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faith and culture

A Sublime Detective Story

By Jesse Carey
CBN.com Producer

CBN.com - "All science, even the divine science, is a sublime detective story. Only it is not set to detect why a man is dead; but the darker secret of why he is alive." - G.K. Chesterton

One of the primary plot devices in the film Angels & Demons is a highly destructive compound called “antimatter”. In the film (and novel in which the film is based) the substance is so highly volatile, that a small vile could destroy an entire city. In one of the opening-sequences, researchers at the CERN research laboratories have a canister of antimatter stolen. The research team created the substance during experiments looking for what they refer to has the “God-Particle”—an effort to replicate the “Big-Bang” at the dawn of creation with the help of a massive particle accelerator.

Shortly following the theft of the antimatter, the Vatican learns of a pending attack by an ancient group known as the Illuminati. We’re told in the film, that the secret society was formed hundreds of years ago by scientists and thinkers whose writings about scientific theories and natural laws put them at odds with the ruling Catholic Church. In the movie’s version of a history lesson, we learn that the scientists were subjected to inquisition-style recants and were, in some cases, killed for their “heretical” ideas. Now, hundreds of years later, the Illuminati are seeking vengeance on the church to once and for all show the superiority of science over religion.

Historical debate about the Illuminati’s role in science aside, the film also references some more commonly-known church/science disputes, most notably Galileo’s theories about the universe. In the early 16th century, Galileo drew the ire of ruling church leaders after his heliocentric view of the universe contradicted the church’s teaching that the earth was at the center of creation.  The church’s opposition was so strong that Galileo was forced to recant his ideas and spent his life under house arrest.

In the beginning of Angels & Demons, protagonist Robert Langdon finds a secret code in one of Galileo’s ancient writings that will help them track down the antimatter.

It’s with this historical (and at times fictional) backdrop that the one of the primary conflicts of the movie arises — science vs. religion. It’s not just the plot that revolves around this theme; characters themselves constantly debate the rift between the two seemingly opposing ideas.

Though it’s a conflict that’s sensationalized in the film, the idea of science challenging religion is a common one in our culture.

But, why have religion and science been poised against each other in the first place? Why have there been incidences of the church becoming threatened by science in the past? Why have parts of the scientific community maintained adverse views of religion and combative attitudes toward supernatural ideas?

If you look at the nature of both terms, the answer is clear. By it’s very definition, science is based on observable results. Yes, there are scientific ideas that are only theoretical, but theories are based on probable outcomes of known observable truths. Religion on the other hand is, at its core, based on faith. Unlike science, faith is not based on provable results. As the writer of Hebrew says, faith is “the evidence of things not seen.” By their core definitions, science and religion are opposing ideas. One is based on what can be clearly seen, measured and formulated, the other is based what is unseen, at times mysterious and is reliant on trust without constant tangibility.

But it’s not only religion that science finds itself at odds with. In his influential 1959 lecture “The Two Cultures”, scientist and novelist C.P. Snow discussed the constant breakdown between two preeminent intellectual fields: sciences and humanities. Snow said that leaders in both pursuits failed to adequately understand the other, and that lack of understanding created two, completely separate cultures. The “literary intellectuals” as Snow categorized them, who explored romantic ideas, ambiguous concepts and the human condition, lacked deep understandings of the natural world and scientific realities (and vice versa). But unlike religion and science, these separate cultures rarely find themselves in direct conflict.

Whether it’s intelligent design vs. evolution, deciding the point that life begins in the abortion debate, or the ethical dilemma of stem cell research, modern science and religion often find themselves engaged in heated — and at times hostile — stand-offs.

But should they?

There’s a verse in Psalms that speaks volumes about what the natural world can tell us about faith in God: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.

The psalmist could have used any expression to describe the effect viewing creation has on the faithful, but he said that the heavens “display knowledge.” I heard a teacher once say that “All truth is God’s truth.” Whether they realize it or not, researchers and scientists who spend their lives unraveling the mysteries of creation are revealing new glimpses of God’s handiwork—the same handiwork God use to create each individual.

But for a person of faith, science serves to confirm, and at times more deeply understand God—not prove his existence. The gospel makes it clear that faith is not science—we are called to believe by faith, not to demand physical proof.

Instead of viewing new discoveries and scientific research (like the “Big-Bang” experiments that are actually being conducted with the CERN particle accelerator), as threats to what we believe, Christians should view them sources of deeper revelation of the brilliance and careful design God displays in his creation.  The world around us displays knowledge of a divine creator. It’s OK to take an ethical stand and to be uncompromising in your belief, but science itself should never be seen as a threat to faith.

Faith in a savoir and a belief in God may be too difficult for some people to quantify. And there will be people who chose not believe in God; but that shouldn’t make them then enemy of believers.

Just because the idea faith (without physical proof) may be seen by some to oppose the idea of science, doesn’t mean that science is an opposition to faith.


Jesse Carey serves as a producer for CBN.com.

E-mail me!

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