The thrill of discovery
I struggled as a youngster to unite Christianity and Science. I wanted the two things to agree. I wanted these two aspects of my life to gain consistency. I did silly things, like conscientiously objecting to the teaching of evolution in my 10th grade science class, and instead did a self-study courtesy of the Institute for Creation Research which makes me blush to this day. As an older, college-age Christian, I was enthralled with Hugh Ross and hoped that it was all starting to fall into place. But in the end, the dichotomy crumbled and my de-conversion took place. I managed to escape before Intelligent Design took over as the creationist model of choice, although my poor parents keep buying me books on the subject.
I am a scientist first and foremost, and my life is defined by the concept of falsifiable hypotheses. Religion is not falsifiable, and therefore it can never be consistent with science. We can try to explain things, either in a Christian sense or an Atheist sense, but they will never be proven. I disagree with Dawkins in some aspects of this, as I don’t believe we can claim the non-existance of God any more than we can prove it. I am not interested in fundamental research trying to “prove” the origins of life are purely biological any more than I try to prove that they are not. I am mystified by the fuss over “Expelled” right now since anything designed to preach to the converted is destined to do only that. I don’t believe that scientific evidence is the key in the religious debate.
In some ways I fall into a distinct minority within atheist and agnostic circles, in that I have no interest in an emphasis of proof. I concur with the concept that the relationship between belief and knowledge is impossible. My goals as a scientist and a de-convert do not include trying to “prove” anyone right or wrong, but only to open a discourse about what may or may not be felt as part of the human experience. I am interested in epistemology but there are few concrete answers, few defined intersections between truth and belief. The range of truth is narrow, the range of belief is large. Therefore the range of knowledge is indefinable.
As a scientist, I wonder if we try too hard. If we are too concerned with general relativity or the origins of life to see the fine details exploding right in front of our faces. A classic “missing the trees for the forest” problem. My own branch of science concerns human suffering, and I worry that we don’t know why babies are born prematurely or why cancer kills people in the prime of their lives. We get distracted with the grand problems and miss the opportunities to solve the local ones. We miss the opportunities that we have to influence local human suffering, in the hopes of achieving fame and fortune in developing a theory of everything.
The theory of everything that we try to develop includes either God or the Lack-Thereof, depending on the philosophical bent of the “scientist” in question. We want to prove God exists or doesn’t exist, we want to prove life originates with God or independently of God. We therefore are biased before ever entering the problem, and it takes away the best part of science (not to mention the fundamental tenet). We miss surprise. We miss the opportunity for discovery. For shock. For the joy in the unexpected. This is my greatest criticism of both the confirmed Christians and the devout atheists. We do not leave ourselves open to possibility, we think we know it all a priori.
My de-conversion story includes a realization that I could leave the fold and find greater happiness than when I behaved in a “Christian” manner, at least according to my Evangelical family and friends. The surprise element of this was fantastic. The ability to question everything was fundamental. Certain aspects of my Christian upbringing have stayed with me–I do indeed enjoy watching the service from the Vatican on Christmas Eve, I find great peace in singing in Evensong in an Anglican service, but I do not restrict my life to the “commandments 11-102″ mentality that dominated my early Christian existence. Contrary to popular Christian belief, this “liberation” has not involved debauchery or a lot of “sin”, just more a freedom to enjoy the windy road of life as it comes. And that is particularly related to the bliss associated with the element of surprise. When life throws you lemons, make lemonade. Or lemon cheesecake. Or hollandaise sauce. The possibilities are endless. The problem with Christianity is the lack of creativity and unexpected results. Dictation of behavioral norms ruins the ride that is life. Instead, enjoy the ride. And don’t be scared to be surprised by the results. Humans can live as scientists do, with theories but open minds about the outcome of the study. A negative result is still a result. We have still learned something. You only lose when you try to force the outcome.