The concept behind this column is that every week, a group of four southern Utah spiritual leaders pulled from the Interfaith Counsel will provide answers a difficult life question. That way, you get multiple perspectives and potential answers to mull over in regards to the question of the week.
This week’s question is “What role should spirituality play in intellectual and scientific endeavors?”
From Westside Baptist Church Pastor Greg Wright
The Bible advocates for a connection between spirituality and intellectual/scientific endeavors in the hope that the one who is studying these matters might find the knowledge of the True God (Acts 17:24-31). God is the Creator of this world and invites man to discover Him through their academic and intellectual pursuits. Christianity does not fear science, but advocates for the discovery of God, and eventual glory of God, through scientific endeavors. One would be more apt to fully understand the world around themselves if they studied it under the light of God’s revelation. The Creator is most qualified to explain this world. He desires for men to reach out to Him (and find that He is very near) as they study life around them. Mankind continues to discover the brilliance of God the Creator as we amass information about this world and the living creatures in it. As the secular world probes the depths of the ocean and the seemingly infinite stretches of outer space, we find that God has already been there.
From Our Savior’s Lutheran Church Pastor Arthur Drehman
William of Ockham is probably the most notable in setting a simplification system that would allow reasoning to deal with merely the most simplistic understanding offered. This “razor” was not intended to strip away religion or the naturalistic conclusions, but rather miracles and mundane could be understood without unnecessary complications. That is a naturalistic examination into the things that were repeatable and predictable would offer just a viable conclusion as attributing things that were incomprehensible to the realm and whims of God Almighty.
Throughout the centuries, science was not seen as the all-encompassing theory of everything. There were far too many uncertainties to explain. People who rose up against the established church would freely admit that the miracles of the past, especially the creation of the world, must be attributed to the works of the divine. Voltaire, for instance, would say in his work “On the Interpretation of the Old Testament”:
“The works of God cannot be expected to resemble the works of man in any way. The ages of the patriarchs and prophets can have no relation to the ages of ordinary men. God now comes upon the earth no more; but in those days he often came down to carry out his work in person.”
Voltaire would speak to the veracity of many miracles of old, including the Tower of Babel, although he regards many of the ancient sources that describe the miracles to have “stolen” the actual historical tale to fit into their own narrative.
It would not be until the time of Darwin that a true separation of science from religion would be possible. That is, when the formative miracles could be explained away by a naturalistic theory, science rose to replace the religious explanations of the past, and evolution deemed religion to be quite unnecessary if simplicity was all that would be required to understand the world. While evolution, and later cosmos creation theories like the Big Bang, would seem simplistic in nature, the concept of everything being naturalistic left gaping holes that could not be filled with greater theories from science. The concept of a “master race,” for instance, rose up from Darwinian thought of survival of the fittest, yet naturalism left no ethical matter for one to dismiss this superiority claim. In essence, without a God or creator being part of the formation and nurturing of mankind, it would be impossible to conclude whether humans really were a species worth preserving in any form, and arguments to save or eradicate mankind would both be just as valid.
In a truly naturalistic setting, prayers would be no different from sorcery and dreams would be no different from mirages. Pure naturalism does not simply reduce man to the level of ape; it reduces him to the level of dust with no God to breathe any meaningful existence into that void. Religion will always be necessary, not simply to answer the difficult questions that science does not wish to confront but because so much of what we base our assumptions and understanding on would require God’s presence and activity in this world to be historically true.
The greatest hindrance to allowing talk about religion and science to come up together is not because science aims at naturalistic explanations but rather that it sees everything under its realm and purview. In order to allow spirituality to have a reasonable voice that is more than just a medication from the despair of the naturalistic, one must question whether science can really answer everything. We may never come back to the days of William of Ockham where the naturalistic and miracles can both be observed as simplistic explanations, but despite how simplistic scientific claims may be, at some point their claims to truth must be questioned.
From Community of Christ pastor Emily Rose
I love this question, especially because it can go in several directions. First, I think there are many who see religion as somehow separate or incompatible with science. We sometimes think that what is unexplainable by science is God. The risk we run with this line of thinking is that the more we know through science, the smaller God becomes.
There is a wonderful approach to spirituality called the Weslyan quadrilateral. The underlying idea is that knowledge and faith can be reached through many paths including scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Community of Christ also values this quadrilateral approach, and reason and experience are highly compatible with science.
This question also makes me think of recent council given to Community of Christ in our Doctrine and Covenants text, section 163:4b, “b. The earth, lovingly created as an environment for life to flourish, shudders in distress because creation’s natural and living systems are becoming exhausted from carrying the burden of human greed and conflict. Humankind must awaken from its illusion of independence and unrestrained consumption without lasting consequences.” I am convinced that people of faith who value creation as sacred must awaken to the devastating effects of climate change — and act! This requires an embracing of science and responding in faith.
This question is also phrased in such a way that I am curious about how spirituality impacts science. I believe that the sense of wonder and mystery that comes with many spiritual practices can be useful to scientists. In a time when science is underfunded, undervalued, and questioned so heavily, I would hope that scientists engage in practices that ground and sustain them.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article did not include Emily Rose’s response.