This weekend is Evolution Weekend and the following are my thoughts on the nature of religion and science. My previous posts for this weekend can be found at “Evolution Weekend”
For the better part of my life, I have lived near either a river, the mountains, and sometimes both. At the present time, I live near the Hudson River and near the Adirondacks.
But during high school and college and for some years after graduation, the river of interest was “Old Man River”, the Mississippi River. And when I would drive from Memphis to St. Louis and then onto Kirksville, I would look for roads that paralleled the Mississippi. These roads lead me past the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, just south of Cairo, Illinois.
I remember the first time I come to this spot and saw the two great rivers merging into one and continuing southward.
Figure 2 – The Confluence – The Ohio River on the left, the Mississippi River on the right. The Ohio River is larger. https://ohioriverparksproject.com/the-parks/confluence-of-the-ohio-and-mississippi-rivers/
The thing about moving water is that chooses the path that it wants to flow, carving a path out of the rock and soil If we follow the Mississippi, just before we get to Baton Rouge and New Orleans, we find what is called “The Old River Control Station.”
Figure 3 – The Old River Control Structure at the juncture of the Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya River. In this photograph, the Mississippi River runs along the left and curves away to the right in the distance. The Atchafalaya River meets the Mississippi
At this point on the river the Mississippi wants to shift its course and join with the Atchafalaya River. The Old River Control Station was constructed to keep the Mississippi flowing to the Gulf of Mexico through Baton Rouge and New Orleans. This insures that industries located in Baton Rouge and New Orleans will not lose their access to the Gulf of Mexico and created substantial economic damage.
If we see religion and science as two streams of thought, then we can see that, sooner or later, they will merge into one stream. It requires a greater effort to keep them separate than it does to allow them to merge.
And just as regular streams of water meander over the terrain that it passes through, so then do our own streams of thought concerning religion and science. We call that curiosity.
As I noted in “A Dialogue of Science and Faith”, many early scientists were as interested in religion as they were in science. Now, as the processes of science were codified, it became apparent that while one could understand what it was that God had done, it would not be possible to find God (even if He were in the details).
But instead of seeing this split negatively, one should see it positively. It should be apparent that one cannot answer all the questions of the universe from science or religion alone but as a combination of the two. Through the combination, we have a better chance of getting the answers or at least knowing where one might find the answers.
As we look at the lectionary readings for this Sunday, we find Paul, trained as a lawyer, making a logical argument for the existence and power of Christ. His decision concerning Christ came not actually knowing Jesus as so many others did but in the evidence that comes from what they did.
And God reminds Isaiah of the consequences that come when one is unwilling to learn. When Jesus picked his disciples, he told them that they would take the skills they already had and used them in a different manner. (Adapted from “The Path You Walk”.
When we try to keep science and religion as separate streams of thought, we spend more time and energy keeping them apart. If we were to allow them to merge, that time and energy could be used to expand our understanding of this universe, this planet, and its inhabitants.
It has never been the task of science to find God (even the early scientists only wanted to understand who God was) but, rather, use the skills that God has given us to better understand this place we call home. And God never meant that religion would answer the questions of science but help us understand how to use science in ways that help rather than hinder (something we tend to forget at times).
I am not sure where society is on this stream of thought I have constructed. It seems that many, both in religion and in science, are at the “Old River Control Station”, valiantly trying to keep the streams apart. I would hope that we are further upriver where the streams come together, creating a broader and deeper understanding of the world, the universe and the people.