Community Conversation on faith and science: Both have ups, downs

March 14, 2014 

About the Community Conversation “Can faith and science coexist?” Of course, they do coexist; the conversation was about the tensions between faith and science. In discussing those tensions, we quickly realized that the meanings of the two words can vary greatly, even when used by the same person. Often, faith is used to mean religion — generally a specific organized religion. Belief in the supernatural seemed to be the definition the group was most comfortable with. But what is “the supernatural?” It seems to be a spectrum; belief that a supreme being can mentally project unlimited energy, be present in all places at once and have perfect knowledge of everything past, present, and future is at one end of the spectrum and on the other end is something like an understanding that many areas of human experience and behavior — love, hate, friendship, and even sentience itself — cannot be pinpointed, weighed, measured and explained by science. Several points on this spectrum were represented in the group that convened. Science can be difficult to pin down, too. Even physics and chemistry are still open books where theories are formed, tested and refined or discarded. In the “soft” sciences, one quickly gets into areas that are decidedly squishy, not to discount useful research inpsychology, economics and politics. But there was wide agreement in the group that the scientific method — testing theories with repeatable experiments and publishing results whether favorable or unfavorable to the theory — is a valid way of discovering truth about the physical universe. To me, one of the key areas of discussion was validation. Science properly practiced validates that which cannot be invalidated by repeatable experiment. Faith is different. Often, faith seeks evidence for validation, such as the hunt on Mount Ararat for remains of the ark — and discounts any evidence that is counter to belief. Others validate faith by the effect on themselves and any faith community they belong to. Belonging to a community is a powerful human need. As an example, when in North Korea, I saw how a belief in Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il gave meaning and purpose to the otherwise barren lives of people with no freedom and no future. Life with no faith can be a difficult road. Science and faith can both pose dangers to humanity. Eugenics, once practiced in the United States, was judged as immoral (firstly because it violated due process as practiced). We are entering an age where science has produced the means for governments or corporations to invade privacy to a greater extent than even envisioned by George Orwell. Hydrogen bombs, nerve gas and junk food were all developed scientifically as well. Faith has some dangers as well. It can make you a better person, but it might also make you think you’re better than others. Faith requires little or no evidence, but if it denies scientific evidence, it can lead to incorrect conclusions about what needs to be done. Faith can help you live a better life, but if it makes you want to tell others how to live their lives, is that good? And if faith allows you to see nonbelievers as infidels not worthy of life, Anne Lamott put it best when she said, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” w Ken Ames is a retired PNNL project manager living in Franklin County.

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