Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Religion versus science

Over at a friend's blog some time back, an atheist wandered by and engaged the group in a discussion. After a hundred or so comments, I was inclined to join it. Here is what I wrote:

Like a bear drawn out of his den, I will finally comment on this debate. I was lured out by the mention of physics, which as y'all know, I love the way some people love chocolate.

However, this debate, to my disappointment, has no physics in it. Sigh. Since I'm already awake, I'll throw in and hope that if I can't inject clarity, I will at least not increase the muddiness of the water. I won't promise to reply to any comments, but I might, although if my past behavior is a good indicator of my future behavior, I won't.

As I understand it, (the atheist) is asking Christians to prove there is a God of some sort. That question cuts both ways: (the atheist) could be asked to prove there isn't one. Either way, the answer is the same. You cannot prove the existence or non-existence of God in a concrete, scientific fashion. Many intangibles fall into this category. And since they can't be proved, it is certainly within rational limits to decide for yourself that they don't exist. I don't agree with that decision, but I can understand the reasoning behind it.

Let's not fault science in this. Science isn't meant to prove or disprove matters of faith. This recent incursion into the religious arena is only because religion decided to insert itself into science. The scientists have responded in depressingly like fashion to the attacks that zealots have inflicted on their ranks. This is not to say that science is blameless. Many scientists' obvious contempt for religion only infuriates their opponents. I well remember my college biology profession telling my entire class that "Evolution proves there is no God." Why, no, that's not what evolution proves. That's not what it was meant to prove. You can use it in that way, but it demeans the science involved. Science is supposed to be about facts, not beliefs. But science is done by people, and every person carries a burden of beliefs. Those beliefs influence science. Science, however, tries to be -- and mostly is -- a self-correcting process. New knowledge informs previous theories, and the theories are adjusted. Sometimes this adjustment takes years because scientists like to hold on to cherished beliefs as much as the next person, but the process is unrelenting, unforgiving, and uncaring in its progress. Eventually a new, better theory results.

Frankly, the battle between science and religion is a poor use of time for both sides. People will believe what they choose to believe and then find the reasons to justify that belief, despite all evidence to the contrary. Humans have always been that way, and I don't see us changing any time soon. All that really happens when science and religion clash is that a lot of rhetoric is generated; both sides get to score dubious points; the worst among us insult people of differing beliefs; etc. That doesn't mean that people can't or shouldn't share how they view the world, but as soon as voices are raised and potshots are hurled, it's simply not productive. There are people who make it their hobby to generate noise and fury. I generally find them to be a waste of breath and often think their bodies should be painfully recycled into the earth.

As most of you know, I love science and the church equally. I am a cantankerous Christian, a Southern Baptist with Pentecostal roots with a toe in Buddhism. I am also a rational Christian, if you can fit your mind around that concept. How this translates into behavior is as follows: To pray for healing and to use doctors. To believe God created the heavens and to accept the latest findings about how the cosmos formed. To acknowledge the limits of faith as well the boundaries of science. To remain grateful for the gift of intellect and the gift of life in which to use it. To believe that life is too precious to waste since we will be dead infinitely longer than we will be alive, and while we know there is an afterlife, we also know that we won't be here on earth to help those around us.

I am quite sure this all sounds too depressingly adult. It's much more fun to wave our arms around wildly and claim the earth is 6,000 years old or that the dinosaurs were killed by the Flood or that string theory proves the nonexistence -- or existence -- of God or that God is merely a higher dimensional being (as per Flatland) or that cargo cults are a good analogy for all religious behavior, and so on and so on.

For me, it comes down to this: I know that God exists. He loves me. He sent His Son to die for me. Amazingly and wonderfully, He found me worthy of such a sacrifice. I wish and pray more people had that belief. I think they would be happier if they did. But they have the right not to, and I will not gainsay that. I only require that they grant me the same indulgence as I grant them.

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