Sunday, 25 January 2015

Vicar's Study: Science and the Meaning of Life

As I've mentioned before my first degree, before studying Theology in my late twenties, was in Biology. I spent a glorious three years at Bristol University the first of which involved dissecting my way through the animal kingdom (gross but fascinating!). This was followed by another two years specializing in my main interests which ranged from animal behaviour to neuroscience to a frankly idyllic fortnight studying the plant life of the Mediterranean in Portugal.

I've always loved nature, always been fascinated by science and I've always been baffled by the raised eyebrows I get when I say that I have studied both Biology AND Theology. It's true that in the early days of study, when I was a signed up atheist of the Dawkins' tribe, that I did assume that the two were incompatible. One was evidence based, the other based on blind hope and fantasy. One explained life as it was, the other made projections onto the world of how we want it to be. I couldn't understand how Dinosaurs could have been part of the plan of the creation of human beings and quite how they fitted into the creation story of Genesis. Any talk of God was swiftly and effectively dismissed by our lecturers in Evolutionary Biology. This was not place to think about the question of God let alone talk about it.

It probably seems particularly odd, then, that in this context I first started to explore and became committed to the Christian faith. Science, rather than directing me to the impossibility of God, seemed to be doing the opposite. Rather it was opening up a world of wonder and awe. A world of beautiful laws and intricate mechanisms that showed life as an unrelenting and eternal force. While I was watching plants hanging on for dear life in the rocky crags of the Med or looking at deep sea images captured by fishing boats not just my mind but my spirit was opening up to something wonderful, the irrepressibility of life and the sheer wonder of our being here.
Of course many people experience this through science and never feel the need to ask the question of God or indeed answer it a different way than I have. But the idea that being passionate about science and believing in God are incompatible or that to believe in God you have to be fundamentally irrational and reject all evidence is plainly false. For one so many leading scientists are people of faith that this idea is immediately shown up for what it is, a prejudice.

I've recently been reading a book by another atheist scientist turned theologian, Alister McGrath called Dawkins' God – Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life that I would really recommend if this something that interests you. It took me right back to my uni days looking at Dawkins' Self Gene theory, the compatibility of the theory of evolution and ideas of a creator God in historic Christian thinking and a critique of the idea that faith is 'blind trust'.
Ultimately it raises the important issue of the relationship between science and religion and argues for a much more varied history than is popularly suggested today. To many thinkers of the past my experience of finding easy compatibility between my love of science and love of God is nothing new. Perhaps Biology and Theology aren't such an eyebrow raising combination after all!

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