Until recently faith has been seen as the unverifiable field of religion and theology and somewhat outside the realm of science. Yet, in reality religion and science are both attempts to understand the world we live in and the universe it inhabits. Both seek to discover great truths about where we are and why we are here. Science tends to focus on how things are while religion seeks to focus on why things are. Both fields utilize human reason to interpret experiential observations and imagine new ways of understanding things. It is what one Scientist-Priest, John Polkinghorne, calls Binocular Vision, a Binocular World View, and one might even say a Binocular Faith.
Christians have affirmed for centuries a faith that God is the maker of “heaven and earth, all that is, seen and unseen.” Until early in the 2oth century it was believed that creation, the universe, was static. What could be seen by the naked eye and early telescopes was in place, set and in a sense finished. We just needed to apply Newtonian principles to mapping it and understanding how it all works.
Thanks Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble and others, however, the paradigm shifted – radically. Hubble suggested that the universe is still expanding. As this dynamic view of creation took hold several things emerged. First, there is now a sense that creation continues, is fluid, is evolving. As this view has taken hold it is now believed that 70% of the expanding universe is Dark Energy – dark only because we cannot see it, yet it can be measured in particular ways – which is somehow the foundation of expansion. Another 25% of the universe is Dark Matter – only dark because we cannot see it, but can measure the fact that it exerts gravitational forces upon nearby matter. This leaves only 5% of the known universe to consist of matter as we know it: rocks, trees, animals, people, stars, planets, galaxies – that which can be seen.
That is, 95% of the universe is “unseen” – an article of Christian faith since the third and fourth centuries. And it may be argued that this truth is also an article of scientific faith – faith that the observations and calculations that have led us to these understandings are correct – replacing scientific principles that also were once thought to be “the way things are”.
As religion and theology have evolved, once thought to be immutable aspects of the nature of God have been revised and replaced as well. Whereas once gods were thought to control and interfere in the lives of men and women – think Prometheus and Pandora for instance – the idea that a God creates us with free will emerged, placing us more in a partnership with God than as puppets on cosmic strings.
An early Christian writer once defined faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” Hebrews 11:1 Faith is grounded in hope and an understanding that much remains unseen. Whether one’s faith is that God uttered the word, “Light!” and suddenly there was light, or that in an instant nearly 14 billion years ago there was an explosion of light we call The Big Bang, in either case it remains an article of faith, and the source of the mutual hope of science and religion that we can and will continue to sort out how we came to be here and why we are here. Binocular faith, binocular vision, a binocular world view – religion and science have much to share as we ponder the vast unseen reaches of a creation that continues to unfold and in which we have become co-creators as a result of our scientific and religious pursuits.
And ponder this: my dear late friend and scientific mentor, Richard Chiroff, after years of contemplation concluded that Dark Energy is the Holy Spirit. I have been trying to get my head around that for several years and rapidly coming to believe he very well may be right. Amen.