Tag Archives: Science and God

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


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


Why Is The Universe So Big?

Please Convince Me’s recent blog raises this interesting question:  why is the universe so big?  The question actually asked was why would God choose to make it so vast:  if God created the universe just for us, we really only need our small little corner.  Apparently atheists use this as one of their arguments against a belief in God.  Conversely, some believers use the same vastness of the universe in their argument for God.  They argue that a huge creation was no more effort for an omnipotent God than a small one, and that a large universe creates more context for us to use in searching for Him.  To me, the most interesting question in this space has always been “are we alone?”.  I happen to believe that God exists and we are special to Him.  My question is whether he also created others elsewhere that are also special to Him? Beyond basic curiosity as to what they look like, I would be fascinated to understand what they believe.  How did their faith evolve, and how has God pointed them to Him?  Scientists are split on the scientific odds of other life in the universe.  On the one hand, the sheer number of stars—and likely planets—makes that seem highly possible.  On the other hand, the conditions which foster life like ours on Earth appear to be extremely rare.  Somehow, everyone I’ve known seems to have a firm conviction one way or another as to whether other life is out there.  What do you think:  are we alone out there?

“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”  –Orson Welles


Order in the universe

As scientists continue to find more order in the universe, the one question they cannot answer is ‘why’. Is it simply the way our universe is structured, or is there a creator behind the order? Stephen Hawking just declared that God did not create the universe. But other prominent scientists like Dr. Francis Collins, leader of the project which decoded the human genome, are not so sure. A recent blog by Professor Matt J. Rossano warns against allowing ideology to interfere with the exploration, if “…we stop asking questions out of fear that God might be the answer or we stop out of fear that God might not be the answer. Just keep asking questions and follow honestly where the argument leads.”

Food for thought.

“Order is never observed; it is disorder that attracts attention because it is awkward and intrusive.”  –Eliphas Levi