The Faith of Science, the Science of Faith

By | June 6, 2023

Pages overflow with words on the relation of Science and Religion. And that is all good. Mankind has not yet reconciled the two, and many take sides claiming either one or the other to be the greater truth. However, in that discourse, even discord, the exploration for deeper understanding raises mankind.

So let me add a few more pages.

The Apparent Lack of Miracles

Let us take as true the claim that few if any clear miracles have occurred in the last centuries, basically since the dawn of the scientific era. Many may disagree, even vehemently, but let us accept that statement.

What would be a clear miracle? Anything the four main gospels indicate Christ performed, i.e. a directed, observable transformation outside any known scientific explanation and astounding in that transformation. We will add that a current miracle needs verification by an array of non-religious authorities and observation by many.

As noted, let us accept no such miracle has occurred in the last several centuries.

Would that establish anything? I would offer that it would not. The lack of miracles would shed little or no light on the questions of the existence of the supernatural, and the relation of Science and Religion.

In the great Foundation series, Issac Asimov postulates that a great mathematician Hari Seldon develops a technique, psychohistory, which can predict the future of the Galactic Empire. Seldon predicts a thirty millennium dark age, and sets in motion a plan to shorten that to a thousand years. The plan will cycle through stages, during which different cultural forces, be it technology or commerce or worship, each have primacy. The flow of these cycles creates a sweep of history that will shorten the impeding dark ages.

Religious salvation at the hand of a God could readily run through stages. Just as Seldon psychohistory ran through stages, religious salvation could require a sequential sweep of stages. We could be in a purposeful stage of no miracles, since a secular development of science may serve as a key stage in salvation sweep.

You may find this hypothesis astounding, even absurd. You may say no sweep of salvation history exists. But you could not base that objection on the “apparent” current no-miracle era. Any lack of miracles in the modern era does not disprove the existence of miracles in other times, nor does it disprove the existence of a God, nor does it disprove the existence of a sweep of salvation history.

Miracles, God and a sweeping salvation history could exist even if the current era lacks miracles.

The Efficiency of Science

Science stands as among the most objective pursuits of mankind. Many have written about how cultural and organizational imperatives bend and corrupt science. However, Science requires objective observational evidence, and in the end observation has banished threads of theories that are incorrect thinking.

Further, at every turn Science has overcome apparent limitations to the observable. Observations are becoming expensive, e.g. the Large Haldron Collider, or the James Webb Space Telescope, but I for one would not be surprised if Science develops methods to observe events before the Big Bang, or that occur in other multi-verses.

There is an uncertainty though. For all of the past and ongoing success of Science, it remains a hypothesis, not a fact, that the explanatory reach of Science can expand for ever. We extrapolate from past and current success that Science can continue to solve problems; but we don’t know for certain.

Some might say we have a faith in Science.

You might object. Certainly the trajectory of scientific explanation provides proof of its future efficacy. But we have been at Science for a relatively short period, in historic terms, four centuries, maybe five. And just as the apparent lack of miracles for five centuries provides, in my judgment, no firm foundation for declaring Religion irrelevant, the success of Science for five centuries provides no proof, only a faith, that Science can expand its reach forever.

Am I stating Science will hit a limit? No. What I am saying is that as I, as we, search for understanding and truth, I will not, and we collectively can not, discard that Science could reach a limit.

The Science of Religion

Religion seeks to give insight to that which is beyond, beyond our physical senses and beyond our understanding. Religion provides illuminations about our afterlife, and our origins, and our purpose, and our destiny.

And in numerical and commitment terms, Religion has accomplished that with great success. Billions of people profess faith and belief in the dogma and revelations provided by Religion and the iconic figures of Religion, such as Christ, Mohammed, and Buddha.

But just as I argue the future efficacy of Science can be considered an article of faith, not certainly, I will argue that the faith of Religion contains a weakness born of its essentially complete lack, dare say disavowal, of any scientific explanation.

Why does Religion need some scientific underpinning? Because Religion posits that the transcendental God has in the past and continues now to enter into the world. He spoke to the prophets, he became man, he performed miracles, he hears our prayers, he sends us grace, he gives us wisdom. How does a God accomplish that? By what mechanism does he reach from the supernatural into the natural to impact our tangible world?

Let’s take a simple example. Before a trip, believers pray to God for a safe bus trip. How does God hear that prayer? At what point do our words and thoughts pierce the envelope of existence and enter the transcendental realm. No observation of science has tripped across any instance that would correspond to our words or mental thoughts leaving to a supernatural realm.

And how does God make our trip safe? How does he influence the mental state of the driver to pay attention, what electro-chemical or quantum-entangled signal does a transcendental consciousness send to make the ocular neurons in the driver’s brain be more perceptive of coming hazards. Science has never observed such an influence.

The reply often states that one must accept the methods of God to be a mystery; that one must believe.

That is fine. But at some point, just like Science must see its continued efficacy as an article of faith, Religion must see that the coherence of its theology involves some accommodation to a scientific underpinning for the mechanism by which the supernatural impacts our actuality.

Christ turned water into wine in real space, in real time, and those who drank the liquid perceived it as wine. Christ walked on water. Christ rose from the dead. Those are physical events, involving matter and energy transformation. Unless Religion wants to admit those events were illusions or trickery, some physical mechanism underlies those events, and likely that mechanism is observable. It could be a mechanism beyond any science we know, but that mechanism must be, as I view it, something observable.

The rejoinder might be God suspended the laws of physics. The question remains. How? What field or mechanism or force does God use to effect that suspension?

One may view as blasphemy a search for a scientific explanation of a God. God lies beyond science; we can not know him through science. That may be. God can remain beyond Science. What would seem can not remain outside Science is the mechanism of his influence.

The Journey

Religion and Science both seek the truth. And at times for some, and at times for many, Religion and Science, both the institutions and the members, conclude they have the truth, or that the truth lies just around the next discovery.

But we might be mistaken. Truth may not be at hand, or even near.

Remember what we have just covered. The existence of miracles, or rather their apparent lacking, stands as a hot button of focus, even controversy, but by my contention that focus is misplaced. Science sees itself as objective, but by my contention the ultimate efficacy of Science rests on a type of faith. Religion views its realm as the spiritual, but by my contention Religion fails to recognize how it must address its consistency and integration with Science.

So we have common postulations that might be wrong.

And similarly, while the postulation might be correct that truth might be at hand, we have no certainty of that. In many a past era, individuals have judged, preached and proclaimed religious or scientific truth to be complete, only for a succeeding era to discover mystery.

So we may not be near truth. That postulation may be wrong. The ultimate truth of both God and Science could span above us by more than the wonders of the earth span above the comprehension of animals. We could have no more understanding than a butterfly has of a space ship.

With that perspective, that our journey to truth may have many eras to go, centuries, millennium, centuries of millennium, I do not dwell on which has more truth, on whether Science is closer or Religion is closer. We are on a journey to truth. Too much may lie ahead of us to look sideways and argue with our fellow travelers.