January Blog Highlights: “Science and Faith in the Everyday”
This month, our featured blogs both looked at how science can play a part in our daily Christian lives, whether it be informing how we can be stewards in our communities or enhancing our awe of God and creation.
In his three part series “Harmonizing Science, Ethics, and Praxis”, scientist, writer, and conservationist Calvin DeWitt offers a three-cornered model for how we can use our understanding of science and faith to make the world a better place. According to his model, science asks the question, “How does the world work?”; ethics asks, “What is right?”; and praxis asks, “What then must we do?”
What happens when science and ethics aren’t informed by praxis? DeWitt tells the story of Palm Desert, a town built on top of the desert near Palm Springs. What began as an exciting case of man overcoming the trials of nature soon turned into a disaster as the shifting sands began to crack the foundations of homes and cover the streets so heavily that plows were needs.
As DeWitt writes:
It was a startling illustration of how human knowledge about how the world works (science) and about what ought to be (ethics) had had little effect on the decision of the people who settled in these desert dunes (praxis). The dune levelers had transformed dirt-cheap land into high-priced lots. Presumably the human settlers to whom the developers sold knew nothing of shifting dunes or alluvial fans; neither did anyone tell them of their precarious situation. The “developed” landscape, as I beheld it, was a silent testimony to the cultured ignorance of these well-intentioned home buyers and to the arrogance and greed of those who enticed them to buy. Living there, they knew next to nothing of the “there” where they lived, the desert and dunes. Their praxis was divorced from desert knowledge (science) and desert wisdom (ethics).
Only by consider ethics, science, and praxis together can we, as DeWitt states it, “put it all together”.
In her post “Awe in Science,” Ruth Bancewicz, a Research Associate at the Faraday Institute, highlights the importance of moments of “awe” as a driving factor for many professional scientists, and how that awe can connect their experiences with those of everyday Christians.
Awe is an important part of the experience of science – one could almost say it’s a universal. When a scientist feels awe it is usually in response to something complex, precise, ordered, powerful or beautiful. There is an element of unexpectedness and delight, maybe even respect, fear or reverence. Awe always involves the need for some sort of mental adjustment or accommodation: we need to make room in our internal map of the world for this new and amazing experience.
Some people were surprised that a recent study on the beliefs of scientists in the US by Elaine Howard Ecklund found that 20% of the scientists interviewed considered themselves spiritual even though they did not affiliate with a religious group. However, as Bancewicz notes, the shared experience of “awe” among scientists may explain this sense that there is something greater.
For a Christian, these moments of awe in science make sense. That is not to say that what we see in science is proof of God, but rather that such moments of awe are exactly what we would expect of God: “In the context of faith, science increases my sense of awe and wonder and helps me to worship God in a more genuine way.”