Question with boldness even the existence of god: because if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blind-folded fear. - Thomas Jefferson
Science was my first love. I loved science for as long as I can remember. I loved science when I was a little girl watching a line of ants marching with crumbs from my peanut butter sandwich. I loved science while sitting at my window watching the moon, and if we were in a place without the NY light-pollution, I would marvel at the myriads of stars. I have to give credit to my mother for this. She was the one who introduced me to my first love. We would sit at night with some milk and cookies and she would explain to me how a seed can grow into a plant, and how sailors can navigate using just the stars. Later the cookies and milk were replaced by coffee and the discussions turned to genetics and geology.
Unfortunately the chassidic education isn't particularly known for their high caliber of scientific teachings. Love can withstand all challenges though, and this one did too. I got my hands on any book related to biology, ecology, astronomy..., I drank the information thirstily. I remember when we got our first laptop in my parents home (internet free obviously), it had the Encyclopedia Britannica installed. I would spend hours under my covers getting lost in long labyrinths of information. If I didn't understand one word I would find its encyclopedia page, which would in turn lead me to more unfamiliar pages. Some of the information was way past my comprehension, but just the manner in which such complex concepts can be answered was so thrilling; it transformed a vast and at times frightening world into a fascinating systematic universe.
After graduating high school, I knew that I must continue my studies. I enrolled in a college program, one my parents approved of. The education was definitely a step up from high school, but did not offer a very comprehensive program. Most professors expressed surprise when they realized that this chassidic girl, who they would expect to be clueless, actually was at the top of her class. I conveniently withheld that I already read through all topics on their syllabus as a teenager. I got married shortly afterwards, and with my newfound independence I transferred to a secular college with a proper biology program.
Now if you remember from my last post, it was a while after I got married that I rejected the religious outlook on the universe. Being in a secular environment definitely broadened my perspective, but it didn't weaken my resolve, I came in with an attitude that my emunah is infallible. Science and I go way back, and religion never came between us. In fact I had created an environment where religion and science can co-exist perfectly. I had answers to all apparent discrepancies. I either found a plausible scientific explanation for it, or relied on an important caveat in my belief structure. Which was that I still believed in miracles. One of my favorite quotes is one by C.S. Lewis; "“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see." This quote fits so perfectly with both my old view and the new one. Its intended message told me that miracles are a very valid way of explaining observable discrepancies because we just aren't capable of seeing the complete picture. It is like the tiresome creationist argument that says "an ant will never be capable of understanding how a human machine works". But the unintended context is so much more valuable to my new outlook. We create miracles when we just don't want to see the alternative answer.
As a side note: I think that this is important when considering debating creationists or religious apologists. We think our rationale and oh-so-attractive facts can sway their thoughts, but when one believes in miracles or the supernatural, then you are bringing kryptonite to a fight with Batman. It is a very effective tool, but the wrong one for this particular enemy. When I ask myself how it was possible for me to hold such strong contradictory beliefs, this duality was the reason why I was able to hold onto my emunah even in an evolutionary biology lecture. I even wrote a paper entitled Scientific counter-argument for evolutionary changes in biological process. I got up in front of my evolutionary biology professor and classmates and presented a paper against evolution. That is how confident I was in the accuracy of my beliefs.
Oh well, as you know that didn't last too long. The science was there, the information was there and without a complete different component to shake my comfortable belief system, It would have stayed in that stage for a while longer. In chemistry even spontaneous reactions, reactions that would happen on its own, sometimes need a catalyst. A catalyst will lower the activation energy or get the reaction done in a different chemical pathway. Emotion was my catalyst. A very difficult winter brought along struggles and sorrow. I watched people close to me suffer, people who were the epitome of goodness, and I started getting angry.
As with tragedy, people repeated the lines that the religious find comforting: "Hashem knows best", "We do not understand his ways", "She is in a better place now"... I thought about these supposedly comforting lines, and they didn't sit well with me. Over the next few weeks I recognized the ridiculousness in being comforted by the idea that god, even when he seriously screws up, is still compassionate and loving. I rejected the bifurcated fallacy in believing that god is great so anything he does that seems sadistic must be because we can't understand him.
Anger led to a new way of looking at old information. I no longer felt required to make religion reconcile with science. I looked at my science in a new way, without the requisite faith. I now saw a world where 99% of all "created" species were extinct, a world with a geological structure which very obviously underwent millions and millions of years of evolution, and a universe with earth very much not as its center. I realized how religion tainted my beloved science. How it took so much of it value and just tried to conceal it under a mystical, supernatural veil. How instead of allowing me to recognize that illnesses and natural tragedy is just a natural and sensible part of the universe we live in, it would try to make me feel better by saying there’s an undefinable god behind it and I will understand it later. It teased me with promised answers, all the while hiding the answers that I can clearly understand presently.
Now in the rare occurrences when my mother and I get into a scientific conversation things have changed. Take the time when I had just finished mapping the neuronal pathways of a thought in our frontal cortex, I am at a point of near euphoria over the sheer brilliance and complexity, and she says " Wow, מה רבו מעשיך ה (how wondrous is god's work) ". Blippoty blog, all excitement gone. It seems perhaps a bit extreme, but with that statement she essentially is ruining the authenticity of the natural world. The beauty of science is in its entirety, its beginning, and every aspect of its persistence and complex development. The beauty is in the highs like the ever-expanding universe, a herd of elephants across the African Safari at sunset, and the genetics in embryological development . But the beauty is also in the lows like an entire species being wiped out by a change in temperature, a lamb being devoured by a lion, and genetic mutations in malignant neoplasm. Cancer, as sad of an entity it is, needs to be appreciated for its science just as much as a cure for it will be. That is the element that religion takes that away. Religion removes that element of unstoppable rawness that makes me quiver. Religion tells us that you don't have the see these raw emotional moments in science because "Hashem knows best", "We do not understand his ways", "She is in a better place now". For that I can not forgive it, nor will I continue to allow it to hang around with my first and true love- Science.
Never Be Told!