Science vs. Religion: To hell with the both of them.
The true skeptic’s burden rests heavy. This morning I find myself going from the Internet, where Stephen Hawking has declared God did not create the universe, to the bathroom, where I’ve been reading a book on masculinity by the Christian guru, John Eldredge. Can’t say which itches me more.
Too often, I think, skepticism is assumed the exclusive ally of science and secularism, but nothing could be further from the truth. Science is the product of human endeavor, after all. To accept its pronouncements without question is not only stupid, it’s downright — well, unscientific.
And yet modern western society, standing in awe of all that science has given us (modern medicine, electricity, air travel, mobile phones), is all too ready to endow science with infallibility. This, however, is not science, it is scientism –a belief system.
Let’s consider Hawking. I respect the British physicist as much as anyone. I read his book A Brief History of Time at just the point I was casting off the faith of my childhood, and, along with other books and thinkers, it had a profound impact on my development.
Now Hawking, retired from his longtime position as Cambridge University’s Lucasian Professor of Mathmatics (a chair, I’m obligated like every other journalist who writes about Hawking to add, once held by Sir Isaac Newton), he’s written a second popular science book, The Grand Design (with American physicist Leonard Mlodinow).
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,” Hawking writes.
“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
To which I pipe up: How do you know? Were you there? Why should we believe you?
That’s not to say Hawking may not be right, only that neither he nor I can know for sure. Oh, you say, he’s a great mathematician and he’s got it all worked out on a blackboard somewhere?
Pish-posh, say I. Math and physics and science in general can tell us a lot, but it cannot tell us everything. Hell’s bells, math can’t even master the Stock Market (you know that mathematicians cooking up frankenstein algorithms at the big investment banks are significantly responsible for the economic crash, right?).
You expect me to believe you can factor out the formula of creation and explain to us the Big Bang? Ha-ha-ha-ha. Good one, Steve.
Besides, even if you can, only–what?– 13 people in the world can understand it? That’s what I read once about String Theory, something physicists have devised to explain the observable universe.
It seems accounting for the mass and energy in the universe, the dome brains can’t get the figures to work out. So they just keep adding alternate universes for the numbers to spill into. They’re up to 11 now, last I heard.
Yeah, I know. Me, too.
But maybe they are right–though given the propensity of scientists to thumb the scale so as to “prove” pet theories and advance careers, I wouldn’t bet on it. Sounds a lot like counting angels on the head of a pin, and about as useful.
On the opposite side of the boxing ring, though, we have knuckleheads like John Eldredge. A friend I respect gave me his 2001 book, Wild At Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul, which I’ve been reading in those unmentionable moments I’d normally devote to the newspaper or a magazine.
Since I took a half-step back from atheism, I’ve read some books on Christian spirituality that I benefited from. This isn’t one of them — and yet, it’s got me all churned up, and I can’t quite give up on it.
Essentially it’s a rehash of the “Men’s movement” malarkey pioneered by poet Robert Bly and others back in the 1980s, only trucked up in born-again drag. What power the book has comes from Bly, who after all, has a deep understanding of literature, myth, archetype and all that jazz.
Eldredge (who is a more than competent writer, let me concede), on the other hand, tries to bend masculinity theory to suit Christianity — and Christianity to suit masculinity theory. For example: He argues that Man is fierce and wild in his deepest soul because that’s how God made creation.
It’s a compelling argument until you remember that whole Fall from Grace thing. The Bible clearly indicates that all was peaceable (lion and lamb, playing cards with the dogs around the table), until Adam and Eve lunched on the Apple. Creation groans “as in childbirth,” St. Paul says (Romans 8:22), and when I was boy, my Baptist preachers taught it was the result of Original Sin.
What’s more, Eldredge indulges in cartoonsy masculine and feminine stereotypes. And he’s addicted to war metaphors (yeah, yeah, Jesus came to bring a sword, I know, but what about peace on earth, goodwill to men?).
A pox on them both, the scientist and the religionist. Scientists would do well to remember that they cannot know everything, while religious people might keep in mind that they practice faith, not certainty. A little humility all round, eh?
Oddly enough, the best place to find a middle way, at least that I know of, is in a little-known book by the late, great biologists and evolutionary theorist, Stephen Jay Gould.
Though an atheist, Gould argued in Rocks of Ages (1999), that no real conflict exists between religion and science if we simply relegate each to its proper place. Science owns the “empircal realm” –that is, what things are and how they work.
Religion, Gould suggested, gets the realm of “ultimate meaning and moral value.” In other words, render unto Einstein the things that are Einstein’s, and until God the things that are God’s.
When I first read this, still a thorough-going atheist, I took it for a stalking horse. It seemed to give science everything that was real, leaving religion the table scraps of the imaginary.
Now that I’ve opened the door (if only a crack) to spiritual import, however, that equation seems to me reversed. Science gets everything outside my thoughts and feelings — paltry booty, I say — while religion (or, as I prefer, “spirituality”) gets everything that really matters, at least in human terms.
So you two boys go ahead and play in your sandboxes. Prof. Hawking, you say as many ridiculous things as you want, like: “If we discover a complete theory [of the Big Bang], it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.”
So funny, since so far the human mind, tiny as it is, remains beyond us.
And Mr. Eldredge, you go right on mashing up secular and Evangelical ideas, knocking Jesus into some kind of Iron John.
But you might want to get your basic theology straight.
Just a thought.