"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Science, then religion; Religion, then science?

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We have heard, and continue to hear, of the supposed acrimony that exists between science and religion. These debates seem to start fully polarized, with one (the fundamentalist scientist) accusing the other of irrationality; and the other (the fundamentalist religious type) asserting that only faith is necessary. What we learn from this exchange is that fundamentalism is a divisive mode of thought equally present in both science and faith.

There is another position which asserts there is little difference between the scientist and the person of faith. This argument is based entirely on a false dichotomy created by those who understand little of the theology of science, or the science of theology.

At its fundamental level, both science and theology are based on a similar set of assumptions about creation: There are things unknown, mystery beyond present comprehension; that these things can become known; that when things become known, this serves to open up awareness of new mysteries not previously considered; and that awareness spawns the next set of great questions.

That attitude very much informs both the Christian and the scientist, and makes possible a synergy of the two: the scientist-Christian. What enables that approach is the love of mystery that necessarily undergirds each pursuit: the Christian’s search for the face of God; and the scientist’s endless quest to answer the next great question. Both, if they are being honest and true to themselves, will admit that the greatest joy comes not from answering a question, but rather from discovering that each new truth reveals even deeper mystery.

This is what invigorates and motivates me in any pursuit: theology, engineering or (more recently) administrative law. To know that each answer begets yet further and deeper mystery and that it is the delight of those mysteries, and the quest for understanding, that brings meaning and vitality to both a life of faith and a life of science.

The false dichotomy created by this age, which places faith and rationality completely at odds with each other, is predicated on two fundamental lies. First that a person of science can not have faith except by selling out their intellectual honesty; and second that a person of faith can not accept any of the teachings arising out of science, except by selling out their simple faith. This false dichotomy fails to acknowledge the essential place of mystery for both the priest and the scientist. It fails to recognize that the two perspectives have far more in common than in difference, and that ultimately, all mystery leads back to God.

Without mystery, there is no need for science. With nothing else to research, no more diseases to cure, science becomes…well, much like religion without faith – a system of beliefs which exists only to perpetuate itself through the assertion of dogma. So we end up dogmatically asserting only Newton explains motion, and that his truths are unchanging. Unchanging…until the next explosion of discovery reveals our dogma to be only part-truth, and an area of thought never considered arises from the ashes of our previous certainty (relativistic motion in that case).

Similarly, without mystery, there is no need for faith. If we fully understand the mind of God, the mystery of His great creation, why is there any need for questing, for difficult community, for prayer, discernment or for endless dialogue on the great questions? Religion, without an intrinsic sense of mystery, becomes nothing more than a system of dogmatic, unchanging belief which seeks only to perpetuate itself.

So, at their best, both science and faith rest firmly on a bed of mystery. It is that mystery that drives those who seek to know, who seek only to understand the next question to be asked. At their worst, both faith and science become empty structures that seek only to impose their brand of dogma, and to seek conformity regardless of the surrounding reality.

So a person of faith who says, “I know God completely,” is missing the mystery. A scientist who asserts, “The science on this is closed,” is wilfully blinding themselves to the mystery that surrounds their discipline. With both the pursuit of God, and pursuit of scientific discovery, the final chapter remains eternally unwritten.

For a person of science, as well as a person of faith, it is in knowing about the unknown that drives them forward. In the end, perhaps, these two journeys are not that different, and perhaps both seek the same face of God, just in different guise.

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Written by sameo416

June 17, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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