Reflection on Science vs. Religion

            It really is nonsense, you know.  Science deals with matter and energy and the interplay between those two worlds.  Religion deals with what matters and what energizes, if I can play with those two words.  There is no crossover (or minimal at best).  Science and Religion should walk hand in hand through life.

            Of course, you realize it is not just religion that runs in non-scientific realms.  We should include philosophy, history, law, and a host of other non-scientific subjects.  As my friend at the University says, “You can get a degree in the Arts (BA) or the Sciences (BS) and both are equally valid; but to be well rounded you probably need some of both.”  I concur.  Hand in hand is the way all of the arts (including religion) and sciences should be.

            I think the trouble brews when people on one side cross over to the other side, as it were, without justification, reason or often common sense; and invariably without admitting that this is what they have done.  I recall Carl Sagan’s opening of his most famous book:  “This universe is all there is, all there was and all there ever will be.”  How does he know this?  It is a plain and clear philosophical statement based on rather obvious presuppositions and it certainly isn’t remotely a scientific statement.  I found it a strange way to begin a science book; yet I suspect he wanted to cut off any appeal to religion at the outset, but in doing so I fear he cut off his proverbial nose to spite his face.  Since then, scientists (such as Hawking) have toyed with the idea of parallel universes, among other things.  So it goes.

            On the other side, I know there are sincere people (I trust they are sincere and well meaning, too) who insist that the world was created not all that long ago in a literal seven days.  I can see the hair rising up on the back of the neck as I say that.  Nothing could be further from even the most basic facts we have been able to discern, scientifically, about the universe in which we live.  I do wish, though, we could all try and reason with such people and bring them to a point of common sense rather than ridicule them with our sharp and sarcastic tongues.  Ridicule will only deepen the determination – and sarcasm is not a good social skill.

            But here it is:  Most scientists I know are believers and attend church regularly, and most theologians I know respect the science that made possible a fresh cup of coffee every morning (even if the laws of motion and gravity do not always cooperate when one is still half asleep).  But for the most part, theologians and scientists respect and appreciate each other.  Rather, it is in the board rooms, the news rooms, the schoolrooms, on the street corners and in the work places and play places where religion and science duke it out – in places where there aren’t any real theologians or scientists.  That is where you find the fundamentalist who gets (rightly) angry at being ridiculed but who nevertheless steps into his car, drives home, turns on the lights and television to stew.  (Technology may be the step-child of science, but without science there would be no child at all).  So he enjoys the benefits of science, but I suppose it must be a pick and choose as to what scientific facts he will accept and what he will reject.  A sad story.

            On the other hand, though, no matter how firmly the other person says they will only accept as “Real” those things that science has proved or likely will prove, you and I both know they do not live in a world devoid of love, beauty, and at least the hope of justice (all non-scientific concepts).  No one lives there, nor would any sane person want to.  But then, philosophy, history, the law, the arts – these are not the issue.  It just seems to be religion, and if I may be blunt, I would guess it is often the concept of God that such people find most irksome.

            There were ten of us out back a few nights ago.  It was a lovely evening with the sun setting dutifully in the west.  One woman remarked at how beautiful the sunset was and in no time there were eight of ten in agreement.  It was a beautiful sunset.  The ninth person said it was beautiful, too, what he could see of it.  You see, he confessed that he was color blind so all he saw was shades of tan and browns; yet he accepted the word of the other witnesses and said he saw the beauty in what he could see.

            Now, the tenth shook his head, and he apologized.  “I’m sorry.  I have never been able to see sunsets as beautiful.”  It was like he was confessing some flaw in his character or make-up.  It was like he wanted to see the beauty, a beauty which he had no doubt was there, only he was not capable.  We all hugged him and assured him that we all have our blind spots and that was OK.

            I suppose he could have been crass.  He might have said, grumpily, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  That is this kind of thing we hear a lot of these days.  It suggests that beauty is only an opinion and even if everyone in the world disagrees with him, his opinion is still as good as any.  There is a subject worthy of consideration, but for now I want to point out what he did not say – what no sane person would imagine saying:

            “Beauty is an illusion, a fantasy.  You are all living in a fairy tale.  Can’t you handle the real world?  I think maybe you are all suffering from some pathological delusion.”

            Of course no one would really say that about a beautiful sunset, or anything declared “beautiful” because beauty is clearly something real even if it is not a proper concept for scientific study.  Yet when it comes to religion in general, and especially to God…

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