Think this is a great topic with great responses. Had to wonder how I could add anything beneficial to it, save for a matter that was lingering at the back of my mind. As luck would have it, someone or something came to my aid this morning in the e-mail. It was in a circular I usually disregard, but the interview with astronomer Owen Gingerich ( not to be confused with Newt Gingrich!) discussed both science and religion - matters with which Professor Gingerich (Harvard - astronomy) is very much concerned.
The professor emeritus is well known for cataloguing every surviving sixteenth century copy of Renaissance astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus’ seminal work, De Revolutionibus. (Photo: Mark Zastrow)Professor emeritus Owen Gingerich’s office is like a dragon’s lair, if the dragon in question was fond of books. Tucked in a corner of Harvard’s astronomy building and filled with the usual accumulation of dusty tomes, the office also hosts a paper replica plane, a perfectly preserved fossil, a model Renaissance telescope, and a large chunk of one of the ten most common elements in the universe...
Solving mysteries even extends to the mystery of God. In his book God’s Universe, which collects three lectures he gave at Harvard, Gingerich explains his views on science and religion with the same logic and methods he uses to investigate all problems. From a sheltered rural Mennonite to a world traveler to a respected scientist to a passionate historian, Gingerich has maintained the faith that brought his ancestors to America many generations ago.
Owen Gingerich was born in 1930 in Iowa, from a long line of Mennonites. His first introduction to the world outside his safe and sleepy Midwest home was a mission of mercy he took with his father in the months following the end of World War II. His father, like his son an ardent pacifist, took a temporary job as supervisor of the U.S.S. Stephen R. Mallory - a liberty ship bearing 847 horses bound for Poland as part of UN relief efforts. He roped his son into becoming a cowboy - helping to keep as many of the horses alive as possible over the long and accident-prone voyage.
It would be natural to assume that an astronomer turned historian, who thinks like a scientist and studies the most controversial astronomers in history, might begin to doubt the worth of religion. Renaissance Italy in particular was notorious for persecuting astronomers, although not always for their science. Galileo died under house arrest and Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake. But the line of faithful Gingerich Mennonites remains unbroken. He sees the universe through the lens of science, but with the awe of devotion. For him, there is no conflict between science and God, only between man and ignorance.
For Gingerich, as for many scientists, the only contemptible people are those who refuse even to look. Those who secretly fear that their faith cannot stand up to the cold logic of science. Those who, when they perceive a threat to their faith through science, actively ignore any evidence that might breach their protective layer of ignorance. People like Galileo’s contemporaries who decried his work but would not look though a telescope to see for themselves the moons of Jupiter or the phases of Venus. Or even people today who believe that they cannot hold both evolution in their brain and God in their heart.
To inspire better relations between faith and science, Gingerich has begun research for a new book on some exciting advances in the theory of evolution, interspersed with ruminations on the supposed conflict between science and religion. For Gingerich, science explains everything within its’ framework, but God can be seen in the details. Every random chance that led to the evolution of intelligent life could be seen as stemming from a guiding force. But Gingerich believes it is a force that uses science, and does not need to circumvent or overrule it. Science and logic were built into the design.
So that's something of a lodestar position. If we investigate God's creation and find that it isn't as we were led to understand it, then we continue to examine it and search for the higher truth or stay buoyed by the faith that something better will come of it: A faith intaking part in God's plan, whatever that might be. For the scientist, the inventor, the crusader for a cause, it might not be riches or acknowledgement in this life. Or the next for that matter. But perhaps in the overall balance they or we will serve honorably and give something of value to others.