Friday, Jan 24, 2020. As modern scientists we are trained to be very careful about reality. The basic point of science is to try to find the truth about facts. We try to understand. We try to find the rules and laws which govern some phenomenon. We try to understand what happens and why it happens. We try to gain insight. And we try to find ways to influence and use the phenomena and facts we find.
Science has these two main target points: insight and know-how. Insight tries to understand. Know-How tries to find methods to use and employ the knowledge. Where do we see spiritual questions in this framework? How to deal with faith, with ethics and with the reality of God? Let us think deeper …
Physical and Spiritual Investigation …
Clearly our brain is part of this world. Our eyes, our ears, our hands, … the whole body with its senses. We try to explore the world as a part of the world. It is fascinating that we find laws within this world. Laws tell us how things usually happen. Today we describe the physical or chemical world by mathematical laws, by differential equations and variational principles. These equations model how things evolve, they give us the laws of behavior. Most parts of this world seem to follow differential equations - from macroscopic phenomena such as the climate of the planet to the microscopic world with atoms and photons and nuclear particles.
We first remark that our ethics is outside of our physical investigations. The laws of this world do not tell us how we should act. They give us a framework of the type “if you want to reach this goal, than that action can lead to the desired result”. But it does not provide an answer to the question what goals to choose.
Further, the physical world does not tell us anything about values. Values are set by humans. We give a value to something or someone. Value is a concept which needs an active mind with thoughts and emotions.
Third, our natural sciences try to investigate nature and its inhabitants. It does not investigate the spiritual dimension. The humanities investigate the human mind, culture, language and ethical questions. They describe the concept. Beyond that, religious studies tries to investigate the way humans deal with the spiritual world. They investigate the belief in spirits, in gods and in the one God of the monotheistic religions.
It is difficult to investigate spirits directly. Usually, we can only investigate them by the response and actions of humans, which we observe. If you go to a Japanese temple, you can discuss and observe the behavior of the people. But it is difficult to judge whether there is a spiritual being involved in the processes of the temple. We cannot see it. We cannot touch it. We cannot hear it. Is it there? Does it exist? What we can definitely say is that people act as if it exists. It is part of their life, their actions, their life perspective.
Biblical Position …
There are very basic difficulties in dealing with the spiritual world. Humans seem to be a part of it, in the sense that humans are spiritual beings. There seem to be people gifted to sense spiritual phenomena, some more than others, as it is with all human talent, which is widely and diversely distributed. But beyond the human mind it seems to be difficult to pin down the direct effect of the spiritual world.
What is the cause of it? Is it impossible that the spiritual world and the physical world as we know it interact? No, I do not say that. But I say that we have difficulties of proving the concept in the same way as we prove other scientific concepts. What can be the reason? To some extent this seems to be the effect of living beings. If you would not be able to observe, touch or hear some being, you would only be able to investigate it if it causes effects in a repeatedly observable way. If it changes its behavior, if it even hides itself from you, you will not be able to do much.
There are further points which complicate the relationship between the spiritual world and the human world. Let us have a look into the words of the prophet Isaiah, talking about the separation of God and mankind:
1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; 2 but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. (Isaiah 59, 1-2)
Even if God is able to do what he wants, if he is the Lord, the most influential power of the universe, if he hides himself, you will not be able to find him. You will not be able to detect him. All your observations will go vain. He can play the cat-and-mouse game with us, but we have no chance of ever catching him.
Does that mean we should give up, as many scientists have given up today? No, we should not give up. We should play the game in a reasonable way. The only reasonable step here is to address God in a proper way, to get him to answer us. And he has promised to be open to that. When we come to him in an appropriate way. It is a personal way. It is a way which starts to realize who he is and what he is. His holiness and his justice are a constitutive part of this process. There is much to learn and to explore here, for scientists, and everyone else as well. (Roland Potthast)
This is part of the trilogy project “Faith of a Scientist”.