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Friday, August 26, 2011

"Let There Be Light": The Big Bang, Evolution, God and Creation, Part I

Part I: An Introduction Into
The Pretended War Between
Religion and Science


"In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth."

This short sentence has caused more controversy than perhaps any other sentence in Western literature. The natural questions which have arisen over centuries of debate on this passage have obviously centered on how God actually went about creating the heaven and the earth. Did he magically snap is fingers and say, "It is well"? Or were the natural laws of science the primary conductors of creation?

Of course, these questions force us down the road to where the intersection between religion and science regularly collide in a violent head-on crash. Ever since Nicolaus Copernicus looked into his telescope back in 1609 and discovered that the earth was not at the center of the universe (a discovery that greatly angered the church and cost Copernicus his freedom), religion and science have been engaged in a tug-o-war for exclusive rights to the ultimate origins of man and the universe. Even 400 years after Copernicus, despite all of our advancement and discovery, mankind is still engaged in this same tug-o-war which has spread into our schools, communities and even our politics.

But this supposed tug-o-war is, in reality, an illusion.

Though I am not a scientist (far from it actually) I recognize that there are some basic facts that cannot be refuted no matter how much we want to believe otherwise. For example, our earth is a spherical object (7,926.41 miles in diameter) that orbits the sun at approximately 67,062 miles per hour. Of course, these are facts that almost nobody debates. But 400 years ago, such a claim could land a person in prison and even end with their excommunication and death. Today no religious figure would be so foolish as to suggest that the earth is flat or at the center of the universe, nor would they suggest imprisonment and death for those who believed otherwise. We have moved past such trivial debates.

But other trivial debates still remain.

First off, I fully recognize that my take on this topic could be construed as offensive to some, but I hope you will believe me when I say that I mean no disrespect. Every man/woman is entitled to believe as he/she sees fit. Religion is a personal endeavor of faith; and faith, as Jesus said, can move mountains. With that said, I also believe the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan who stated that "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." Regardless of what we believe, some scientific facts are undeniable.

Such is the case with evolution. Ever since the days of Charles Darwin, scientists have been putting together the pieces of the evolutionary puzzle, and their work has yielded incredible fruit. Today, scientists have been able to map the human genome, illustrate our development via fossil records, calculate the age of rocks and bones with advanced atomic testing methods, explain the natural functions of the universe, etc., etc., etc. Simply put, the debate over the reality of evolution is closed. Yet despite these fantastic discoveries some still maintain that science is wrong, while a literal interpretation of a book written thousands of years ago is right.

Now don't get me wrong, I am not a hater of the Bible. In fact, I believe that the Bible has brought more people happiness and joy than any other book in human history. Those who knock the Bible usually are the same people who have never read it or attempted to understand it. With that said, my original statement stands: I cannot, in good conscience, accept a literal interpretation of scripture (scripture that was written by those of late antiquity and translated over and over again) as the exclusive authority on matters that are scientifically proven to be false. At the same time, I refuse to accept the belief of many within the scientific community which suggests that scripture (and even religion as a whole) is somehow outdated, irrelevant and thus unworthy of our devotion. Such a conclusion seems, in my view, to actually be quite UN-scientific and downright arrogant.

This is why I stated that this "tug-o-war" between religion and science is an illusion. In reality, we require both to help us understand who we are and where we came from. Though religion and science may appear different on the surface, the fact of the matter is that they were made for each other. There is no REAL debate between religion and science because God is the author of science. The natural laws which created the universe and humanity are His laws. The Big Bang was His doing and Evolution is His handiwork.

Of course, this probably isn't going to sit well with many devout scientists and religious zealots but I don't care. These are my views and I am sticking to them. I for one am sick and tired of hearing people on both sides insist that they alone are right, while the other side is wrong. It's time we quit throwing the baby out with the bathwater and accept that both sides have much to offer. As Albert Einstein put it, "Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind." Science needs to learn that despite all it has proven, it cannot observe faith in a petri dish. It will never be able to explain the intangible truths of the universe or the infinite strivings of the human spirit. In short, science's biggest hurdle is accepting the fact that observable facts are not the only facts that can be observed.

On the flip side, religion must accept the fact that the stories found in scripture are ancient man's attempt to explain his origins. Obviously, ancient man didn't have the scientific understanding we possess today. As a result, his stories explaining mankind's origins (chiefly those from the Book of Genesis) are founded in innocent ignorance. After all, how could those of late antiquity possibly understand the Big Bang, natural selection, DNA, etc.? But this does not give today's devout believer a pass. In our modern era we have been given (thanks to God) and incredible amount of knowledge that no other society could even dream of. We know with 100% certainty that the earth isn't 6,000 years old (more like 4.5 billion), that snakes can't talk and that modern Homo Sapiens have their origins not in a garden but on the African plains roughly 200,000 years ago.

If our goal is truly to come to a better understanding of who we are and why we are here (the ultimate question that both religion and science tries to answer) we need not turn a blind eye to the beauty of religious faith and the discovery of scientific research. To do so is to see the world only in black and white. And unfortunately it is the extremists on both ends, who insist on this black and white view of the world, who are causing all of the controversy. We will only see the amazing tapestry of colors that is the creation of humanity and the universe when we reject the all-or-nothing nonsense of the secular scientist and the religious radical.

To my ultra-religious friends I say this: It is time to do away with the childish understandings of ancient man and to accept the knowledge of our present day. As 1 Corinthians 13: 11 states:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
Stop and ask yourself why you believe evolution to be such an affront to your faith. Is your belief in God so dependant on literal interpretation of ancient works that you are rendered incapable of accepting and understanding the truths of evolution and science? How is your belief in a God, who simply snaps his fingers, creates the world in six days, takes a nap on the seventh (because nothing says omnipotent like needing to check out for a day or so), and introduces evil to the world via a talking snake and a naughty apple, any less relevant than a belief in a God who brings about the beauty of the world via evolution and natural law?

To my secular scientific friends, who rely exclusively on the merits of "rational" thought and "observable" facts I would ask this: Why does your "reasonable" understanding of things entitle you to belittle those of faith? Are you so arrogant as to think that those who believe in God are simply delusional by choice, since they believe in that which is intangible to the scientific method? By what scientific data are you able to justify your mockery of those who claim a deep, intimate spiritual connection with the divine? Can you offer up anything of substance other than "it's just an emotional reaction"? The reality is that in your quest to disprove that which cannot be seen with a microscope or tested in a laboratory, you have actually added credence to faith. You have proven that we cannot discredit any theory until it has been thoroughly tested. And for the believer, the theory of God is tested (and proved) on a daily basis. It is proven in the answer to a simple prayer. It is proven in the acts of charity of a neighbor. It is proven in the hope for a life after death. In short, the faithful have been using your methods long before science came on the scene. Or as NASA Astrophysicist Robert Jastrow stated:

The scientist has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.
In conclusion, let us quit buying into the stupid rhetoric brought on by the zealots and the culture warriors who insist upon the myth that religion and science are somehow opposing forces. Instead, let us think of religion and science as peanut butter and jelly. Though on the surface they look, taste, smell and feel completely different, nobody will debate that peanut butter and jelly are made for one another. I leave you with the words of Pope John Paul II:

Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish...We need each other to be what we must be, what we are called to be.
***This is the first post in a new series on science, religion, God and creation. In part II I will address how the different religious and scientific interpretations of the creation of the world (the Genesis story) can help us develop a better understanding of things when they are taken together as opposed to at odds with one another.***

3 comments:

Jenn said...

I just had a little discussion on fb on this very topic today! Science and religion go hand in hand (and I'm closer to a scientist than you are, well at least I have a degree in microbiology, if that counts for anything).

Brad Hart said...

Oh yeah, that definitely counts. I am jealous. I would love to study science in greater depth, though it will never be as cool as history =)

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