Last week I closed the pages to the first Marilynne Robinson book I’ve ever read, Gilead.
The Statement is The Michigan Daily’s weekly news magazine, distributed every Wednesday during the academic year.
This book is highly religious, philosophical and spiritual but primarily a reflective and meditative book. Its narrator is a seventy-six year old Congregationalist pastor living in the town of Gilead, Iowa in the 1950s. He is writing a letter to his seven-year-old son reflecting on his life as he is dying from coronary heart disease.
Robinson herself was raised Presbyterian but later became Congregationalist and believes strongly in the theology of John Calvin, as she has stated in many interviews.
At first I resisted the book, expecting the narrator to shove religious beliefs down the reader’s throats. But quickly, I began to realize the genius behind Robinson’s characters. They evaluated universal struggles and put a spiritual and self-reflective perspective to problem solving. They were not aggressive, overbearing or all-knowing.
In an interview on The Daily Show with John Stewart, Robinson discusses the similarities between science and religion, a topic she centers around in her book Absence of the Mind.
I so often absorbed and did not question this idea that there is science and then there is religion, and the two are pitted against each other. Robinson argues differently, that the discrepancies are not so black and white.
“I think that people on side of the argument have declared the authority of science but they have not construed an argument that actually satisfied the standards of science,” Robinson said.
In a recent online TED discussion, one commenter, Richard Krooman, argued that people confuse science as fact, when in reality even if you can measure a concept that does not mean you fully understand it.
“The foundation of science, however, is that we believe what we perceive and we assume that when our description of it is correct the physics behind it is too,” Krooman wrote. “We must never forget that all we (scientists) do is describe the events in such a way that our math explanation of it can insanely closely (up to the point where we have full belief in it) show what will happen.”
When considering this nuance of science, I have come to realize science is making an argument that discounts faith, but in reality, much like religion, science relies in faith.
For example, I think of the natural phenomenon of gravity. Though there are equations that prove this scientific concept, it would be hard to believe gravity existed if you didn’t experience being held down to the ground you are walking on each day.
This is the same for religious experiences. You may not believe in God or a higher guiding spirit until you are in a position in life where you are tested, struggle, and experience the support. Without this tangible experience, you would not have faith.
Science is a system of explaining why things happen in the world and so, in a way, science is its own religious sect.
Religion breaks through and expands human’s understandings of the world, just as science does. Religion pushes at the barriers of human language, just as science does. Religion has been created from and is limited by the human mind, just as science has.
In our society, political groups have alienated religion and science into two separate lines of thinking, but this division is not always necessary. Religion and science should work together to better understand each other and the reasons explaining our complicated world.