Inability to reconcile scientific belief with faith was a reason many respondents to a new Pew Research Poll gave for leaving organized religion. We asked this week’s clergy how they would convince the unaffiliated that they don’t necessarily have to take sides in the ongoing science vs. religion debate.
The Rev. Thomas Cardone
Chaplain, Kellenberg Memorial High School, Uniondale
In the Roman Catholic tradition, we understand that we are people of “both” and not “either/or” when it comes to the human experience. For us, it is faith and reason and not faith or reason. This is very important when it comes to education in our schools. For example, all the students at Kellenberg Memorial study both religion and science during their four years of study. Religion and science go hand-in-hand. When we study the history of science, we realize that many of the greatest scientific accomplishments have come from the studies of people of faith, in particular Roman Catholic priests. Just to mention a few, the Rev. Gregor Mendel is the father of modern genetics, the Rev. Georges Lemaître is the father of the Big Bang Theory and the Rev. Nicolaus Copernicus gave us the understanding that the sun is at the center of the universe. These individuals were serious about faith and science. Most people may not know this but the Vatican has a Pontifical Academy of Sciences. This academy welcomes not only works of Roman Catholics but also of people of all faiths, including atheists. Saint John Paul II also wrote an encyclical called Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason). Here he reminds us that reason is the common ground between faith and unbelievers. Reason leads us to God, a God who desires that we love and serve as thinking persons. For believers, the beauty and order of all created things (the science) can only have its origin in the love and power of God (the faith).
Rabbi Ben Herman
Jericho Jewish Center
I remember taking a course on evolution in college and asking how what the Bible teaches can coincide with science. Either the world was created billions of years ago, or 6,700 years ago. The answer that worked for me is that God took an evolutionary approach, creating the world purposely with the development of different stages in mind. Science and religion are not mutually exclusive. As our knowledge continues to increase from scientific advancements and we discover more and more about the world in which we live, that does not take away from the big questions of what is our purpose in life. Were we created accidentally or with a greater mission and purpose? Science is wonderful at answering questions about the world in which we live and challenging us to be more creative and inventive. What it does not answer is how we respond to tragedies and the difficulties life throws at us, as well as what we are supposed to do with our limited time on Earth. That is where a faith comes in as well as a faith community. It enables us to find meaning and connection when we are not sure which direction to turn. There are also people of faith heavily involved in the sciences because they see their belief in God as leading them to want to learn more about the world in which we live. Their scientific advances and seeing the wonders and daily miracles in the world (e.g., the birth of a child) increase their belief that there must be a higher power who creates the world in all of this beauty and complexity. Faith can be enhanced by science and likewise scientific discoveries can enhance one’s faith in the greatness of the world in which we live.
The Rev. Maxine Barnett
Curate, The Church of St. Jude, Wantagh:
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “All that I have seen teaches me to trust the creator for all I have not seen.” I, too, believe that the more we learn about the vast complex universe, the more pointers there are to the transcendent. Whether persons of faith hold that the world came into being in six days or started billions of years ago and is still evolving does not negate the belief that we do not exist by chance. Rather, all nature witnesses to the intentional love of the one who created and sustains us. Daily, our generation is bombarded by new and sometimes conflicting data. Still, humankind’s growing curiosity, theories and knowledge in fields from astronomy to zoology can be seen as gifts from God, given to apply wisely so that we, our neighbors, and the environment may prosper. We only need to consider the advancements in medicine to see the positive impact of science in our lives. Rather than fearing that science will nullify biblical truths, we carefully and prayerfully discern in community what God is saying to us today. We are called, too, to see where science is being used to oppress and destroy and to be the voice of the loving God who cares about all creation. So, science and faith are not incompatible, but together feed our understanding in and imagination for the boundless beauty of creation. Then, like the psalmist, we, too, proclaim that the heavens are telling of the glory of God.