In defense of science

sheet lightningThe last time I felt a good, strong quake, I happened to be in the company of a doctoral candidate in physics—or maybe it was chemistry or something else equally over my head.

This was in the early hours of the morning and it was one of those earthquakes where, for what seems like it could be several minutes but is probably only a matter of seconds, the ground seemed to be experiencing a tide.

This acquaintance of mine—a friend of a friend whom I don’t think I ever saw again after that—stood in the doorway, looking outside at arcs of electricity dancing between the power lines. Obviously ecstatic, she shouted something like, “The earth is so incredibly awesome.” Except I don’t think she said incredibly. I think she used a swear word. But this is a clean blog, if somewhat shocking, and I try to stay away from unnecessary bad language. Which it would be. Especially since I can’t remember what word she used.

Clearly she was in awe of the earthquake. I wanted things to stop moving so that I could go back to sleep again, but she knew far more about plate tectonics and probably electricity as well and because of what she knew, she was overcome with wonder at what she was seeing.

forked lightningI came across this today in something I was reading, “God is being edged out of His world by science. The more we know about meteorology, the less inclined we are to pray during a thunderstorm.” And yet nothing could be further from the truth.

If my friend-of-a-friend scientist-in-training had been of a religious bent, she would have prayed with gratitude for the beautiful world we have been given instead of swearing about it. The fact that she didn’t isn’t the fault of science. She just wasn’t the praying type. Some people aren’t.

In contrast, I don’t understand thunderstorms. They taught us something about this when I was in 8th grade, but I slept through most of science class that year and didn’t learn anything.

So when I see lightning crash across the sky, I generally stay indoors if I can. I wait for the storm to pass, and if the lights go out I feel inconvenienced. Lightning does not fill me with awe.

But when we understand what causes the natural phenomenon around us, there is more for us to be awed by. Someone who understands meteorology is awed both by the light moving across the sky and the invisible movement of electrons that he knows about but I don’t.

If you are inclined to see God in His creation, you should be able to do so through both what you can see directly for yourself and through the workings of the laws of physics that you can’t.

And if you are not inclined that way, no amount of ignorance of how our earth and our universe works will be able to help you find it. Not understanding what causes lightning will not make you any more aware of God’s presence in the world than it has me, although the fear that that ignorance leaves you with might make you more superstitious. But superstition is not a revelation, nor is it salvation. It is certainly not wonder.

God is revealed in what he has made and given to us—or can be, as I said, if you’re inclined to see things that way. Science is the study of what God has made. It is not any kind of tremendous leap of logic to say that God is revealed through scientific inquiry. If you can’t access that revelation, it is not the fault of science. It is your fault, for being unable to see what is right in front of you.

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11 thoughts on “In defense of science

  1. Excellent point! Would a perfect understanding of the rules of, say, football cause you to be uninterested in the amazing act of a spectacular player? Could you appreciate the athleticism of a player without perfectly understanding everything that happens in the game?

    Your description was better than my analogy … I just wanted to play, too!

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