Community Conversation on faith and science: None of us knows all

March 14, 2014 

A dozen or so Tri-City residents recently spent two evenings discussing the coexistence of faith and science, and more generally, the relationships among faith, reason, religion and science. There seemed to be a majority view that faith and science are either complementary or at least compatible, and a minority view that faith is not compatible with science. The discussion was characterized by friendliness and openness. Participants cogently expressed their views, ranging from orthodoxy to atheism, and from spirituality to practicality. Nobody seemed in any way threatened by the divergencies of opinions; indeed, everyone seemed to draw strength from the presence of such a diverse and supportive group. One of the clear consensus items was that none of us knows everything, that each of us knows something, and that we all benefit from the freedom to choose our paths, within the constraints of a law-abiding society. A significant concern was not to allow the norms of any particular religious faith to dictate the content of education or the limits on civil liberty; there was some lively discussion of the role of the Constitution, the legislatures and the courts in allowing or preventing the imposition of such limits. There was agreement that ourdisagreements stem from our finite knowledge, and one participant suggested that it would be beneficial if all the religions could speak with a single voice. It was pointed out that scientists do eventually (if grudgingly) recant theories that are proven false; the question was raised whether faith is subject to that same process. Among the explicit religious views were Bahá’í, Catholic and Protestant. Exponents of those three views seemed in agreement on fundamental questions of faith and science, such as interpreting scripture in the light of proven science and not being bound by unnecessary literalism. They agreed, for example, that the geologically determined age of the Earth and the paleologically evident phenomenon of evolution do not conflict with teachings of their faith, including the narrative presented in the biblical book of Genesis. Three contrasting views were the secular idea of the gradual decay of religion, the Bahá’í idea of progressive revelation, and the Catholic belief in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Several participants related specific experiences and thought processes that led to their current beliefs or reinforced their faith or lack of faith. Those experiences included childhood naïveté and disappointment, adolescent angst and mature disillusionment. The first evening, one participant asked, “What is spirituality?” The second evening two quite different answers were given: “Belief in something beyond the physical,” and “The feeling you have in an intimate discussion with a group of friends.” While the question “Can faith and science coexist” was not explicitly resolved, the very amicability of the discussions seems to provide strong evidence that not only faith and science, but also multiple expressions of faith, can and do coexist in a harmonious and mutually supportive way. w Rob Harris is a retired PNNL scientist who spends his time writing, composing, serving the Bahá’í community, and enjoying family and the outdoors.

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