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Science and Faith

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.

The very act of understanding is a celebration of joining, merging, even if on a modest scale, with the magnificence of the cosmos. 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, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.”

-Carl Sagan


The word science comes from the Latin word scientia, which simply means "knowledge." At its best, faith promotes knowledge, while it also honors unknowing. Faithful inquiry into the meaning of life shares a kinship with scientific inquiry into the processes of life (physics included under the "life" umbrella). In my last blog post I shared that understanding how something works does not preclude beholding it as a miracle.


In spite of this existential kinship, there is a widespread perception of animosity between science and religion. Religion has not always been a good friend to science. The Scopes Trial of 1925 comes to mind, or the fate of Galileo, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Roman Catholic Church in the 17th century. Why? Because he said that the earth revolved around the sun, not the other way around.


That's right. At the time, the heliocentric model of the solar system contradicted mainstream religious teaching. Now, of course, that contradiction seems absurd (unless you're a religious flat earther, I suppose). Science and religion only seemed to contradict one another on the question of heliocentrism.

I posit that any time science and religion contradict one another, it is only a seeming

contradiction. As religious understanding evolves, a scientific theory that once seemed to negate faith instead becomes a means to learn and wonder about God's creation.


I say "God's creation" because I don't believe that the theory of evolution contradicts faith. Because I've never interpreted the Bible literally, it was never a problem for me to hold together the theory of evolution with the beautiful creation stories in the book of Genesis. (Yes, stories, plural, because there is more than one creation story in Genesis.) What has challenged me is the assumption that amoral competitiveness drives the mechanism of evolution. How interesting it has been to me, therefore, to read newer findings revealing the importance of cooperation in evolution. As Douglas Rushkoff says in his book Team Human, "The most successful of biology’s creatures coexist in mutually beneficial ecosystems."


I'll say it again. Any time science and religion contradict one another, it is only a seeming contradiction. As scientific understanding evolves, a theory (such as evolution) that once seemed to negate faith instead becomes a means to learn and wonder about God's creation.


Science has not always been a good friend to religion, either. During the Age of Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, science began to take a condescending view of religion. The cultural zeitgeist began to favor "objective" knowledge gained through empirical observation, the five senses, and reason. Religious modes of knowing - intuition, life experience, traditions & scriptures, faith, mysticism, spirituality - became suspect. Science rightfully criticizes religious dogmatism, but when science rejects religious modes of knowing altogether, it is practicing a dogmatism of its own.


Science and faith are two different ways of knowing. They are parallel, not contradictory. They use different methods. They ask different questions. And when they are functioning maturely, they each acknowledge that there are questions that cannot (yet) be answered. Carl Sagan's observation holds true for both faith and science: "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, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.”










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