The communal hall in the elegantly appointed First Baptist Church in downtown Tallahassee is packed with noontime listeners this mid-September Friday. They are also lunchers, filling their plastic plates with tacos as they prepare to listen to ‘The God Squad’, five Tallahassee faith leaders perched on stools, who, as they have monthly for the last five years will talk about those places where religion, politics and societal issues bounce against each other like so many boats on a stormy sea. For this Faith.Food.Friday program, the crowd of nearly 200 people seems ready to eat it up. Today’s program (Friday, Oct. 9) is on Religious Freedom and will be held at Good Samaritan United Methodist Church. Tickets for food are $8 with reservations and $10 at the door.
Is this truly an accurate assumption? Do faith (or religion) and science have to be pursuits that are in opposition to each other? In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI gave an address at the University of Regensburg. This speech tried to give a perspective on the intersection of faith and reason, and subsequently religion and science. It was a brilliantly conceived and written speech. Unfortunately, the world focused on a quote the Pope used from a dialogue between a Byzantine emperor and a Persian intellect that reflected badly on Islam. The press about the address centered on support for or opposition to Benedict’s statement about Islam. His quite cogent statements about faith and reason got buried in the storm.
What did Pope Benedict say? He began with reminiscences of his days teaching at the university, noting how, with apparent pleasure, reasonable people could disagree on such fundamental issues as religion and God. He recalled a colleague commenting how odd it was to have two faculties at the university devoted to something that did not exist – God. Perhaps my favorite quote from his speech is this, “The scientific ethos…is the will to be obedient to the truth, and as such, it embodies an attitude which reflects one of the basic tenets of Christianity.” Think about this. By seeking truth, science is reflecting a core religious value. Science searches for the truth about the mechanics and the Church reveals truths about the “why” of the existence of the mechanics. Rather than seeing these as incompatible, Benedict saw them as reflections of two needed basic values – faith and reason. At the very core of his message was a plea for people to be reasonable. People of opposing views must at least share a commitment to “reason.” One cannot be so anchored in faith as to reject what is reasonable.
But is the reconciliation of science and faith a reasonable expectation? When one reads the critiques of religion by Oxford professor Richard Dawkins – then probably not. Dawkins, in an article commenting on the relative contributions of science and theology to the origins of the universe and humanity writes, “It is science and science alone that has given us this knowledge and given it, moreover, in fascinating, overwhelmingly, mutually confirming detail. On every one of these questions, theology has held a view that has been conclusively proved wrong.” Proceeding with even harsher words he adds, “What has theology ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody?”
Religious institutions will take varying degrees of umbrage at Dawkins’ comments. The Catholic Church, which is the source and supporter of many distinguished institutions of higher learning, cannot give up the totally improvable concept of the resurrection. To do so would destroy a basic underpinning of the Church. Further, segments of the Church believe in the existence of Satan, an additional irrationality. In the larger Christian world (at least in America) a majority do not accept the science of evolution, taking the first chapters of Genesis to be literal truth. Religious Americans who believe in the literal truth of Genesis and anyone embracing the scientific discoveries regarding the origins of the universe do not even consider the possibility that the other side is, as Pope Benedict would have said, “reasonable.”
Indeed, the word reasonable might not even be relevant when considering the human characteristic of “believing.” We all have articles of faith on which we build our lives. Many seem completely unreasonable to our neighbor. Trying to understand creation, from either the science or religious perspective, is a prime battle ground for this conflict. Yet, out of the ashes of this battle are some embers of possibility.
Recently I moderated a panel for The Village Square on issues of faith and science. Featured on the panel was the noted physicist, Dr. Harrison Prosper. Dr. Prosper is part of the team at CERN that discovered the Higgs boson, the particle that explains much towards how our universe actually holds together. If you want a sample of his brilliance, please listen to this TEDX talk:
Dr. Prosper is not a religious person in any way, yet acknowledges that when looking at the complicated set of equations involved in the creation and order of the universe, one can wonder if intelligence was indeed behind it all. Indeed there are scientists who see an intelligent hand in the structure of the universe, in both what is physically observable as well as in the math necessary to explain its structure. For example, the value of pi (3.14…) is present in many of the equations that explain our surroundings. Is that a calculated marker left by intelligence?
Further, the belief in scientific theory can at times be another form of faith. All you have to do is read Thomas Kuhn’s book “Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” Kuhn shows that stubborn belief is what happens when one scientific paradigm is about to give way to a new one. Scientists have a history of holding onto a theory, often in the face of mounting evidence that disproves the theory. Sometimes society will have shifted to the new change before the scientific community. This is simply faith, but under a different guise. While there are certainly areas of science considered universally to be true, our scientific understanding of the universe often undergoes radical revision. During the program I moderated, I found Dr. Prosper’s most interesting statement to be his wish that everything his team had discovered would be overturned by a whole new discovery. What makes the process exciting for human inquiry is the disproving of a theory by new, amazing evidence. Where religion becomes “unreasonable” is when it tries to discount scientific theory without evidence, only faith that the words of the Bible are incontrovertibly true.
Judaism has little conflict with science. We can point to numerous examples in rabbinic teaching that affirm and support scientific truth. The model of creation proposed by the 16th century mystic, Rabbi Isaac Luria, is eerily similar to the “big bang” theory of creation, complete with a miniscule singularity point out of which all of creation explodes. Perhaps most impressive is the work of the 13th century rabbi Maimonides, who posits that the language about God in the Torah is metaphorical, as our ability to articulate anything about God is so limited. He goes on to teach that in order to better understand God, one must develop their intellect, and study science, philosophy and math. Some more contemporary Jewish thought posits God not as an object, but as verb – the process of continuing existence. Our prayers are an attempt to relate to this process, to sensitize us to the process and to find our place in it.
The scientific community need not see religion as opposition. Rather, just as science is an attempt to explore truth, religion does the same. But I believe the truth religion is exploring is much more and much deeper than the “why” to the mechanics of the universe. All of us have our non-rational sides. They are moved in different ways, music, art, spiritual wonder, and the search for meaning. Prayer is an emotive experience, that can deeply move our souls. Prayer can sensitize us to human suffering in ways very different than fact and research. I do not claim everyone needs religion, just that it can provide as much as a path to meaning, to managing life as science. In addition, religion is the primary arena in which morality and ethics evolves. Deeply religions people can be at odds over profound moral dilemmas (see abortion, same sex marriage as examples). Science can give us some facts to frame issues, but it is religion that leads the struggle over what our moral boundaries should be.
Finally, both religion and science must grow and evolve to remain vibrant and relevant. Both find strength when finding a proper path that holds onto tradition and history yet changes as humans change. At their best, religion and science travel parallel roads on their search for respective truths.
Our regular guest panelist Dr. Parvez Ahmed writes this powerful piece with Village Square’s board member and “Faith, Food, Friday” co-founder Rabbi Jack Romberg:
We write this as two friends, a Jew and a Muslim, both with leadership roles in our respective communities. Together we have broken bread, facilitated interfaith dialogue, and come to the realization that we have the same goal of peace, understanding and respect for people of all faiths and backgrounds. The recent spate of violence between Hamas and Israel presents a new test for us. Yet, in the end, even as we might have some disagreement on the details, or in parsing the conflict, we find that we share the same hopes, ideals and values. We both must wrestle with some inconvenient truths.
Read the entire article online at The Huffington Post.
From WFSU: “The subject is religion in politics and public policy and three members of the Village Square’s “God Squad” bring their unique views to the subject. On the program, Reverend Betsy Oullette of Good Samaritan United Methodist Church, Reverend Dave Killeen from St. John’s Episcopal Church, Rabbi Jack Romberg of Temple Israel and Liz Joyner, executive director of the Village Square.” Listen to the full program online here. Find more information about our “Faith, Food, Friday” series by clicking here.
This morning three members of the Faith, Food, Friday “God Squad” (Rabbi Jack Romberg of Temple Israel, Reverend Dave Killeen of St. John’s Episcopal Church and Reverend Betsy Ouellette of Good Samaritan United Methodist Church) will be joining WFSU’s Tom Flanigan for an hour of what promises to be lively conversation on living in a diverse country leading into the holiday season. There’s never a dull moment with this crew, so we hope you’ll tune in! Besides, there are five more days of deciding whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays!”
Learn all about the pros and cons of Amendment 8, who supports it and who is opposed by clicking on our wiki page on Amendment 8. You can learn about all the amendments HERE and register for our FREE amendments-made-(relatively)-painless Amendments 101 forums on October 16 and 23 HERE.
The wiki page on each amendment is fully editable by you, simply register then add information, links, and sources. Or you might want to add to the pro/con list for the amendment or even write an op-ed! Remember, the content of our Wiki is made greater by factual, civil, diverse contributions from people like you. So, go ahead — check it out. And if you’re a first-time user, be sure to check out the Tools & Tips page, too. If you have trouble with the site using Internet Explorer, try switching over to Google Chrome, Firefox or Safari.
You can view these photographs as a set online HERE. All photos are courtesy of Bob Howard.
Editor’s note: Tomorrow we host Dr. Byron Johnson, author of “More God, Less Crime” at Faith, Food, Friday. In the beginning of his book, Dr. Johnson tells a pretty convincing story about how he was discriminated against in his academic career over his religious beliefs. The person responsible for bringing Dr. Johnson to town is the very Reverend Allison DeFoor (a close friend of the author) mentioned in this piece. The irony of that required a peanut gallery observation: Perhaps we’ve got ourselves in a bit of a do-loop, with aggressive behavior begetting aggressive behavior – lather, rinse and repeat endlessly? And perhaps it’s a cycle we could reverse? Read all »
This week presidential candidate Rick Santorum made a fairly audacious claim, were it true: President Obama wants to send more kids to college because he wants to indoctrinate them against faith. Santorum:
“I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country… 62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it.”
One of my enduring frustrations driving the invention of The Village Square concept is the all-too-human tendency to assume we know the malevolent motivation of another individual we don’t agree with. Of course we don’t. Usually people at least consciously exercise good will, even if it’s shot-full of distortion, rationalization and self-interest (again, alas, all human).
Likely the determinative factor in Santorum’s decision to blurt this particular bit of hostile mind-reading out there is that he was on the Glenn Beck show… we’ve covered the subject of how like-minded company can twist and torque rational thinking (click here for C.S. Lewis on the topic). In this particular case this is – of course – just making stuff up, whether Glenn Beck was nodding his head at the time or not (studies show like-minded groups make stuff up too). Read all »
Americans don’t see eye-to-eye about the role of faith in public life and it’s that time of year when that disagreement reaches a dull roar, often so loud that you can barely make out the “peace on earth, goodwill to men” we might otherwise be sharing.
The Village Square has now officially waded into the treacherous waters where faith meets the public square with our monthly forum “Faith, Food, Friday.” Thankfully, we have the good help of local clergy we’re calling the “God Squad.” On Dec. 9, they facilitated a lunchtime conversation on the “December Dilemma” before a packed house at First Baptist Church.
Turns out the “Squad” thinks that if there is a war on Christmas, it might be a little close to home for comfort. Read all »
Lunch is now $10 or you can just join us and brown bag it! Starts at noon, lunch served beginning at 11:30. Get details and RSVP here.