XGH can’t get enough of the science vs. faith issue, and I suppose neither can I. Unlike XGH, I’ve always taken the not-at-all-original position that science and faith have two different roles and asking if they contradict is sort of like asking whether the Declaration of Independence contradicts a grapefruit.
A fundamental truth and feature of human existence is the presence of uncertainty in our lives. Whether it’s choosing an investment, a school to attend, a candidate to vote for or a movie to go to, we must constantly make choices based on insufficient information about the past, present, and future.
Science is one kind of response to uncertainty. Logically, if the problem we face is uncertainty, better information will improve our decisions and capabilities. Thought we often think about science as a pathway to inventions and innovative products, those things are the result of engineering, not science. At heart, science is a quest for knowledge, and the knowledge gained impacts every area of human endeavor.
We all acknowledge that science as practiced in the last few hundred years has been an astonishing success. But science is a relatively slow process, and its task – the understanding of the universe – is immense. No matter how fantastic science is, we remain with a tremendous amount of uncertainty.
Religion is at heart a response to that uncertainty. At its best, it is a tool for navigating uncertainty. We would all agree that even as science circles closer and closer to satisfying and complete answers to some very difficult and important questions, it remains incomplete. There are very many questions that science cannot answer, and very many answers that science has provided over time which have proven to be incorrect by varying degrees. Therefor, for the person trying to establish a method for making decisions, science is an imperfect tool. Relying on its findings absolutely, to the exclusion of all other means of evaluation, is irrational. It is true that one cannot do science effectively except by submitting fully to the scientific method, but doing science and living life are two different pursuits, with very different goals.
Religion is many things: a tool for making decisions when faced with uncertainty, a means for protecting and conveying important information across generations, and a source of comfort and strength in times when doubt and fear overwhelm our rationality.
We attribute truth even to non-rational aspects of religion. I can’t scientifically test for Tumah v’Tahara. No neurologist or cardiologist has ever identified the soul. But if we are to put any stock into the intelligence of our forebears, and the value of human cultural experience, we must agree that these constructs, whether physically real or not, are just as true as gravity or magnetism. We can see and feel their impacts, even if we cannot test or measure them scientifically.
When I need to make a decision, I evaluate that decision not only based on ‘rational’ modes. I ask myself, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, whether God would approve of my decision. Surely, the answer I receive depends on my specific conception of God – after all, many suicide bombers have asked themselves this same question, and came up with an answer I find evil and abhorrent. But how can I live without asking that question? Science can’t give me certainties, and as it turns out, neither can religion. But religion allows to tap into generations of human knowledge about relationships, right and wrong, community, and insight into how to live a meaningful life, and I just can’t get that from science.