Thursday, August 11, 2011

What I wished I could have said: Science and religion can be complimentary

Regular readers will recall that I'm a church-going Catholic. That doesn't make me a good Catholic, much less a good person, but it does make me different from many who are out here in the Internet, standing on our digital soapboxes, shouting at passersby.

Regular readers will also recall that I am a big fan of the comics. I read a lot of the comics that appear (or used to appear) in the Chicago newspapers on line (they're often rendered in color, even on weekdays, and bigger than they are in print) and a lot of webcomics besides. A lot of times the webcomics are crude, vulgar, tasteless and offensive, but I enjoy some, like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, xkcd, Tree Lobsters!, or Scenes from a Multiverse (to name just a handful), often enough to keep me coming back. No one hits a home run every time. Good grief, Charlie Brown never hit one in 60 years.

Fair warning: Each of these above-listed comics can be just as crude and tasteless as webcomics generally. Don't blame me if you follow a link and are offended. But my point today is that, a lot of times, these comics can also be downright anti-religious. These webcomics have a geek following (engineers, mathematicians, scientists). It is apparently the fashion among these folks in particular to be actually hostile to religion, organized or otherwise.

Younger Daughter's boyfriend, Olaf, comes to mind in this regard. Olaf fits the demographic profile: He's a math major. And to hear Younger Daughter tell the story, his folks are hard-core Creationists. They reject evolution. Their universe was created in six days, just as Genesis says. Like a lot of kids, Olaf has reacted to his parents' views by forming equal and opposite views of his own.

Olaf is cautious in expressing his views around Long Suffering Spouse and me, but he made a passing reference recently to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He must have thought only Younger Daughter would catch his drift; he was surprised when I did. I'm not a Pastafarian, I assured him, but I try and pay attention.

Last Sunday afternoon, Younger Daughter and Olaf were out shopping -- but none of us had yet been to Mass. She promised to be home in time for the 6:00pm 'last chance' Mass that our parish offers.

But you know how these things go... time passed, they were having an enjoyable afternoon, and Younger Daughter called to ask if she could skip Mass just this once and go out to dinner with Olaf and his parents.

Long Suffering Spouse was still painting Sunday. This project had been ongoing for a month already but the finish was in sight. I was assisting (for a change). So neither of us answered Younger Daughter when she called her mother's cell phone. Youngest Son did. And, in the time-honored tradition of little brothers everywhere, he translated my "ask your mother what she thinks" into "no way, you better meet us at Mass or else you're toast."

After I actually did confer with Long Suffering Spouse, we agreed that Youngest Daughter could stay out -- but we instructed her brother to tell her. Who knows what he actually said? Thus it came to pass that Younger Daughter did show up at church. With Olaf.

Youngest Son spotted them first. They were standing way in the back, although there were plenty of available pews. They stayed there, too.

After Mass, Long Suffering Spouse was prepared to just wave in their general direction and walk past, but I said I must greet our guest. I heard later from Younger Daughter that Olaf was a little concerned about the big sappy grin on my face when I said hello. "I hope your father doesn't think that I'm converting," he told her.

Actually, I didn't think that. I was happy, though, that Olaf was willing to accommodate his girlfriend -- and us -- in something that we think important.

And there is something else I wish I could explain to him, and to all the anti-religious webcomic artists, too: Religion and science are not mortal enemies; rather, they should compliment each other. Both are concerned with searching for the truth. Science is concerned with what can be known; religion is concerned with what is not known (what can't be known). As time goes on, the domain of science increases as we know more and more of the universe around us -- and yet the domain of religion remains infinite.

Remember back in high school math, when you had to plot an asymptotic curve? The line of the curve comes ever closer to, but never intersects, the axis of the graph. Science is like this: It pushes religion ever closer to the border of irrelevance, but it will, presumably, never quite push religion over the edge.

There will always be Questions that science can not answer satisfactorily. Why are we here? What is our purpose? Does our consciousness expire with our bodies, or does it go on? Where? How? The answers to these questions are not likely to be found in a lab. And it is just as willfully ignorant for devotees of science to assert that these Questions are unimportant because they can not be answered as it is for Creationists to deny the evidence of the fossil record because it is incomplete.

I like this explanation by a Chicago Catholic priest, Fr. Robert Barron:
The basic principle is this: All truth comes from God. God is One. And, therefore, there can't be a contradiction, finally, between the truth discoverable through Reason and the truth discoverable through Faith, properly articulated. And so the unity of God -- the unity of Creation -- gives rise to this ultimate compatibility between Faith and Science.
The trick is not to get too dogmatic about either religion... or science.


Jill said...

Great post!

I read this neat article about Charles and Emma Darwin's marriage recently. Your post made me re-look it up. Here's the link:,0,1470714.story

Have a great day!

Dave said...

I'm not going to deal with your main point. Suffice to say that I've never encountered an asymptotic curve, straight line or geometric shape at any level of my education, much less when a whiny teenager - Catholic education may be worthwhile.

And, I lied. I don't have a problem with faith. I do have problem with people of "faith" that feel that they have to impose it, despite science, on others.