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May 13, 2004

Science and God, Part Mumble Mumble Mumble

Via Metafilter (which got it via Boing Boing, which got it via Slashdot), a really fascinating interview with Brother Guy Consolmagno, Curator of Meteorites at the Vatican Observatory. Among the number of things in the interview is a view of science as it relates to religion and to the appreciation of the universe, a few which is pretty much sums my own opinion why science and religion are not inherently incompatible (I'll use bolding here rather than italics because it's a long quote):

And there's two things going on there. One is the sense that, if God made the universe, and he made it good, and he loved the universe so much that, as the Christians believe, he sent his only son, it's up to us to honor and respect and get to know the universe. I think it was Francis Bacon who said that God sets up the universe as a marvelous puzzle for us to get to know him by getting to know how he did things. By seeing how God created, we get a little sense of God's personality. And that means, among other things not going in with any preconceived notions. We can't impose our idea of how God did things. It's up to us to see how the universe actually does work.

And the other assumption you have to make is that it's worth doing. If your idea, if your religion is to meditate and rise above the physical universe, this corrupting physical universe, you might say, you're not going to be a scientist, you're not going to be interested in Mars. So it's a religious statement to say the physical universe is worth devoting my life to. Seeing how the universe works is worth spending a lifetime doing.

Interestingly (or not, depending on your point of view), this reminds me of something I wrote quite a long time ago now, with a book idea about a man who has lunch with the Devil (or more accurately, a man who claims he is the Devil -- it's not something that gets proven during the course of the book), and the Devil, who claims to be working with God, not against him, explains why humans today will come to know God differently from the way they know God thousands of years ago:

"What I tell you now would be true whether I was the Devil or not," the Devil said. "If you had lived in Job's time, you wouldn't doubt the existence of God. You'd see Him all around you. Frankly, you couldn't get rid of Him. He would be everywhere. That's because, at the time, God needed to here. Truly, physically here, to help open humanity's mind to the world outside his hut, his tribe, the next day. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it.

"But God has had to hide Himself again... Humans are lazy. God gave you these big fat brains, and spent the time to pop their tops so you could use them as they were designed. But as long as God was obviously around, you were content to let him do the heavy lifting. Which is not what you were designed for.

"So He went away, and the history of your progression in the world is a history of your trying to locate Him again... Your test is: do you have the faith to find God again? And on God's terms? Expecting God as He appeared thousands of years ago will do you no good. You'll be like Job's friends, sticking to an old way of thinking even as the new one peers you right in the face. No, you'll have to find God again by seeking Him out in the world as it is today, using all the knowledge that you have at your disposal. It's a harder task than Job had, but you're not the same sort of people that Job was. Not anymore."

I'm willing to believe such an idea -- that God wants us to explore the universe in order to better understand Him -- has more credibility coming from a Jesuit scientist working from the Vatican than it does coming from the 25-year-old iteration of me who was trying to sell his first book.

(Incidentally, if you want to see the whole sample chapter upon which that bit was based, it's here. I think it's still interesting, although if I were writing it now I might edit it down a little -- or a lot. It's funny what a decade of writing experience will do to your perspective of your own prose.)

In any event, read the interview with Brother Guy. It's well worth your time.

Posted by john at May 13, 2004 09:07 AM

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