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In Theory: Balancing science, religion

September 22, 2010

According to physicist Stephen Hawking, theology is unnecessary when it comes to explaining the origins of the universe. "God may exist, but science can explain the universe without the need for a creator," Hawking said on "Larry King Live." He goes on to say: "Science can explain the universe, and that we don't need God to explain why there is something rather than nothing, or why the laws of nature are what they are." Does Hawking's statement anger you? How do you, as a person of faith, balance theology and science when speaking about the origins of existence? Are religious responsible for knowing both sides of the creation equation?

Science doesn't anger me. My faith is not threatened by it. Anglicanism has always seen human reason as a perfectly valid source of authority, along with scripture and church tradition. Still, Stephen Hawking's statement does highlight a shift, if not a crisis in theology, among thoughtful Christians.

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The Nicene Creed, which I say every Sunday, begins: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen." Yet, just as I do not understand God to be a literal father, a gendered anthropomorphic being, so I do not understand God to be the literal creator of the universe, in a hands-on, clay-molding way ("Here's the sun — Ta da!"). So, if you get right down to it, I'm saying "I believe" something I don't literally believe.

I can always reconcile faith and science by saying that the Big Bang was God's idea. Or that it's because of God's goodness that gravity and quantum theory should so magnificently structure the universe. I call this the "turtles, all the way down" answer — a phrase popularized by Hawking himself. We can choose to find God, find grace, in the subflooring of scientific theory.

But I am more likely to reconcile faith and science by mysticism. Some look at the beauty of nature and say, "Surely there must be a God, who created all this." I look at the same beauty and say, "Ah yes, God is beauty, and here is an icon of it, for me to enjoy. Here is nature, to escort me into and help me bask in the beauty and peace which is God. I don't need for God to have caused nature; I just know that nature helps me find God."

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