Science vs Religion: Is there a place for faith in the lab?


How old is the universe? Let me check on that. It looks like the answer is about fourteen
billion trillion years. Ok. There’s our answer. I come from a very religious family, which
means I was raised to believe a literal interpretation of the Old Testament, where the universe was
created in six days, Moses parted the Red Sea, and Jonah spent three days in the belly of
a whale and lived to talk about it. Trouble is, I also grew up learning science, and in science you need evidence to substantiate
your claims. You can’t just take them on faith. For a long time I thought that, alright, it’s
going to be science or Judaism. It can never be both. The reason why it’s so hard to reconcile
science and religion sometimes is because you have to go really deep. I think some of those conflicts may not get
resolved in our lifetime. The war between science and religion Science versus God You don’t seem to need a God to create a
universe Scientists do need God Science vs. Religion: let the opening statements
commence. I’ve often felt my religious and scientific
sides to be at odds with one another, and looking around America today it’s not
difficult to see conflict between science and religion. Why that is, or even if that is, depends on
who you ask. My friend Bethany, for example, who was raised
Christian and is a chemistry major like me has no idea what I’m talking about. As far as like creation and things like that,
I could easily see God starting the world with a Big Bang, if scientifically that makes
sense. I think it would fit with the Bible. I think that some people have a more rigid
view of things than I do, and sometimes they’re not as cool with the
science and the religion working together. Apparently, most scientists aren’t cool
with it. In 2009, the Pew Research Center interviewed
members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science about their religious
views. They found almost half of those interviewed
did not identify as religious compared to only 17 percent of the general population. Why might that be? If you had pressed me in going back to my
middle school days about some of the strict things the Bible said about the creatures
that populate the Earth and Noah’s Arc, I would have told you that’s crap. That’s John Finnerty, a professor of biology. Finnerty was raised Catholic, but he was never
able to reconcile the worldview he learned from science with the worldview he learned
from the church. It became crystal clear to me that science
and religion were largely in conflict intellectually when you think about faith. So now in the Catholic church, faith is extolled
as the greatest virtue, so belief in something in the complete absence of evidence. Belief in something in the complete absence
of evidence is a grave moral sin to a scientist. I mean you can not do that. Faith is not the absence of questions, it’s
dealing with questions and still believing. That’s Binyomin Abrams, my academic adviser. Unlike Dr. Finnerty, he doesn’t see a conflict
between faith and science. One of the things I love about teaching chemistry
is that for the most part, you really can’t see it. You can’t see what’s going on. Microscopically, you can, color changes, gas
evolution, is great, but I’m talking about the really small stuff like the quantum stuff. We get all sorts of indirect information that
lets us try to understand it. You can’t prove a mechanism. You can’t prove a mechanism. You can’t see it. If you don’t see a parallel with that and
Judaism… Like that’s all Judaism there. It’s all about looking at, well, there’s
something deeper there. It’s actually not that surprising that neither
Bethany nor Dr. Abrams really see a conflict between science and religion. That same Pew survey found that scientists
in the field of chemistry were the most likely to be religious. I also study chemistry, but I feel that conflict
every time I step in the lab. I try to explain this to Bethany. The biggest conflict would be when people
interpret the Bible, or for me, the Old Testament, the Torah, literally. And there are certain literal interpretations
that outright conflict with what we know about physics. For example. miracles. Behold His mighty hand. How can someone who understands the principles
of science accept the idea of miracles, which by definition defy the laws of nature? I brought that question to Muhammad Zaman,
a professor of biomedical engineering and a practicing Muslim. I think it’s always going to be there in
terms of miracles and how we interpret them. You have to reconcile them in many ways as
a person of faith, and that reconciliation may not be control. For me it’s more about the meaning. It’s the message, whether it is the story
of Moses or the story of Abraham or anybody else. I think it’s more about, it’s the value
that they present as opposed to the miracle itself. Because religion is not just about miracles,
it’s also about values, it’s about doing the right thing. I get that. I do. In fact, that stuff, the non-miraculous stuff,
is why I like my religion. Coming to school here, the biggest comfort
that I’ve had is the Jewish community. It’s made me feel safe, having this kind
of home away from home has been really important, and I don’t ever want to lose that. But it can be hard feeling like you’re 100
percent a part of something, and you can’t participate in all the conversations. You’re always holding back a little. I’ve always had a problem with the spirituality
component of the religion. I’m just not wired that way. Yeah I think I’ve sort of come to a similar
place. I almost feel like some of the beliefs that
are held about spiritual questions become a real impediment to things that the community
as a whole might want to do. One of the things in the Catholic faith that
is always brought up, sometimes there is too much thinking about the afterlife, right? So if you’re concerned mainly about the
afterlife than maybe you can suffer some serious problems here and not necessarily do anything
about them. So it gets in the way a lot of times of effective
community action that we actually have the power to solve. Dr. Zaman on the other hand sees his faith
as a call to action, not an impediment to it. It’s more about trying to find things that
are in need of help, and my faith allows me to do that. Sometimes it means taking on problems, which
affect poorest of the poor even though there is no funding for that. Most importantly, Jeremy, I don’t see myself
as being 10 percent scientist, and 10 percent religious, and 10 percent this. I think this amalgam of various values that
I have are all coming together because of this integration of religion and science. The integration of religion and science, this
is what I feel like I’m missing. I want them to work together. I want to be able to apply a critical thinking
lens to Judaism, to science. I also want to bring some of that comfort
to the scientific world. Science doesn’t have to be cut and dry. I get very emotional about my experiments. I get very excited when they work out and
distraught when they don’t work. These are two very important things to me,
and I want them to work in unison. You know just like you pray the morning prayers
in the morning, the evening prayers in the evening, You do your science in the science lab and
not in the Synagogue. But it doesn’t mean you leave your belief
in something greater than you, your excitement for and passion for Judaism in the Synagogue, it just means that that looks differently
in the science lab. I think it’s coming to terms with that conflict. It’s perfectly fine to have conflict. I mean a little bit of conflict is actually
important to create a sense of creativity, and for me, for example, Jeremy, it’s an
opportunity to learn more in both directions. But as long as you’re going that with the
right intention, right, you have to tell yourself that I’m doing it not because I want to
prove one over the other, but I’m genuinely curious. I’m going to be open-minded about it. I think you’ll find it to be more exhilarating
than troubling. So maybe reconciling science and religion
isn’t the point. I wanted to find a way for science and religion
to work together. Maybe this is how they work together. Here you have two very different ways of being
curious and asking questions about the world, and because you can’t reconcile them, it
keeps you curious. It keeps you asking questions. Maybe that’s a good thing. Personally, I’m not convinced there’s
a resolution out there for this conflict that I feel, but if there is, I’ll believe it when I
see it.

2 Comments

  1. Un Known

    August 7, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    Religion and science is imposible. I believe in science .

  2. 罗楚慧

    November 30, 2018 at 3:52 am

    Just as my Bible (undergrad optional course) professor put it, "Like Science, Religion is also a theory to interpret the Universe". It seems to me that they are both human attempts to understand the world we live in.

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