Science and Spirituality: Balancing the Incompatibles

Man looking to the skyAt the end of a presentation about using science and spiritual information together, a surgeon friend of mine started a lively discussion.

His final argument stated that if you want the very best in spiritual information you’d have to go to the ancient philosophers, find their conclusions, and put it together from there. He said that since ancient scholars were closer to the events being discussed, they would have more reliable information and insights.

He reinforced his point with medical information, saying that reading a medical textbook about any subject will leave you several years behind. To produce a textbook, information must be collected, written, and printed before it can be sold — so by the time you get your brand new book, it is at least five years out of date.

You could go to a professor, or search through electronic media and still not catch up. The best information is obtained by talking directly to the researcher in his lab. This way you get the most current information.

In summary, this surgeon believed religion’s best information is from the past and the very best is from the ancient past. On the other hand, medicine’s best information is new and the very best is cutting edge.

I was reminded of a lecture in my first year at medical school where a professor said, “Today I have good and bad news for you. First the good news: half of what we teach you here is right on, and will always be true. The other half will be proven inaccurate by new discoveries. Now the bad news: we have no way to know which half will be which.”

This was a piece of wisdom I have found more valuable with each passing year. And its somewhat true in the religion area also.

Many ideas have come out of past religion that look ridiculous in the present, such as “the earth is flat” because the Bible says things like “to the ends of the earth” about forty times, and “to the four corners of the earth” two times. But they missed Isaiah 40:22 which speaks of the “circle of the earth”.

When anesthesia for helping with the pain of childbirth was first discovered, it was emphatically rejected, because people believed that God had decreed that women should suffer in childbearing in Genesis 3:16!

These superstitions, and many others like them, have made religion and science look like enemies.

But when one author writes two books, would you expect one book to prove the other false? The Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture have the same author. So if the two books seem to contradict each other, is the problem with the author or with the reader? Through the years I have often been asked by other scientists how I can be a scientist and still believe in this religious stuff? And from the other side, some of my religious friends are deeply suspicious when I insist that it is necessary to “prove it”.

But I truly believe that it is possible to create a harmonious balance between supposed incompatibles.