Monday, September 19, 2005

Religion has all the answers . . . to its own questions.

This weekend, I read a sensible opinion piece on the intelligent design debate, authored by the pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church. The pastor, Henry Brinton, takes a liberal stance on religion and education.

People who want their schools to teach science with integrity have to be willing to draw lines, and to insist that their school boards maintain distinctions. Intelligent design will be worthy of mention in a science classroom only when scientists find empirical evidence to support it. Until then, it will have to be limited to classes taught in churches or religious schools.
I’ve read plenty of arguments against teaching an intelligent design curriculum, and Brinton’s is among the most succinct.

But (you knew it was coming) Brinton ultimately implies that religion, though no replacement for science, is the path to a realm of understanding that science never reaches.

Science . . . has never answered the question of why life exists, even through endless proofs based on observation and replication by multiple sources. Science can tell us how things work, but it can never answer questions such as why the Big Bang occurred, or why the first bacterium appeared.
This contention--that we need religion to answer the question of “why?”—has always bothered me. I agree that science cannot answer the big “why?” And I agree that religion can. But the question “why?” as Brinton posits it, is the product of a theistic worldview, and not the justification for one.

It is not until we believe in God, that the question “why?” demands answering. For if there is a divine being capable of shaping the world as he see fit, it makes perfect sense that we would ask why he has chosen the reality he has. The question “why?” implies motivation, and motivation requires intelligence, divine intelligence in this case. But take away the intelligence (God), and the question “why?” becomes absurd.

Although it might be convenient to say so, religion and science will never be equal halves of understanding—the “how” and “why” of the universe as it were.

Religion may be the only force capable of answering the question “why?” but it is also the only force capable of framing such a question. I am happy to see religious people acknowledging that science answers questions their faith cannot. But pardon me for not returning the favor when I say that science does not need religion to answer a question it never asked in the first place.

--Matthew McCoy