Monday, February 18, 2013

Complementarity of Science and Religion

Science and its remarkable technological achievements in recent years have influenced the lives of all of us and raised doubts about the religious understanding of life. Believing that religion and science  are mutually antagonistic thought systems, with religion relying for its truth on subjective, unverifiable experience, and science relying on objective, verifiable evidence, science now gives us their standards by which to judge truth, and even the existence of God,  Two scientists writing in the Catholic Times refuse to accept this understanding; both science and religion are necessary, they say, for a complete understanding of the truth.
They cite the principle of complementarity of Niels Bohr, one of the founders of the new science of quantum physics, who said that our views of the nature of things are often inconsistent and contradictory because whatever is viewed is viewed from any of many possible and valid points of view, depending on the nature and background of the observer. Ultimately, however, Bohr said these views must complement each other, and are required for a complete understanding of the truth. 

According to the article, belief without science can become religious fanaticism and superstition. Science without belief can become a closed-ended hypothesis, neglectful of the possibility of the transcendent dimension. There is both the search for truth using the inductive methods of science, and the search for truth using the intuitive wisdom that speaks to us directly from our experience of life.

Religion can transcend the intellect, but it can't be opposed to the knowledge that comes from our intellectual pursuits. When it refuses to accept them, fanaticism, superstition and pseudo-religion are likely to follow. Since we are intelligent beings, made in the image of God, it is imperative that we  follow the dictates of our  intellect.

One of the scientists mentioned a well-known philosopher who said that those who believe in Christ and think  themselves physicists are quacks. If that is true, the scientist said he considers himself a quack. Sadly, he says that years ago there were many Christian scientists; today this is no longer true. Even within the Church, one has the feeling that if you get too  involved with science, you will lose your faith, so they stay away from it, he said.  However, he added, when we are threatened and yet overcome the threat, we become stronger.

He gives us an example from his high school years when a teacher said that Christians believe in predestination. That was not his understanding so he asked his parish priest and was told that Christians believe in freedom of the will. It was at that time he read a book on Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. In contrast to Newton's deterministic, static principles of physics, he read that if you shot a gun and later shot the gun under the same conditions you may not hit the same object. This was his introduction to the anti-deterministic physics of quantum theory, and confirmation of the underlying freedom present within nature.
In graduate school he noticed how many had left behind their Catholicism. He believed the reason was a lack of a mature spiritual life. Politics, the culture, and the desire for money had something to do with it, but for him he placed the blame on a spirituality that was not able to provide guidelines to overcome these difficulties. The article ends by telling us that humility needs to be part of the way we look at science and religion and the  search for truth. There are limits to any search for truth, whether scientific or religious. As noted in scripture: "Now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror...."


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