Category Archives: Religion and Science

Do We Reject Science When Scientists Behave Badly?

It is curious to me when Christianity is rejected because of the bad behavior of people. There are complaints about religious wars, crusades, inquisitions, sexual abuse scandals and any number of hypocrisies of “religious people.” Somehow, these complaints are allowed to cancel out the good that Christianity has brought to the world. It seems as though the examples of the Saints, the hospitals, the universities, the scientific advances, the charitable contributions, the spiritual enlightenment, the eternal salvation of souls and any other good that stems from Christianity is cast aside.

The reverse is true for science and technology. Few people reject science or technology because of the atomic bomb, weapons of mass destruction, pollution, social disconnection, or the dehumanization of the person. It does not seem to matter much when people behave badly with science and technology. People still embrace science and technology and extend the benefit of the doubt. In fact, despite whatever evils may have been perpetrated in the name of science or technology, people expect such endeavors to somehow be the salvation of us all.

We need to be consistent. The reality of human nature is that people have the ability to behave badly with any gift given to them. Science and religion can both be abused. Why reject only one of them?

I suspect that focusing on the bad behavior of people can be a convenient excuse for avoiding the humility, holiness and submission that successful Christianity demands. Focusing on the good that science and technology brings strokes our pride and makes us feel in control. We don’t need God because we become “little gods” that are masters of our own destiny. We like our smart phones. We don’t like holiness. We’re afraid that holiness will restrict our freedom. Yet, we are willing to become slaves to science, technology, and our own pride.

G.K. Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

If the idea of “people behaving badly” keeps one away from Christianity, it should just as well keep one away from science and technology. If one focuses on the good, however, there is no reason to reject either one.

Smashing Coconuts

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When an animal uses a tool, people applaud. Using tools is a sign of advancement. Intelligent beings use tools. Humans use tools like crazy because we are the most advanced species. We’re pretty smart.

If, for example, an ape uses a tool to accomplish some task, we tend to think it is being like us. We might remark, “See how intelligent that ape is? See how close it is to being like us?”

The same holds true when animals seem to communicate with us in various forms. From the tail wagging of dogs to apes learning sign language, we hold ourselves up as the standard to shoot for. “If we can get them to use language like we do, it will show how intelligent they are.”

If humans are the most advanced species, why do so many people disparage and criticize a human behavior that sets us apart from all the animals? I’ve never seen a monkey worship. Yet, worship is often dismissed as a primitive, superstitious, backward thing to do.

Worship is much more intellectually advanced than using a tool. A monkey can figure out how to break open a coconut with a rock. In fact, doing so is similar to the trial and error ways of the scientific method. But, monkeys don’t seem to want to contemplate the existence of God or reflect on their own mortality and virtue. They can do some “science” but they can’t do any theology. Theology is a uniquely human endeavor that requires a high degree of thought and reason.

Perhaps those that place science on a higher plane than religion and theology ought to reconsider. Perhaps the behavior that would make any intelligent animal the most “like us” would be the ability to worship, not the ability to use language or tools.

Faith and reason work together in achieving the pinnacle of human existence. Science is good and so is faith. If we abandon human spirituality in favor of pure science, we reduce ourselves to being glorified coconut smashers. That would be backwards indeed.

South Birds Fly, But How? And Why?

Animals have instincts. Some migrate. Some hibernate. All of them search for food. They nest and they breed without question. Humans have instincts, too. What separates us from the animals is our search for meaning. We question our instincts. Animals simply live and die by them.

I have never completely understood why some scientists display such animosity towards the idea of God. These same scientists show no distain towards animal instincts. Indeed, some scientists have devoted their lives to studying such animal phenomena. However, the human instinct to search for meaning in God draws fire from them.

Humans have always been, and still are, spiritually inclined. Certainly, science has debunked many superstitions. However, the scientific method has not replaced the instinctual desire to know God. Religion is not comparable to the impotent scales on the tail of a snake that used to be functional legs. Human spirituality is still operative and functioning. In fact, science has excelled partly because humans are spiritually inclined. Many of the greatest scientists throughout history have been priests and other religiously inclined people.

Science is but one aspect of the human search for meaning. There is more than one way of “knowing.” Birds don’t fly south for the winter due to their scientific conclusions about weather patterns and food sources. Birds simply “know” to migrate, and scientists accept and study this fact. Therefore, I see nothing scientifically incongruent with accepting that humans can simply “know” that God exists. In other words, it is built into our wiring.

I had one person tell me that, eventually, science will close all the gaps in our knowledge and demonstrate how invalid religious thinking really is. But, science is basically in the business of answering the mechanistic, “how?” questions. The human search for meaning includes existential, “why?” questions. Science may tell us how we arrived on planet Earth, but not why we are here. Consequently, science can never “close all of the gaps in our knowledge.” Humans instinctively desire to know answers to the “why?” questions.

The issue we face as humans is that our instinctual desire for meaning can derail our instinctual “knowledge” of God. Doubt is an intrinsic quality of this instinct. Animals do not have this problem. Animals follow their instincts without question. Yet, doubt is not a bad thing. One does not seek and find without doubt. I don’t blame anyone for doubting the existence of God or the intentions of religious people. However, when such doubt leads to the complete elimination of one’s spiritual instinct and/or the ridicule of those who follow their spiritual instinct, doubt has become a dehumanizing element.

People “know” there is a God the way animals “know” to migrate and hibernate. I see no reason to ridicule human instinct while praising animal instinct. Both are equally real and worthy of study. Science may someday be able to decipher the mechanisms behind such knowledge. However, science will never answer the question of why such knowledge exists within us. Ultimately, we instinctively want to know why. We are scientifically and existentially inquisitive beings.