Belief in Science. Belief in God. For the record, I believe in both. At the outset of this writing I want to say that every time I have seen this potentially polemic pairing, belief in science – belief in God, discussed, the discourse usually revolves around trying to harmonize the two, or worse, squaring the duo off in some God vs. Science death match. I’m not going there. I’m going to go somewhere else. It may take a while, but eventually we’ll arrive at some destination, but a Paul McCartney/Stevie Wonder Ebony and Ivory love fest isn’t a likely result. Neither will one discourse be seen standing on the ropes hoisting a championship belt into the air while taunting a jeering crowd. I will not try to persuade you, the reader, to choose between the two. I likes ’em both. So, let’s get in the car, fasten our seat belts, put ‘er in gear and get on the road.
I am friends with three scientists. By scientists, I mean honest to God, PhD totin’, University employed research oriented scientists. One is a physicist, one a biologist, and one social scientist. They have several things in common. They are all men. They are all – in my estimation – smarter than most. They’re all nice people. My life is richer for their presence in it. Also, none of them believe in God. That’s OK. No sweat off my back. I remain cheerfully agnostic about the eternal disposition of their souls anyway. What bothers me a bit, and it is just “a bit,” is that not only do they not believe there is a God, they believe there is not even the possibility of God. I would say that two of them, almost passionately, dare I say zealously believe there is no God, and that dear reader, to me, seems….well… just down-right unscientific.
I understand nothing about God, and little about science. What I think I understand about science is rooted in what I know of “the Scientific Method.” (That said, I have experienced both in a very real way.) but I digress….. As my physicist friend once explained it to me, the scientific method works sort of like this. We see something. We try to figure out what we saw, to name it, measure it, quantify it the best we can. Then we try to find out what caused said thing to happen. Once this is accomplished, we try to prove the truth of our observation by either observing the same things happening by the same ways in repeated different observations, or if possible, we try and cause the same phenomena ourselves – like in a lab or something. Once this is done, then the scientist can, with at least some degree of confidence, predict what something might do in the future. I think I got this right. It’s close anyway. That’s great. No problem here at all. I do that sort of thing all the time. People have always done this sort of thing. It’s a sunny day. We see clouds roll in, it gets windy and cooler, and then it starts to rain. We get wet. This happens to us a couple of times and….we see it clouding up, getting windy and cool, and we start looking for an umbrella. That’s a practical way to use our brains. It’s useful. It’s necessary for survival. But at the root of this is a wonderful sort of non-arrogance, an openess to all sorts of possibilities. The scientist in pursuit of her knowledge is open to observing anything, even stuff they haven’t seen before.
The best evidence of this sort of openess is ALIENS. Perhaps better said, extra-planetary life forms. Ask almost any scientist if they believe in alien life forms, to a person they’ll tell you something like, “given what we know of the conditions on earth – the size of our sun, our position orbiting around it, the elemental composition of the planets we’ve observed, what we know about how stars function – couple that with the (cue Carl Sagan) billions and billions of galaxies, stars and planets – there almost has to be alien (extra-planetary) life. For the record, on this I’m buying what they’re selling. Now, if they and I are right, and some scientist, some day does indeed discover alien life, I may have to find another illustration but here’s where I see more than a bit of contradiction. There is, to date, no evidence of alien life. No one has EVER scientifically documented such a discovery. Science has observed billions of stars and galaxies, and to my knowledge, scientists have now cataloged dozens, if not scores of planets, a couple of them speculated to be similar to our own dear Earth. Nevertheless, no life. None. But they’re still open to, even anticipating of, such a discovery. Again, for the record, I’m there too. So, it could be rightfully said, I think, that scientists have faith – you know, a belief in things not seen – in aliens. So why then, does there seem to be such a “religious” devotion to opposing the “possibility” of a God.
Admittedly, I’ve never seen God, but I’ve seen pictures of the Cosmos. It’s really big. I mean really really big. So big in fact I can’t get my mind around the Cosmos’ bigness anymore than I can get my mind around God. For that matter astro-physicists can’t really get their minds around the universe they study either. They kind of think they can measure it, to some extent, but that seems to get corrected all the time. It keeps getting bigger. To my understanding, they have a better handle on when it all began, and when it did, it was really really REALLY small. Beyond that moment when it all blew into existence (the big bang) well….there’s widely divergent views of what it was before that, and there also uncertain of what happens to it all in the end, or even if there is an end. Certainly, I don’t have a clue as to how to explain it and since they don’t either, or at least there’s nothing approaching a consensus, I’m not touching that subject either…..but let me take a little divergence on “Scientific consensus.”
Scientists have reached consensus on many things many times. For instance the scientific consensus, or at least broadly held opinion, which I was taught in my college astronomy class in 1977 was that we were headed for an ice age. It was told to me and a classroom of about 100 others that the increased cloud cover caused by carbon dioxide would obscure the sun to the point that the earth would cool. That apparently, was incorrect. Those scientists were wrong I am now told. The carbon dioxide clouds are now overwhelmingly believed to be warming the earth. Time will tell if that’s right. Remember the ozone hole over the antarctic that was being stripped away by flouro-carbons? Remember that? We were all going to die of malignant melanoma by now weren’t we? Well…that didn’t happen. The hole’s gone now. Turn’s out it was caused by a volcano not my right guard. California was going to fall in the ocean…..probably….well…maybe. It was predicted that the last three years were going to see more hurricanes than ever. There have been less than ever. For the record not one, zero, zilch, nada, made landfall in the U.S. this last hurricane season. Smoking tobacco was once prescribed to treat lung cancer (admittedly a long time ago, and that just doesn’t make sense does it?) But the best scientific minds of the 18th century counted this among their “best practices.” Remember the atomic structure we were taught in the 1970s – a bevy of electrons circling a star of clustered protons and neutrons….well…it ain’t that simple after all. Not even close. I could go on. You get the point, I hope. The point, though, isn’t that science is bad or flawed or an unworthy pursuit. It’s great. I love what science has given me….personally. I flip a switch. Bang. Hot coffee. I turn a dial 70 degrees. My doctor sticks a probe up my hind end, looks around, sees a little polyp …oops…a little cancer in there…snip. It’s gone. That’s why we do that little scientific procedure. I get to write this a year later. Science is great!! On a practical level, at least, it does a real good job explaining our immediate situation and a pretty good job of predicting what might happen if we do, or don’t do, something. But, wonderfully useful as it is, when it comes to the big things, at least to me, the big things, I’m afraid it fails. Not because there’s anything wrong with science, but, as long as I have my coffee and I’m warm and cancer-free there’s much more I want to know that science can’t begin to explain.
To begin , let’s start small. I want to know why my friend’s child, Henry was born with a debilitating disease that took him before he was 4. Why that? I want to know why I once wanted only to drink myself to death. I want to know why I can’t hear Handel’s I Know My Redeemer Liveth without crying. Why do leaves blowing in the wind give me a sense of peace? Why does my wife look more beautiful to me now than when we first met? Why did I fall in love with her in the first place? Why did she stick with me through thick and thin? Why can’t I look at the clear night sky or stand at the edge of the ocean without becoming almost certain I’ll see God? Why? Why? Science can’t tell me any of the “whys.” I’m sure science doesn’t really want to tell me why, but the fact that I am a child of the scientific age well it just seems a natural part of the process. It seems that even these scientists would want to know why. Maybe they don’t have the same set of “Whys” as I, and it seems they’d want to know that answer also. Maybe they don’t. However, if this is the case – if all that matters is the what, how , when and where – if why doesn’t matter, it follows, to me, that nothing matters. But if they do matter, it seems there must be a reason why they matter.
As for those things that matter to me, well, since science won’t even begin to take those questions on. I’m left to seek those answers somewhere else. I haven’t yet seen the source for these answers but it seems almost certain to me that there must be a source for all this wonder. The wonder of this world, this universe, these feeling and questions, they are real and observable, so there must be something behind them, at least as much possibility as…say… Aliens. At the very least, wouldn’t there be a “possibility” for an answer to all the “whys?” Why not God? Is even the possibility offensive to logic? I think not.
To answer all of our questions regarding the unknown, whether it be a scientific question or a theological question, in the end, a big dose of faith in the unseen is required. Answers to both will come in time. They will be interpreted differently as time proceeds. But whatever the time or the interpretation of however, or whatever, faith is required in something to make it through.
That’s it for this trip. I hope you enjoyed the journey.