little hope of finding it until we are first ready to find it. I am very lucky that others ahead of me had that openness and were ready to help lead my way.

“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of that faith is to see what you believe.”  –Saint Augustine


Science and Religion

What is the relationship between science and religion?

This is the second of “20 Questions for Spiritual Seekers” on the Matador website. On the surface, there seems to be a superficial answer:  both are a search—sometimes asking the same questions—to explain life and the world around us. Of course they’re not exactly the same. In fact, for much of modern history the two have been widely perceived to be incompatible. With scientific discoveries such as Darwin’s theory of evolution; plate tectonics indicating a much older Earth than previously thought; and Freudian psychology which promised to explain our very thoughts, science seemed to aspire to provide us with eventual explanations for everything. In spite of these amazing discoveries, the Twentieth Century didn’t usher in an age of enlightenment, but instead new wars and genocide on an unprecedented scale. Science didn’t have all the answers.

Happily, however, leading scientific voices are increasingly saying that not only may science and religion be compatible, but that advances in scientific understanding may actually provide some support for faith. From astronomy to genetics, the order and intricate detail being discovered indicates to some of their discoverers that there must be a Master Designer behind that design. These scientists are “learning” what some of history’s leading scientists like Galileo had believed:  that their work supported, not disproved, the existence of God. This turn of events is fantastic for someone like me who appreciates logic but also wants to believe. I now have “permission” to believe in both, and so I do.

“Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but both look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect.”  –Freeman Dyson, physicist


Politics and Religion

Jon Huntsman, the Republican candidate for president from Utah, recently tweeted that he believed in evolution and global warming, leading some bloggers to call for candidates to be asked “Do you believe in science?”. With two Mormons and several evangelicals in the 2012 race (and Obama unable to fully shake the false claim that he is Muslim), much press has been given to whether the religion of our presidential candidates should matter. On one hand, I don’t believe it should. This is America after all, and we are entitled to our own personal beliefs. Personally I hope that candidates do hold to a strong faith, even if different from my own. On the other hand, what concerns me is when a candidate believes their different faith is the only right view and should be imposed on me. The more important question isn’t whether a candidate is religious, but whether they are open-minded. Which isn’t far from the bloggers original question of whether a candidate believes in science, since science and religion do not have to be mutually exclusive. A request to our media: please focus your questions and coverage on whether candidates believe they already have the truth, or whether they are willing to listen and be open to others’ views. That would be valuable media coverage to me.

“People are very open-minded about new things — as long as they’re exactly like the old ones.”  –Charles F. Kettering


Faith and Evidence

Curtis Hrischuk puts a different spin on a familiar topic in his article Science, Scientism and Christianity all have faith. The clash between science and religion has been underway for centuries, with science claiming truth over religion from its reliance on evidence over faith. But as Dr. Hrischuk points out, science too requires a fair amount of faith, and religion has its own evidence, including something I’d never thought about: internal evidence. As I think about it, a scientific concept like quarks requires more personal faith from me than the convictions of my own heart. I have never seen a quark, and only “know” they exist because of my faith in the word of the scientists whose experiments have found them. I believe in God, and I believe in science too.

“In comparing religious belief to science, I try to remember that science is belief also.”  –Robert Brault, www.robertbrault.com

“Men are probably nearer the central truth in their superstitions than in their science.”  –Henry David Thoreau