This is my column in today’s Greenville News.
I hope you enjoy it.
This has been a terrible summer in many ways. A time of loss from
fires in Colorado. Continued sporadic deaths of US combat troops have
broken hearts at home. The shooter in Aurora, Colorado left us
stunned, wondering about both mental health and evil. And even in my
quiet Oconee County, the death angel has hovered, leaving us with
drownings, shootings, car accidents and every assorted misery.
Loss and suffering are ubiquitous. I spend a lot of time talking to
my kids about how to make sense of things; and it isn’t easy. I don’t
always have good answers. Unfortunately, life will illustrate to
them that trouble is a fraternity (or sorority if you like) whose
membership qualifications are wide-open; everyone ‘rushes’ it
Of course, the good thing about trouble is that it often makes us
mere humans rise to greater heights. In the face of suffering, we
rail against it. From every political and cultural stripe, we are
wounded by the wounds of others. Our techniques and ideas may differ,
but we want to stop tragic calls in the night, painful diagnoses,
crimes, funerals, wars and all the rest.
Enter science. With science, we have a weapon to level against our
difficulties. With science we can at least delay our inevitable
deaths. We can ease the pain of disease. We can give function to the
paralyzed; hope to the dying and their families. With science we can
sometimes predict natural disasters and man-made acts of terror, and
either stop or mitigate them. With science we can have more food,
better food, cleaner water and safer homes.
With our capacity for reason and science, we can stare into the face
of so much pain and say ‘I reject inevitability!’
However, one thing that science hasn’t yet done is find a way to ease
the heartbreak of, or give meaning to, the loss that plagues us.
Science is behind the curve, as it were. One day it may break
through. Science might reanimate the dead after much longer periods
of time. Already there are discussions of ‘uploading consciousness,’
that is, taking our ‘selves’ and saving them to computers so that we
live on after physical death. Perhaps science will allow us to travel
through dimensions, or time, to places where we are happiest. Or will
simply learn to erase the pain from our memories; an idea that is not
entirely agreeable to me, since our painful memories are still
All of this is guess-work. Suffering is not. It persists and
descends all too frequently. This is one very important role of our
religious faith. Although religion sometimes meets with anger and
opposition over social issues, in drama real or contrived, it is (like
science) a way of seeking truth and giving meaning to phenomena.
Faith gives us a framework in which to view loss, and a canvas on
which to place our hope. Faith eases our thumping hearts and soothes
our frantic minds. It helps us to be kind in trial, to be hopeful and
patient in loss, to be forgiven and forgiving and to be loving in the
midst of anger. It gives many of us a reason an answer to life’s
While science moves us forward, faith has a critical role, if only
for believers. It gives those of us with faith even more impetus to
strive. It encourages us to make this life brighter, and more
wondrous, for ourselves and others; even as we hope for the next.
In a very real way, science and faith are exactly hand-in-hand.
Faith gives us a vision of better things. Faith talks about endless
life; science prolongs life. Faith teaches us to comfort the sick and
dying; faith gives us tools to do so. Faith tells us to feed the
hungry; science allows it to be done more effectively. Faith tells us
that things are not always what they appear; science sometimes lifts
the curtain to see things as they are, even as it always postulates
(just like faith) about what may yet be possible.
There is no need for any combat between either side. South Carolina
illustrates this perfectly, as our citizens populate high tech
industries, cutting edge universities, and practice faiths of every
sort. Theist, agnostic or atheist, we all have similar dreams and
visions. And we ought all to work together to make a better future
for our children. And to give them the means to both understand, and
transform, the world and their own lives.
FYI: Here’s a link to a website detailing famous scientists who were theists.