How can you believe in science and also be a religious person? Scientists are only supposed to believe in observable, quantifiable things that they can physically have proof of. Isn’t being religious fundamentally in opposition to everything that being a scientist is about? These are good questions.
I’m a thoughtful person, I’m a sceptical person, and I’m not a person who believes blindly in anything. So, how is it that I believe in God and what does that believe look like? Well, maybe it’s easier to start with what I don’t believe God is.
I don’t believe God is an old man with a beard in the sky who grants you magic wishes if you recite the right words or feel guilty enough. I don’t believe that God can grant you a parking space if you pray hard enough. And I don’t believe that God has set up some code of behaviour and if I don’t live by it, I won’t be granted my place in Heaven among the angels.
So if the God I believe in isn’t all of those things, who IS God? Well, the God I believe in is the force in the universe that drives all of the phenomena that we experience as human beings. God is gravity, and God is the centrifugal force, and God is the answer to why everything is the way it is in the natural world. You might be thinking, “Well, that’s not God! That’s just science!” I guess you’re right. But in my cultural and religious tradition that goes back thousands of years, we have a tremendous sense of gratitude and humility for our place in the natural and scientific world. Understanding equations that describe gravity and pressure and force and torque is science, and that’s amazing. But having a spiritual connection with that information so much so that it brings you to your knees because it’s so unbelievable is what it means to have a relationship with God. I also ascribe our ability to think, to reason, to love, to build, to create as divine. Because it’s amazing that we exist.
Do you ever get that feeling like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe we exist!” I get that feeling all the time. A closeness with a notion of God gives me the opportunity to experience myself as a spiritual being and not just a physical or a mental one. But having a relationship with God gives me a chance to understand my inner world in a way that can’t be measured by inches, scores and ratios, or by diplomas hung on the wall commemorating learnt information. It can be measured by the way it feels when you read a poem or a good book and you feel like someone out there understands you and there is a purpose to continuing your existence … It can be measured by the amount of sacrifices and silly things you do just to see the people you care about smile … It can be measured by the way your stomach flip-flops over and drops to the ground when you stare into the eyes of someone you want to spend the rest of your life with … It can be measured by the enormity of emotions you feel when you look at the stars in the sky or when you hold hands and kiss for the first time … It can be measured by the number of heartbeats you count on our cheek as you put your head close to your dog’s chest until you realise it’s a living, fragile being, just like you … It can be measured by the depths of despair that you feel when someone breaks your heart, and it can also be measured by the hope you feel when you know that you will love again.
So what do I get from religion? It’s normal and healthy of human beings to have boundaries, and I guess to what extent you want them is kind of up to you. For me, my religious traditions and consciousness help me to think hard about decisions I make. I only eat certain foods, I make it a priority not to gossip, to learn to be more compassionate, to find ways to repair the world, to meditate, to seek justice and pursue it. All of these things are guided by the structure of my religious faith. And I am inspired by the notion of a responsibility to a universe that is governed by something bigger than me.
It’s okay for smart people to believe in religion. And we may not be always happy with how religion looks, or how religious people act. But there is a force in the universe that underlines all of this beautiful chaos. And understanding the relationship between Science and God, I think, makes me a more complete person. So I am sticking to that.