Sunday, June 12, 2005

Science and religion

Jeff Duntemann, in his blog, recently said advocates of creatonism and its more recent successor, "Intelligent Design" (the belief that nature is so complex that it had to have been designed, rather than evolved by chance), simply aren't thinking big enough.

It's really a failure of imagination. The God that I can imagine is immense, unthinkably immense, such that the Drumlin Number (2^256, or 1.45E77; think about it!) vanishes by comparison. A God that big can think and act across dimensions of space and time that mean virtually nothing to us. A God that big can do more than just wave His wand and say, 'Let there be light!' A God that big can set in motion processes that, across the eons, echo and echo with comprehensible wonder.

This allows the God that I can imagine to be generous. While devising our creation, he kicked back and said to Himself, 'Whoa! This is cool! I'm going to allow this to happen such that my forthcoming children can work out the mechanisms that I use, and thus share the experience of Creating with me. This is something they're going to want to see!'

I'd go a little further: I believe strongly that everything in the universe is discoverable, from its formation, to the workings of cells, to the chemistry behind emotions and reasoning. The universe is open source, to be tech geeky about it. That belief, for me, is even more strongly held than my own religion, Catholicism. That's not blasphemous, nor does it diminish my faith. Science is something you can touch and test. Religion isn't. For all I know, Buddhism or Islam could be the One True Religion. I just happened to have been born a Catholic. There's really no way of telling. It's just faith.

It isn't necessary to believe in God, or deny God, to understand nature. You could have complete understanding of the universe and still be no closer to saying whether there is a God or not. To believe that science threatens religion is to limit God.

Arthur C. Clarke once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." I agree, but I think you can carry that further: The work of any divinity worthy of the name would be indistinguishable from nature. Seamless, coherent and understandable.

Believing that we can understand how God intervenes in the universe smacks of hubris. I agree with Richard Dawkins, an athiest, that the aim of creationism and its cousins is to embrace mystery, rather than solve them.

The creationists’ fondness for “gaps” in the fossil record is a metaphor for their love of gaps in knowledge generally. Gaps, by default, are filled by God. You don’t know how the nerve impulse works? Good! You don’t understand how memories are laid down in the brain? Excellent! Is photosynthesis a bafflingly complex process? Wonderful! Please don’t go to work on the problem, just give up, and appeal to God. Dear scientist, don’t work on your mysteries. Bring us your mysteries for we can use them. Don’t squander precious ignorance by researching it away. Ignorance is God’s gift to Kansas.

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