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  • Writer's pictureRonald S. Newman, Ph.D.

Seeking balance in science and faith (part I)

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Many in our day and age seem to believe that science and faith contradict one another. My proposition is that science complements and is even an outgrowth of faith. They can be seen in a balanced manner that recognizes the value of each.

Science studies the principles that make our universe function. Whether our human body (biology), the mind and human relationships (psychology), or other areas like physics and geology, people seek a better understanding of how things work. As a chemist, my father spent his career researching how to make paints last longer and adhesives to hold their bond more effectively. The study of physics and mathematics helped put people on the moon. All science can use the knowledge gained to help people or potentially hurt people. Consider advances in medicine or the horrors of the Holocaust.

Faith and religious beliefs provide the best context for scientific inquiry. Faith informs us that God created all things, so the context is an exploration into the nature of God’s creation. Faith tells us that God even created us with the capacity for reason through which we can inquire and gain knowledge through the sciences.

Faith also provides the moral and ethical guidance needed for scientific inquiry. What are the rules for our inquiries? Apart from faith, we are doomed to repeat the unethical human experiments of Nazi Germany. Faith reveals the value of every individual. The object of people’s faith matters. For this article’s purposes, I will keep our focus on God, the Divine Lord as traditionally understood in the Judeo-Christian world as all loving, all powerful and eternal, transcending this world yet intimately connected to it.

Here are a few more key points.

Faith leads to love through knowledge. Faith calls for us to surrender to a higher authority than our own selfish desires and pleasures in life, or the power to love will be elusive to us.

Faith recognizes that we are limited in many areas, including knowledge, while God is limitless. Faith is required to embrace an all-loving God who desires our well-being, and both guides and empowers us to follow a path that will be a blessing both to ourselves and others. Faith directs us to a higher purpose which can add motivation to our studies and creative direction regarding how we can love our neighbor. This often brings us into the realm of science, as increased knowledge is needed to improve our service to others. Whether it is growing more fruitful gardens or improving our skill in a wide range of professions, our growth in knowledge will help our service to others.

Science is the study of the material realm. We gather data through our senses, including the use of tools for enhancing our abilities, such as microscopes, telescopes or computers.

Historically, science has helped our civilizations to advance and has brought many blessings, including in the field of medicine. Through science, knowledge increases as people observe, ask questions, develop hypotheses, develop experiments to test hypotheses and interpret the data. Interpretation of the data is often compromised without faith, as deceptive practices distort the conclusions to serve selfish purposes. As noted, the morality and ethics of faith communities are necessary for scientific inquiry to stay within the boundaries established when we place a high value on truth as well as on every individual life. “Above all, do no harm” is an ethical principle severely compromised by many in this past century alone.

Faith is a bridge to the spiritual. We do not have equipment that will enable us to “see” into the spiritual realm and beyond our five senses. Faith depends on the spiritual realm to communicate with us. Faith communities trust that this has occurred through inspired books, such as the Bible. Trust in those messages from the divine, such as the challenge to “love one another” or even “Believe Jesus is the Messiah” lead to experiential confirmation of those truths for many truth-seekers. Prayer itself requires faith that we are speaking to God and not simply our own subconscious mind.

Science is reductionistic by nature. Science reduces its focus to study a specific thing to gain knowledge. Biology, chemistry, physics and even psychology are all examining parts of the whole of creation or the universe. Faith understands this larger context, thus grasping more clearly the blessings available to us even through the wide range of interests people embrace. Even the value of fun, laughter and humor, physiologically beneficial to us (according to research), and happiness itself, can be studied in detail, but eludes scientific scrutiny apart from faith.

Our need for meaning and purpose. Dr. Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is a classic based on his observations as a Holocaust and death camp survivor. The popularity of the book The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren also speaks to a transcendent need within us for having a sense of value and meaning, qualities which point us back to our need for faith. Even Soren Kierkegaard’s reflections and writing as an existential philosopher point us back to how our experiences, even anxiety and despair in life, serve a purpose in pointing us back to the Divine through faith.

Understand your attractions. Many attractions seem to be inborn, such as appreciation of nature in its various forms. Sunsets or sunrises, mountains, waterfalls and the skies at night have an appeal that leads to our admiration. Even the created works of people from varieties of music, art, and even dance can touch our souls in a powerful way. Through faith, all of these attractions to the natural realm are reflections of the Divine. Someone once wrote “Don’t worship the art. Worship the Artist.” How can we stay balanced in admiring what we can see, while having faith in the Divine whom we cannot see? This context of faith gives us the freedom to give thanks and show gratitude for various attractions which can bless our hearts and bring us joy, such as seeing a playful child. Faith helps us see the reflection of the author of all things through all He has created, even various areas studied by scientists, with the knowledge that our true attraction is to Him.

The attraction to love. The grief experienced from rejection and alienation in relationships reveals our deeper longing for love. The pull of our hearts toward the fellowship of caring people shows this need we all have for love. Faith brings this into focus and points toward a bigger picture which includes the divine, “God is love” (I John 4:8). In a world divided by anger and bitterness, forgiveness rooted in love for our neighbor is needed more than ever. Truth and love can lead us to this balance of science and faith. Embrace this perspective and your experience in life will be blessed.

Ronald S. Newman, Ph.D. is a psychologist living in South Jersey who does teletherapy. He has been teaching church leaders throughout South America since 1993 and facilitates monthly Christian Counseling Consortium meetings. He can be reached at (609) 567-9022.


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