The following comes from a July 24 story by Daniel Ross Goodman on the Public Discourse site.
Does religion have anything to offer us in the space age? Astrophysicists recently confirmed the existence of cosmic inflation (which accounts for the rapid expansion of the universe during the first fraction of a second after the Big Bang). Now that we know about dark matter, dark energy, the Higgs boson, the existence of other earth-like planets, and a thousand other shocking cosmological revelations, it is tempting to suggest that religion will become relegated to playing the role of quaint typewriter to astrophysics’ astounding computer. Will religion have any relevance in the twenty-first century and beyond?
Because we no longer need religion to explain how the universe works, religion—for these and other reasons—continues to take an intellectual beating; just witness a recent issue of The New Yorker, where faith suffered a double-whammy roundhouse blow from two of my favorite writers, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Adam Gopnik.
I loved Tyson’s answer to the question of whether he is an atheist: “It’s odd that the word ‘atheist’ even exists,” he responded. “I don’t play golf. Is there a word for non-golf players? Do non-golf players gather and strategize? Do non-skiers have a word, come together, and talk about the fact that they don’t ski?” In other words, for many people—and perhaps especially for astrophysicists—religion is so irrelevant to their lives that its irrelevance need not even be justified.
But perhaps Tyson employed the wrong analogy. Of course non-golfers are not anti-golfers. The more apt analogy would be asking a non-reader if he’s an “anti-reader.”
It is possible to lead a good, ethical, and moral life without reading books. But a life without reading is a life diminished. Like a life without music or humor or love, a life without books lacks an additional dimension; one can still exist on a physical plane, but without reading, one will miss out on a certain kind of beauty. An astrophysicist need not be a reader of literary fiction in order to investigate the lives of stars. But a science without literary fiction is a science diminished: it is a science that may not be fully attentive to the lives of human beings; it may be a science that lacks empathy; and it may be an astrophysics that is not fully conscious of the human stakes of cosmology.
As with literary fiction, so with religion. A future without religion will be a future diminished, for faith—but only a certain kind of faith—is absolutely necessary in the space age.
Yes, there is a certain kind of faith that has no place in the age of space: it is the kind of faith that seeks to limit us, to shrink us, and to disempower us by treating us as irredeemable sinners. The kind of faith that has no place in space is the austere faith that imagines an authoritarian God who wants nothing more than to keep us down and earthbound with rigid rules. The kind of faith that has no place in space is the otherworldly faith that preaches about the world-to-come rather than urging us to make life better in the world-that-is.
But there is a faith that we unquestionably need in the space age. There is a kind of faith that empowers us—it is a faith that believes in a kind of God that, above all else, is a God of life. This God of life, to paraphrase 12 Years a Slave, doesn’t only want us to survive; the God of life wants us to live. And this God doesn’t only want us to live; this God wants us to flourish. This God wants us to be all that we can be. Living with this kind of faith means believing that we must do everything possible to survive, to live, and to flourish.
Religion cannot, nor should it, attempt to explain how the world was created, nor should it attempt to explain how the universe works. Science, not religion, possesses the answers to these questions. But religion, not science, can explain why the world was created, and can elucidate the meanings behind the workings of the universe. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has written, “science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean….”
To read the entire story, click here.