What I'm Grateful For (12/24)
Signs of Intelligent Life

The Halt and the Blind

Going_to_church_moi_3"...science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."
Albert Einstein

This is a topic I think about quite a lot as a geek who belongs to a conservative religion that often gets lumped with the fundamentalists and evangelicals. For one thing, I like to differentiate myself from the unthinking, unreasoning, stone-throwing, blind faith crowd. With religious fanatics burning embassies over a cartoon and Jen being occasionally pilloried by a science fanatic for pointing out they're just as unreasonable as the Intelligent Design crowd, it's been much on my mind. Every belief system, religious or secular, has its fanatics, the ones who are either too controlling, too personally insecure in their faith or knowledge, not interested in asking the questions that will make certain their faith or knowledge is well-founded because it takes too much intellectual work, people who don't like the idea of some questions having no immediate answers, who don't like uncertainty at all. These are people who want absolutes, who are unwilling or unable to understand that allegory and metaphor have as much truth in them as literal fact.

This absolute literalism is one of the underpinnings of Creationism and Intelligent Design, as well as of science, and it doesn't serve either of them well, for completely different reasons. I have to admit that the idea of Intelligent Design appeals to me, though not the way it's currently formulated. I studied biology on a pretty advanced level in college (graduated with a B.A. only a couple courses shy of a dual B.S.) and only found myself more dazzled by the complexity of life and life systems, and less and less able to believe there wasn't something smarter than I was behind the existence of the universe. This attitude doesn't necessarily negate a belief in evolution; it just relegates it to the status of a complementary tool rather than placing it as the only explanation of how life arose.

Christian Evolution

So, as a Christian, do I "believe in" evolution? Not in the same way I "believe in" God, because God is a powerful, sentient entity of some kind, while evolution is a blind and mindless process. One does not—and cannot—replace the other in my mind. They embody different ways of seeing the world, and they are not equivalent. And it does not have to be an either/or choice, contrary to the strident claims of fanatics on both sides of the science vs. faith chasm. The two are incomparable, not incompatible.

Whether one "believes in" it or not, evolution as a process is an incontrovertible scientific fact, not an unproven theory (that, by the way, is called a hypothesis in scientific jargon; a scientific theory is an overall explanatory set of ideas that have been confirmed through experimentation; scientific theories are not necessarily entirely theoretical, though all the details might not yet be worked out). Want proof? Over the last 50 years or so, disease-causing bacteria have become more and more resistant to antibiotics until they are now dangerously difficult to combat. How did this happen? Evolution. Like this:

Say you come down with, oh, strep throat, something I used to get all the time as a kid. This particular illness is caused by a rampant infestation of the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes. Once they move in and find the conditions in your body congenial, they start to multiply like cockroaches in a tenement and before you know it, the toxic substances they produce have made you sick. You go to the doctor, who determines (by growing them in the lab from a swab of your throat) this is what's causing your apocalyptic sore throat. He then gives you a prescription for some kind of antibiotic. You take it faithfully, finishing all the pills to make sure you kill all of the nasty little bacteria off—except you haven't. There are still some hiding out in your saliva that have managed, through some aberration in their own DNA, to survive the flamethrower effect of the antibiotics. There aren't enough of them to make you sick, and anyway, you've got enough bacterium-specific antibodies in your bloodstream now to keep them from reaching critical mass again. But the next time you sneeze on somebody (dammit, cover your mouth!), you pass along a bunch of those antibiotic-resistant germs to some other poor sod who doesn't have your army of tailored immune cells in his system, and the bacteria multiply like mad in him and he gets sick. But the antibiotic you took won't work on this generation of bacteria because they've developed their own "immunity" to it. They laugh in its face and go on multiplying and spreading mayhem like Attila and his Hordes. . . .

See how it works?

Life is not static. On scales large and small, it adapts to changes in its environment, sometimes superficially, sometimes, if the environmental influence is for a long enough period of time on an isolated or just constant population (cave fish who eventually lose their eyes, for instance), on a genetic level. But it takes generations to genetically adapt to a prolonged change in the environment. It's a slow process of trial and error. Because bacteria don't live very long, millions of generations can pass in the lifetime of one human, compressing the long timelines of change so that we can see them happening. This is why many early geneticists worked with short-lived fruitflies or pea plants. So, yes, I believe in evolution because I can see it happen.

Seeing and Believing

But being able to see something is not the only reason to believe in it. If we limit ourselves to believing only in things we can see, most of us would not even believe in the existence of bacteria, as no one did before the invention of the microscope. But how many of us have seen bacteria with our own eyes? Not many of us, except possibly on TV in some PBS special. And that's not seeing something for yourself, especially in these days of Industrial Light and Magic. Limited to the things we can experience ourselves with our own senses and own perceptions, we would believe in very little. Instead, we believe in the existence of a lot of things by inference. I've never seen an atom, but I believe in their existence for any number of reasons: Hiroshima, nuclear power plants, barium enemas, weapons of mass destruction (except when they're not there).

This belief-by-inference is a species of faith. I have faith that my computer's little silicon chips will allow me to type words on a screen made of liquid crystals in some mysterious way I don't quite understand, because it always has, since the moment I turned it on and set it up. Therefore I believe it always will. Yea verily I believe! And Lo! It comes to pass. Until it doesn't. At which point I feel a little duped, curse the machine unto the seventh generation, and buy a new one with better chips. Faith-by-inference is a little shaky because it relies on mere evidence, though like computers, it's easily upgraded. Unfortunately, also like computers, religious faith-by-inference is constantly in need of upgrading because life and facts change as quickly as software releases these days: scientific advances present constant challenges to literalism and inference.

The faithful are not the only people who practice belief by inference; people whose only creed is science practice faith by inference too. This is how hypotheses are built and tested and become theories. The difference is that the inference is from experimentation and observation—the scientific method—and that belief is expected to change as new evidence presents itself. Religious faith is supposed to remain the same, regardless.

Or is it?

The Evolution of Doctrine

The fact is that it doesn't and hasn't. The classic example of this is the Catholic Church's condemnation of Galileo. It took 400 years, give or take, but even they came around to admitting that their interpretation of scripture was perhaps not entirely correct when asserting that God made the earth the center of the universe. This idea had itself been based on the hypotheses of an ancient Greek astronomer named Ptolemy who was not himself a Christian. Both Christianity and the Jewish faith on which it is founded have been full of revolutions, revelations, and reformations over the centuries. One of the biggest upheavals was the metamorphosis of that little group of Jews in the 1st century into believers that the Messiah had arrived—Jewish heretics soon called "Christians." Every religion on earth has undergone radical and momentous changes throughout its history (like Vatican II in the 20th Century, which left Mel Gibson behind), though the ones I know best pertain to Christianity, so that's what I'll use as examples. Most practitioners don't know enough about their own religion or their beliefs to realize this, and more of them don't want to know because the thought of changes in something as fundamental as doctrine is terrifying. But as with any kind of history, those who don't know the history of their own religions are doomed to repeat it. In this case, in a cycle of reformations and the growth of sects.

For instance, the Trinity did not become accepted doctrine in the Christian Church until at least three centuries after Christ died. In fact, this doctrine is a good example of belief-by-inference, since nowhere in the Bible does Christ claim to be equal to God, or to be God. It's based on John 1:1. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Without getting into a long theological refutation, let's just say that one of the ways you can translate this scripture is to give that second "God" a small "g" with a meaning that comes closer to "divine" or god-like rather than literally being the One God with a capital G.

Say What?

This points to one of the underlying flaws in religious literalism. Whatever scripture you're reading and interpreting, you can be pretty sure it's not in the language it was originally written in. Remember the rubric, "something's always lost in translation"? It applies to scriptural translations too. The essential meaning is seldom lost, but the fine points like punctuation and the more subtle, culturally related meaning of words can be obscured, lost, or intentionally warped by the translators to serve political ends both secular and religious. The fact that there are so many different translations in English alone gives you some idea of the problem and of the degree of argument about accuracy. So unless you're fluent in the original languages of the Bible (ancient Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew) you're already at the mercy of your translators. This can present huge problems when you're arguing over one word or a comma.

Literalism also ignores the fact that, as with any written work, there are rhetorical  and literary tools in use throughout: allegory, parable, irony, even sarcasm (1 Kings 18:27, for example, and much of God's conversation with Job). It's also full of metaphors and levels of meaning. The Bible is nothing if not a book full of symbolic language. The Song of Solomon has been read as a metaphor of God's relationship with his faithful for centuries, just to save celibate clerics from embarrassment. The mistake literalists make is equating metaphor with falsehood, the way one of my fellow congregation members once told her son that novels were lies. In reality, metaphor (and fiction) is just another way of expressing truth, and one of the reasons why myths continue to have resonance for us; they're true in a way facts cannot be. They are not bound by the literal. Sometimes the literal is not enough, or too much. Metaphor is, in fact, often truer than facts because it speaks to us on the visceral level of knowledge, often called faith (of which more about, later).

For example, you can read Genesis literally, as God physically hand-crafting the universe and everything in it sans supplies from Home Depot over a particular (and problematically short) period of time. Or you can read the account as an allegory whose main meaning is that God is the originator of the universe which came into being over a discrete period of time, in a particular order. Read literally, we must define God as looking just like us, since we're made in his (literal) image. He has hands and feet and hair. But is he hermaphroditic too, since both men and women are made in his image? See where metaphor gets you off the hook? It saves a lot of hair-splitting without losing the essential meaning, which is that there is a Creator responsible for the existence of everything, and that we are meant to be a reflection of divine character.

How Now? Who Cares?

Thinking in metaphor actually alleviates much of the clash between science and doctrine (or even more, dogma). Those literal Six Days of Creation, for instance, don't explain dinosaurs, fossils, mass extinctions, or the apparent age of the Earth. Even given a symbolic numerical value, they leave a lot of time unaccounted for. Another woman I know couldn't understand how the Great Lakes area could have once been covered with shallow salt sea that produced the coral fossils called Petoskey stones found all over Michigan. Even she knew 6,000 years wasn't long enough for that to happen, but her literal timeline didn't allow for the 35 million years that does.

What about the Young Earth Creationist idea that God made everything in the world including fossils, lo, these 6,000-10,000 years ago? I've never seen the point of this, and it just makes God look like an annoying prankster, like the guys who whipped up Piltdown Man. He doesn't need the publicity or the attention, and it's just mean to foist that kind of trick on the people you'd like to have love and respect and awe from. If your God is that small-minded, I'm sorry for you.

So how do you, as a person of faith, explain those pesky Petosky stones? You don't. Why should you? The Bible is not a science textbook. It doesn't have to be either scientifically affirmed or refuted, and we only seem to get into trouble when we make attempts to do one or the other. Let the paleontologists worry about the fossils and dinosaurs and the age of the Earth. That's what we pay them for. Just let it go.

The Realms of Faith

Scientists are really good at facts. They're not, however, very good at philosophy, i.e., telling us why we're here, what we should do with ourselves to have a meaningful life, what the big game plan is, and how we should treat our fellow earthlings. This is what faith is for.

Note I did not say religion, which has many of the same functions with somewhat competing answers. Faith is not religion. Faith is a requirement for religion, but not vice-versa. It's actually the foundation of religion, along with love. Faith and love are sort of flip sides of each other and irrelevant to fact, as anyone who has been in love can tell you.

One definition of faith is that it is the assured expectation of things hoped for though not perceived. Like love, it believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things, and the stronger it is, the less details like the age of the Earth matter to it. The beauty of faith is that it does not have to have all the answers right now, because it's sure that we'll have them someday, and that they will all make sense. This may sound naive and childish, but there's something to be said for that point of view. For one thing, it keeps one from getting too big for one's britches. This is a common problem on both sides of the science/religion fence.

I Know Something You Don't Know

My friend Jen has been giving radio interviews and readings to promote her book Black Bodies and Quantum Cats, published by Penguin Books. A former English major turned award-winning science writer (enough credentials?), she's been taken to task at least three times so far by people who say she doesn't have any right to speak for physicists/public policy makers/fill in the blank because she's not one. Aside from the fact that we live in a country that says you can say any damn thing you want except "Fire!" in a crowded theater (at least for now), where do these people get off? Do we all have to be experts to have an opinion on a topic? None of us can be experts in everything (Physicists, I know this is a blow. Sorry.) so this requirement would severely limit the topics we'd be able to discuss with each other. This is where having a child-like mind comes in.

There was a great Broom Hilda cartoon published in the paper one Sunday when I was a kid. Its punchline became a sarcastic shorthand in our house for referring to know-it-alls: "Don't leave your mind open all the time; you might get something in it." Too often, religious and scientific fundamentalists both come to discussions with the idea that the other side has nothing to offer them, that they already know what's right and what's true. I'm giving away my geekiness here (like you hadn't guessed) by quoting Obi-Wan Kenobi: "Everything is true from a certain point of view." While I don't entirely agree with that, I think it's an accurate assessment more often than not. If you shift your perspective just a little, starting with admitting that somebody else might know something useful that you don't, it can modify your own viewpoint just enough to answer questions you thought were unanswerable.

Secular Dogma

E.O. Wilson, in his preface to the new W.W. Norton edition of Darwin's collected works, asserts that,

. . . modern biology is guided by two overwhelmingly powerful and creative ideas. The first is that all biological processes are ultimately obedient to, even though far from fully explained by, the laws of physics and chemistry. The second is that all biological processes arose through evolution of these physicochemical systems through natural selection. The first principle is concerned with the how of biology. The second is concerned with the ways the system adapted to the environment over periods of time long enough for evolution to occur—in other words the why of biology. [emphasis in original]

This strikes me as somewhat disingenuous. This second principle Wilson outlines doesn't answer why at all; it merely answers how things happened in the past, not the underlying reason for them in anything but mechanistic terms. There's not even a hint of a philosophical "why?" in this principle. It is, as science must be, descriptive of fact and process. Insofar as science describes the circumstances that drove the changes, it answers the question "why did these changes take place?" But science has never been able to, nor pretended to, answer the fundamental whys that keep a lot of people up at night: why are we here? Why is any of this here? Why evolution? Why the Big Bang at all? Why do these questions give me insomnia?

Science doesn't even really satisfactorily answer what life is. We know what most of the chemical ingredients are and how many, many of the structures and processes work, but we're not quite sure what the spark plug is, when it takes up residence (or even if it does), and why and how it departs. We can clone sheep and dogs in a lab, but we have to start with the germ cells, not the basic chemical building blocks. The most science has ever been able to do in creating life is to zap a few raw chemicals into amino acids in a flask. We can clone, but we can't animate. Again, we have mechanistic descriptions for what happens when our animation fails, the kind that show up on death certificates: heart failure, cancer, drowning. But in the same way we're not quite sure what gravity is as a force, we're not quite sure what life is either. It seems to be a little more complicated than just an electrochemical reaction. I'm willing to admit we might know someday, and someday soon, but even then, that will leave many of us wondering what all of us wonder at some time or another: Why Me?

Not "why did this happen to me?" but "why am I?" "Just because" is not really a satisfying answer to most of us. And I don't think this is a question science is ever going to be able to answer because there's nothing empirical about it. This is where many scientists suffer from the same kind of literalism that religious fundamentalists do. Just as fundamentalists are uncomfortable with the purposeless randomness of evolution and prefer the literal interpretation of the Creation, fundamentalist scientists are uncomfortable with the non-empirical. If it cannot be quantified somehow, it must not exist or is irrelevant at best. Deviation from either of these dogmas is frowned upon. Ostracism often results.

If you think science doesn't suffer from this narrow-minded attitude, take a look at the current reaction to a long-term study that says a low-fat diet doesn't cut the risks of cancer or heart disease. This has been gospel for years in medical circles; you've all probably heard it from your own doctors: cut the fat. Now many of them are stubbornly insisting this is still true, despite evidence. Reporting on doctors' reactions to the study, a New York Times article said,

The problem, some medical scientists said, is that many people—researchers included—get so wedded to their beliefs about diet and disease that they will not accept rigorous evidence that contradicts it. "Now it's almost a political sort of thing," said Dr. Jules Hirsch, physician in chief emeritus at Rockefeller University. "We're all supposed to be lean and eat certain things."

And so the notion of a healthful diet, he said, has become more than just a question for scientific inquiry.

"It is woven into cultural notions of ourselves and our behavior," he said. "This is the burden you get going into a discussion, and this is why we get so shocked by this evidence."

Or look at the recent protests against having the Dalai Lama speak at a neuroscience conference where research on brain function during meditation conducted with the aid of Tibetan monks was being presented for the first time. More than half of those protesting his presence were Chinese nationals, whose government has a vested interest in discrediting Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama in particular. Science without bias? Not likely. It's a human endeavor, after all. If this were freely recognized by scientists, instead of maintaining that research is conducted in a perfectly objective, bias- and influence-free vacuum, fraud like the recent Korean cloning scandal might be less likely. We can make an attempt to be bias-free, or to at least recognize our biases, but the urge to tweak the data to support our conclusions—or simply our beliefs or to satisfy cultural expectations, stroke our egos, prove somebody else wrong—can be very strong. Humans, in fact, mostly believe what they want to believe, whatever makes them comfortable. This is less true in science, but still a problem.


One of the ideas that the faithful bring to the table that is infinitely useful is that there is a larger intelligence than our own, one that has a perspective of billions of years, rather than the flash-in-the-pan century we're gradually extending our lives to. That cuts two ways. For scientists, this means that there might indeed be "more things in heaven and earth than dreamed of in your philosophy." Maybe there is more to humans than our visible meat and gristle and electrochemistry. Maybe this is why things are so weird on the quantum level, though we don't know what that means yet. For the Faithful, this might mean that there may be scientific explanations for our cherished miracles. If a sufficiently advanced civilization's technology is indistinguishable from magic, as Arthur C.Clarke has said, then it's possible that God has much better "tech" than we do, and what looks like a miracle to us is just the Divine Acme Red Sea Parter. Regardless, Pharaoh drowned and the Israelites got away. Let's not fuss over whether it was a handy wind or the hand of God. Timing is still everything.

One of the difficulties many Christians have with evolution is the idea of our descent from a line of primates. My Dad used to roundly curse Richard Leakey's research whenever a new National Geographic showed up in our house featuring another article about it. "We're not descended from apes!" he would snarl and toss the magazine on the table in disgust. Another objection is the randomness of the process. Weren't we exactly what was intended all along? Weren't we made in God's image? Despite Copernicus and Galileo, humans have not really gotten over being the center of our own personal universe or God's universe. But what makes humans so special?

If anything, it's our intelligence and what we label "human" qualities, which, frankly could come in any kind of container. Is it just the basic, bipedal, upright, largely hairless form that's God's image? How limiting for God! Or is it our qualities: love, mercy, wit, capacity for reason, altruism, stubbornness, appreciation of beauty, aggressiveness that reflect the Creator? Most Christian religions are all about the invisible soul anyway, so what does the form of the material package matter? Would it really have mattered, hypothetically, if it were, say, the ancestors of bears and raccoons who'd developed opposable thumbs and a large forebrain and figured out how to do brain surgery and developed the same qualities we display? What if pandas were the dominant species? Bamboo's a fine material to start learning to build things with. Imagine yourself in that body, or something like it. Would it make a difference? Remember the movie "Planet of the Apes"? If it's our intelligence and qualities, our personhood, that is important to God, what it looks like or what package it developed in doesn't matter. If we take the human form out of center stage and make it nothing but a handy vessel, then evolution becomes just an interesting mechanism, not a threat to our ego or status in God's eyes.

Conversely, one of the difficulties science has with faith is that it insists on the existence of the unmeasurable and unquantifiable and perhaps even the inexplicable. Scientists, by nature, think everything has an explanation, every question has a material answer. Scientists, in fact, are the original Material Girls. Their mantra is Show Me the Data. The numinous doesn't always mix well with hard data, unfortunately. But discarding it out of hand is dangerous, mostly because you never know when it's going to become a scientific theory. After all, at the turn of the 20th century, there were few scientists who had any inkling of the quantum realm or how weird it has proven to be. Light is both a particle and a wave. Matter, on the quantum level, is mostly empty space. The Uncertainty Principle is the norm. Measurement, it turns out, isn't always possible, or even useful. This is why so many of the theories of quantum mechanics can sound like philosophical arguments that include equations, when they don't sound like comic book dialogue (quark, strange, gluon, muon—they all sound like something that might come out of Calvin's transmogrifier). In some sense, quantum mechanics is supernatural because its rules are not the rules of everyday Newtonian physics that we have thought of as "natural" and logical and reasonable for centuries. This gives quantum nature an uncomfortable slipperiness that is troubling even to physicists.

Undoubtedly, most of this problem can be attributed to lack of data, as well as to a lack of the key, underlying, grand unifying theory, something physicists have been chasing like the Holy Grail for most of the last century.

I hear some of you screaming heretic! at me. I'm probably getting it from both sides, in fact. But consider this before you start heaving rocks at me. There's an interesting dichotomy here: In science, the how matters very much, but the ultimate why doesn't; in religious faith, the why matters very much, but the how really doesn't. As Einstein said in the same lecture quoted above, ". . . science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary. Religion, on the other hand, deals only with evaluations of human thought and action: it cannot justifiably speak of facts and relationships between facts."

Complementary Stories

I mentioned earlier that myths appeal to us on a visceral level that we can't quite explain. We're still entertained and moved by stories that tap the old archetypes of myth, from the Odyssey to Star Wars. One of the common complaints I heard from friends about the movie Troy was that the moviemakers had left the gods out of it. Without them, it's just a big, stupid fight over a woman, like an oversized barroom brawl. It's the presence of the gods manipulating, playing favorites, scheming against each other with their human and semi-divine pawns, that makes the Iliad a story that's appealed for thousands of years. The divine, however we think of it, completes us, makes us bigger than we are without it. Humans cling to some kind of overarching philosophy to make sense of their world, even if that philosophy is a nihilistic atheism; it's still some ideal larger than a single human being, an explanation of sorts for the human condition, even if it's full of negatives. We want some explanation, some why, even if it's "just because." The fact that we want to explain at all is a singular quality.

Story is a powerful technique for defining our world. You can even say that science itself is just another story, though one built on facts rather than made up from whole cloth (a little like, say, New Journalism or a James Frey memoir). And no matter what scientists would like you to think, science doesn't always involve an orderly process. Like good stories, its success is sometimes due to raw and unpredictable inspiration. In another recent review of the Darwin collection, Jonathan Weiner writes in Scientific American:

[Darwin] didn't gather a thousand and one facts and then invent a theory to explain them--which was the scientific style that had been urged on the world by the prophet of science Francis Bacon. Instead the young Darwin made a leap of imagination and then worked for decades to find out if his idea really held up. . . . Darwin's leap of imagination is a feat that an artist can appreciate. He had a powerful vision of the way things are, of the way things go, and then he wrote a shelf of great books that convinced his readers of his vision. As Dobbs writes, "It was a move toward the power of story." Watson and Crick worked the same way in their discovery of the double helix: first the leap of intuition, then the tests.

Finally, of course, there is the power of the story itself. Darwin was born in the static world of scripture, and he left us a turbulent world of perpetual change. Ever since Darwin, we live in a world of stories. . . .

This, too, is disingenuous, as well as displaying an appalling ignorance of history and literature. We lived in a world of stories long before Darwin. Scripture itself, whether the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, Buddhist or Hindu scriptures, are stories first and foremost. They contain narratives that help humans make sense of the world and our existence, just as Darwin's story of evolution does. The human world has always been a world of stories. It's their classification and interpretation that's changed with Darwin, and the idea that there needs to be one overarching story that explains everything equally well. Actually, all stories have a bit of the truth in them, not as a single kind of truth, but as a piece of the puzzle of our existence. Putting them together gives us a fuller picture: both the why and the how, instead of the values-free story of science, and the fact-light story of creation. They are complementary stories, not clashing ones.

But no matter what species of story we follow, there is always a leap of imagination in it somewhere, because storytelling is a human activity, and so is curiosity.

Both science and organized religion are human endeavors and reflect human foibles and imperfections, no matter how divinely inspired one might be or believe itself to be. Imperfect practitioners can't produce a perfect practice, no matter what activity it might be. People goof up, let power go to their heads, become greedy, or just simply fail to live up to their responsibilities. For example, I'm sure it's not necessary to list the horrible mistakes made and atrocities carried out in the name of pleasing Christ over the centuries. Likewise, more than one pharmaceutical's rush to production before adequate testing has ruined people's lives in the name of profits. And it wasn't an idle dramatic statement on Robert Oppenheimer's part to respond to the first successful Trinity test with the quotation from the Bhagavad-Gita, "I am become death, destroyer of worlds."

In the face of scientific advances, people of religious faith have two choices: we can live in fear that science will make our faith obsolete and fight its facts tooth and nail with rabid fanaticism. This is a losing battle that serves no one. Or we can turn the questions around and ask ourselves, "how can this strengthen my faith?"  Intelligent Design could offer a solution in this direction. But unlike its current formulation where the Hand of God meddled directly with the actual minute details of life, the Intelligent Design I'm thinking of would not posit that there was a fixed template for creation, merely a goal of arriving at certain qualities and states: consciousness of self and existence accompanied by the qualities that make humans noble: love, empathy, sympathy, charity, compassion. That we haven't yet achieved that state without being plagued by selfishness, greed, and violence means we're a work in progress, and we need to keep working until those qualities, driven by our electro-biochemistry, drop out of or are modified into something more humane in the human gene pool. Whether that will happen "naturally" or through our own tinkering remains to be seen.

Likewise, scientists could use a little dose of the moral values and the humility that faith urges. Pure research is a beautiful thing, and necessary, but until we somehow expunge greed and violence from our character, scientific advances will continue to be used for harmful purposes. Scientists need to realize and admit that and consider it as an outcome of their investigations. Science is not value-free and it should stop pretending it is.

Science and faith have important lessons for each other, if both camps can only stop being so literal, just listen to the stories, and learn to ask the right questions of each other.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

The comments to this entry are closed.