Friday, July 17, 2009

Amen! Quarks...

Following on my previous post about science versus faith, I wanted to comment on a point raised in The Simpsons episode, "The Monkey Suit," which is a funny play on the Scopes Monkey Trial. After the trial is over, Lisa explains to Reverend Lovejoy that, while she has respect for his faith, she believes it shouldn't be taught in school. "After all," she says, "you wouldn't want science taught in church."

Actually, as a devoted Christian (and astrophysicist), that's precisely what I want. Not creation science, not science twisted to mean something it's not, but modern science as it is. Why? Gerald Schroeder explains in God According to God.
To understand how that dynamic Force manifests Itself in the ever changing world It created, we turn to the only two sources of relevant information: nature, that is, the world around us, and the Bible. Both provide a confirmation that God's essence is as vibrant as the world itself. In this sense the study of nature is as much a study of God as is the study of the Bible. The eighteenth century theologian known as the Scholar, or Gaon, of Vilna taught that when the Torah was given on Sinai, it split into portions. Only one portion was retained as the written words of the Bible. The other portion was hidden in nature. And only when we finally discover that part of the Torah that was sequestered in nature will we be able to fully understand the word of God.
The ancient biblical scholar Maimonides hinted at this almost a millennium ago: If we want to understand the mind of God and his purpose for us, we must study physics and astronomy.

As an undergraduate physics student, before I became a believer, I had a vague sense that there was more to physics than the study of how things work. There also seemed to be a pressing sense of why. It wasn't until later when a fellow graduate student, and devout Catholic, explained to me his view on the matter that I understood the sense of why: We have both nature and the Bible, and must reconcile the two so that we never become complacent in our assessment of God. In other words, as Schroeder points out, nature is the missing half of God's wisdom, there for us to discover. I find this idea incredibly exciting.

Whether I can convince my fellow Christians of this, I don't know. But I hope that, someday, this cartoon won't be depicting something far from reality.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Faith vs. Reason Part XVIII, Revenge of the Uninformed

Oh, joy. Here we go again. Just in time for the controversy over Francis Collins' appointment as head of NIH, we have word of a biopic about Darwin that claims, wouldn't you know, science and faith are at odds.

Torn between his love for his deeply religious wife and his own growing belief in a world where God has no place, Darwin finds himself caught in a struggle between faith and reason, love and truth.
Despair not. Instead of a dry treatise on the remote, elderly bearded figure we've come to associate with Darwin, we have a young, vibrant, attractive Darwin in the person of actor Paul Bettany (along with Bettany's wife, Jennifer Connelly, as Mrs. Darwin) in a romantic and passionate struggle between opposing beliefs.

Ironically, the film is titled Creation.

I keep tellin' you folks. Religious people didn't decide that science was incompatible with their beliefs, the other side did. The Baylor University Religion Survey confirms this: atheists believe that science and faith are incompatible by a much higher margin than Christians. But the atheists/skeptics keep hammering people with this faith vs. science trope until some Christians finally say, "Okay, okay, we believe you," whereupon we're all slammed for being anti-science. It's enough to make you want to slap the nearest scientist.

The truth is, there is no struggle between faith and science, faith and reason. It's a bogus dichotomy driven by ignorance on both sides. The Baylor survey shows that beliefs about science on both sides tend to be uninformed: die-hard evolutionists in the general public are likely not to know anything about evolutionary theory, while creationists are likely not to have read the Bible (!!). I therefore strongly recommend three books to anyone remotely interested in this debate:

The Science of God
The Hidden Face of God
God According to God

All are written by MIT-trained physicist and applied theologian Gerald Schroeder. Employing a deep understanding of the Old Testament, Genesis in particular, Schroeder shows that modern science and biblical wisdom are fully compatible and mutually reinforcing. As a scientist, myself, I can attest that Schroeder does not compromise the science in the slightest. So compelling is his argument, in fact, that his first book put me on the path to a conversion from atheism to Christianity.

The latest, God According to God, I just started reading. It's difficult, because Schroeder suggests that the traditional view of the biblical God, held by both believers and atheists, is wrong. The God he posits is dynamic, changing, and fully consistent with both the Bible and nature. This idea is far less comforting than that of a perfect, eternally unchanging God, so I suspect the book will not be wildly popular with Christians. Nevertheless, if one goes beyond a superficial understanding of the Bible and reconciles it with what we know of nature, the idea is inescapable. One cannot claim to be a pursuer of truth if uncomfortable ideas are ignored.

I think it especially important for skeptics and atheists to read these books. Not in order to be convinced, but to understand that there is a much deeper, highly intellectual facet to religious belief that I'm sure many would rather believe does not exist. So here's the challenge. If you're an atheist/skeptic, read these books. If you are not compelled in the slightest, if you can find fault with the arguments, if you can knock legitimate holes in Schroeder's reasoning and declare him wrong, then you will have defeated the best my side has to offer and may rest comfortable and assured in your disbelief. You will be in far better company than people like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins, who choose only to assail the weakest and silliest in order to declare victory.

Judging from the first two chapters, I think atheists/skeptics will find this book a much more enjoyable read than I found Dawkins' The God Delusion (see my review here). Schroeder, while not withholding criticism of the opposition's arguments, writes from a place of utter confidence and refrains from the condescension and insults that rendered Delusion almost unreadable.

A review of God According to God will be posted in the next few weeks.