Sunday, January 29, 2017

God vs. Science

I have been on a science and physics kick lately, watching the entire rebooted Cosmos series and reading “The Big Picture” by Sean Carroll. I recommend both works as they are well-presented and challenging. They are both, decidedly, dismissive of theism. In some ways, I believe this is why it is important to expose myself to them. If I coddle my own faith by refusing to consider persuasive contrary evidence, it becomes a static heirloom rather than a living journey.  

Science has and continues to play an integral role in explaining the mechanism of our reality, but it becomes overextended when it attempts to make sense of why there is a reality at all (or why that reality found itself inhabited by beings capable of contemplating it). Please do not misunderstand me, I am not a young-Earth creationist and my belief in God is not predicated upon the acceptance of a 6,000 year-old planet. I do not believe that Darwin was the anti-Christ or that he proposed a framework incompatible with the idea of an omnipotent Creator. If my child becomes ill, I pray and take them to the pediatrician because I can find no compelling evidence that those are mutually-exclusive courses of action.

I have never understood the hostility between religion and science. For centuries, scientists and those who dared to challenge their society’s prevailing views concerning our physical world have been persecuted by religious authorities. When scientists had the audacity to claim we did not inhabit the center of the universe, we interpreted truth as apostasy. When dinosaur bones were discovered, many dismissed the idea as fraudulent since they were not mentioned in scripture and were not identified as passengers on Noah’s Ark. As science has methodically uncovered humanity’s role in affecting the way our planet operates, we reflexively push back against any suggestion that we have control over the creation we attribute to our God.

The frightening truth is that these reactions tell us far more about the strength of our faith than the influence of science. Does our God’s reputation suffer when a universe we attribute to Him is constantly being revealed as more complex than we dared imagine? Should I be troubled by the implication that complex emotions can be identified through the interactions of millions of intricately-woven neurons and synapses? Should I be ashamed that I would rather err on the side of caution than treat God’s creation with apathy?

Meanwhile, many scientists have dismissed faith in God as a philosophical crutch required to steady the weak-minded and the uneducated.     

At this point in history, the brightest minds in cosmology believe that there was a Big Bang and that in that exact moment there were equal amounts of matter and anti-matter. Despite this, matter – and over eons – consciousness prevailed to become what it is today. Logically-speaking, that shouldn’t have happened. What long-term survival value does conscience bring to the table for humanity? Why would a random collection of molecular material reacting to the forces outlined by scientific inquiry develop the ability to grieve, hate, and love? Why was their ever a single-celled organism to evolve from? Why do we allow ourselves to become so enamored with the architecture that we miss the architect?

This is commonly known as the fine-tuning theory. The idea is that there are so many variables that must interact in such a specific way in such a narrow window of time to produce life, that the most logical explanation is that there must be a greater intelligence behind it. In other words, complete happenstance is harder to prove than the existence of God.

If you hear an orchestra playing a symphony, you would logically assume the resulting sound is the product of skilled musicians reading from the same piece of music under the direction of a conductor. Is this the only possibility? No. It is also possible that an unrelated group of novices stumbled upon the same room full of instruments at the same time and all began independently emitting random noises which sound like Beethoven’s Fifth. But we can all agree that is far less likely.

At present, the scientific rebuttal for this line of thinking is the multiverse theory. It states that there are endless realities all occurring simultaneously and we just happen to inhabit the reality where the novices got lucky. After all, there are trillions of other realities where the non-musicians sound as discordant and awful as we would expect them to. Of course, we are no more likely to prove this than we are the divinity of Christ. Even more maddening is the possibility that the fundamental laws of physics we observe here might only exist here on not translate to an alternate reality.

Religion owes science a debt of gratitude. It was science that dared to suggest birth-defects and infertility could be genetic phenomenon rather than punishment by God. It is science that reminded us that tornadoes and hurricanes are the result of meteorological conditions rather than supernatural judgments. It is science that differentiated depression and bi-polar disorder from demonic possession. Science whispers in our ears each time we open a pediatric cancer research center instead of attributing the diagnosis to “God’s will” and giving up.

I believe the world we inhabit was designed and created by an architect. I believe that same architect is the reason humans and consciousness exist as they do today. I believe that architect cares about what happens to us and the creation we inhabit. I believe that the clearest view of that architect’s hopes and intentions for His creation can be seen through the words and actions of His son, Jesus Christ.         

I also believe that the clearest way to understand and appreciate the world of that architect is through the lens of science. I believe that God rejoices each time someone receives a life-saving vaccine or a smoke alarm prods a family to safety. I believe that His will is done when an amputee receives a bionic limb or contaminates are removed from a community’s drinking water. There are always going to be some points of contention between these worlds and I understand the difficulties in reconciling sacred texts with observed reality, but I believe there is far less dividing us than we think.