“But you cannot prove that God exists!” he insisted emphatically.
Indeed I cannot. I was having a spirited and engaging conversation with my friend Jim, an astronomy expert, math nerd and avowed agnostic. We were discussing religion and quantum physics. I believe that spirituality and science dovetail beautifully. Jim’s stance holds that religions arose from a need to understand the human experience and that modern science has eclipsed that need.
“God is a social construct,” he argued. “Religion is just a bunch of stories people told across cultures to make sense of their world. But they are just that. Made-up stories. Science is fact”.
I take his point. Science will always inspire and amaze me. I love that we are constantly expanding our understanding of the cosmos. But I have also found the stories of the world religions to be guideposts in my life. You don’t have to accept them literally to find the lesson within.
But there are still so many unanswered questions. Since the dawn of consciousness, humans believed that there must be some cosmic building block that made up everything. The Greeks called this unknowable mass atomos, or undividable. From this, we get the word atom, which is a small thing. An atom is to a peach pit as a peach pit is to our entire planet. But then we realized that an atom is made up of smaller parts called protons, neutrons and electrons. Then science dove even smaller, exploring the subatomic world, where we discovered really tiny particles like bosons and hadrons and neutrinos and quarks.
And this is where it gets really interesting, because none of these particles acts in a consistent or predictable manner. They are constantly in motion, appearing in one place and then disappearing to materialize in another place without traveling the distance between those two points. It’s as if you went to sleep in your bed and woke up sitting atop the Eiffel Tower. How do they get from one place to another?
We don’t have the first clue. What we do know is that reality is pretty complicated.
Scientists estimate that most stars contain 1057 atoms. And there are approximately 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in the universe. So that is a hell of a lot of particles doing things that we cannot predict, understand or prove.
Which brings me back to God. If there are that many things in the universe that we cannot yet comprehend, wouldn’t it be hubris to automatically assume there aren’t also miracles occurring around us every day? Not understanding something doesn’t negate its energetic pull in our lives.
According to recent surveys, fewer Americans are attending church services. But the same survey found that 49% of the people polled have had a “moment of sudden religious insight or awakening.”
Take a beat and let that sink in. Though fewer of us are calling ourselves religious, half of us have had a mystical experience, a moment of divine connection that defies explanation. Most of us have had an experience that allowed us momentarily to know the unknowable.
What I’m saying is that scientific inquiry is not essentially incompatible with spiritual belief. We needn’t disregard one to believe in the other. It’s a fluid dichotomy, allowing us to find hope and awe in both at once.
That night, Jim texted me a quote from National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins:
“I have found there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. God can be found in the cathedral or in the laboratory. By investigating God’s majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship.”
I shoot back a smiley face emoji, happy to stand in that intersection of science and spirit.