Thursday, September 22, 2011
Science and Faith
As you may have guessed by the many uses of science based examples and ideas in my prior posts, I do not subscribe to the camp which feels that science and faith are two opposite poles, and the gain of one is the loss of the other. I believe in a God who is lord of creation, and as such any gain in knowledge is a deeper understanding of Him. While I do not feel that I embrace the adage that Science teaches us What and Faith tells us Why, I do think that there is usefulness in the idea it expresses.
One area which I think leads to much misunderstanding and creation of unneeded conflict is the insistence by some of evaluating both fields with the same tools. While both fields seek to study a Truth which is constant and unchanging through an understanding which is flawed and subject to revision, they do so in very different ways. Faith works through the study of scripture, informed by our understanding of the culture and experiences of the faithful. While we are called upon to use of reason, we do not seek to push into new areas beyond the Word, we rather seek to ever expand our understanding of the spiritual truths embodied in the Word of the Lord, for all the truths needed for our spiritual well being are put forward therein. Conversely, science seeks to explain material truths about the universe we pass our mortal lives in, to the extent that they can be explained by rational mechanisms which are encompassed within that reality. Will that reality one day encompass all of creation? Who knows, but it is not critical to this essay. What is important is that science seeks to probe into new fields, and answer previously unasked questions as a matter of course. It consequently is subject to much more rapid revisal of ideas, and subject to iterative correction at a speed which is alien to the study of scripture and the slow revision of items of faith.
A common pejorative I hear from that camp which holds onto faith and feels that that faith is under threat from science is that science denies God and encourages people to live without faith. I won’t deny that those who find no solace in God are often drawn to science, but that does not mean science inherently denies God. Is it any wonder that those who feel there is no spiritual mystery to explore would gravitate to the mysteries which can be explored without having to confront God? But I find that to the faithful, science is no threat, all it does is illuminate more richly, in more nuanced detailed and breadth of scope, the vastness of creation so that we may more fully appreciate His work, and marvel at all He has done. No scientist I know of who is respected by his peers has even tried to put forward a Scientific Theory to prove the nonexistence of God, only philosophers have done that.
On the other side, I hear those atheists devoted to science scoff at a ‘God of the cracks,’ laughing that the faithful have to shrink their understanding of God to allow for all that science has explained, and predict a time when God will be explained away. I reject this camp as just as flawed as the fear of science. To understand what His creation is, to see the mechanisms of the universe unfolded before us does not mean that God is pushed out of them. God is imminent and transcendent. He is in everything, and yet still personal to us. One of my favorite examples is prayer. I have had atheist friends proclaim that a strong point to doubt the reality of God is the modern work in neuroscience which shows what seems to be a biological process which provides comfort via biochemical processes in response to prayer behavior; no God needed. In response, I simply assert that no God needed does not mean no God present. An explanation which provides a narrative for a world without God has always been possible, no more so now than in the past. To claim the logical need to exclude God is Occam’s Razor gone amuck, I suspect they were hunting for a way to justify their existing denial of God.
I provide this simple example on the subject of prayer. Let me reveal first that I happily accept evolution and do not fear it threatens my relationship with God, if you are unable to accept evolution this example will be perplexing. So, a loving God who knows that he will be setting in motion a world which will come to be crowded with his children, lost, confused, in need of his love and solace considers how to aid his children. He knows that he will call them to prayer, and hope for a personal relationship with them. To me, a God who faced with this reality creates a biological mechanism by which his children will be able to receive a feeling of his comfort and a sense of relief without his having to touch them and release the needed hormones with every prayer is a wiser, more clever God, a God I am proud to know. [Edit: As such, this is a particular case of a more general notion, just because something is an evolved trait does not preclude God from having foreseen it or making use of it] Why does the choice to work through processes which man may be able to one day explain, and which do not require the constant use of physics defying miracles make God less awesome to us? To me it makes him even more awesome.
I feel that clinging to a world view which pits science in conflict with faith can ultimately only harm the faith. Science deals with the world of the here and now, and uses methods which provide results which can be tested and confirmed. Faith deals with the world before and beyond this life, and provides few testable claims for the brief period in which we live until the end of times. If we insist on trying to pit faith against science, we must realize that our youth are not blind, and often quite clever, over time they will see the validity of the methods of science, and thanks to the constant refrain that science opposes faith, they will be forced to conclude that faith is in the wrong. This cannot be God’s work. Let us abandon false claims that science does not work in the light of, and in the domain of, God and accept that it explores matters which are not spiritual in nature and as such do not require faith... but also do not deny it.