Put on your bifocals to read from the book of Genesis and you're relying on the same laws of optics that astronomers use to tell us the universe could not possibly have been created the way the Good Book says. The irony would be delicious if it weren't so dangerous.
At least since the time of Galileo, science and theology have been in conflict. While the vast majority of Americans profess belief in a deity, ninety–five percent of biologists in the National Academy of Sciences call themselves atheists or agnostics.
The chasm between the two camps is worrisome. For if religion has the power to unleash the best and worst in human nature—from Mother Teresa to Osama bin Laden—technology has the ability to harness the creative and destructive potential of the universe itself. The world can no longer afford either heartless science or mindless faith.
But like a pair of bifocals, science and religion may simply offer differing lenses on our experience. One lens focuses our curiosity, while the other magnifies our awe. The point where the vision converges is in mystery.
Whether discussing divinity or dark matter, a little humility is in order. Isn't plain not knowing better than being absolutely sure of "facts" that just aren't so? Neither science nor religion can completely unscrew the inscrutable. Ultimately, both may be better at questioning our answers than answering our questions.
Science punctures our certainties through a process of falsification. Hypotheses can be invalidated but never conclusively verified. Every assertion about the cosmos contains a grain of tentativeness.
And theology is not so different. "Proofs" of God are seldom convincing (except to those who already believe), and every statement about the ineffable by its very nature is partial and imperfect. Like physicists, who know that an electron can sometimes behave like a particle and other times like a wave, but realize that neither simile matches the utter peculiarity of the subatomic realm, theologians need to recognize that creeds and doctrines are far from capturing the wonders they purport to describe.
Faith comes to us in the form of questions and quandaries. In the book of Job, for example, God speaks in the interrogative mood rather than imperative. "Brace yourself," the Almighty warns Job. "I will ask questions and you will answer." From the whirlwind, God queries, "Where were you when I created the heavens and the earth? Have you comprehended the vast expanse of the world?" A lengthy list of inquiries ensues. "Who sired the drops of dew? Do you know when the mountain goats are born, or attend the wild doe when she is in labor?" And as a result of this relentless quizzing, Job is finally reconciled—not because he has been given any answers or rationalizations that could account for his fate, but because he has been forced to encounter the enigma of existence at deeper, more daunting levels.
Einstein was one who cultivated a taste for mystery. In the last decades of his life, he was regarded as a bit of a crank by other physicists, bent upon a seemingly quixotic quest for a unified field theory when scientific fashion was headed elsewhere. Now, fifty years, later, researchers have rejoined Einstein's pursuit, understanding that while he never did obtain his elusive quarry, he was at least asking the right questions, drawn on by an almost romantic attraction. "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious," he wrote. "It is the source of all true art and science," and also a source of authentic spirituality.
"To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling," proclaimed Einstein, "is at the center of true religiousness."
The lens of science and the lens of faith can complement each other if we realize that neither one offers a complete picture of universe we inhabit. Both are needed if we are to see clearly and walk steadily through this world. For as Einstein said, "religion without science is blind; science without religion is lame."
Rev. Gary Kowalski is the author of best-selling books that explore spirit and nature, including The Souls of Animals (Stillpoint 1999), Goodbye Friend: Healing Wisdom For Anyone Who Has Ever Lost A Pet (Stillpoint 1997), The Bible According To Noah: Theology As If Animals Mattered (Lantern 2001), and Science & the Search for God (Lantern 2003). His next volume, Revolutionary Spirits: The Enlightened Faith of America's Founding Fathers, will soon be published by BlueBridge.