If sometimes you find it hard to see the world as a gift, you are not alone. It seems easier just to see it as a resource - which it is. But to see it only as a resource, and to see no further than what human reason and the methods of science can see and measure, is a diminished way of seeing - which means a diminished way of living.
Such a narrow vision has an interesting history. Before the modern sciences were developed, people’s ways of thinking were largely determined by culture, tradition, and the authority of those who were guardians of the tradition. But culture and tradition were often accepted uncritically, and authority was sometimes misused. There was little defense against cruelty, degradation, superstition, and fear.
"Science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind."
- Albert Einstein Eventually the age of science dawned. The period known as the Enlightenment (from the 1600s on) gave rise to great expectations. It was thought that reason would eventually be able to explain everything there was to know. Mere tradition, and the authority of those who knew the tradition, would become irrelevant. God would be explained away as a kind of symbol we needed for making sense of our existence before we had the sciences.
Jewish and Christian faith helped to bring about this development. By teaching that the world was not inhabited by gods (pantheism), Jewish and Christian faith promoted the right of human reason to explain all aspects of the world. There was nothing to fear from reason because faith had its own different role. Even today, indigenous peoples still combine deep religious faith with their acceptance of the sciences. But Western culture and education became pervaded by the assumption that science would replace faith.
Some influential thinkers even claimed that people needed to be rid of God because it seemed that religion inhibited human self-esteem, human freedom, and human progress. Pantheistic religions, and also some misguided interpretations of Christian faith, have sometimes demeaned human dignity and hindered human progress. So it was suggested that the world would be a better place when reason completely displaced faith. But it seems not to have turned out as these thinkers expected.
Western cultural models are enticing and alluring because of their remarkable scientific and technical cast, but regrettably there is growing evidence of their deepening human, spiritual, and moral impoverishment.
(From an address by John Paul II, 1 January 2001)
Increasingly, people are becoming dissatisfied with a purely secular and materialistic interpretation of life. It doesn’t satisfy the deepest yearnings of human nature. They have “had the experience but missed the meaning” (T.S. Eliot). Today, scientists are more likely to say, with Albert Einstein, that “science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind.”
Science needs religion to humanise its goals and offer ethical guidance as it advances into new arenas. Religion needs science to prevent it from receding into superstition and to infuse it with new metaphors for talking about God and God’s creation.
(M.M. Winstanley, “Building Bridges,” in the Journal of Youth and Theology)
Faith and science are not dealing with different “worlds.” They are two different ways of looking at the same world. They are both servants of reality. And they are both servants of the mystery of life, which is always bigger than mere answers, whether scientific or religious.
As the deer longs for streams of water,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My being thirsts for God, the living God.
When can I go and see the face of God?
My tears have become my food day and night.
as they daily ask,
“Where is your God?”
Why are you downcast, my soul;
why do you groan within me?
Wait for God, whom I shall praise again,
my savior and my God.
Psalm 42:1-4, 5
Because faith and reason have different roles, they don’t actually clash. But some of the language we use to express faith does clash with a scientific perspective. Religious language sometimes draws on images and symbols that don’t depend on the findings of modern science. For example, we speak as if God is “up there,” and as if God sometimes intervenes in the world from outside of it. This gives rise to the question of why God seems to intervene sometimes and not at other times. From this perspective, mysteries appear only to be problems we don’t know the answers to - yet.
Some people try to get around this by bringing faith under the umbrella of human understanding. In effect, they exclude faith by excluding the existence of anything that cannot ultimately be understood by human reason. They propose “Godness in everyday life” as a substitute for a God “out there.”
But faith sees God as the Source of all created existence. This makes God even closer to us than we are to ourselves. And so our ordinary existence points beyond itself to the extraordinary fact that we exist at all! This is the mystery, and always will be, because it comes from a choice God did not have to make. It is the mystery of extraordinary love, and the source of our “Godness in everyday life.”