Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Can Both Faith and Science Be True?

It's Christmas, time when often questions of doubt surface in discussions during the singing of carols at church, over dinner or after the presents have been ripped open.  How could the whole nativity thing be true?  Was she really a virgin, or a young maiden?  How could God become human?  What was that star thing they claimed to see?  It all just doesn't seem to make enough sense according to our scientific worldview to be true, let alone believable.

I think we often get lost by opposing Faith and Science.  It happens when we talk about abortion and the "quickening moment" of life, evolution and the beginning of our origins, sometimes in terms of our identities, particularly our orientations and the question of nature or nuture, and all the times in face of the complexity of the universe.  Is God merely the god of the gaps, invoked to explain the gaps in our understanding  of the mysterious world, who fills in the spaces that don't seem to make sense?  Like the moment just before the big bang, as the unmoved mover that started it all?  If so, then we end up with an opposition between science and faith, where science is seen as the primary syntax for searching and articulating what's objectively true, and where faith is seen as ignorant or defines itself purely in opposition to science refusing to affirm that we come from monkeys or are merely a cosmic accident. Surprisingly there is not a decrease in belief in God or a higher power as our technological prowress and scientific knowledge increases, but rather the opposite in the general population.

Two articles I read this week [Rethinking Science and Religion on and Angels in the Economist] synthesized concisely this quandry and offered some great language.  Today we see more that God is not the god of the gaps, but rather the author of wonder.  We are moving beyond a purely scientific worldview, realizing that not everything can - or maybe even should - be explained, quantified or qualified. We want to make sense of the world around us, make meaning of and with our actions, choices and relationships.  Scientific insights, whether regarding evolution, orientation or reflections on miraculous historicity, don't have to force us to choose between a bunsen burner or the Bible, making existential faith-related decisions easier, but they just might be complimentary, making the choices and decisions we make more enlightened, thoughtful and meaning-making.

I think a major part of the politicized problem of opposition between the two sister languages for meaning making in life has been the result of professional clergy afraid to move beyond an historic understanding or what traditional belief or orthodoxy must mean, or on the other side of the spectrum so entranced with science and put-off by the old-schoolness of traditional orthodoxy that they have advocated seeing faith first and foremost through the lenses of a scientific world-view and define modern or liberal faith mainly in opposition to the traditional stance that refuses to engage modernity.  So in the end the main poles of religious thought and producers of mainstream faith language base their foundations upon a refusal to engage with the other side.  No wonder we're so confused and the percentage of folks who believe in God is significantly higher than that of those who participate regularly in a community of faith.  Maybe truth isn't so much about what beliefs we hold on to in an intellectual or emotional way, but rather truth is what pushes us to action and brings us into common community with like-minded other people?  The only way forward out of this bankrupted opposition position is dialogue, engaging the "other side", re-affirming the faith pointed to in the Bible that we are created in the image of God, intended to be(come) co-creators with God, active participants in the emerging and expanding universe not merely mute followers pliant to a mysterious power.  And isn't that what the message of the Christmas narrative, the baby born in Bethlehem is really all about?

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