Science is the god of the 21st century and like most gods it is developing a large, unquestioning, unthinking horde of followers. Science has been emerging for centuries now but only in the past 100 years or so has it attained to the level of deity as many a man and woman has bowed down before its alter or sacrificed others upon it.
Let me back track for a second. I am not anti-science. I work at a natural history museum whose very existence is dependent upon the exciting advances that have been happening in science. I practically drool over every new discovery or theory in quantum physics and am staggered by how much we have come to learn…but always there is a need for humility…a recognition (admission?) that we will never know everything…that there will always be mystery…no matter what your discipline.
For centuries science and religion have been butting heads as they seem to increasingly encroach and contradict one-another. Most recently representatives of science such as rockstar Neil Tyson Degrasse Tyson and pop scientist Bill Nye have adopted a somewhat adversarial approach in their dance with faith and religion.
There is a strong and developing polemic or dichotomy occurring wherein the going feeling is that “this town ain’t big enough fer the both of us” in that “this town” is the world and western cultural dialogue between the white hatted cowboy of science and the black hatted evil doer of religion and faith.
Now some would respond to this by saying that science and scientists have been burned at the stake (literally in some instances) long enough by advocates of religion and its time for science to have its turn with the match so-to-speak. There is no doubt that many scientists have suffered in the past at the hands of the faithful for the sake of their craft, from Galileo to the countless women naturalist healers who were accused of witchcraft and executed.
You have heard it said (by mother no less) that “two wrongs do not make a right” and I think we need to hear this loud and clear. First we must admit that it was wrong of religious representatives to persecute scientists simply for observing the universe and reporting on their observations (this is, after all, what science is about). Second, advocates of science must admit that persecution of people of faith for having different ideas on the emergence of the universe and the way it worked, is wrong and makes them the new bully.
Humility is key but this is a hard attribute to come by when the entire world depends upon you for its well-being, internet, heat, light, computer etc. just as humility was hard to come by amongst faith groups when the world depended upon faith for its continued understanding of things.
History is often a good teacher in these moments of impasse. History teaches us that there was a time when science, mathematics, history itself, art, poetry, music, and religion were all branches of a single form of thinking – philosophy (aka love of wisdom). The human desire to know was not compartmentalized into silos like so much grain and chaff. The deeply devout and religious Pythagoras was also a mathematician and a musician. These seemingly separate disciplines fed one-another rather than battled and so it can be again if we focused on dialogue rather than diatribe; discussion rather than distance…but this seems a long way off.
Science has been increasingly unhappy with the idea of God. So much so that the great thinker Stephen Hawking recently supported M-Theory as the solution to creation – that theory which states the universe was created spontaneously out of nothing and by nothing. I find this as something I am unable to accept but I am not willing to ignore, disrespect or shout down Hawking and others like him for attempting to explain the universe in a way different from how I understand it – and I would hope for the same respect in return.
The reality is that both science and faith could progress significantly if they worked together rather than wasting precious time and resources in combat. Science could continue to focus on measuring the observable universe and stop attempting to measure the immeasurable and faith could stop dogmatically attempting to take the profound mysteries it has been entrusted with and redefining it in terms of physics, geology and biology…thus missing the divine point entirely.
How do we forward such a harmony? We do so by refusing to become simplistic thinkers. Do not push science into one box and faith into another…let them mingle and challenge one-another as iron sharpens iron, that, in the end, we are presented with something positively remarkable in its brilliant complexity.