Faith and the Universe


I've quoted Carl Sagan recently on the intersection of science and faith and there's a helpful piece on him in the NYT today. What I think he gets - and what my generation perhaps has grown to internalize - is the utter insignificance of this planet, let alone human beings, in the context of what we have come to know about the universe. This knowledge was unknown to those who wrote the Bible; the endless expansion of the cosmos and the infinitesimal speck of it that we represent was beyond their knowledge. Yes, many suspected it or believed it or had myths about it. But we know. And that knowledge alters faith. For me, it pushes me toward deeper appreciation of spiritual mystery, and the understanding that if God exists, then God must be as beyond our human understanding as outer space is beyond our visitation. At the same time, it deepens my conviction in God's existence. It makes God realer and yet more distant than before - and therefore makes the Incarnation even more astonishing as an event in human history.

The point I'm making, I guess, is the one Sagan made. It is not to pose a crude opposition between science and faith, as Sam Harris does (and my next response is imminent); it is to see the two in a constant interaction in the pursuit of ultimate truth. Sagan grasped that; he saw the "pseudo-religion" of those who shunned scientific knowledge. Denial of evolution, in my view, is a sign of weak faith, not strong faith. It's a function of terrible fear, not the confidence of a loving God. Which is why some ( but not all) forms of fundamentalism are indeed, in my view, pseudo-religion; and some of what passes for evangelicalism (but not all) is pseudo-Christianity. No faith based on fear is real faith. The first thing Jesus told us is: "Be not afraid." The last thing we should be afraid of is the truth about our world.

(Photo: McNaught comet in Peru last month by David Lillo/AFP/Getty.)