The philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) famously said: “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.” Russell was a champion of humanitarianism and freedom of thought.
There’s much that Mr. Russell and I agree upon. But where we part company, is his belief that ‘religion is something left over from the infancy of intelligence’. For me reason and critical thinking need not be contrary to religious life. Even Russell for all his strong views towards religion considered himself an agnostic, ‘in that I cannot disprove the Christian concept of a divine being, just as I cannot disprove the reality of the mythical gods on Mount Olympus.’ Perhaps Mr. Russell has cracked open the door for a conversation.
A few semesters ago I served on a college panel on the topic of cosmology. My role was to offer a theological perspective. With me were professors representing chemistry, physics and biology. Each panelist spoke of creation with theories going back to the Big Bang, approx. 13. 8 billion years. Not holding to a literalist Biblical interpretation of the creation story, I had no problem listening to and accepting the science of my fellow panelists. One offered the provocative theory that there may have been a Big Bang before the Big Bang. New instruments had picked up energy waves suggesting a pre-Big Bang. Try to wrap your mind around that!
I am a ‘cosmological theist’, in that I believe/sense that great mystery called God, is in the midst of this ever-expanding cosmological study. The poetry in Genesis 1: 1, 2 reflects the awesome and humbling nature of the cosmos: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.’
The poet who wrote Genesis, reflects the truth that the most sensitive scientific instruments and most brilliant scientific minds, can only begin to glimpse the intricacy and grandeur of the cosmos. Photos from the Hubble telescope reinforce this sense of wonder.
The common ground between science and religion is a shared sense of awe, that which many call the mystical. The mystical refers to those ‘aha’ moments when we sense that we are part of something greater. Rather than being random we see the mystical at work in the delicate dance of molecules that hold life together rather than flying the cosmos apart.
Religion for all its human construction serves a purpose when it helps unite us to the mystery that transcends our imagination.
Bertrand Russell might suggest that mine ‘is an infant’ notion. Perhaps. Yet for me, an openness to that realm we call mystical/spiritual doesn’t limit but rather expands my mind, imagination and dare I say ‘my heart’, to embrace that which is greater than anything we can possibly imagine. In all humility all I can say is ‘Amen’.