October 17th, 2013

A Scientist’s Struggle with Faith and Science

By Danielle Miranda

"Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual...The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both."
– Carl Sagan

Close to 100 scientists and religious community members gathered in Geffen Auditorium this past Monday night to hear evidence from Dr. Fazale “Fuz” Rana describing the logical intimacy of science and religion. Listeners embraced the challenge of identifying their own beliefs and were encouraged to evaluate the framework through which they orientate their lives. Although I cannot do justice to the complexity of arguments in this summary, I hope to mirror the theme of the presentation and challenge all readers with the question, “Are science and religion mutually exclusive?” Intentionally, many of us have discrete answers arising from years of experience reconciling each space. However, I ask you to read the first sentence of this post again and consider your reflexive interpretation of the phrase “scientists and religious community members.” Did you originally perceive this to describe unique individuals in attendance with competing viewpoints, people who identify singularly with science or religion yet inform their worldview with the other, or a single group of people unified in their beliefs. I believe our response is indicative of our current perspective. Much like being a “father and husband” does not preclude one from the other, Dr. Rana proposes being a scientist and believer are entirely complementary foundations granted by God.

Dr. Fazale Rana discovered the world of chemistry and biology while in the PreMed program at West Virginia State College (now University).  As a presidential scholar there, he earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry with highest honors.  He completed a PhD in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry at Ohio University, where he twice won the Donald Clippinger Research Award.  He continued his postdoctoral studies at the Universities of Virginia and Georgia and then worked seven years as a senior scientist in product development for Procter & Gamble. During the talk, Dr. Rana spent little time describing his road to religious conversion, personal worldview, and justification for being an authority on the topic. This was mostly intentional, as his travels across the country serve to demonstrate one perspective where science and religion appear entirely compatible, not to create a roadmap for coming to faith or science. That journey must be worked out individually.

Dr. Rana did discuss a variety of arguments highlighting God’s fingerprints within scientific evidence. Cosmological and teleological foundations were outlined to establish the cause and purpose of creation. Next, Dr. Rana described his own work and the biologic and chemical complexity arising in human creation that mimics complexity in our own physiology. Similarly, much of his current work explores origin of life hypotheses to describe early existence. Lastly, the concept of human exceptionalism was presented, allowing for the reconciliation of biological explanations and the sanctity of the human experience. I apologize for skipping over the meat of the talk and concede these topics are too large to summarize appropriately here (video available for those interested.) However, those hoping for a purely didactic explanation of science and creationism may have missed the point of the talk, and potentially walked away unsatisfied.

This dissatisfaction is a call to self-exploration. As a man of faith, and as a scientist, I feel the most complete picture of creation involves exploring the scientific evidence supporting God’s design. As humans, we are naturally drawn to narratives within novels, movies, and daily life. The thread of our own narrative yearns to be satisfied, to have resolution, and begs to be coherent. I realize this most fully in the place where faith and science intersect personally, within the self. Each of us is governed by the law of nature (physical laws governing the world) and the Law of Nature, what C.S Lewis describes as “a law above and beyond the actual facts which we observe.” Scientific observation of my life would reveal a great deal about my instincts, temperament, and disposition. However, would that be sufficient in describing who I am? I contend not. Something is missing from the story describing the will behind my behavior. In much the same way, I believe faith and science interact to reveal the moral and expressive qualities of our creator. Dr. Rana shares pieces of the journey that fit in this greater story and restores the missing pages within our lives. Although many pages remain blank, even for myself, I find peace in the understanding that they come from the same book, from a single author.

Tyler Koep
Mayo Clinic Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCaTS) Ph.D. candidate

"From religion comes a man's purpose; from science, his power to achieve it. Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hands are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped."
- Sir William Bragg

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