I haven’t really touched the issue of faith or religion in awhile because, quite frankly, I’m trying to live a more zen-like existence. I don’t much care for conflict, and faith can often be a significant source of strife and disagreement, so I’ve been trying to use a “live and let live” approach when it comes to faith. At the same time, however, I do view faith as something that can significantly impact the planet and the quality of life of everyone living on it. I’m sure there are many positive aspects to faith and religion, but in my view there are many negative ones as well.
Dedicated readers will know that I view science as the key to progress and a means to answers regarding life and the universe. To this end, I regard science as a neutral and objective tool. And after taking some zen-time to reflect upon the relationship between science, objectivity, and faith/religion, I’ve come to reshape some of my earlier notions. Ultimately, though, this reshaping has left me with one question.
My values or lens has shifted in that I no longer fully believe that science and faith are incompatible, so long as that faith is non-specific. I don’t find science incompatible with a God or spirituality. For reasons elaborated upon in other posts, even though I am an atheist, I fully acknowledge that there is a possibility that some sort of God or creator exists. However, as an objective person who relies upon evidence, I assert that the likelihood of such a being existing seems rather small. And, as an objective person who relies upon evidence, I also admit that if such a being existed, I have no idea what it would look like, what it’s motivations would be, or anything else about it. It’s entirely possible that at some point in the future science could prove that a God exists indirectly or even directly. The probability of that happening is open for debate, but it nevertheless is a statistical possibility.
The compatibility of science and religion or faith breaks down for me with the assertion of the God. A specific idea or picture of God for which there is no tangible evidence (yet) to support the existence of, in my opinion, significantly decreases the likelihood of its veracity. For when we start to define a specific God, with specific qualities and specific motivations and a specific existence, we then have more to work with in terms of evidence. It’s much easier to refute the existence of a specific God than it is to refute the existence of an unknown or undefined God.
And this is where I start to have questions. In my observations, there is ample evidence available to refute the existence of the Gods of specific religions. It leads me to question exactly how objective or how biased a scientist who believes in a specific God can possibly be. Many religious people assert that religion and science are perfectly compatible, and point to examples of Christian scientists or people in science who are also people of religious faith. I’m not claiming that religious people can’t utilize science–science doesn’t care who uses it. Rather, I’m questioning how a religious scientist could possibly use science to explore an issue or observation that directly impacts their faith.
Faith is a central pillar of most religions. God tests the faith of people, God knows that we love and worship him by our faith in him, etc. These are all things that I’ve heard people who follow a specific religion say over the years. The problem that I have with that, however, is that faith in this sense is defined as belief in spite of evidence. If you’re a scientist who believes that God tests our faith in Him, how could that not cloud your observations or experiments in some way? Many Christians believe that Satan actively tries to trick people into disobeying or straying from God. How can that not seep into your scientific lens?
It’s one thing for, say, a Christian scientist to develop some new form of diagnostic imaging. There’s nothing about diagnostic imagining that’s incompatible with the Christian narrative. So in many instances, the faithfully religious are correct in that there can be religious people who also practice science. But most of the examples I see religious people give in this regard are people who use science to study something that has no bearing on their faith. Obviously there’s nothing incompatible with a religious scientist running an experiment on, say, lasers. Or nuclear fusion. What I’m trying to ask is how can a religious scientist study something that does not fit into the narrative of their religion without having a preconceived notion or without somehow seeing results that contradict their beliefs as some sort of test of faith? How can a religious scientist look at evidence regarding the age of the earth, the creation of the universe, the creation of life–and not automatically dismiss it if it goes against their faith? Isn’t that kind of the opposite of science? Shouldn’t the scientist have an open mind? Faith in a specific religion or God would seem, to me at least, to preclude objectivity or the ability to keep an open mind.