Faith

Modern Science Is Not Opposed to Faith

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Of all the arguments against faith, the two most common are, first, that evil and suffering could not exist if a loving and omnipotent God exists, and, second, that modern science makes faith illogical and absurd.

My column last week addressed the first; an interview published last week addresses the second.

Religion News Service last Monday published a discussion with pop culture figure “Science Mike” McHargue – now author of a book whose title proclaims that instead of his faith succumbing to science, he “found it again through science.” In the interview, McHargue explains that (with my emphasis added):

[P]eople arrive at their beliefs for good reasons — that maybe for Christians, good, reasonable, smart people can make an informed decision they don’t believe in God without being evil. At the same time, atheists can realize it’s somewhat naive and somewhat ignorant of cognitive psychology and neuroscience to believe one has to be delusional or not grounded in reality to believe in God — even a supernatural God. These are both reasonable positions to exist within the human experience.

For those who keep up with such things, this idea that the possibility of God is advanced, not diminished, by modern science – particularly particle physics, quantum mechanics and, as McHargue noted, neuroscience – is not a new discovery. These sorts of arguments have been made for nearly four decades now. The annual Templeton Prize, which “honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension,” more often than not in the past 20 years has been awarded to scientists (rather than, say, theologians or clergy without a background in science).

Arthur Peacocke, for example, was a biochemist who did pioneering work in the physical chemistry of DNA. The 2001 winner of the Templeton Prize, he posited – along with many others – that evolution was fully consonant with a purposeful God of love. And while his theology wasn’t entirely orthodox, he argued quite strenuously that Christianity specifically was not contradicted by evolution properly understood. Indeed, he wrote, Jesus himself was

…the consummation of the purposes of God already incompletely manifested in evolving humanity… [and] the paradigm of what God intends for all human beings, now revealed as having the potentiality of responding to, of being open to, of becoming united with, God.

One of my own college professors, John Haught, went so far as to write in the The Cosmic Adventure (a 1984 book that enjoyed remarkably large sales for a theology treatise) that “there is absolutely nothing in the scientific approach that contradicts the essence of religious interpretation of reality.”

Eminent scientists and theologians alike have explored and explained this all at great length, and at far greater eloquence than I can muster in a mere sentence or two, but the essence of their argument is this: The more one learns about the more complicated forms of chemistry, biology and physics, the more one realizes that the odds against life as we know it developing from random chance are, well, virtually astronomical. Those odds against it (goes the argument) are so great that one becomes more likely to believe a purposive God is the only entity that could have directed the particles and elements to interact and combine in ways beneficial to Creation.

As “Science Mike” says in last week’s interview, “I’ve just given up trying to turn the world into an equation I can solve, and instead, it’s a gift I receive.”

This little essay cannot do justice to the scientific or theological arguments supporting the convergence of religion and science, but suffice it to say that a vast literature on this topic awaits those willing to do even a little Internet research.

Albert Einstein was an agnostic, not a believer, and was speaking allegorically rather than literally when he famously said that “God does not play dice with the universe.” But the more one looks at the “uncertainty principle” involved in quantum mechanics, the more one believes that no game of chance, but only a conscious and loving design, could create the mysterious and wondrous Creation we enjoy.

Quin Hillyer is a veteran conservative columnist. He has an undergraduate degree in Theology from Georgetown University and has served for years in various forms of ecumenical lay leadership.