There is a memorable scene in the 1997 movie Contact where astronomer Ellie Arroway is challenging the Christian philosopher Palmer Joss to prove the existence of God. As a scientist, to believe in something, she wants confirmation of proof. Christian philosopher Palmer Joss asks her, “Did you love your father?” Taken aback by the question, she replies “What?” He persists, “Your dad. Did you love him?” She responds, “Yes, very much.” He then says … “Prove it.”
The bigger question being asked, about whether or not those who believe in science can also be religious, fascinates me. I’m definitely a spiritual scientist! In my opinion, both require faith and seeking to believe and understand the unknown and/or the invisible.
My Favorite Book
I love the book, Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship, by John Polkinghome, because of the unique dual perspective. The author is an Anglican priest AND a quantum physicist.
He examines parallels (more than you’d think) and patterns of historical development identified in Christology and quantum physics, but doesn’t shy away from the polarities either (such as the concept of evil). He ultimately suggests that because science and religious studies are fueled by the innate wish to understand the universe as a complete experience, their philosophies for interpreting life are not mutually exclusive.
Often there is a “one or the other” attitude toward being a believer in science or a believer in God or spirituality. This book provides refreshing food for thought that allows the intersection of both.
How do scientists negotiate their identities as scientists and religious people?
I realize not everyone shares my outlook, so I was curious to hear thoughts from my peers. On Twitter, I posted the question, “Can you believe in science and be spiritual and/or religious? If you are, what does that intersection mean to you?
I LOVED the thoughtful, thought-provoking responses I received! Over 200 and counting …
Here are some I’d like to share:
@AlgaeBae As someone raised in Hawai‘i, I feel colonial science is ages behind Indigenous Hawaiian science which I believe taps into metaphysical aspects of nature and scientific observation through cultural practice and generational knowledge.
@Cshantay Yes. The Creator is a MASTER scientist. I believe that science is the cookie crumbs to guide us towards our highest self. All things are discoverable, it is actually a beautiful truth in my eyes.
@OBrienSci Not religious. Barely spiritual.
But I do believe life is more than the sum of its parts. I believe connections b/t ppl are the closest thing we have to divinity, & science can uncover their mechanics but probably not their magic. Or at least what feels like magic to most of us.
@sqL_handLe Yes. my view is:
Science is a framework for the natural;
religion/spirituality is a framework for the supernatural;
there are other frameworks for both the natural and supernatural;
natural and supernatural are not the only realms in life which can be approached with frameworks.
Yes, sometimes the supernatural conflicts with the natural. It is not alone in doing so; history, family, philosophy and art may also conflict with the natural. The frameworks for the realms allow us to resolve conflicts or at least move forward when negotiation is needed.
@demigod_4_life As someone who is Jewish and also studying physics to be a high school teacher, I see these parts of myself as interconnected. My religious/spiritual values inform my wanting to learn and teach physics to others and include social justice work in my teaching.
@Writer4LifeJC Science is a result of faith in my eyes, faith in humanity and answers to prayers.
Faith made it possible for brilliant minds to come up with medicines and treatments that once we’re life threatening ailments, we have evolved.
It’s all connected in my eyes.
@MileIsabel I don’t believe you can, but I respect people’s desires to try to make it work. I’m an atheist that was raised Catholic and worked in cancer research before becoming an attorney.
@ZimenaJ I follow a reconstructionist pagan faith of my pre-Christian ancestors. Ancestor veneration is a keystone, & one of my main deities is known as a seeker of knowledge. Study and creating a good life is a way of honouring ancestors & this deity.
It's also a nature-based faith, which is fitting as I'm doing a BSc Marine Sciences. The old stories can be seen to describe natural phenomena & humanity's relationship to the natural world. The sciences give a lot of context & add depth when put together with this.
@andrews_sea_jay A professor of Zoology started our year off by explaining how science is an organized way of gaining information about our world by using controlled, repeatable experiments. The things that can't be repeated require faith. Proud to be spiritual and scientific.
Thanks to everyone who joined the conversation and created such a safe, respectful space to exchange opposing opinions and beliefs.
If you are a scientist, do you also identify as spiritual? Or do you believe the two belief systems cannot honestly co-exist? Share your perspective in the comments section.
Quantum Physics Photo credit: geralt/Pixabay