This question has been in my mind for a while, and when I set out to write this post I thought I had my answer. I’m Catholic, though not devoutly so, and I also respect and understand science. I had started to believe that, especially when you get into high-level topics, science is just as inaccessible to the average person as religion. So, doesn’t science require faith? Faith in both the scientists themselves, and the theories and laws we’ve all been taught?
Physicist Stephen Hawking recently released The Grand Design, a discussion of the beginning of the universe, which he wrote with fellow physicist Leonard Mlodinow. The authors have caused a bit of a stir by their assertion that a god or supreme being is not necessary for the creation of this universe, or any other. They posit that the laws and theories of science as we know it allow for universe creation to, for lack of a better term, just happen. It’s difficult for me to address this new argument, because I don’t understand many of the theories, including M-theory, they are talking about. So, I have to go simpler.
Most of us learned about the Big Bang theory in school. Does any layperson actually understand it? Or did we just believe it because scientists, who are smarter and more in-tune with the universe than we, told us so? There is nothing I or anyone else I know have ever seen that would allow us to believe that the Big Bang happened. In other words, it’s impossible to prove, in the decidedly non-scientific way that many of us go about making decisions. But, don’t we all just take the Big Bang at face value? If so, why?
Even if the Big Bang were true, what happened before the Big Bang? Some scientists think that the creation of our universe was caused by the collapse of the previous one. (Of course, I still want to know what came before that.) Still, it appears that the Big Bang, while still being just a theory, is taken as true by scientists, who then conduct research of increasing complexity to explain and support it.
How is this different than religion? After all, the farther back in the universe’s history you go, the more obtuse and theoretical the science becomes. How can anything, much less an entire universe, come out of nothing? Applying both my observational knowledge, as well as what I’ve learned in the past, I don’t understand the creation of the universe. I remember learning the law of conservation: matter cannot be created or destroyed. (Apparently this law doesn’t always apply, and in trying to understand its exceptions, my brain broke a little bit and I had to back off.)
How, too, do we reconcile the fact that clergy were the scientists for a long time? (Did you know the Big Bang was proposed by a Roman Catholic priest?) The Catholic Church has long been a proponent of the Big Bang theory, as it lines up well with the Biblical story of creation out of nothing.
Even Albert Einstein, who most people consider to be one of the most important scientific minds of the modern age, described himself as religious when asked point-blank by a non-religious person. His words in the quote below get at what I’ve been struggling to articulate for several hundred words now.
Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious. (Source)
All we want, as intellectual beings, is to understand the universe. Religion has, for millennia, sought to explain everything about our world to those who have struggled to understand it. Religion and science walked hand in hand, for better and for worse, for centuries. Today, both still exist, and while they don’t always conflict, their followers often do.