As sentient beings, humans possess an innate desire to seek meaning and purpose in their existence. This quest for understanding often leads us to contemplate the existence of an unknowable realm, an abstract belief known as “faith.” The notion of faith, intertwined with the concept of transcendence, represents one of the most intriguing facets of our cognitive capacity. It allows us to grapple with the mysteries beyond our control, navigate the uncharted territories of life, and transcend our mere material existence. While science illuminates our path, it is within the realm of faith that we find solace and a heightened purpose. Let’s explore the intersection of faith, transcendence, and the limits of scientific inquiry.
Hamptons Soul: Science and Faith — Father Constantine Lazarakis of the Greek Orthodox Congregation, and Jewish Center of the Hamptons Rabbi Josh Franklin offer thoughts on balancing science and faith.
As I have stated before, I feel tremendous sorrow over the state of our civic discourse. Whether we are talking about local, national or global issues; whether the topic is the next election, climate change or covid-vaccines, our public discussions are dominated by strawmen, faulty assumptions and false dichotomies. This type of propaganda undermines our ability to make informed decisions about critical issues, and to be responsible participants in the democratic process.
One such faulty assumption plaguing our current conversation is the notion, which many have swallowed bait, line and sinker, that faith and science are mutually exclusive. Climate change deniers often misuse scripture to support their disregard for the urgency of the crisis. “Scientific minds” often dismiss the eternal truths and moral imperatives conveyed by faith, using “science” as a kind of magic wand to whisk away that which cannot be measured, touched and tested. Neil Young once sang that “the aimless blade of science slashed the pearly gates.” The idea that we must align ourselves along either scientific or religious lines is a recipe for disaster. We allow ourselves to ignore far too much if we believe that it’s one or the other.
The Call for Transcendence:
In the face of life’s uncertainties, humans have an inherent need to find solace and meaning. Our mortal existence is permeated with countless variables that elude our control, prediction, and comprehension. Whether it is grappling with the inevitability of death or the vastness of the cosmos, we encounter profound questions that science alone cannot answer. It is in these moments that the abstract belief in an unknowable realm beckons us, calling for transcendence.
University of California @ Berkeley — Science has limits: A few things that science does not do.
Science is powerful. It has generated the knowledge that allows us to call a friend halfway around the world with a cell phone, vaccinate people against polio, build a skyscraper, and drive a car. And science helps us answer important questions like which areas might be hit by a tsunami after an earthquake, how the hole in the ozone layer formed, how we can protect our crops from pests, and who our evolutionary ancestors were. With such breadth, the reach of science might seem to be endless, but it is not. Science has definite limits.
Do gods exist? Do supernatural entities intervene in human affairs? These questions may be important, but science won’t help you answer them. Questions that deal with supernatural explanations are, by definition, beyond the realm of nature — and hence, also beyond the realm of what can be studied by science. For many, such questions are matters of personal faith and spirituality.
The Power of Faith:
Faith provides us with a profound connection to something beyond the tangible world. It enables us to embrace the mysteries that lie outside the realm of scientific scrutiny. While science may illuminate the workings of the universe and provide us with explanations, it is faith that imbues our lives with meaning and purpose. Faith allows us to rise above the perception of ourselves as mere collections of atoms and molecules, granting us a sense of belonging to something greater.
Aeon Media Group – Psyche: Religious faith promotes a sense of meaning in life.
As Stephen Hawking once put it, science tells us that humanity ‘is just a chemical scum on a moderate-size planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies’. That’s not a particularly uplifting thought.
This is where religion comes in. Ernest Becker, a cultural anthropologist, argued in The Denial of Death (1973) that religious faith buffers people from the conclusion that humanity is cosmically insignificant by connecting us with an infinite being. Many religious traditions come with stories about the origins and purpose of the Universe. Many claim that humanity has some kind of important relationship with a higher power, that our lives are part of a grand plan, or even that the Universe was ‘designed with you in mind’.
Rabbi Harold Kushner, defending the importance of religion, wrote: “Religion offers us a cure for the plague of loneliness by bringing us into a community of people with whom we share what is most vital in our lives … [R]eligious faith also satisfies another, even deeper human need – perhaps the most fundamental human need of all. That is the need to know that somehow we matter, that our lives mean something, count as something more than just a momentary blip in the Universe.”
Science and Its Categorical Limitations:
Science, undoubtedly a remarkable human endeavor, has granted us tremendous knowledge and understanding of the natural world. It provides us with a “candle in the dark,” as Carl Sagan eloquently put it, illuminating the paths of discovery. However, science has inherent limitations. It is bound by the constraints of empirical evidence, methodological rigor, and reproducibility. While it excels in unraveling the how and the what, it often falls short in addressing the deeper questions of why and what lies beyond.
The Intuitive Leap:
When confronted with the vast unknown, scientists, too, rely on intuition. Intuition acts as a guiding force, leading them to explore uncharted territories. It is here that science and faith converge, bridging the gap between the tangible and the transcendent. Intuition allows scientists to take leaps of imagination, to venture into realms where empirical evidence may be scarce or elusive. In this act of intuitive exploration, scientists echo the very essence of faith, acknowledging that there are truths that may elude scientific scrutiny.
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne – Switzerland’s second federal institute of technology.
Scientific reasoning requires the irrationality of intuition.
Science is based on coherent reasoning, while intuition follows a more disjointed path. But scientific research couldn’t succeed if scientists didn’t listen to their gut feelings every once in a while.
Science by definition relies on logic, reasoning and rigor. But we’ve all heard about Archimedes’ famous Eureka! moment when, while taking a bath, he suddenly understood what came to be known as Archimedes’ principle. While this anecdote may or may not be true, it does illustrate the catalyzing role that intuition can play in scientific research.
Lemaitre and Blanc both agree that there are indeed moments when the light bulb goes on and you suddenly understand something, without really knowing why. “It’s like you’ve jumped across a logical divide,” says Lemaitre. “And there’s no going back. Everything takes on a different meaning, and once you’ve understood how a system works, everything falls into place
So intuition is clearly one of the core elements of scientific research. That said, the process is a little more complicated than having an apple fall on your head and suddenly understanding gravity.
“Intuition isn’t logical and doesn’t always manifest itself clearly. It’s that light bulb moment when the data suddenly make sense.”
~ Bruno Lemaitre
The Dance of Science and Faith:
Science and faith need not be adversaries; instead, they can engage in a dance of mutual enrichment. While science brings rigor, empirical evidence, and explanations, faith provides a space for wonder, mystery, and meaning. The human experience is a tapestry woven from the threads of both scientific inquiry and abstract belief. By embracing both realms, we expand our understanding, nurture our innate need for transcendence, and find solace in the face of life’s uncertainties.
Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life:
Religion and Science in the United States.
Despite instances of hostility toward religion and high levels of disbelief in the scientific community, however, science and religion have often operated in tandem rather than at cross-purposes.
Indeed, throughout much of ancient and modern human history, religious institutions have actively supported scientific endeavors. For centuries, throughout Europe and the Middle East, almost all universities and other institutions of learning were religiously affiliated, and many scientists, including astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus and biologist Gregor Mendel (known as the father of genetics), were men of the cloth. Others, including Galileo, physicist Sir Isaac Newton and astronomer Johannes Kepler, were deeply devout and often viewed their work as a way to illuminate God’s creation.
In addition, many scientists, including many who are not personally religious, tend to view science and religion as distinct rather than in conflict, with each attempting to answer different kinds of questions using different methods. Albert Einstein, for instance, once said that “science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind.”
The abstract belief in an unknowable realm, known as faith, represents a captivating aspect of human cognition. It bridges the gap between our desire for meaning and our encounter with the unknowable. As we navigate the enigmatic landscape of life, both science and faith play integral roles. Science illuminates the path with its empirical insights, while faith provides us with solace, purpose, and a connection to the transcendent. Together, they create a tapestry of understanding that is greater than the sum of its parts.
In our quest to comprehend the universe, we must acknowledge that there are limits to what science can reveal. While it excels at unraveling the intricate mechanisms of the natural world, it cannot fully capture the essence of human experience, nor can it penetrate the depths of existential questions that dwell within us. Faith, on the other hand, allows us to explore the intangible aspects of our existence, transcending the boundaries of scientific inquiry.
Within the realm of faith, we find the freedom to contemplate the meaning of life, grapple with morality, and seek solace in times of adversity. It offers a language of symbols, rituals, and narratives that help us make sense of the inexplicable and navigate the complexities of our emotions, relationships, and aspirations. Faith provides a framework that expands our consciousness, allowing us to find purpose in a world that often seems chaotic and unpredictable.
However, it is essential to recognize that faith, too, has its own limitations. While it can provide profound personal meaning, it does not always offer universally verifiable and tangible truths. Different cultures and individuals embrace a multitude of faith traditions, each with its own set of beliefs and interpretations. This plurality reminds us that faith is deeply personal and subjective, varying from person to person and community to community.
Yet, the convergence of science and faith reveals an intriguing overlap: both rely on a degree of intuition. Just as scientists venture into the unknown guided by their intuitive hunches, individuals of faith often rely on intuitive leaps to deepen their spiritual understanding. This intuitive dimension allows for a fluid exchange between the two domains, fostering dialogue and mutual enrichment.
Science and faith are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary lenses through which we can explore the intricacies of existence. By acknowledging the limitations of each approach and embracing the interplay between them, we open ourselves to a richer and more comprehensive understanding of the world.
In the end, the abstract belief in an unknowable realm by way of faith reminds us of our inherent human capacity for wonder, awe, and transcendence. It serves as a testament to our deep-seated need for meaning in the face of life’s mysteries. Through the intricate dance of science and faith, we embrace the beauty of uncertainty and find solace in the realms that lie beyond our empirical grasp.
So let us continue to embrace both the candlelight of scientific inquiry and the ethereal glow of faith. Let us engage in a perpetual dialogue between the known and the unknown, expanding our horizons, and nurturing our yearning for transcendence. In this harmonious interplay, we may discover profound truths that transcend the categorical limitations of either approach.