After speaking at a secular conference recently I was asked a very thoughtful question (via email) by one of the persons in attendance.
In short, the question asked whether with my background in science (neuroscience in particular) I did not find a conflict with my faith as a Christian.
This is a common question. It is a good question!
I'd love your input and response!
Here is my answer:
It is great to hear from you! Thanks for taking the time to drop me a line. The question that you pose below is one that I have heard many times before.
My area of specialization is neuroscience (rather than neurology). Of course the disciplines are linked, but my specialization is much less diagnostic in nature (it deals with understanding rather than pathology).
I have had a longstanding interested in science, with a particular interest in physics, having done work in that area in my first degree and work in quantum theory (specifically quantum mechanics and quantum physics) in my master's degree.
The basic supposition of many people who ask this question is that there is a dualism (an ontological separation) between science and spirituality. This is a false supposition. Please see the link below for my reasoning on this.
Even some of the most ardent atheistic scientists don't hold this view (for example of you read Richard Dawkins' 'God delusion') you'll see that he proposes a method of viewing the world from a scientific point of view - this form of spirituality is known as scientism. Basically any way of understanding the world in its entirety is a form of faith (in its most basic form). For some people their meaning and greater value is found in service, some find it in politics, some find it in spending, sport, sex and others in formal (and non-formal) forms of religious belief.
Sadly, many scientists do pseudotheology and many theologians do pseudoscience. However, those who do solid epistemological study in both science and belief soon come to realize that there is not a great divide between science and faith. In fact the opposite is true.
What we soon come to realize is that science depends as much on faith as faith depends on science! Think about this for a moment. The central 'proof' that something is scientifically true is based on a process of experimental repeatability. The scientist has a 'hunch' or 'belief' that something is true and sets about to test that hypothesis. This is an act of faith. When the experiment is largely repeatable with the same results it is believed to be true... However, how many times have we discovered that what we believed to be entirely true was only partially true when we discovered another level of complexity in material reality? However, faith in our results allows us to build bridges and fly in airplanes! Science relies on a 'kind of faith' - we learn things, we believe they're true, we structure our lives accordingly. However, as times passes we learn new things that contradict old things we believed to be completely true. In the process we discover that not all science is 'absolutely true' - all faith is fluid in some senses.
Faith (in the traditional religious sense), on the other hand, relies a great deal on science! I was asked to review a wonderful book entitled 'The fall of man and the foundation of science' (Oxford University Press, 2010, Peter Harrison). It is an exceptional explanation of the relationship between contemporary science and religious belief, and religious belief and scientific methodology. See the book here: <http://www.amazon.com/Fall-Man-Foundations-Science/dp/0521875595> It is not an easy read! My review will be published in Studia Historiae Historiae in the next edition. I'll gladly send you a copy of you're interested.
Whereas science is epistemic, religion tends towards phenomenology (i.e., the interpretation of what we hold to be true). If a person comes to hold something to be true they will test their belief (consciously or unconsciously). When they find evidence to support their belief they integrate it into their framework of dealing with joy and tragedy, bliss and suffering in their daily lives. It is this process that helps us to deal with disappointment, discouragement, fear, opportunity, hope and a myriad of daily realities. As I point out above some people frame the way in which they deal with these existential realities through relying on science, others (like Christopher Hitchens - a fellow anti-theist with Richard Dawkins) rely on secular humanism, others on religion, others on economics...
Can I suggest that you take a look at one of my posts on belief and the neurobiology of the human brain here: <http://www.dionforster.com/blog/2010/8/3/the-presence-of-god-and-functioning-of-the-human-brain.html>
My friend Gregory Benvenuti (an atheist from Australia) made some super remarks in the comments. Please also see my reply to him.
Please feel free to come back to me with your input, thoughts etc. Would you mind if I published my response to your basic question on my blog (no names mentioned of course)?
Grace and peace,