People like to pit religion against evidence-based science, and vice versa. I’ve heard of some Christians, for example, who write off modern evolution theories like clergymen used to write off Galileo’s then-revolutionary scientific findings about the earth and sun because such findings opposed outdated understandings about the earth in scripture (i.e. pre-telescope guesses about how the planets revolved). I’ve also seen atheist Christmas stockings with text bubbles spelling out “BANG!” above images depicting the scientific evolution of humanity from apes. Perhaps the most recent example that comes to mind is the religious skepticism tied to some of the anti-vaccination buzz amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, many attention-grabbing arguments and loud voices choose strict sides in this debate, as though preparing for a life-and-death game of dodgeball.
The world loves to think in black and white. It marries itself to binary perspectives because they are the most logical. To integrate dichotomous philosophies requires much more thought, contemplation and introspection. But I suggest trying it.
Wellness is at its best when it’s approached in a multi-pronged and integrative way. I believe science and religion are also at their best when viewed as complementary forces instead of enemies at war. When they are integrated into the understanding of the human experience, we can take better care of ourselves than ever before, serving both our utmost physical needs and intangible longings of the soul.
It turns out that scientists and theologians aren’t all that different…
Many famous scientists are known for their belief in God including Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, Johannes Kepler, and Sir Francis Bacon, to name a few. One Catholic group explains that the scientist and theologian are fairly similar, especially in light of the scientific method: “The fact that he [the scientist] must seek answers proves that they are not in sight. The fact that he continues to seek them in spite of all difficulties testifies to his unconquerable conviction that those answers, although not presently in sight, do in fact exist. Truly, the scientist too walks by faith and not by sight.”
Albert Einstein famously said:
“Science without religion is lame,
religion without science is blind.”
I believe most people find themselves in some difficult-to-define balance between these two forces, using one and then the other to explain their life’s circumstances and beliefs. And that’s okay! Science operates in the realm of what we can logically understand about the body and nature while religion and spirituality operate on what is above our logical brains. Spirituality relies on the inexplicable and infinite whereas science rests firmly on the finite components of this world. As you can see, the two were never supposed to be forces at war. They complement one another, with spirituality picking up where the limitations of science, research and evidence have been reached.
I’ve heard of people inexplicably recovering from grim medical diagnoses because they found God or began a spiritual practice involving prayer and meditation. If science could keep an eye on every cell of the person’s body throughout that healing process then perhaps it might find an explanation for how the body corrected itself…or perhaps it wouldn’t. Personally, I’m okay resting into the unknowns and inexplicable. It gives me some measure of reprieve that there are aspects of us that can never be contained to an evidence-based study or a research lab. In fact, the more that I seek concrete answers in life the more that I find they seldom exist.
The more that I stretch my brain and heart to integrate multiple competing perspectives into my understanding about the mysteries of this world, the better off I am. It’s like that famous Indigo Girls song (yes, I rocked out to them in the 1990s):
“And I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
There’s more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
Closer I am to fine, yeah”
So yes, one day I’m going to throw my hands up in celebration over a groundbreaking scientific discovery (ahem…mRNA vaccine trials for cancer) and another moment I’m going to raise my palms to the sky in praise of The Infinite. The One. The Mystery.
I’ve been given every reason to trust medicine because it has saved my body (and my oldest son) from tremendous harm and death. I also have every reason to trust in a greater power that can’t be contained by the laws of science because I have felt another kind of saving deep in my soul; the kind that allows me to be free from fear of death and open to abundant joy in this life, even in the desperate and broken moments. This peculiar balance has been paramount to my wellness journey.
Now, my question is this: Will you be brave enough? Brave enough to believe that you don’t have to pick sides after all?
It requires a leap of faith in two directions at once.
Yours in health and wellness,