Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Are Science and Religion Partners?

Pope Francis has recently announced that he believes in the Big Bang theory and has reaffirmed that religion is compatible with science. He is not the first religious person to make such claims. Maimonides claimed that science has precedence to religion in matters regarding the laws of nature. Rabbi Abraham Kook, the chief of rabbi of Palestine in 1921, said regarding scientific discovery that: "In general this is an important principle in the conflict of ideas, that when an idea comes to negate some teaching in the Torah, we must not, to begin with, reject it, but build the edifice of the Torah above it, and thereby we ascend higher, and through this ascent, the ideas are clarified." Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, wrote a comprehensive book entitled: "The Great Partnership: Science, religion, and the search for meaning."

It would seem that religion, and Judaism in particular, has come to terms with the validity of scientific discoveries, and have found ways that these new discoveries serve to enhance their belief in God. How many less people would have been tortured and killed had the Catholic Church respected what science had to say in the centuries passed?

When I was believer I manged to accept that science simply showed us how God created the world. As a child I had studied under rabbis who taught that the dinosaur fossils were sent by God to test the faithful and confuse the heretics. The one time I remember learning about evolution in my elementary school was when one rabbi exclaimed: "If evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?!" The students laughed at the silly scientists, and the class continued. However, these cases are extreme and are fundamentalist views according to many leading rabbis, as shown above. In my later adolescent years I modified my religious belief to include respect of science.

Religion use to be afraid of science, but religious faith has adapted and evolved to be impenetrable by reason or evidence to the contrary. Every new discovery no matter how contradictory to the Bible will be accepted as God's tool. They have learned to embrace science as a branch of theology. Religious leaders no longer need to be worried about scientific discoveries since their faith and the faith of their people do not rest within this world. Their God is beyond this physical existence, therefore though he cannot be proved, he cannot be disproved. Why then should religion be wary of discoveries that can only affect this physical existence?

It would seem that religion is compatible with science; but is science compatible with religion? I do not think it to be. Science is based on the principles of testable theories, observable experiments, and, perhaps most in contrast to religion, that no "truth" is sacred and cannot be later proven wrong. There is no dogma in science. No principles one must accept without evidence. Scientists are always aware that at any moment some piece of newly discovered evidence can change the way we view the universe entirely; and they seek it! It was the scientific mind that first challenged the notion that the world was flat, or that the biblical creation narrative was accurate. Where would we be without the scientists? Indeed, we would be right where are superstitious, ignorant, ancestors were, would we not?

This idea of questioning assumptions, challenging common sense, and commitment to evidence, has propelled us from shepherds to astronauts, from creatures within the universe to its observers! It is this passion to know the universe, the humility to accept our ignorance, and our defiance of dogma, that permitted us to see beyond the stars, and below the deep dark oceans.

Religion cannot be compatible with science so long as it makes claims about the way the world is. Though the clergymen who have stopped condemning science have certainly helped it move along undisturbed, religion and science are still antipodal ways of discovering the universe. I am certainly pleased that religion has begun to accept science, for as I said, scientists will no longer be hunted down and silenced the way they once were, but there is still a gap the size of God that creates the dissonance between science and religion. Science may be a great partner for religious moderates, but religion is certainly no partner of science.

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