Saturday, July 26, 2014

On science and faith, again

A profile of physicist-turned priest John Polkinghorne, from a few years ago.

 I love this analogy!!
Science and religion are not mutually exclusive, Polkinghorne argues. In fact, both are necessary to our understanding of the world. “Science asks how things happen. But there are questions of meaning and value and purpose which science does not address. Religion asks why. And it is my belief that we can and should ask both questions about the same event.” 
As a for-instance, Polkinghorne points to the homey phenomenon of a tea kettle boiling merrily on the stove. 
“Science tells us that burning gas heats the water and makes the kettle boil,” he says.
But science doesn’t explain the “why” question. “The kettle is boiling because I want to make a cup of tea; would you like some?
How vs why.  Nicely explained.

I don't know that religion per se is necessary but as a species, we clearly have a desire to explain the "why" of the world in some way. But I've realized I have a real tin ear on philosophy and why-ness.  Some scientists may get all philosophical these days, but all i really care about is which recepter is doing what, so to speak.  I'm too much of a literalist.  The rest is just too woo-woo for me!
As to the question of which has the clearer view of reality—faith or science?— Polkinghorne answers that it’s a false question. “You have to be two-eyed about it. If we had only one eye, then we could say it’s religion, because it relates to the deepest value of being human. Science doesn’t plumb the depths that religion does. Atheists aren’t stupid—they just explain less.” 
Put another way, atheists explain what can be explained by facts and observation, and don't try to explain what cannot.

i like this next bit, too.
Ultimately, people of faith should not be afraid of science because both pursue truth. “Because people of faith worship the God of Truth, they should welcome truth from whatever source it comes,” Polkinghorne says. “Not all truth comes from science, but some does. It grieves me when I see Christian people turning their backs on science in a willful way, not taking seriously the insights it has to offer. All truth interacts with each other, and all truth is helpful.” 
Likewise, people of science do not need to be afraid of faith. “Science doesn’t tell you everything. Those who think it does take a very diminished and arid form or view of life.”
For Polkinghorne, science made his faith stronger, and that faith made him a better scientist. Both approaches fulfill one of his favorite verses in scripture, I Thessalonians 5:21, which the esteemed physicist paraphrases: Test everything. Hold fast to what is true.
My kind of guy.


Kevin K said...

I suppose the answer to whether religion is necessary may be inferred from religion's existence. Religion seems to have existed nearly as long, if not as long, as there have been people. As a lawyer, this seems to me to be compelling circumstantial evidence.

James said...

Polkinghorne's is one take: Robert Pirsig's take in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is another worth exploring.

JCF said...

"I'm too much of a literalist."

I believe it's well-established around these parts that this can be a problem. ;-/

"How vs why. Nicely explained."

Don't take this the wrong way, but that seems to be kind of a "Duh" point?

...but then again, I was *raised* 'Pisky. Thinking of religion as "Why vs How" is second nature. I'm blessed (who knows how? ;-p).

it's margaret said...

"The rest is just too woo-woo for me!"
Love that woo-woo stuff!