In high school, Chemistry was my favorite class. In college I earned degrees in four different scientific disciplines. In my career my appetite for understanding took me to over forty countries and my love of teaching took me from town halls to college classrooms to Chinese auditoriums.
I have spent most of a lifetime asking and answering “WHAT” questions and “HOW” questions— science questions. In retirement I am focusing on another set of questions: “WHY” questions. Now, the Big Bang Theory and all the rest of science do not help me answer the ultimate question: “WHY” am I here. Now, religion, at best on my back burner since religious confirmation classes ended at age twelve, has become relevant.
Religion provides a context within which to cope with “WHY” questions. Religion doesn’t ask me to reject scientific understanding of gravity or planetary motion or evolution. Religion only asks me to trim my ego enough to believe in the existence of a higher level of reality than human intelligence. I don’t have to reject natural laws or reject the scientific method that has been so successful in answering “WHAT” and “HOW” questions. After 40 years as a scientist, I couldn’t do it.
Science does not ask me to reject my belief in God. Science only requires curiosity and intellectual honesty. Scientific experiments cannot prove that God exists or that God is dead. If the existence of God could be proven, God would not exist. God must transcend; God must be indefinable. However, when faith and belief are applied to “WHAT” and “HOW” questions, science is distorted. In contrast to science, belief and faith are the essence of religion
My life in the Twenty-first Century would not be complete without answers to the “HOW” and “WHAT” questions addressed by science. My life would not be complete without recognition of “WHY” questions and acceptance that answers to “WHY” questions can only be found in belief and faith. Questions such as: Why was there a little ball of incredible density and where did it come from? Why did it explode in the Big Bang to create our universe? Why is suffering such a major part of human experience? Etc.
People of traditional societies had a lot of religion and a little science. Modern societies have a lot of science but still need religion to provide a purpose for life. Such synergism is possible only if advocates of science are humble enough to recognize the importance of religion in dealing with “WHY” questions and humble enough to recognize that science is impotent to answer them. Such synergism is possible only if people of faith recognize the importance of science to answer “WHAT” and “HOW” questions and recognize that religion is impotent to answer those questions.
That is the essential complementary of science and religion.
This I believe.
Lowell Klessig is an Emeritus Professor of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources Management at the University of Wisconsin—Stevens Point. He has degrees in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Sociology, and Environment Planning. He was also Executive Director of the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program. He now farms and writes in central Wisconsin. He serves on a regional Science and Religion Task Force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.