Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Science and Faith

For Christmas this year, my dear sister who lives in Canada gifted with a book entitled The Language of God, written by Francis S. Collins. Collins is both physician and medical research scientist, and served as the leader of the Human Genome Project for the majority of its existence. The Human Genome Project was a tremendously ambitious undertaking to map out the entirety of the human genome, giving us a map of the very code of human life. It succeeded.

Collins is also a devout Christian. To many, both those firmly in the camp of faith and those firmly in the camp of science, this might seem a contradiction. Ultimately, this is silly.

To get the full picture of Collins' view on the question of whether science and faith are compatible, which can be summarized as "of course they are," you should really just go read his book.

Being Christian myself, and having already gone through a period of questioning the foundations of my personal belief, much of what Collins said regarding the evidence for God are arguments with which I am well familiar, and agree. For example, the nigh universal recognition of the Moral Law by all humanity, and the question of the origin of all things, give support to there being something along the lines of God. From the Moral Law alone, conclusions can be drawn about this being's nature.

I won't, however, go into that here. As I said, these are arguments with which I am well familiar. The territory in which I had little in the way of knowledge lay with what had actually been discovered regarding the Theory of Evolution, and the general treatment of this evidence by the majority of those of faith.

With the continued study of the genome, within humans and animals alike, the mechanisms of evolution are being discovered. The fossil record, while still incomplete, is slowly being filled in. It would appear from the scientific evidence that Darwin's original hypothesis is being borne out, to the point that the Theory of Evolution has rightfully graduated from the grounds of untested hypothesis to working and well tested theory.

Science does not use the word theory as it is used in general conversation. In general conversation, a theory can be equated to a hunch, at worst, or an educated guess, at best. In science, a theory is a coherent group of tested general propositions that are commonly reviewed as correct. It is only called theory and not fact because there is always the chance, however slight, that some new discovery will require a retooling of the theory.

This should give a clue to the nature of science itself - even things currently widely accepted as simple observable fact are considered theories, such as that of gravity. It is widely known and accepted that bodies of mass exert an attractive force on each other, and we call this gravity. The old axiom "What goes up must come down" is related to this. And yet how it works is still be researched, and our current explanation may, indeed, be not quite right or perhaps entirely wrong - so it is a theory, and not hard fact.

So when the scientist talks about a theory, it is not something that should be dismissed as "just a theory." This is dangerous, willful ignorance.

Secondly, understand that science itself is nothing more than a set of procedures for exploring the nature of the natural world. It has been utilised since its invention and codification by believer and secularist alike to explain the world in which we live to the best of our ability. It is simply a tool. A very powerful, very effective tool, but simply a tool.
It is, more importantly, a tool for seeking out truth. When practiced properly and effectively, it self-corrects. False assumptions and hypotheses are proved false, and those more in line with what actually is are borne out in the fullness of time and research. Furthermore, truth can't contradict truth. Where two ideas or teachings contradict each other, one must be false.

So science itself cannot pose any threat to God. It explores the natural world, which, if you take the account of the Bible seriously, God created in all of its wondrous detail. Therefore, any discoveries made and verified by actual science can only ever be a discovery of something of God's creation. Any truth uncovered about the natural world is simply a piece of the overall truth of, well, everything. The historical record bears this out: the discovery and verification of the fact that the earth orbited the sun, and before that, that the earth was round, ultimately posed no threat to God or faith in him. Centuries later, God still exists, and so does the church.

In the light of all this, and of the mounting evidence for the veracity of the Theory of Evolution, I find myself puzzled and somewhat disappointed in the church at large. Far be it from me to judge any - anything that another believer is guilty of, I am or could be guilty of as well. But still, the outcry against these findings seems fueled by misguided concerns, else more people would be in the business of discovering how it is that the new information fits within the faith.

It is also damaging. It is only NOW, at a quarter century of age, that I have any inkling of the sheer weight of evidence in favor of the mechanism of evolution as the vehicle for the diversity of life, after reading this book. This is my own fault, for not delving into the question myself - but fault also lies with the sources that claimed a lack of evidence, and which I believed.

Granted, many of those claims are from a time when there was little evidence. Still, it behooves us, as Christians and believers, to examine not only whether there is evidence now, but whether or not there could be evidence in the future. Secondly, it behooves us to examine whether or not new scientific findings are actually incompatible with our faith - and if we find them to be so, it behooves us to discover why.

Truth cannot contradict truth. So if we find something about the world that is true, but which conflicts with what we believe to be true, we must of necessity examine that belief in greater detail, and alter or change it to fit the actual truth. This can be said not only of the natural world, bu the spiritual as well - if I held firm to a view on the nature of God that I found later to be at odds with the truth, I must question my view.
Remember, we are the fallible beings. If there is any fault in our faith, it is because we have made the mistake, not because God is somehow wrong. If science questions what we have come to accept as the status quo, it can only be our own pride that prevents us from accepting the change. God is infallible. His creation and his truth is true, and cannot be altered or broken by the assaults of those who reject him. To think that he would need us to defend him from something such as scientific findings is hubris.

What is vulnerable are the hearts and minds of our fellow humans. They, like us, like everyone, are fallible, and easily swayed by the words of those around them. So to give them the best chance to know the truth, we must also know the truth, and constantly evaluate ourselves to check that we are speaking truth, and not the lies of ignorance. The Bible itself says, in Proverbs 19:2, that "Even zeal is not good without knowledge,  and he who acts hastily sins." Only when we are properly informed should we speak with authority on a subject, or else we risk harming our credibility, and by extension, that of faith, in the eyes of the world.

I apologise if I've rambled here. I was simply rather shocked to realise that there was, in fact, significant support for the Theory of Evolution, and that those proponents of it were not willfully blinding themselves to the truth in search of some way to deny the reality of God. It was even more unpleasant to realise that I was more likely the one willfully blinding myself in search of some way to disregard a challenge to what I had come to believe as truth.

Fortunately, evolution does not demand, as so many of its most vocal proponents would have you believe, that we disregard even the suggestion of a god. There are a great many scientists who have managed to marry both scientific findings and a rock-solid faith, Collins among them, and a great many who have, in fact, found faith as a result of their scientific work. This alone means that I need not even consider casting God aside (and if you had any idea that I was considering doing so, then you really haven't been paying attention).

Science, you see, has its limits - it is bounded by the observable, and by what can be experimented upon. The questions of spirit, morality, and God do not fall within these criteria. One's worldview is not determined by science, nor does it consist of a series of memorized facts, but rather is determined by what you choose to believe and how you incorporate those facts into that. It is, ultimately, determined by you.

For my part, I will take this, and think on it. May God guide my thoughts to the truth - and may he lead you, and all of us, there as well.

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