I know God exists. I also believe, to paraphrase that science t-shirt (see previous blog), that the nice thing about God is that He exists whether or not you believe in Him. (I use Her and Him to refer to God and get different value from both, by the way).
Now, scientists reading this will be horrified by what I’ve just written. They intuitively understand that these are very different types of truth. Even other scientists who have a faith similar to mine will probably have a wry smile, recognising the point I’m making and recognising why it will horrify other scientists.
I guess that many non-scientists, particularly those with religious faith, won’t understand what the problem is. And this, I think, is where seeming conflicts between science and religion start.
Sometimes I see religious posters on public transport. These often give the message that “the Bible is right because it says it is”. Sometimes they are that explicit, sometimes they imply this by quoting Bible phrases at you. I don’t know who these adverts are aimed at, but my guess is that they are not very successful with converting an atheist. The people who create such posters are genuine and find this message helpful and convincing to them, they are likely not to understand what is wrong with the first paragraph.
But I also think that scientists can become very blinkered in their own way. By prioritising scientific truth over all other kinds of truth, they risk both missing something valuable and alienating nonscientists. I want to build bridges and keep the dialogue open.
When I realised I was becoming a Christian, I struggled intellectually as well as spiritually. What I want to describe is how I reconciled my faith and my intellect. I don’t do so to convince others, but simply to show one way of bridging that divide. I know that this makes no sense to either the atheist or those who believe there is only one true way to God. In later blogs I might explore their arguments (these initial posts are about setting the basis of my own thoughts, providing my axioms, if you like).
My faith starts with my experience. In worship I feel myself come spiritually into resonance with something beyond and within me, which I call God. In everyday life I can also sense myself in, or out, of that resonance. It is hard to describe in words what it feels like, but it is a combination of physical feeling and a sense of rightness. It has a lot in common with feeling “in love” – an experience most of us have and which science can explain in terms of evolutionary need and chemical changes in our hormones, but somehow we all know has some reality in and of itself beyond those explanations. Indeed, feeling in spiritual resonance with God feels like being in Love and always leads to Love, in its broadest, most open sense.
When I stay in that resonance I am changed, transformed. I widen my understanding, encompass a fuller truth, learn to forgive and be forgiven. When I read the Bible I hear stories of people who have had similar experiences. I recognise in those stories my own struggles, failures and steps into becoming more than I was. When I read about Jesus I recognise a man who was in such perfect resonance with God that the Love of God flowed out of him and was seen by those who met him and either entranced them or made them fight it. (I have also developed a theology around the specific details, but this isn’t the time to share that).
Now, one of the key things for me in spiritual understanding is to think in duality, not dualism. In other words to hold mutually contradictory things in tension and live at that dissonance. It was physics that first taught me to do that. I found a way to handle wave particle duality that was absurdly simple: a photon is not a wave and not a particle. It’s a photon and it behaves as photons behave. We, with our limited intellect, need models to explain the photon. So when it is travelling through space we find the model of a wave helpful and we think of it as a wave. When it interacts with matter (say a detector!) we find a particle model more helpful. We must never forget that these are our models to deal with our intellectual limitations, because the photon goes on being a photon.
Now, when it comes to God we are not just intellectually limited, we are spiritually limited, too. So here, too, we create models. Some are intellectual models (theology), some are spiritual models (practices, mysticism) and many are parables, stories that give us glimpses of some aspect. Different people, developing this in different communities, came up with different descriptive models and therefore you have different religions. When we treat the religion as Truth, rather than as a model pointing to Truth, we can get hung up on the differences, consider ourselves right and them wrong (religious people) or delight in pointing out the inconsistencies between different models in use in the same religion as proof that they are wrong (atheists).
I choose to follow a single set of models (a Quaker Christianity) exclusively. That doesn’t mean I don’t recognise truth in the other models, but so far I have not reached a spiritual limit of the models I have (consider Einsteinian gravity expanding Newtonian). And by sticking to one set, rather than mixing up those of different faiths, I find it harder to avoid the uncomfortable bits which lead to me being transformed! I know enough of myself to know that I could make this an intellectual exploration of different faiths, picking nice bits from each. Sticking to one forces me to follow its path through the uncomfortable.