Reconciling Religion and Science — Walter Camp

“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.” Werner Heisenberg, a 1932 Nobel laureate and father of quantum mechanics, was by all accounts one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century. Raised a Lutheran, he continued to practice throughout his life. He argued that with an increasing knowledge of the universe, a person would be led to the inevitable conclusion that a higher power was poised, waiting for you to discover its existence. However, with every Heisenberg in the world, there is a Stephen Hawking, who was well known the world over for his genius, and also a self-avowed atheist. His exponentially increasing knowledge of the universe somehow led him to an opposite conclusion. He looked out into the universe through his studies and saw no god, only the laws of nature governing reality.

These two ends of the spectrum don’t encompass or represent every viewpoint, but they still speak for large groups of people who view themselves as rational. These people, when shown identical information, arrived at opposing conclusions. That is to say, for every religious scientist who looks up at the stars and sees a universe created by a loving God, another looks at the same stars and sees a nuclear forge of Hydrogen and Helium. One viewpoint can be proven, the other relies on faith and the fact that over the entire course of humankind, no one has concretely disproven a God. These two arguments are not mutually exclusive and the truth of one does not disprove the other, although it is easier to dismiss one view as wholly unscientific because of its reliance on faith.

I like to think that in some way, those views agree. Maybe you can believe in an almost personified force in the universe, a force guiding its path and acting in unseen ways—a person or deity that sits above all else, acting beyond the view of any microscope or telescope. Alternatively, you can believe that there are immutable laws of nature that no matter how you try to subvert them, will always impose their will on the physical world. These laws surely have a hand in the physical world, but once you dig far enough, their properties are the result of some immutable character. Put simply, some things will always show a behavior that we can observe. Maybe these laws aren’t designed by some creator, but they exist in a capacity that we can never change.

At the end of the day, does it even matter? Who cares why a person makes some stride in science? When people are given life-saving medicine, no one stops to ask whether it was created by a scientist who believed in their same beliefs. I have yet to meet someone who will refuse genetic counseling when starting a family simply because Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics, was a devout Christian. I would argue that differing opinions on faith and its place in science only matter when they result in the exclusion of ideas and voices based on traits other than merit.

The consequence of leaving this discussion as an afterthought is to stifle the very best minds, preventing them from contributing their gifts to humanity. Unnamed numbers of diseases, afflictions, and other illnesses that still exist today could someday be cured. But infighting between great minds in any field, not just science, takes energy that could be put towards the betterment of all people and wastes it, trying to scrap for an intellectual high ground. Science is, like many other fields, an exercise in discovery that suffers from the faults of its explorers. Because of this, while a full reconciliation between science and religion is unlikely, both sides would be better served seeing the common ground between them rather than the space that divides them.