Posted by: cmittermeier | February 12, 2012

Science and Religion are not mutually exclusive

I was part of a focus group yesterday and I love how you meet some of the most interesting characters at such things.  Most focus groups try to cover a wide demographic and I love the chance to mingle with thoughtful elders as well as peek into the ideas of those stepping on my coat tails.  During a break, one mother lamented over her son who is all science and no church.  It was as if the two were incompatible, to which I informed her I was both a scientist and pro-church.  She was stunned and with a very perplexed face asked how that was possible.  I was equally stunned that the two would be incompatible!

I will see her again next month, and I will be better prepared to help her.  You see, for me science was a gateway to God.  It has been through my understanding of physics that I caught a glimpse of the mystery of the trinity (light is both particle and wave – what you look for is what you find, yet never at the same time it is totally dependent on what your instruments measures.  There is still something to light they cannot yet describe…).  It was in graduate studies in my beloved mathematics that I was forced to understand nothing comes from nothing – you must first have axioms that you consider true before anything can follow (this is from category theory).  It wasn’t till later that I found out great minds had already noted these theological links.  At the time I thought I was brilliant and totally ahead of the game, wink wink.  It was even more recent that I began to understand that so many of the great scientists I admired were deeply religious!  That’s why early science degrees always included philosophy – to our elders science and theology were intimately entwined as they were both the search to understand the creator of the world.  Science was meant to understand the creator by studying his creation.  The two are not opposites!

She was trying to get him to read Genesis – that it was all there.  I cautioned against that.  The bible is not a historical document, nor a scientific treaty, and it most definitely is not a proof-text.  I pointed her in the direction of those great minds I mentioned above, and checked with a Deacon to make sure I had the right Thomas (I get Aquinas and a Kempis mixed up all the time).  He reminded me of Peter Kreeft who has done a wonderful job of bringing those arguments into our modern vocabulary.  I will also give her a link to Fr. Robert Barron who has taken head on some of those misguided folks who get so caught up in studying creation they ignore there must be axioms.  Fr. Robert Barron also talks on science and religion on video if her son is not a reader.

The conversation reminded me how important it is for us to speak in the language of the receiver.  If I spoke to this young man on those moments of grace that fill my life, I’m sure it would be as if I were speaking in Hindi.  Though his mother was firmly grounded in her religious life, she did not know his language and was unable to answer the questions he was encountering in his faith journey. She had also not encountered this question, so was unaware of the solutions already in our church.

We all have questions, but I have yet to find two people with exactly the same set of questions.  I firmly believe that no question has not yet been asked (and answered), but you have to find the answers.  Sometimes, yes, they will come easily from those closest to you, but like this misunderstanding in her son, for others the answers will require a larger circle of search.


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