Science or art? On its face, this question presents a false choice. Science and art belong to two separate realms. Both express deep truths about existence, but in very different ways. Science uses the symbolic form of mathematical equations to describe the mechanics of reality. Art uses paint, the written word, film and sculpture to depict the human condition and our relationship to the world around us. The scientific method is a rigorous “left-brain” activity. Art taps into our deepest emotions; its creation comes from a “right-brain” intuitive perception, writes Jeffrey Small, author of “The Breath of God” in HuffPost.
At the same time, these realms can overlap. The sciences of color theory and perspective have influenced artists for centuries. New technologies, like photography and computer graphics, have spawned new artistic mediums. On the other hand, many of our greatest scientific discoveries were conceived through sparks of creative insight. Astronomers and physicists often use terms like awe and beauty to describe the universe.
If we change the question to science versus religion, however, people flock to either side of the debate. Some religious fundamentalists close their eyes to the scientific laws that make our 21st century lives possible. Some scientific atheists “look down their noses at those who hold religious beliefs as simpletons belonging to a different age.”
The core problem in this debate stems from both sides overstretching their perspectives. A religious worldview that denies scientific knowledge will ultimately be doomed to irrelevancy. A scientific worldview without a larger philosophical, metaphysical or religious system in which to anchor itself strands “one like a shipwreck survivor adrift in an ocean of meaninglessness.” Neither science nor religion, on their own, can hold all of the answers to existence, but maybe together they can complement and strengthen each other, notes Jeffrey Small.
Without the laws of physics, chemistry and biology, we wouldn’t have cell phones, the Internet, cars, air conditioning or medicine. Our life expectancy has doubled in the last two centuries because of the advancement in our scientific knowledge.
Science excels at explaining the mechanics of how our universe works. In centuries past, humans filled in the gaps in their scientific knowledge with supernatural explanations: The sun moved across the sky because the earth was the center of the universe and Apollo pulled it in his chariot. Storms were vengeance from the Gods who lived above. Humanity came into existence because a God formed us out of clay. Mental illness was seen as demonic possession.
But as good as science is at explaining the how and the what of existence, it falls short with the why and the shoulder. Science better describes mechanics than it does meaning. It still cannot answer the question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” “Why am I here?”That realm belongs to religion.
Christmas is the feast of celebrating the closeness between humans and God, between the worldly and the spiritual, between science and religion. They are distinct, but they can enrich each other! There is a common ground between them.