Saturday, May 5, 2018

On Whether Religious People Can Have a Scientific Perspective

I was recently asked the following question on Quora:

Do religious people ever view their religion in a bigger perspective? Like science, (religious) history, psychology, human/religious geography, cosmology, biology, evolution, neuroscience…

My initial answer was short and simple.

Yes, definitely. I love to study these topics and try to piece together the puzzle of how my faith fits into it, particularly what God’s plan is in all of it. 

The questioner wanted more detail, specifically with regards to how I could still believe in God considering what I've studied during my life.

Below is the longer answer I gave. I'm preserving it here because, well, it took a long time to write it. And, Quora can be...squirrelly sometimes as to where answers get moved, if they get renamed, or if they get downvoted out of existence. Furthermore, the current design of Quora makes reading threaded comments tedious.

Special hat tip to Dr. Daniel C. Peterson, who I've gratuitously linked in the footnotes only because he's pretty much covering ALL the bases on this topic with his more recent blog posts on the subject of science vs. religion. Saves me a ton of time and typing and I'm happy to promote his work here.
My short answer is “how can I not?”. But I know that’s not a satisfying answer to anyone but me. :) So, here is my longer answer. 
First, to set aside the ill-conceived notion that one cannot be a scientist and a believer in God (and believe me, I’ve read and do understand ALL of the atheists’ views on this), here’s a list (The Rich, Historic Roll Call of Great Christian Thinkers and Scientists) of all the scientists over the years whose faith enlightened (was the reason for) their even exploring science. In other words, they pursued science because they saw God in it and wanted to know His creation more, not in spite of God (even if the Catholic Church often disagreed). Some like to insist that they were pioneering lone scientific renegades who were rebelliously and atheistically challenging the presumed wisdom of the Christian orthodoxy. But, that’s an incomplete (or disingenuous) reading of history and biography. In fact, many were (and remained even in the face of severe persecution) faithful Christians who maintained their belief in God until they died. See also Western science as a byproduct of medieval Christian theology
I was also quite impressed by the book “Signature in the Cell” by Stephen C. Meyer (Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design). It’s controversial in secular science circles, for sure, but his thesis made complete sense to me from the perspective of being both a Christian and a computer programmer with an interest in genetics. DNA is very, very literally a computer programming language, with its medium being biology rather than silicon. It is something that can be directly manipulated and changed (and even upgraded!) by the CRISPR CAS9 prokaryotic immune system. Given that DNA uses and gives rise to biological nanomachines of astounding complexity and elegance (that we have yet to duplicate from whole cloth), which, in turn, lead to an escalating and exponential scope of complex systems, organisms, organs, anatomy, and enablement of consciousness itself, there is zero doubt in my mind, after comparing the fundamentals of computer programming with the fundamentals of DNA replication and bio-computation that goes on in the cell, that an Intelligent Mind had to be behind its design. Just by sheer statistical improbability alone that all that DNA is, does, and the information (not just data) that it contains could have emerged by random chance and mutation. Someone imbued DNA with information. Information is a byproduct of intelligence. 
As a student of American History, the main thing that impacts me to this very day is the extreme improbability that the American Revolution should ever have succeeded if it were not from an Outside Influence. There were simply too many improbable “coincidences” for a tiny, disorganized, hungry, diseased, under-armed, ragtag band of inexperienced farmer-soldiers to have ever defeated what was then the greatest military superpower that the world had ever seen. See “Delivered by the Power of God”
On the subjects of psychology/neuroscience, you might find Intelligent Design Psychology and Evolutionary Psychology on Consciousness: Turning Water Into Wine an interesting read. See also Intelligent Design's One Valid Scientific Point, written by an anti-intelligent design atheist who sides with ID on the question of what can explain agency (free will). 
Logically speaking, just because all religions can’t be true doesn’t mean one religion can’t be true nor that there can’t be truth in religion. It’s not a binary either/or proposition. Truth is a both/and proposition. You can have truth in both science and religion. And the five physical senses are not the only way to know something is true or part of reality or cosmology (Is genuine knowledge available beyond the sciences?). We cannot begin to “see” the quantum realm of science. Our instruments are limited by the smallness of scale at that level. The quantum world is smaller than the photons we need to bounce off of its properties to see them. All our “seeing” of it is limited to second- and third-hand observations, and that is often limited to related phenomena where we have to infer rather than deduce to make a conclusion. At a certain point, that becomes more like faith than science. Indeed, the more we find out, the more questions we have. 
Again, after reading all the atheists’ objections to the concept of God and a Creator, I can’t understand how anyone can look into the ever-expanding and infinitely complex cosmos and, at the other end, the incredible incomprehensibility of the tiniest yet cosmically impactful quantum phenomena, and not see Pure Intelligence. 
Below are more articles by one of my favorite authors/researchers on this topic, Dr. Daniel C. Peterson. These short articles capture perfectly the essence of all my intended responses to the objections I perceive that you might have. I challenge you to read them all, as I have, before you respond. They’re actually notes he’s blogging about as he writes a book on this very topic (no idea when it will be published). After having reviewed your Quora thoughts on these topics, I think you’ll find his work enlightening as far as understanding how people who are religious can also be scientific (and vice versa!). With this list, I’m giving you everything he’s researched in order of most recent up to January 2018 (there’s much more beyond that).

  1. A Note on Science, Scientific Literacy, and Religious Belief
  2. On adjusting one’s religious views in the light of science, history, and the like
  3. Thoughts on Mormonism and Intellectual Sophistication
  4. A few scientists who were also ecclesiastical leaders
  5. Objective Proof in Religion
  6. Three Physicists
  7. Scientific discoveries as religious discoveries
  8. “Consistent with what I know about science”
  9. The Wonder of It All
  10. “Nature is skewed toward life.”
  11. “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”
  12. The Wisdom of the Nobel Prize
  13. “The Lost World of Genesis One”
  14. Four Nineteenth-Century Mormon Quotations on Science and Religion
  15. Peter GrĂ¼nberg RIP
  16. Ultimate Questions
  17. What’s needed for life?
  18. What’s Needed for Life (Revisited)
  19. “Anything But Pedestrian”
  20. “A set of near optimal mechanisms”
  21. Of “meaning” and neurons
  22. “Mind, intelligence, was somehow embedded in the process”
  23. “Highly skewed toward fitness for life”
  24. A Slice of Life
  25. Did random chance demand the existence of a stellar system suited to life?
  26. “When you think about it, it does get spooky.”
  27. Our Favorable Location in the Solar System (Part 1)
  28. Our Favorable Location in the Solar System (Part 2)
  29. Life and our galactic location (Part 1)
  30. Life and our galactic location (Part 2)
  31. Life and our galactic location (Part 3)
  32. “Walking along the Shore”
  33. The myth of the “Dark Ages”
  34. “Nicely balanced, against all hazards, at an absolutely optimal level”
  35. The Culture of Science
  36. Reason and Faith, and Some Science News
  37. From amino acid soup to the B-Minor Mass
  38. “Ditchkins,” Science, and Religion
  39. Eagleton on Dawkins and Dennett on Science and Religion
  40. “So I ate his lunch!”
  41. “From a vantage point outside her body”
  42. Death and Consciousness
  43. Death and Consciousness, Again
  44. On Science and the Church
  45. Above our heads, beneath our feet, and beneath our dignity
  46. Charles H. Townes, plus some science news
  47. Do you know your ABCs?
  48. And our bodies have TRILLIONS of these!
  49. Lise Meitner, pioneering female Christian physicist
  50. The Secret Mental Life of Trees (Part 1)
  51. The Secret Mental Life of Trees (Part 2)
  52. The Secret Mental Life of Trees (Part 3)
  53. “A piper playing at the gates of dawn”
  54. Some reflections on probabilities (1)
  55. Some Reflections on Probabilities (2)
  56. Some Reflections on Probabilities (3)
  57. Mind, fundamental to the universe?
  58. “There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel.”
  59. Aliens did it.
  60. “I think there are clearly religious implications.”
  61. “A God of extravagant generosity”
  62. “The God Hypothesis”
  63. An alternative to the infinite multiverse?
  64. A scientist’s dissent
  65. “Raffiniert ist der Herr Gott, aber boshaft ist er nicht”
  66. A utopian view of science
  67. The Intuition of Design
  68. “Personal Explanation”
  69. The Problem of Consciousness
  70. Materialism as a “Non-Starter”
  71. We are invisible
  72. Darwinism is a good explanatory theory as far as it goes, but . . .
  73. “The extension of common sense by other means”
  74. Some science-related items of interest
  75. Can science (or any other discipline) ever be without unproven assumptions?
  76. We’ve only recently begun to recognize its vast scope.
  77. Why are some biologists more hostile than physicists to religion and theology?
  78. The supposed war between science and religion
  79. Scientific discovery as an encounter with the divine
  80. Asteroids and Meteorites, Construction and Destruction
  81. Unimaginable Vastness and Remarkable Order
  82. “Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could.”
  83. Star Stuff
  84. Four examples of astrophysical fine-tuning
  85. “The nature of the universe itself seems to raise the ‘God’ question.”
  86. “Robust” fine-tuning in chemistry?
  87. “The Demiurge’s hidden message”
  88. The universe is both very big and very weird.
  89. Scientism as religion. Really.
  90. “How to Make Solar Systems”
  91. Some good quotations on science and religion
  92. “We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old carbon”
  93. “Focusing on the essentials in the biblical story of creation”
  94. Inconceivable vastness
  95. Hans-Georg Gadamer on Scientism
  96. “Scientism,” “cult-acolytes” and me