One of my favorite songs is called “The Poetry of Reality,” by the Symphony of Science. In it, the words of various scientists are auto-tuned into a beautiful song about science as “the best tool ever devised for understanding how the world works,” and how “the story of humans is the story of ideas that shine light into dark corners.” To me, it beautifully highlights how faith and science are so inseparable.
Take for example the line of that song from Richard Dawkins, one of the most outspoken atheists in the world, saying, “science replaces private prejudice with publicly verifiable evidence.” This sentence has immense value for religious people everywhere, for so many reasons, not least of which is to highlight some of the ways that religions have tended to go off track and lose their focus over the centuries, as well as consider one of the ways that their true essence could be restored.
My study of world religions and their history has made clear to me how they all share a common foundation and purpose, and yet historically many of them have tended to veer away from it when individuals and institutions take control and seek to utilize the outward forms, beliefs, and structures of religion as tools to maintain their power. As this happens, the official interpretation of scriptures tends to become rigid, with endless debates between sects over their precise meaning, while the poetic elasticity behind them becomes increasingly hidden, even taboo. Questions like, “are those people going to heaven or hell?” tend to take the place of more important questions like, “how could I gain a deeper understanding of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ as symbols, metaphors or conceptions that could inform my current situation, improve my life and benefit everyone around me?”
When any body of knowledge becomes reduced to certain statements of belief or inflexible sets of law, it changes from a cooperative quest to understand, a yearning to grow, into a mechanical juggernaut in political power struggles, its depth of meaning hidden behind the gears and levers of social manipulation. That’s one key reason why scientific thought is so important for sincere followers of any religion — it exemplifies that spark of faith inherent in science that should be there in religion too: the faith that there is something more out there for us to discover, which can be understood, and which can benefit us in our lives now and forever into the future. To lose that faith is to lose humility, to presume that “I know, and others do not know” and to shut the door of communication in “good faith” against anyone who bears the slightest difference of opinion.
A true spirit of faith asks that we look around us with open eyes, to rejoice in the fact that someone out there may have just the right difference of opinion that can correct our assumptions and give us a deeper understanding of the world as a whole, from the surface at the physical level, through social currents flowing throughout the past and present, to the deepest spiritual realities of the mystery that is being human.
That’s why faith and science always walk hand in hand in my mind. I listen to atheists like Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan, and I find much truth that I can learn from. I listen to members of various religions and find the same. If I have a mind free of private prejudice, open to any good evidence, whether physical, scriptural or even just practical experience based on solid principles, then I am as free as the wind, unconstrained in my vision, able to take in all truth, whenever and wherever I find it, yet also bounded to reality by the fact that I am not undertaking such a quest alone, subject to my own wild imagination and dreams, but together with others, who, whatever our differences, cherish the faith that the truth is our there, not only to find, but to share.