Adam Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester who studies star formation and stellar death using supercomputers. His new book, "The Constant Fire, Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate," has just been published. He will be joining Reality Base to post an ongoing discussion of science and religion.
You can read more of his thoughts on science and the human prospect at the Constant Fire blog.
If the change-fest in Washington last week taught us anything, it’s that we are long overdue for transcending rickety old categories and rusty old polarities. A particularly urgent place to start, given the dismal history of the last eight years, would be the traditional Science v. Religion debate, which is exhausted, ossified, and no longer speaks to the challenges we face as a species. I am a practicing scientist (astrophysics) and, after writing for DISCOVER and other popular science magazines for a decade, I consider myself something of an evangelist of science’s methods and worldview. I have always been in love with science and, for the record, do not hold a belief in a supernatural deity. But, in a cosmic twist of fate, it was science that gave me a profound respect for the character of experience people have always called "sacred." Through my scientific practice, I have gained respect not for religion as a means of social organization and control, but for what happens beneath the institutions where individuals encounter the world through their own, inmost experience. In other words, I am a practicing scientist who responds deeply to the beauty revealed in the worlds of science and art, and many of the diverse forms of spiritual endeavor. From that perspective, it is clear that at this particular moment in history, when we face such obvious and overwhelming dangers, it’s time to put prejudices that drag discussion between science and the domains of human spiritual endeavor aside. We need to see if there isn’t something else that can be said about them beyond the exhausted and fruitless debate over evolution and creationism. It's time to put a definitive end to the futile misguided school board curriculum battles and find the creative will to speak to the many ways humans encounter the True and the Real. In a century sure to be haunted by climate change, resource depletion, and terrorism, we will need any and all tools of wisdom we can get. Science and Religion, at their best, can both be sources of wisdom. At their worst…well, we all know what that looks like. This is the first in a series of posts where I am going to argue that there is a very different way of looking at the domains of scientific practice and the root of human religious experience. It’s not about Richard Dawkins, and it’s not about Intelligent Design (grrrrr!). There is nothing useful for the rest of us in that old battle, with its eternally amped up combatants. It’s also not about new-age wishful thinking about quantum physics and spirituality. It’s the nature of world and our place in it we are talking about, so wishful thinking simply won’t cut it here. Taken as a whole, in discussions of science and religion there is simply too much at stake for us to rest in our comfort zones of accepted opinion. We need to find a new way, and the first step in finding that way is breaking free of inherited perspectives. To be continued...Image: Courtesy of www.constantfire.com