Religion and Science: A False Dichotomy

One thing that defines me, as those who are close to me know, is my faith. I am a Catholic college student, which is not something that is easy to say in a place like Boulder, CO. One issue that I hear people speak about in classes is the dichotomy between religion and science. For me, this separation seems absurd. In class, I constantly hear about all of these wondrous and amazing concepts about the world that we live in that have been proven true. In some classes, my mind is blown on a weekly basis. For me, this helps to strengthen my belief in the existence of a super-natural being. I take offense when people argue that only science or religion can be true. I know both sides of the aisle are guilty of it, but I feel like both science and religion can coexist and are greatly intertwined. From what I see and, this seems like a very novel concept to people.

One person I have recently heard of and learned from is Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph. D. His lectures help try to explain and to tie the bond between religion and science. I feel like the sum of what he has worked on can be explained in his lecture titled “Is There Evidence of Fine-tuning, Design and Intelligence in the Universe?”  Here Fr. Spitzer speaks in one of his seminars. His website can be found here http://www.inthebeginningcourse.com/

I love learning and exploring in the science world and I feel that by believing in both science and religion I bring a unique point of view to the classroom. I find that most people who argue that only science or religion can be true fail to truly understand both entities. Both are about observing our natural world and finding answers to some difficult questions that come up. What I find is that answers to the same questions can be answered by both science and religion and that they are often connected.

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” –Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio 

Advertisements

Let Me Pick Your Brain

I ambled into my first day of classes at CU an undeclared eighteen year old with a background in meteorology. My father, a meteorologist, encouraged me to study weather but I knew that I wanted to work with people. Weather doesn’t fascinate me; people fascinate me.

What I did not expect was my life to be changed when I walked into the first day of my general psychology class. I felt as if the teacher in the front of the room of 300 students looked me straight in the eye and said ‘You don’t want to tell people what the weather will be like tomorrow, you want to actually help people, you should be a psychologist’.

And then it hit me like a sack of bricks; I had been conducting my first case study my entire life. Both sides of my parent’s families were littered with cases of schizophrenia, alcohol dependency, adultery and suicide. Some people may think psychology and neuroscience are not important in the world of science. Our brain is everything we’ve got, think about it (see what I did there?) you’re using your brain right now to read this blog post and you’ll use it later to figure out what you’ll have for dinner. Our brains can make or break us. When the mental state of a brain goes south it can and will break a person. I’ve seen it first hand throughout my childhood whether I’ve recognized it or not.

Image

Another thing that drew me to science is how relatable all of the fields are to each other. Carl Sagan, a late American astronomer said it perfectly in his book The Demon-Haunted World, “Some of science is very simple. When it gets complicated that’s usually because the world is complicated – or because we’re complicated”. Sagan is correct in saying that science is simple; but what drew me to Psychology is how complex the human brain is.

My position as a scientist is to help people with mental health issues. It’s hands on work and you can see results in helping patients feel good about themselves by having a sound mind. That is what drew me to the subject, plus, weathermen only have to be correct 25% of the time (sorry, dad).

Arts and Sciences

As an engineering student, I haven’t really gotten to be enrolled in many classes that I’ve actually wanted to take.  Actually scratch that– I haven’t gotten to take ANY classes that I’ve actually wanted to be in.  Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m not complaining and I know I signed up for this but sometimes I can’t help but think that it would be a lot more interesting to take history or sociology instead of applied data analysis or differential equations.  Even the one writing class I get to take has an unpleasant ring to it: Writing on Science and Society.

Ick.

Science writing? Nothing in this whole entire world sounds duller than reading journal articles on scientific findings, except perhaps reading them and having to write about our reactions towards them.  Every single one of my reactions would be to fall asleep and I’m doubtful that essays about my napping habits would be of any interest to anyone.   I spent a few days fuming about this until I realized that there is so much more to science than dry scientific writing.  Some of the most beautifully poignant quotes have come from brilliant scientific minds such as Richard Feynman and Carl Sagan (read some here and here), and one has only to glance at pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope  to realize that many scientific phenomena are nothing short of masterful works of art.  Although science is seldom considered to be of the same artistic magnitude of such things as painting, music, or literature, i would argue that the scientific process involves just as much creativity as any one of these disciplines.

The freedom of discovery that the scientific process empowers in the human race allows us to continually explore different facets of the human condition and provides just as much opportunity for enlightenment as the arts do.  I would therefore argue that science is not something separate and opposite from the arts, but an art in and of itself and equal with other arts in terms of its ability to elevate the human spirit and just as necessary.  People (myself included) frequently make the mistake of thinking that one must choose between being creative and being good at math or science.  This way of thinking is part of the reason that our society as a whole is falling behind other countries in advanced science and mathematics.  Children are far too often taught that science is boring which is one of the largest disservices that our country does towards its youth.  I can admit that i occasionally even fall into that trap.  Anyone who spends an entire day on a torturously difficult and deathly boring homework assignment runs the risk of losing the sight of the bigger picture– and we’ve all been there.  Bridging the gap between science and the arts is possibly one of the most vital tasks that our country needs to focus on in the coming years. We need to move away from the dry science journals and find a way to present science to the population in a relatable and interesting manner, which is where it becomes necessary to be able to effectively write about the emotions that science invokes rather than just the facts.  The universe is a complicated any mysterious place but there is no other feeling in the world like the realization that you are one step closer to understanding it.Yes, math is hard.  No, research is not fun.  But is it worth it?  Absolutely.