Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Thoughts On... Science & Religion Part 2

There are very few things that the bulk of the world can agree on. One of those things is the seemingly eternal battle between Science & Religion. For some reason, people believe that there is no reconciling the scientific method with a belief in the existence of God. And for a long time, I was convinced of the same thing. But then I read an article in a magazine (I think it was Time, but I don't remember for sure) about scientists finding God through their work.

In particular, there was a segment about a scientist who had spent a great deal of effort calculating the exact voltage of an electron. What struck him about his finding was how specific the voltage was. He tried working some standard equations with other values for the voltage and came to the conclusion that the universe as we see it today would never (COULD NEVER!) have come into existence if the electron's voltage was ANY other value. To have that voltage arrived at through an evolutionary process of trial & error was a problematic premise and one that this guy was not able to entertain. Which led him to the conclusion that this value had to have been built into the electron. And if that's true then SOMEONE had to have done that. Who? Well, the only answer he came up with was God. Interesting, right?

After reading that, I started thinking about the battle between Science & Religion. A lot of disparate ideas came together in that session and I realized that I never really believed that Science was at odds with God. The real battle is Science vs Human Arrogance. And THAT is a battle that will NEVER end.

Part 2 - Science

Now before I give you the wrong idea, I want to get something straight. You already know I don't believe that there is a conflict between Science & Religion. The reason why there is NO conflict between science and religion is because they deal with fundamentally different aspects of this world that have very little overlap. The core tenet of science is really simple: explain how the universe, and everything in it, works. That's it. That's the whole point of all aspects of science: to discover the rules and principles which govern the universe we live in. Religion deals in the meaning of living in this universe and in the study and honoring of God. Personally, I can think of no greater way to honor God than to study Her greatest work: our universe.

Now, in all my historical readings & research, I found that one thing rang true for most of human history: Religion ruled all. Despite the presence of all sorts of royalty, the church was on top. After all, they stood between the people and their God. They dedicated their lives to the study of the Word of God, to better and more fully understand the true meaning of God's intent towards us and our purpose in Her plan. They gained a measure of respect for that, and the people mistakenly put Religion in a position it was unsuited for: explaining how the world works. Religion was at a distinct disadvantage because they had no real way of knowing how the world actually worked, but the people asked and they looked to the bible for answers. When they couldn't find answers, they just made them up.

Based on the Bible, Humanity was the last creation of God. That led them to believe that Humanity was the best creation and most favored of all of Her creatures. And as a sign of that favor, our world was placed in the center of God's universe, with the sun and all the stars revolving around us as proof of our status. And for a little while, the information scientists uncovered supported that position. But the scientists kept pushing and analyzing information, and that's where the problems started.

Their new info suggested that their initial conclusions were incorrect. It seemed that the universe was not centered around the Earth (the religious view supported by science so far) but instead around the Sun. Which from a religious viewpoint makes more sense. After all, God is represented as being of light & warmth, right? Kind of like the sun? And don't we all bow and worship Her? One could say our lives REVOLVE around God. So why shouldn't our planet? But the Church's higher ups had spoken and could not be wrong. For this was the word of God and God is never wrong! (For those of you keeping track, this is a picture perfect example of Pride. One of the Seven Deadly Sins!) So, rather than owning up to a misinterpretation the word of God, or just admitting they were wrong, they instead chose to vilify and demonize the scientists that were contradicting them. One of the most famous examples, of course, being the trials of Galileo.

At the end of the day, science doesn't really care about God. There is too much left unexplained about THIS universe to start dealing with issues regarding others, such as Heaven or Hell. Despite the differences between the realms of Science & Religion, they are both being practiced by people. And people can use anything as justification for the things they want to do or want to believe. Just like with religion, there are many times in our history where people have used science and the "Quest for knowledge" to support ghastly, evil deeds (like the "experiments" conducted in the Nazi concentration camps) or blatantly false ideas (like the WWII idea that Negroes have "bad night vision" which makes them unsuited for combat). The cold, hard facts would contradict those ideas, but people refused to accept them.  

For the most part, however, people accept that science is always changing, evolving, and becoming more accurate in its representation of the universe we're in. As new facts are discovered, new questions are being asked. Old theories are challenged and what proves to be false or outdated gets discarded, while certain theories get re-affirmed.  

Earlier, I said that there is very little overlap between science and religion. The one part that both these realms have in common can be summed up in one word: ethics. Religion tries to determine what does it mean to be an ethical (or moral) person, and since it's people that are working to further the scientific understanding of the universe, ethical behavior becomes an important consideration. Many potential avenues of discovery have been delayed or shut down entirely because of ethical considerations.

And, I completely agree with that. It's all too easy to get caught up in the chase and get so hyper-focused on a particular thread of inquiry that one forgets to consider the cost of that knowledge or how that knowledge (or the pursuit of that knowledge) will be applied in the world outside the laboratory. There are things that scientists wish we could unlearn. The most famous example being of course, Oppenheimer's reaction to the first atomic bomb detonation in New Mexico:

"Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

Science and religion aren't at odds with each other. And they never have been. It's human arrogance that set these two realms of thought against one another and created a kind of cold war that has echoed down through history. And the worst part about this is that it didn't have to be this way. Because when they are used at the best of their true potential, religion creates the ethical prism through which the light of science can shine and enlighten our world, making human life all the better in the process.

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