I've recently been reading "The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a nineteenth-century Russian novelist, and I came across the following quote:
"Remember always, young man… that science which has become a great power in the last century, has analyzed everything divine handed down to us in the holy books. After this cruel analysis the learned of this world have nothing left of all that was sacred. But they have only analyzed the parts and overlooked the whole, and indeed their blindness is marvelous. Yet the whole still stands steadfast before their eyes…" p. 171
It struck me as a statement in fitting with much of the sentiment of those who think that science is incompatible with religion. Many believe that science is simply trying to explain and thus take away many things and events that could previously only be attributed to God. Of course, science is completely incompatible with a literal interpretation of the bible, but if it is interpreted a little more loosely - keeping in mind that it HAS been altered through the centuries by translation - then NOTHING that has been learned by science is in direct contradiction with the bible. I should also note before I get going that I am not Christian myself, and I believe that if there is a God he is infinitely more complex and powerful than any God we have yet imagined. OK, that being said… back to the topic at hand.
The point of the quotation is that science analyzes only the individual aspects of physical reality, i.e. physics, astronomy, physiology, evolution, geology, etc. Science looks at all these parts and fails to look at the whole of reality and creation, and thus it is blinded to the divine nature of this reality. I think that I can safely say that I both agree and disagree with those sentiments. When I say that I agree, however, what I mean is that I can understand why one might say that, standing from a highly religious or spiritual position. Most science as seen from the public's eye, seems very cold and removed from any spiritual awareness of reality. In fact, virtually the only science that the public sees are those aspects of science that end up being applied in consumer technologies and medicine. We see on the news everyday articles dealing with some new genetic discovery that might save lives or some new property of some alloy that will make faster computers. Even the science in space, i.e. the International Space Station or Mars exploration, is reported to the public as something that will lead to new consumer products or give us another place to live in the coming centuries. There is no focus on the underlying meaning of any of these discoveries and thus very little in the way of religiosity, awe, wonder, or spirituality - that is from the perspective of the public and media.
However, when you look at the actual science being conducted through the eyes of the researchers you see the discoveries in a different light. This is where I disagree with the quote. Almost every major scientific discovery has shown one thing: reality is way more complex, ordered, and awe-inspiring than seems intuitively possible. Think about quantum physics (not that that is easy to do), or recent discoveries in genetics, or discoveries about the past of Mars, or some of the recent pictures of entire planetary nebulae taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. I promise you that when those researchers are sitting there thinking about the implications of their results, they are experiencing a kind of spiritual epiphany. Imagine being Robert Hooke in the 1600's and looking at a piece of cork through a microscope. There's no way of knowing what he expected, but when he saw that it was made of millions of smaller units, which he termed cells, he had to be overcome with excitement and awe. What I'm trying to say is that science does not offhandedly dispel the mysteries of life and reality and it does not try to make anything less sacred. On the contrary, for every question answered ten more arise. There is still plenty for God to do. We may be able to explain how a planet orbits or an apple falls based on gravity, but where did gravity come from, what causes it, why does gravity work with exactly the right force necessary to sustain an orbit at a precise distance from the sun, and why do the laws of nature allow for the exact chemical reactions necessary for thousands of process, which are themselves necessary for the existence of a living organism. Ask any physicist what gravity is or the strong and weak nuclear forces that hold atoms together. All he/she can do is explain what these forces do. No one on this earth has the faintest inkling of what gravity actually is. It's a force. But what does that mean. We have all these mathematical laws of physics, but no one understand why they are the way they are or what makes them like that. Did you know that if the gravity constant (force of gravity) was altered in the slightest bit, by something like 0.000000000000000000001 or many factors less, then matter would not be able to hold together like it does, stars wouldn't exist, planets wouldn't exist, and life would be impossible. There is much that God can still do in our scientific world and the powers science is leaving to him are much more elegant and complex than the powers that most current religions want to give him (not that we could ever prove or know there was a God involved - but this article should be taken to heart by those with "faith")
What seems more powerful and awe-inspiring to you: a God that says "poof" and has created the heavens and earth and living creatures in seven days, or a God who can slowly orchestrate the evolution of an entire universe, complete with trillions of galaxies, each filled with hundreds of billions of stars, many with hundreds of orbiting smaller bodies. He can orchestrate it for billions of years with stars dying out and giving rise to new stars all the time, obliterating all planets of the old star. He can control it so precisely that fifteen billion years after the first explosion of matter, on one of these ultramicroscopic grains of sand (probably millions more in the universe - but one for sure) actually evolves an extremely simple life form that evolves over the course of 4 billion years into a being that has the ability to look out from that grain of sand and wonder how the rest of the rocks got there? You can read my article on determinism that explains how a God could possibly orchestrate this entire existence of the universe by simply laying down the laws of physics, taking a ball of matter, and throwing it into the mix in a specific way. Now that is an all-powerful God!! All science does is show us how incredibly intricate and complex this "plan" is and how infinitely intelligent this God (should he exist) would have to be to accomplish it all.