“He who does not know what the world is does not know where he is – and he who does not know for what purpose the world exists, does not know who he is, nor what the world is.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
If there is one debate in the world that gets far too much credit, it has to be “science vs. religion”. I think you know exactly what I’m talking about. Your spiritual friend vs. your intellectual friend. The enlightened modern quest for knowledge and advancement… versus those stodgy old traditionalists that cling stubbornly to their dogma. Or maybe if you paint it from the other side, it’s beautiful and universal Truth that transcends even space and time itself… versus a small class of disproportionately loud, insecure geeks who like to circle jerk about how smart they think they are.
Yeah, that’s the debate I’m talking about. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t really exist. The conflict between those two charicatures is just that: a conflict between two charicatures. Fresh blood is always diving in on both sides because everybody loves a fight… and you know I would never deny anyone that. I’m just saying: sucks for them that there’s really nothing to fight about.
At the core, it can’t possibly be “science vs. religion” any more than it can be “beach vs. ocean”. Those two things fill totally different spaces and have totally different roles. They’re always bumping up against each other, but that’s because each defines the other. You can’t have one without the other. Science and religion are not in conflict; they fundamentally depend on each other. Einstein said it best: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
You know what science is? It’s basically the scientific method and all the WICKED AWESOME stuff that we can do with it. Science converts stuff that we see and don’t understand into stuff that we see and do understand. (SCIEEEEEEEEENCE!) In case you don’t remember every detail from fifth grade, here’s a quick refresher:
And you know what’s the most important part of that whole deal? The last one. If you can’t repeat your process – ideally from a point of forward progress but really from any point at all – then you’ve gained nothing. Sure, the experiment is where the magic happens – but from pretty much any scientific standpoint in the world – if you can’t repeat it, then you have now successfully established… nothing.
My point here is that we only have one known universe. That’s why we call it a “universe”. (Crazy, right?) The age of the universe is not an experiment that we can repeat. Sure, we can look through telescopes and check out rock samples and count tree rings and isotopes. We can and should do our BEST to understand, enjoy, and take good care of the world that’s around us. You can say that it looks like this deep space object is 13 billion years old, from our current standpoint on the thin crust of Sol’s 3rd major satellite. But as soon as you ask “What is the age and nature of our universe?” or “What is reality?” … science is fundamentally unable to answer those types of questions.
That’s because the greatest strength of science is also its greatest weakness: it only works from the inside out. It starts with small questions and builds up toward the big picture. The further out we get from small, easily repeatable experiments – the less we’re able to use the term “science” for whatever we’re doing. By the time we get anywhere near the big picture, there are not many places where we can apply scientific methods at all. If we try to come at the big picture from the inside out, then we’re forced to rely almost entirely on assumptions… and at that invisible point, it’s no longer science at all; it’s religion.
If science is observation, then religion is assumption. Science is what you believe and can always prove with repeatable experiments. Religion is what you believe and can’t always prove with repeatable experiments. Science works from the inside out. Religion works from the outside in.
In that sense, everybody has their own religion. Everyone inescapably has some concept of reality and how they fit into it. You can call it “worldview” or “cosmology” or “metaphysics” or “religion” or “philosophy” or “faith” or whatever you want. The bottom line is that every normally functioning human being has an opinion on what the big picture actually looks like. Maybe your opinion is highly cogent and based on current superstring theory… or maybe it’s blind superstition because your grandpa told you. Doesn’t matter – because even the most well-informed view is always based ultimately on nothing more or less than assumptions. You know, assumptions: deciding to act as if certain principles are true even though you can’t really test them right now. There’s actually another good word for that. It’s “faith”.
It’s not an accident that Jesus was going around asking people to have FAITH in Him. To believe in Him. That’s because the human condition has never changed. Humans are finite, mortal beings – subject to things like hubris and midlife crisis and constipation. If Jesus had asked us to fully understand a bunch of deep cosmic mysteries… good luck with that. But check this out – He asked us to fulfill exactly the role that a human is inescapably designed to fill: faith. The idea is to believe, and to act in love based on that belief. Funny how that works…
So anyway, let me cut to the chase. I’m not defending superstition. I’m not defending ignorance or stupidity or selfishness under the guise of “Christianity” or any other religion (organized or not). I’m definitely not writing this post to sway anyone toward any specific cosmological theory. I’m really just saying one thing: know your enemy.
Your enemy is not science, and it’s not religion. Lemme play my Jesus Freak card right now: GOD is definitely not your enemy either. Nope. The “science vs. religion” debate only has one enemy, and that is the ignorant apathy of people like you and me. You might call it the human condition.
And on that note, I can’t scientifically prove this one for you, but I guess I lied up there about the human condition never changing. There is actually One way that can happen. And it’s never been tried and found wanting – just found difficult and left untried.