Tuesday, October 8, 2002

Science vs. religion - why?

Despite all my determined Methodist grandmother did to try to civilize me, I am not nearly as familiar with the inside of a church these days as I should be.

So I pointedly avoid discussions of religion in this space. Besides, my good friend Clarence Richardson handles that chore with much better credentials.

But it amuses me to see recent articles in impressive places about a great "Science vs. Religion" debate. If ever two mediums should be on the same team, it seems like it should be they.

Aren't they both about explaining the mysteries of the human condition? About discovering where we come from and where we are going - and why?

I once interviewed a very learned Christian speaker brought in by one of the local churches, who had set out to disprove the theory of evolution and the science-established age of mankind, which he felt contradicted the Biblical version by a couple dozen million years, give or take a half hour or so.

And I remember the visit of famed pop scientist Carl Sagan to Buena Vista University a few years back. He had spent a lifetime believing that all the science he saw must prove there is no God. Toward the end of his life, and faced with a dire health crisis, I remember that he haltingly admitted here that he no longer was quite so sure that a Creator didn't exist after all.

I believe Rev. Richardson likes to refer to that as "cramming for the final exam."

I wonder when religion and science decided that they needed to try to disprove each other?

One of the greatest science educators I know, Dr. Rick Lampe, spoke at the dedication of the new BVU Science Center last week in the form of a prayer, not a thesis. The great building will help to "comprehend the mystery and majesty" of God's creation, he said, and said well.

Surely, all honest science-minded types would be the first to find that there are some things that a microscope or a telescope alone can't explain. And surely, a Christian would be the first to see the gifts in the natural world just crying to be explored with an adventuresome, wide-open mind.

I'm no theological expert, and my shaky era as an altar boy is long behind me. Maybe we all have our days wondering what it all means, and days when it doesn't seem to mean anything at all.

I couldn't tell you a thing about what God looks like. But I suspect he is a scientist, and perhaps we are a grant experiment.

Because, if not, then everything is just an accident.

All my scientific friends seem to have an explanation for everything. A lifeless rock happened to land in just the precise place and time in space. The unfathomably perfect combination of elements happened to form into an atmosphere, and you can scientifically show how that created rain, useable air, the exact amount of sunshine warmth to allow for life. Some single-celled something evolved, learned to reproduce and change, and presto, life waltzed out of the primordial ooze and a couple million years later, here we are, the great cosmic coincidence.

They can explain it all.

But none have been able to tell me this - where did the very first spark of life come from on a planet of desolation. There was none one day, and the next, there was life. Who made that first spark?

Evolution? Who says the idea has to oppose religion? I'm taller than my parents, guess that's evolution. My kids are better in math than I was, so the line is still evolving. Religion doesn't have to argue with that. Any good Artist improves on his original designs.

If I don't know God as well as I should, I know his work.

At night I like to walk barefoot in the sand and watch the way the orange sunset turns the waves on Storm Lake purple. It can really reach into you and grab something. I know the scientific theories of light refraction and liquid dynamics, but somehow I can't look at the magnificent glacial work of art and believe it is all an accident.

If we don't believe there's a hand at the wheel, then we have to believe that falling in love is just an accident of instinct. The gift of rocking a beautiful baby to sleep is nothing more than an accident of sperm and egg.

Friendship would be an accident, and so would be the feeling you get from the special people in your life.

There would be no fate, no consequence, no magic.

The beauty of the forests and mountains and the rivers would be just an accidental mishmash of those element symbols we hated to memorize in junior high.

Laughter and tears would be accidents, too, I suppose.

Music and the way it moves you would be an accident. So would art and literature. Can't find anything in science that adequately explains them.

Does a love of science and the natural world have to belittle religion, and does religion have to debate science to defend its own power?

Just maybe there is enough inexplicable beauty in the world and the people around us to make room for both.

Or so it seems to me tonight, from my tiny stretch of lonely beach, with a sweet sunset crawling over the horizon toward a starry night on Storm Lake.