Rosh Ha'Shana began at sundown today, so to any and all the Jews in the audience a big hagg sa'meach and best wishes for the year 5766. Now go be reflective or something.
A discussion has broken out hereabouts, centering on the questions of living spiritually as a scientist. Below, I take my opening shot.
A discussion has broken out hereabouts, centering on the questions of living spiritually as a scientist. Some of my colleagues have been prefacing their ruminations with admissions: "I used to believe in so-called "Creationism." This was before I was exposed to critical thinking as a way of life. I followed the line of religious conservatives, who say that "scientific materialism" is eroding our
relationship with God. I didn't think evolution had any legs..." No links; the action's all in locked LiveJournal posts, so I'll only name names by permission.
I'm fortunate enough to say that my parents set me early to threading this particular needle. I was never encouraged to insist on a literal 168-hour creation, but before middle school had debated with my father whether Elija's soaking pyre could have made a effective lightning rod, and which bodies of water might have flooded so impressively as to yield the stories of Noah (and Gilgamesh). We also speculated on the origins of dragon mythology and tried to get our heads around wave-particle duality, so most everything was fair game as long as no swearing was involved.
Yet my earliest memories of church are of a Catholic parish so traditional, the Mass was still said in Latin. I attended a Catholic school for many of my K-12 years (the science education was quite good overall). The pets got blessed on St. Francis' Day; we set offrendas for El Dia de los Muertos; we bore ashes on Ash Wednesday. I've walked in dozens of Las Posadas processions and still sing in the choir when I visit home. My Catholicism is one of, let's say, three
things that enabled me to survive college.
Surveys generally indicate that of working scientists, roughly half consider themselves actively spiritual. There is a certain reluctance to discuss this, and I know why. To admit to religion risks being seen as lacking rigour or serious-mindedness. Faith is, by definition, belief without empirical evidence, and it has often lapsed into belief in spite of evidence. It invites scrutiny and
discrimination -- which, it should be emphasized, exist more in the trepidation than in practice. But any grad student will tell you, every career scientist has put her or himself through seven kinds of hell just to gain entry to the profession. It's scary to contemplate doing anything that might conceivably jeopardize that. Thus: reticence.
All of which is not to deny that it's trickier for a scientist to be religious. Living the rational life forces us to concede that antibiotics cure the body more effectively than blessings, and that prayer has no discernable ability to bring rain. Where measurement is possible, it must take precedence over dogma, and that empiricism has shown that creation could with perfect consistency have gotten here all on its own, and that the world would get along just fine without us. We humans are at the center of little but our own worldview.
So I believe in God and salvation and the like because I choose to believe. Not because the beauty of the universe or the complexity of life demands it, for they don't. But, you see, I'm Catholic, so mere belief won't save me anyway.