Monday, April 4, 2011

Love and Science

Try Googling "faith and science," and immediately you'll encounter web pages and opinion articles and blog posts devoted to studying the conflict between religion and science. Some will try to take one side over the other; many will try to find some new way to reconcile the two. In all cases conflict is assumed, because that is the culture we live in.

Certainly some argumentation is needed to help resolve this conflict. Those who care about truth will not be content with all the messy details being swept under the rug. Yet popular discussions of this topic seem altogether lacking in what Martin Luther King, Jr. called "the only creative, redemptive force in the universe." Love, of course. Whether it's deciding on science curriculum in public schools or dealing with global climate change, we would do infinitely better than we are doing if only love were more deeply cherished as a political virtue.

If intellectuals find this embarrassingly trite, perhaps this is the result of a faulty epistemology, which does not acknowledge love's central role in acquiring knowledge. Scientists sometimes appear prone to accept that absurd caricature made by the public, which makes science out to be a cold, detached endeavor whose reliability stems precisely from that detachment. Nothing could be further from the truth, as any real scientist very well knows. All those hours spent in the lab, or staring at equations, or out in the field (possibly in danger), or analyzing data--no one would ever demonstrate such dedication if not for the love of the subject.

Love is many things, but it is certainly no less than the willingness to be shaped by its subject. If I love a woman, then gradually her speech patterns, her mannerisms, and her interests will affect my own. Though science is a much more controlled, manipulative endeavor than personal relationships, this principle of love is still required. Good science demands that we let our guard down and gradually allow the thing studied to shape our thinking; only in this way can we discover the underlying principles. I do not know whether the average scientist is aware that love is fundamental to his research, but I find it to be true all the same. It is regrettable, then, that a group of people so disposed to loving the world around them through study would fail to show love toward fellow human beings with whom they must deal politically.

On the other side of things, it is uncharitable for religious people to suspect the scientific community of some mass conspiracy, or of willful blindness. Presenting the facts of biological evolution or of big bang cosmology has nothing to do with the willful destruction of all that the common person holds dear. Perhaps the common person simply needs to hear that yes, science really is done out of love. As surely as a good, honest pastor seeks to love his congregation and lead him in the way of righteousness, so a good, honest scientist seeks to love the world around us and learn its secrets. Not that any of us are truly good and honest. Yet hardened cynicism about the ways of men is not the true response of a heart of love.

There does not need to be reconciliation between the ideas of science and faith; ideas are not people. What we do need, however, is greater patience with and respect for each other. I say this as one caught in the crossfire, as it were. If I say creationism should not be taught in schools, there are some who think me intolerant of my own brothers and sisters in Christ. If I say that moderation ought to be shown in how we teach evolution in the classroom, there are some who would call me a religious zealot.

Both sides of this debate would do well to remember that fundamentally, our political institutions ought to be in place only to foster a world in which love can grow. I do not think this is some petty idealism; I think it is a principle which often goes totally ignored because it is implicitly believed to be impossible. That's just absurd. Love happens. We take for granted how much better this world is for the love that exists. People really do take up science or other academic endeavors for the love of it. People really do respond to research about the failing environment and voluntarily choose to change their habits. People really do change their views on abstract ideas like biological evolution, because they are treated with respect and not talked down to.

And most pertinently, people really can have civil discussions about their beliefs. I have been in a faith and science discussion group which has met every other week for the entire school year, and during all of that time we have had both Christians and atheists faithfully represented. The result has been a calm, thought-provoking dialog. Provide the space, and people really can do remarkable things. I can only hope we might imagine the same for our country.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to hear feedback!