Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Are God and Science Irreconcilable?

If you step back to look at human experience from a distance, it's kind of odd how often people consider the concept of a "god". There's really very little of concrete quality that suggests the existence of such a being (at least one with a discernible personality). It makes me wonder exactly how anyone ever came up with the idea in the first place. Perhaps it comes down to the unexplainable. Human beings likely encountered mental or emotional strife anytime something happened that they didn't understand, so they devised an unseen force to serve as the repository for their mysteries. How that slowly transformed into the conception of a personal "God" is intriguing, yet ultimately unknowable. But what is nearly certain is that for a long time that's all people had to get themselves through the long dark nights.

It's obvious that a large proportion of the world population still relies on a "god-figure" for guidance. Naturally the formulations of this presence differ depending upon the culture and history of the region that different groups of people inhabit. Is it any surprise that Middle Eastern gods tend to be stern and rather unforgiving? Look at the landscape and climate of that area- the inescapable things that effect life consistently over time. Perhaps in more hospitable places, the "gods" are generous and mild. Then again, maybe there isn't so much need for them in such natural Edens. It's all well and good to concentrate on the here-and-now when life is untroubled, but tough times demand a bit more support.

Anyway, despite huge advancements in science and technology, we still contend with the various "gods" within and across civilizations. However we have entered a time in which those advancements have led a significant sample of folks to believe that there's no longer a need for "god". The other day I heard both Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. World-renowned physicist Dawkins recently published a book called The God Delusion that has upset a lot of true believers here in the US. It's largely a response to the increasingly loud faction of society that wants to teach creationism in public schools. Dawkins methodically deconstructs the idea that there is a grand design in the universe implemented by a hyper-advanced, all-powerful "God".

Dawkin's argument is that such a "supreme being" would have had to evolve into its perfect state, like every other creature we know about. He turns the "intelligent design" theory on its head, using its proponents' own convoluted logic against itself. If a brain or an eye is so complex that it could never have "evolved" without the seemingly-required foresight of a creator, then the same thing should apply to God himself. If that's the case (Dawkins wonders), then who created "God"? It's his opinion that natural selection is so elegant a system that it has made "God" superfluous. I guess that's just the logical conclusion of someone who relies on observation and the scientific method alone to construct his world view. Or maybe not...

Francis Collins is the head scientist behind the human genome project that has mapped out the structure of life itself. Once an avowed atheist, he has gradually become an evangelical Christian. That process gestated as he observed the failing health of his critically ill parents. His work as a geneticist has contributed to his faith. When he looks at the DNA threads that he has documented, he can't help but believe that it is the physical manifestation of "God's" mind. It is unthinkable to Collins that such a thing occurred randomly. Therefore he considers his own discoveries "an opportunity to worship" divinity.

While I have found no compelling reason to make a commitment to either Dawkins' or Collins' way of thinking, I do find their conflict interesting from a psychological perspective. What is it about us that we need to seek resolution for life's great enigmas? That same drive seems to fuel the scientific process, as well as religious exploration. The great puzzle is the human need to extend their inquiries beyond immediate questions of survival. Like with every other issue of consequence, I tend to reject the absolutist approach that requires people to choose between nature and "god".

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

right on,mp

6:07 PM  

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