Religion and Science – Irreconcilable or Complementary?
Delivered Sunday January 28, 2018
By Shaun Loria
I’ve often wondered about science and religion. Usually they are depicted as opposites, but I wonder if they are complimentary. Today, we’ll explore that question, but a point from our reading today is worth keeping in mind, “knowledge puffs up, while love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1 13)
Joseph Campbell made an interesting and profoundly simple if – then point in the Power of Myth. He said if you want to see what a society values the most, then look at the tallest building. For example, in a medieval European town, the tallest building is the cathedral (religion). During the Enlightenment era, it wasn’t religion anymore, but man’s political systems. Washington, DC is a perfect example of this. The tallest building in Washington, DC, by law, is the monument (government). In a modern city, the skyscrapers house the engines of economy (business).
It’s quite clear in modern times that business and its twin cousin science have the most respect. We’re often proud of what we’ve accomplished and how much we’ve figured out. Yes, it’s wonderful to have modern tools, efficiency in systems and technology. It’s a great tool, with wonderful outputs, but it the answer? Can it ask the most important questions?
Speaking of important questions, let’s think about children. They have two lines of questions that are very relevant to this question: that incessant why and, if you’re driving anyway, are we there yet?
First, why. If you trace the chain of causality back, follow the cause and effect backwards over time so to speak, you come to a specific moment. The beginning. And in the beginning there was: according to science, the big bang; according to religion, God.
Does the religious answer stand up? The rationalists would say no. Look at the contradictions in the bible, they say, almost with ridicule. Genesis chapters 1 said in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth in seven days. Once science found it the time was a bit longer than seven days, the institutions of religion seemed to change the answer. It’s not just Genesis chapter 1, chapter 2 is a completely different creation story! The Gospel of John another one completely. So are these different stories contradictions or proof of inconsistency? Well, couldn’t they perhaps just different dialects of the beginning of the story.
Let’s put the answers of science into the court of reason. Why not? The rational explanation should have rational explanations, right? Back to the big bang. What caused it? There are two definitions to unpack, “it” and “caused.” The big bang was a point of singularity, where all time, matter and energy was condensed into a space smaller than an atom. That’s amazing, isn’t it? Time and matter, one and the same, immutable and eternal, as one. Almost sounds mystical.
But the real trip is causality. What caused it? What “breathes fire” into the universe? A hard lined rationalist will say “the Laws of Physics” or “fundamental forces.” But where do those exist? Where do they come from? Where do they live? If the answer is, outside of the universe, in some other realm, eternal and unchanged, again, the answer sounds very much like God.
I think science is a key, a useful key that answers many doors and opens into new doors. But that key is stuck on that final door. The scientific method simply can’t answer the final causal why. Nor can it answer, why does God exist? Why does love exist? Why does consciousness exist? It’s a great tool, but it can’t answer those questions. We’ll figure it out, the rationalist promises. And I admire their faith.
Nietzsche said, “there is no truth, but there are many truths.” I agree with one part of that statement – there are many truths. The facts that are uncovered by science, the tools it can create, are wonderful. Psalm 111 mentions those who study the universe are filled with awe and wonder. Certainly! It’s quite nice to have these tools, this knowledge.
But it’s only part of the answer. Without the key of faith and religion, you can never unlock the final door. Back to the answer of children, “are we there yet?” No, we’re not. We don’t know everything. Why should there be a there yet? Religion is courage in light of humility. That’s the Truth, that is God. Psalm 111 says “fear is the beginning of wisdom,” but it’s a healthy fear. When you look at the universe, the cosmos, in its order and beauty, and you consider we exist in it, how can you not tremble in fear, awe, appreciation and wonder?
I’ll sum it up as follows. “When I speak, It is silent. When I am silent, It speaks.” We don’t have to know all the answers. We don’t have to pretend that knowledge will conquer all. We can simply follow the Real, the order, the beautiful, the true. We can love that journey. We can love that mystery. Love builds up, and it builds a wonder that is mightier than our tallest buildings of steel and metal.