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Sharing the Faith: Religion and Science

By Julie Geng, VI Form 

FaithScience_layout_2009_04_13_02_59_47For many, science and religion are mutually exclusive since science — reliant on the scientific method — can find no proof for Deity. Others think that these two forces coexist without influencing each other. As both a passionate young chemist and a faithful Christian, I have reconciled for myself the purported dichotomy between scientific endeavor and religious awe through understanding their shared element of faith.

In my view, science and religion complement each other; a kind of faith is needed in both realms.

Our life in the physical world engages the five senses with concrete information, while the molecular level of chemistry cannot be easily visualized. For example, my mentor at MIT recently discovered a new class of chemical compound named NHC-CDI. He found this compound by serendipity while performing exploratory experiments on a different, well-known and widely used compound. It is a marvel, as we currently know nothing of what this new compound can potentially offer to humanity in pharmaceutical science, material engineering, and many more disciplines. In our fledgling knowledge, this new discovery possesses infinite possibility and potential. In similar fashion, we can have boundless interpretation of God because we can never attain absolute religious knowledge.

Since humans will never be omniscient, our knowledge will forever remain in a state of limited development. This is where faith comes in—for me, science is a matter of faith. In our experiments with the new compound, my mentor and I took a leap of faith in the discovery of this compound and continue to exhibit this faith as we hope that this new class of compound can gscience-and-faith-hand-in-handive rise to properties that can improve our world or even lead to significant breakthroughs. When we combine this compound with other reactants in a flask, we are, in a way, praying. We pray wholeheartedly that this reaction will produce the desired product whose existence can be confirmed indirectly and through its effect. But, we may never see the minuscule molecules in this process. Admittedly, the kind of faith in science is not blind; it is meticulously guided by empirical observation and well-designed experiments. However, the process of uncovering the scientific truth requires leaps of faith.

According to Kierkgaard, faith is higher than reason because it begins where the limits of reason are encountered. In other words, the limitation of human knowledge is critical to perpetuate curiosity about the natural world. Our thirst for knowledge and faith in the unknown is the foundation of both our scientific enquiry and our religious belief. We are always asking questions in science: Is there a cure for cancer? Can we modify our enzymes? What is gravity? Likewise, we ask questions about God: Does God exist? Why would He let bad things happen to good people? Our faith in the unseen helps us navigate through these seemingly imponderable questions and challenges, and our limited knowledge makes the world ever more enchanting and sublime to explore.

The Judeo-Christian God is typically viewed a finger-shaking lawgiver who offers people eternal salvation or damnation. But, for me, God is not only the source of unconditional love and absolute joy, but also the source of unlimited curiosity and creativity that strengthen my passion to pursue science. I have firm faith in God because I would like to fathom His love through caring for others, and I have firm faith in science because I am eager to tackle the boundless questions we still have about nature. This helpful way of thinking fosters my interests in both science and the philosophy of religion, and yet this dialogue may engender either a groundbreaking scientific discovery or an extraordinary religious revelation.

As I peer at the energetically spinning stir bar at the bottom of a flask, I start to feel that the microscopic level seems as distant and unfamiliar as an alternate universe…

Julie Geng is a VI Former from Shanghai, China. She is obsessed with chemistry, and her favorite class at St. Mark’s is Death of God.

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