I guess I always believed in God. There were times when I questioned as any healthy teenager should. But God is there for me, I made sure. Part of me thinks more people would believe in God if more believers acted the part. I feel like nowadays people who profess or push belief are so hollow in acting it out, it’s no wonder that so many reject or criticize it. There’s so much evil in the world to make one doubt, if nobody has good answers or shows the pathway forward.
I want to talk about why good religion and science work together.
I might have a unique relationship with God, and religion as a whole. I’m a STEM guy through and through. I live and breathe the logical, the rational, the empirical. I’m sure atheistic peers might view such a claim with their usual cynical skepticism. I don’t blame them, though they do so erroneously. I’m in a profession where I have a degree with Science in the name twice. But I deviate from the typical religious person too even among my own, having no time for superstitious nonsense.
I don’t want to talk about me or religion here, I want to talk about why I think my foundation of faith may help anyone with life who tried it as a frame, but I need to contextualize it, so if you’re really turned off by organized religion, skip the next paragraph.
I will be deliberately evasive lest you think I’m here to preach, but suffice it to say I belong to a heavily maligned Christian sect. We profess to be the modern iteration of New Testament believers, authorized by God and those original apostles. Our beliefs predate the councils of Nicaea, when Nero was blaming fires on us in Rome. People… don’t like us for that claim. I’ve been accused by other professed Christians of being a devil worshipper. I’ve been accused of being in a sexual fertility cult, throwing virgins off of rooftops, and thinking god is an alien on another planet. Of course we get called a cult, then racist, sexist, and every other word. You only need know we’re different, and believe our doctrine is finite and coherent, and that’s where I’m pulling from.
Faith is the first principle.
Faith is a principle of action and of power.
That’s my claim. If it’s true, you can’t fully unpack it since everything else springs from it, but I’ll give the necessary bits my best shot.
What’s cool is all the definitions of the word faith as it is colloquially used in the English language are correct enough and uncorrupted enough by time to be tremendously useful in a secular discussion of it. Having faith in yourself, having faith in others, acting in good faith (even legally!), and having faith in karma, the future, and so on are fundamentally useful and pragmatically fundamental.
Without falling into rabbit-holes of human consciousness and free will, let’s say we are beings or entities that take actions and our actions are driven by our motivations. Well then, biologically we divide the nervous system into two halves, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The former handles “fight-or-flight”, we’ll call that fear, and the latter handles anti-fear, which ranges from faith to apathy to lusts. (catchphrase being “rest-and-digest” or “feed-and-breed”). Those two systems drive all of our motivations from the most primal bowel movement to the most high-level like “success”.
Faith is the key motivation. It’s the bottom motivation from a religious end, and it’s the peak motivation from the scientific end. It’s responsible for a lot of self-fulfilling prophecy, in that people who think they can accomplish things often overcome incredible odds to succeed. And those who doubt and fear, arguably the opposite of faith, tend to fail or quit. This is why some prosperity gospel con artists are successful – because believing in something or yourself does move you forward. It’s also why some of the most brilliant minds fail. Faith only works if it’s in something that is true, and half the time, half-truths might suffice. But perfect faith can move mountains and produce miraculous consequences, natural and explainable though they may be.
I’m a big fan of the Yin-Yang ideas of eastern philosophy. In order for us to be successful organisms we need to voluntarily rotate between the halves of the nervous system, or even just creative and rational halves of the brain, in a way that’s sustainable across time from days to generations. Too much of one or the other makes you ill and dysfunctional. In order for our parasympathetic systems to keep us happy, we have to know where the predators and dangers are from the sympathetic. In order for us to remain sane, we have to slow down the sympathetic and not let little things get us outraged and angry all the time.
Pragmatically, this means the more you face your fears and the more you get out of your comfort zone, the more you’ll move forward in life. You just need to have a little more faith in others and yourself. Otherwise, you end up in a downward spiral instead of an upward one, in which you become driven by your fears and lusts, instead of being master of them. It’s up to us to choose faith and live out our heroic journey through life slaying our dragons, even if they appear as homework or bills or job hunts. Otherwise we can become tragic failures, captive in a basement or cheap apartment with roommates we hate and seemingly endless debt. You voluntarily go out into the chaos and accomplish something to bring back home to the order, or you remain where you are until you involuntarily get sucked into backward circles of alternating stressful chaos and personal tyranny.
Science and religion are completely compatible in my view. I find that any conflict between them indicates a flaw in one’s understanding of the other. As long as you humbly bake in that you’ll never know everything in either case there’s no issue. They are two parts that make a whole together. David Hume’s “Is-Ought Problem” rubs on both. You can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”, and attempts to do so lead rapidly to eugenics and/or genocide in a Machiavellian fashion. And those who try to derive what “is” from what “ought” to be are the same fundamentalists who demanded the sun orbited the earth: they’ll remain in the dark ages, devoid of the “wizards” they burnt. You need a knowledge system that lets you establish what is true and how to find out more. And you need a belief system that tells you what you should be doing with the information the former produces. We seem to be losing both.
I believe the scientific method is a perfectly reasonable place to start for determining the existence of God. If you want an answer, learn how to pray about it. Don’t recite something, talk to God as if He exists and ask for a way to determine. If you’re dead serious and honest about it, you will eventually experience the evidence. I’ve had friends who had miracles happen when they took my counsel to pray in spite of disbelief. It’s non-transferable, un-recordable empiricism each person has to test themselves, but I assure you the same data others experience can and does come.
I also believe faith is valuable in accomplishing useful scientific endeavors. It takes a lot of courage and risk to pioneer science, be it intangible travel to distant places, or fighting the battles many do in seeking funding for research. Without a little self confidence from somebody science doesn’t get done. Somebody had to take risks to test people for COVID-19.
I believe in a God who listens and answers but plays by the rules. I don’t believe in a fast and loose interpretation of the word omnipotent, God employs no magic and can’t violate causality or do things that can’t be done. There’s always a natural explanation and most of His doing is letting nature take its course for our education and work out details afterward. He will open our eyes to possibilities and expand our free will if we have the faith to ask and let Him.
I believe in the Big Bang, evolution and natural selection, and in the scientific method as it is used appropriately. I believe in the power of people who act in faith to pioneer, discover, and sustain our world and explore our universe. I believe you can too, if you have more faith in yourself. I also believe it takes a massive amount of faith to try and raise the next generation of scientists and engineers. I’m doing my best to succeed.
I have faith.