Thursday, October 24, 2013

Part 2: Science vs. Faith, Religion and Belief

Get the free 2-year set of blogs from DeconstructingTime in a PDF eBook. 
Click now to view a PDF version online and/or to download the PDF file.

Please read my first blog on this subject, Part 1, in which I explain the fundamental connection between science, faith, religion and belief.

What do this and my previous blog have to do with time? Quite simply time is often at the center of disputes between religion and science. The scientific discovery that the Earth was billions of years old and humans millions of years old upset the accepted religious understanding as interpreted from the Bible, for example. At the same time religion often spoke/speaks of a supreme being who lived in a world independent of time or spoke about immortal gods or spiritual realms outside of time -- concepts which scientists often dismissed.
Religion and science go together. As I've said before, science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind. They are interdependent and have a common goal -- the search for truth. Hence it is absurd for religion to proscribe Galileo or Darwin or other scientists. And it is equally absurd when scientists say that there is no God. The real scientist has faith, which does not mean that he must subscribe to a creed. Without religion there is no charity. 
Albert Einstein
It is also important to remember that the classic battle between science and religion, i.e., the arrest and imprisonment of Galileo by the Catholic Church was not religion vs. science but rather a battle between two different scientific theories. Yet this battle seemed to set the stage for today's conflicts between religion and science, such as those involving human evolution and the Big Bang Theory.

The Earth centered, geocentric, system held that the Earth was at the center of the Universe. Refined by Ptolemy it was quite accurate.  (
Galileo promoted the new idea that the Earth revolved around the Sun while the Catholic Church held with the earlier scientific theory that the Earth was at the center of the solar system, known as geocentric. The older theory had been in place for about two thousand years; in addition, over the centuries, this Earth centered system had been refined to be quite precise with the Ptolemaic model. It was not nonsense (as some modern commentators have stated) but good science in that it explained the movement of the sun, moon and planets very well up to a point.

And while not widely known, the geocentric system is still useful and used today under various circumstances:
The geocentric (Ptolemaic) model of the solar system is still of interest to planetarium makers, as, for technical reasons, a Ptolemaic-type motion for the planet light apparatus has some advantages over a Copernican-type motion.
Zeiss Planetarium Projector in Montreal. (
It is also used by NASA when it makes some calculations easier. 

NASA uses the Geocentric Solar Ecliptic (GSE) system for some applications. The GSE is now the preferred system for depicting vector quantities in some space physics situations. (  
The conflict between science and religion is often one of older ideas or an old science vs. new concepts. Ideas once held by religion such as lightning bolts being thrown by an angry god have been replaced by a scientific understanding of electricity in the atmosphere. Few people would argue with this today. As a result some ideas in religion need to give way to well established scientific understandings.
It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.
Albert Einstein
Science, on the other hand, needs to acknowledge that it cannot know everything. There is a limit -- as I have suggested in my earlier blog. Science, for example, relies on its ability to measure. Measurement is at the heart of the scientific method. Yet there are things, critical things, that cannot be measured.
Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so. 
Galileo Galilei 
Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted. 
Albert Einstein  
 I do not believe that science can explain, for example, why there is such wide ranging diversity in the Universe if the Universe is solely governed by predictable laws.

Every snowflake, every person, every galaxy is unique. If this were simply a scientific world of laws of cause and effect, then it would also be a cookie cutter world of duplicate people and galaxies -- a Universe of clones. Yet it is our uniqueness that science cannot explain, which is essential to life and a fundamental mystery.

Snow crystals photographed by William Bentley ( While subatomic particles, the building blocks of nature, are exactly alike, and water molecules are, for the most part, exactly alike, every snow crystal is different. "The water molecules in an ice crystal form a hexagonal lattice..." "it is indeed extremely unlikely that two complex snowflakes will look exactly alike"
And there is more. The diversity in the Universe is a delicate balance. Too much diversity would cause galaxies to shred apart and many people would be born with three eyes. It appears that the Universe has just the right mix of predictable laws along with a sprinkle of diversity that seems to defy those laws.

We know with nature, in particular, that diversity is a survival strategy. Diversity gives a species the advantage of responding differently to changing environmental conditions, for example.  
Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.
This principle of change or movement prevents nature from ever really repeating herself... 
The History of Scientific Ideas, Charles Singer 
Even something as simple as green seaweed as seen through the natural mosaic of endlessly diverse water surface ripples shows the infinite variations created by nature.  (
The soul given to each of us is moved by the same living spirit that moves the universe. 
Albert Einstein
This idea was also expressed by the poet/painter/photographer who went by the name of Wols. In 1944 when looking out at the Mediterranean at Cassis, France, he wrote:

... eternity
in the little waves of the harbor
which are always the same without being the same...
All loves lead to one love, and
beyond all personal loves,
there is the nameless love,
the great mystery,
the Absolute,
the cosmos ...

Wols (Alfred Otto Wolfgang 
Schulze)  Watercolors, Drawings, Writings by Wols


To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.
William Blake

Electron microscope photograph of an "antenna of common wasp, Vespula vulgaris" magnified 3000 times. Scale is about 30 micrometers or about 1/1000 of an inch. (

The Millennium Simulation, an extremely sophisticated computer simulation of the large structure of the cosmos -- showing the filaments that the Universe is made of -- is a "model... of the Universe in a cube over 2 billion light years on a side, holding 20 million galaxies." (

See a full video of the structure of the Universe, the largest detailed structure ever visualized by humans based on scientific data put together by the 
Max-Planck-Institute for Astrophysics.   

No comments:

Post a Comment