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Voices of Faith: Is science at odds with religion?

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, at 7:01 a.m.

Science can reveal the universe’s truth

The Rev. Betty Hanna-Witherspoon, pastor of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, Kansas City, Mo.: I do not find science to be at odds with religion, perhaps, because I define religion, my faith, as the way I think about God and science as the way humans explore and search for explanations of the inner and outer universe around us. In my faith, God orders the universe and we humans spend our efforts trying to explain the order. The faith community in which I serve declares that God has not changed. My response to that statement is, “Indeed, God has not changed, but our human understanding of God has changed. As we grow spiritually and intellectually, our understanding of God grows also.” Isaiah 55:8-9 says it well, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord, For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We are forever in search of God’s thoughts and God’s ways.

Science that results in greater understanding of the universe is a gift from God. All good and perfect gifts come from God, the book of James tells us. We may not understand all gifts or we may use some gifts badly; the fault, however, is not with God, but with our stage of ethical, intellectual and spiritual development. God has not stopped revealing truth and may well use what we call science to do so.

The two can’t be contradictory

Rabbi Mark Levin of Congregation Beth Torah, Overland Park: A serious answer to your question is complicated. Some religions with formal structures like an ecclesiastical hierarchy may prefer a religious dogma over a scientific theory. We witness that today in the discussions of Darwinian evolution. Some religions prefer biblical literalism to scientific theories that the biblical creation story (Genesis 1-4) ought not be understood as historical fact because it contradicts established scientific theory.

However, other religions include consideration of scientific truths in their theology. Such religions make it a point that theology may not contradict scientific fact. In Reform Judaism, history and science are systematically included as part of our theological structure. Joshua could not literally have stopped the sun in Israel’s Ayalon Valley because that contradicts the laws of physics. No supernatural miracle occurred. The truths unveiled by science and the humanities help to develop theology.

Science empirically analyzes the physical world. Religion describes the interaction between physical and spiritual realities. The two investigate different aspects of reality and need not be contradictory. But ultimately, over centuries and millennia, religious verities must conform with scientific truth or society will stagnate. Religious dogma may lag far behind scientific insights. But an earth-centered idea of the universe must concede before a heliocentric model because it represents a more accurate portrayal of reality. Religion enables humans to live morally with reality. Ultimately it cannot contradict science.

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