I Want to Testify: Science and Religion are Incompatible. I Believe Them Both

Science and Religion. You can apply one, the other, or both to guide action. But as views of the universe, they contradict.

Someone created the universe. Or Someone didn’t.

How to resolve the contradiction?

I don’t.

The metaphor I use to think about this is as follows:

  • There is a house on the beach of a jungle island.
  • The house is large and rectangular.
  • Two sides are parallel to the waterline with floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
  • The view toward the ocean: a broad expanse of bare sand, a lagoon, and waves breaking out beyond the coral. The fauna observable: crabs, shorebirds, an occasional fish, perhaps dolphins.
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Photo by Sean O. on Unsplash

  • Stretching off into the distance to the right and left is a strip of sand backed by a wall of palms.
  • The back view: a jungle of thick trunks and an understory of vines and leafy foliage. One can see a riot of organisms: plants, birds, orchids, snakes, insects.
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Photo by Chris Abney on Unsplash
  • Both of the other two sides of the house are long solid walls. The interface between the beach and the jungle is unobservable.

So then, how are these two perspectives reconciled?

We can speculate, but we won’t know convincingly until we somehow get up on the roof.

I do know one thing: getting there will be dependent on not deprecating the fundamental experience of either!

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Our ladder up will be fidelity to that experience.

This is just good science, frankly. Regardless of paradigm, it’s essentially chicken shit to ignore convincing direct experience.

Besides being good science, this is, also, central to my ‘faith’.

I learned as a spiritual revelation, not an intellectual insight, that it is possible to hold intense contradictions close to the heart without needing an artificial and premature resolution. It is possible to find a grounding outside conflicting perspectives and contradictory models.

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image — Wikimedia

The benefit of that foundation is not feeling a compulsion to artificially resolve the contradictions. This preserves the integrity of descriptive constructs from artificial distortion.

And that leads to good science. If we build our house solely out of non-conflicting ideas, our foundation is likely unsound.

Quantum physics, for example, describes a world of precise formulas that beggar common sense. Things are two places at once or nowhere at all. Information is shared across intergalactic distances. Our most precise predictions about the material world make the least sense when translated into anything other than their math.

As the old saw goes, the world is stranger than we understand. It may even be stranger than we can understand. Always we have bits and pieces of the big circle described in our small scaffold of mismatched straight lines.

Without ‘firm beliefs held lightly,’ we are trapped in allegiance to particular intellectual constructs. We will be forced to defend increasingly thread worn ideas. We will feel distress as they inevitably unravel or collapse.

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The only spot I have found that can ground us outside any particular set of ideas or beliefs and duck the emotional turmoil is simple numinous awareness.

And there are some core beliefs that emerge from religious experience time and time again — insight into how we should treat each other and the amazing world we live in.

But science dictates none of that. This meaning is something we as do as individuals or as a species although it often presents itself as a discovery. And perhaps in dialog with the Absolute.

So what’s on the roof?

Maybe someday we’ll know.

For now, I take my compelling ideas and ineffable certainty where I can find them.

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