Science, Fiction, and Religion: An Intersection
September 11, 2015 § 1 Comment
“The more I study science, the more I believe in G-d.” –Albert Einstein
I’ve never considered myself a wholly religious individual. Drawn by the cultural gatherings, the plentiful food, and the good company of my temple community, I often found myself in synagogue, surrounded by others who believed in the power of one true G-d. This “Adonai” did not intersect with my mechanical and systematic understanding of the world around me. Everything had a cause and effect; science and mathematics were at the core of everything and could explain any given phenomenon.
For me, religion and science were always at odds. The Torah had moralizing stories that expressed inherent values, but they lacked fundamental explanations. To me, they seemed fake; they weren’t real. They were fictional.
One week, my Rabbi gave a sermon focusing the life of Abraham, the central character in the Book of Genesis. He discussed Abraham’s belief in a “central force of the cosmos,” which was combined of all other forces; this, many religious scholars postulated, was similar to the “theory of everything” (no, not the Academy Award-winning film—the actual, scientific theory).
I (surprise, surprise) had never heard of this theory or of this belief of the biblical figure, but a curiosity began to take hold. What, I wondered, is the real connection between this story and this theory of the universe.
And, based on extremely preliminary research and only a basic understanding of the scientific explanation, I found that my Rabbi’s thesis pretty much checked out. The theory of everything, though not actually solved yet, hinges on the idea that “all the fundamental physical forces in our universe” are connected. The casual, throwaway opinion of Abraham went beyond religious discourse; it encompassed the philosophical and scientific realms, as well. What I had thought to be simply dialogue by a character in an old story held more weight than I’d anticipated. Here was a real possible explanation for the way our universe works, in a text that many consider to be fictional. Regardless of individual beliefs, I had to think that this couldn’t have been a coincidence.
We use science to explain our world, and we use stories to process it. Fact and fiction, storytelling and reality, don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Maybe these religious texts, in a way, are like the entertaining tales of the science fiction genre. Perhaps the boundaries of what is considered “science fiction” can be loosened; after all, science permeates our stories as much as it does our lives. And in both classic sci-fi works and certain religious texts, we find similar things: the unexplained explained, stories rooted in humanity that branch into the unknown.
No, I wouldn’t say that my personal beliefs have shifted since this short-lived research endeavor. I do, however, find in myself a deeper and more pronounced appreciation regarding the interconnectedness of our world: both the literal connections (the “forces of the cosmos”) and the theoretical (scientific reality and fiction).