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Faith and Science
Open to Change
Monday, October 23, 2017
God comes into the world in always-surprising ways so that the sincere seeker will always find. Is sincere seeking perhaps the real meaning of walking in darkness and faith? It seems to me that many scientists today are very sincere seekers. In fact, today’s scientists often seem to have more in common with the mystics than do many religious folks who do not seek truth but only assert their dogmas and pre-emptively deny the very possibility of other people’s God-experience.
The common scientific method relies on hypothesis, experiment, trial, and error. We might even call this “practice,” just like many of us have prayer practices. Yes, much of science is limited to the material, but at least the method is more open-ended and sincere than the many religious people who do no living experiments with faith, hope, and love, but just hang on to quotes and doctrines. They lack the personal practices whereby they can test the faithfulness of divine presence and the power of divine love.
Most scientists are willing to move forward with some degree of not-knowing; in fact, this is what calls them forward and motivates them. As new discoveries are affirmed, they remain open to new evidence that would tweak or even change the previous “belief.” Many religious folks insist upon complete “knowing” at the very beginning and then being certain every step of the way, which actually keeps them more “rational” and controlling than most scientists. This is the dead end of most fundamentalist religion, and why it cannot deal with thorny issues in any creative or compassionate way. Now I know why Paul dared to speak of “the curse of the law” (Galatians 3:13). Law reigns and discernment is unnecessary, which means there is little growth or change in such people. When you do not grow, you remain an infant.
The scientific mind today often has more openness to mystery than religion does! For example, it is willing to speak of dark matter, dark holes, chaos theory, fractals (the part replicates the whole), string theory, dark energy, and the atomic structure of all material things, which seems totally counter intuitive. Scientists “believe” in many things like electromagnetism, radioactivity, field theory, and various organisms such as viruses and bacteria before they can actually “prove” they exist. They know them first by their effects, or the evidence, and then argue backward to their existence. Isn’t this how good theologians have often tried to “prove” the existence of God?
Even though the entire world was captivated by the logical cause-and-effect worldview of Newtonian physics for several centuries, such immediately verifiable physics has now yielded to quantum physics, which is not directly visible to the ordinary observer at all—yet ends up explaining much more—without needing to throw out the simple logic of Newtonian physics in the everyday world. True transcendence always includes the previous stages, yet somehow also reshapes and expands them—just like mysticism does with our old doctrines and dogmas.
It feels as if the scientists of each age are often brilliant, seemingly “right,” but precisely because they are also tentative and searching—which creates a practical humility that we often do not see in clergy and “true believers.” A great scientist will move forward with a perpetual “beginner’s mind.”
Thus many scientists end up trusting in the reality of things that are still “invisible” and secret. It keeps them on the search. This feels like faith to me, whereas what many church people want is perfect certitude and clarity before every step forward. This does not create great or strong people.
Gateway to Silence:
Divine Reality, endlessly knowable
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” “Evidence,” Oneing, vol. 2, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), 12-14.