Category Archives: Science vs. Religion

Science v. Religion

Yes, it’s true: I’m a believer and a serious Christian. I make no apologies for that.

It could have been different. Trained as a scientist, I was taught to believe only in what I could see, hear, or feel (never mind that most scientists today can’t do any of those things — think quarks and black holes).   Growing up, I was at least an agnostic, if not an atheist.

Fortunately — if uncomfortably — for me, I had an “advantage”: a number of encounters with supernatural stuff, including having grown up in two haunted houses. Such encounters definitely have a way of changing one’s perspective.  I was forced to face the fact that there’s Something Out There. In fact, SEVERAL Somethings. Some of these Somethings are nice and benevolent. Some are not.

I think perhaps the reason I majored in Physics was in the hope that I’d find a physics equation that could explain these experiences. But the more I learned, the more I came to realize that I wasn’t going to find my answers in Newton’s equations, or Einstein’s, or Maxwell’s, or Schrödinger’s. It would take a different book entirely.

Think about it. Physics is the study of the physical world, otherwise known as the natural world, or simply Nature.

By definition, things like spiritual beings and happenings don’t exist in nature. They’re supernatural. Duh. You can no more use physics to understand supernatural things than you could study the Moon’s motion using a CAT scanner. If you want to learn more about the entirety of human knowledge, you might want to expand your reading list.

The great (atheist) paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould, spoke about the worlds of science and religion as “non-overlapping magisteria.” His idea was that we had no need to argue which one was true, because of the very fact that they addressed wholly different parts of existence.   Which would all be very nice and pleasant if folks mired in one magisterium didn’t sometimes feel moved to declare that the other one doesn’t exist (can we say “Richard Dawkins”?).

Let’s be honest: As in politics, extremists and ideologues abound on both sides of the issue. Fundamentalist, New Earth Creationists tend to think of all scientists as spawns of the Devil. They say things like “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” Don’t waste your time trying to confuse them with facts.

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution has its own set of fundamentalists, and believe me when I say, they can be every bit as dogmatic, closed-minded, and offensive as the worst fundamentalist. They call me and other believers “Fundies,” regardless of what we actually believe, and they tend to resort to ad hominems rather than dialogue.

Ask any Darwinist how any species appeared and he’ll fall back on the mantra, “Random mutation followed by natural selection.”  As if that explains anything.

I say, “A plague on both your houses.” If you are so stuck in your own “magisterium” that you can’t even acknowledge that other intelligent, thinking people see things differently, then you have no place here. This section is reserved for people who have not lost the ability to think, and are able to discuss the issues with their claws retracted


When this site was hacked, I lost the thread of comments.  The best I can do is to repeat them here:

Reply: Will on December 15, 2014 at 11:55 am said:

“You can no more use physics to understand supernatural things.”

If you interact with something it must have at least a projection in the natural world. This projection can be explained by physics. Maybe it needs new theories but certainly can be done.

Reply:  jack on December 15, 2014 at 12:27 pm said:

Projection, yes, definitely. Adhering to the laws of nature (aka physics), not so sure. Paul said, “Now we see through a glass, darkly.” That thought seems very much in line with the notion of a projection.

Perhaps you’ve seen shadow dance shows, where they hang a big sheet in front of the stage, and lit from behind. As the performers dance, and the performers dance, you can see only their shadows. They can create some truly amazing effects as their shadows overlap, or as they move closer to and farther away from the light source.

In such shows, we see only the two-dimensional projections of a 3-d environment. I’m definitely open to the idea that the 3-d space we move around in is only a projection of a four- or more-dimensional world.

By scientific observation, we can of course develop laws of physics that apply here in our 3-d soace. But we can’t begin to know what laws apply in that larger space.

As you know, the modern “Theory of Everything” models involve as many as 10 spatial dimensions, and maybe even 2 or more time dimensions. One thing’s for sure: In such a universe, there’s plenty of room for all kinds of multiple realities.

Reply : Bob Snyder on December 15, 2014 at 3:49 pm said:

It always strikes me as odd that people who have serious discussions about a 10-dimensional universe, in which most of the dimensions are not available to our senses, would be unwilling to consider the possibility of a spiritual dimension.

Reply:  jack on December 15, 2014 at 7:16 pm said:

Exactly so. In my mother’s day, there was a lot of interest in mind-readers, seances, and the like. The spiritualists used to talk about “different planes of existence,” or “parallel planes” … that sort of thing. Could they have been right?

I wonder if anyone has told the “Brane” people that their idea is impossible.

Reply: Dave on January 9, 2014 at 3:14 pm said:

And I always felt like I was the only one who thought like this !!!

With no doctorate (but a couple of masters in electrical and computer engineering) I’d like to think I have some experience with the scientific magisterium. In fact, the area of scientific endeavor IS based on two metaphysical concepts that must just be accepted as true. They are:

  1.   The universe obeys certain laws.
  2.   Humans are capable of understanding these laws

Don’t get me wrong, I’m NOT saying science can not lead humankind to deeper understanding of the physical world. Only that at some level, there is an ASSUMPTION about how the universe works and that humans can UNDERSTAND how it works. The fact that we don’t understand everything in no way detracts from science. Many uncertainties of the 1800’s are quite well understood now. On the other hand, some ideas like wave vs. particle motion of light remain unknown. Like you Jack, I’ve walked down several roads and in the process investigated several belief systems with the intent to find a system that both best fits our collective experience of reality as well as our place in the “Something”. Thanks for your insightful articles on all things embedded and for your openness about your beliefs.

Reply: jack on January 9, 2014 at 9:02 pm said:

I was always taught that science is all about learning how things work. To find out, we read books, take courses, perform experiments, and seek knowledge wherever we can find it. We’re supposed to follow the trail of knowledge wherever it leads.

It’s always struck me as odd that some of the very people who declare themselves the most dedicated and skilled scientists sometimes seem to be saying, “Yes, I’ll follow the trail wherever it leads … except THERE.”

If there are indeed two magisteria (overlapping or not), why in the world would a good scientist not want to learn about both? It’s a bit like walking into the most complete library in the world, and saying “I’m going to read all the blue books I can, bot none of the red.”

Reply:  dad_wins on September 25, 2012 at 6:52 pm said:

Thanks Jack, great post in my opinion. I think non-overlapping magisteria is a wonderful description of the situation. I am weary of the dogmatism from both sides leading only to anger, intolerance, and division. The extreme “religious-minded” side throws out the teachings of love, personal growth, joy, and fulfillment that come through service to others and a higher purpose, ideal, or being that they claim to embrace in favor of casting out and subjugating the heretical. While the “scientific-minded” side chooses to abandon the ideals of rational open discussion, critical analysis, experimentation, and often rejection or reworking of current understanding that lead to much of our modern view of the physical world in favor of emotional personal attacks and disparagements of character for those who don’t tow the line of the orthodoxy. I personally believe that the two magisteria can play nice, and having a foot in both,

Reply: jack on September 27, 2012 at 9:59 am said:

Thanks for that reply, Dad. I couldn’t have said it better. Like you, I’m fed up with extremists on both sides, who consider everyone on the other to be evil and hateful and all the rest. That’s not supposed to be what religion is about. It’s not even what science is supposed to be about. Real science says, “Follow the evidence, no matter where it leads.” Dogmatic science says, “Follow the evidence, anywhere except _THERE_.”

Personally, I feel very comfortable with the position of having a foot in both boats. As a scientist, I’m trained to seek knowledge. Why would I NOT seek it, wherever it’s hiding? Just because a book isn’t published by Houghton-Mifflin or McGraw-Hill doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading.