This may come as a shock to you, but science has learned that the universe doesn't end at the tip of your nose like you thought it did. In fact, they've just discovered another solar system outside our own. How much do you want to bet that next week they'll discover a postmodern Publix there? And why not? They're everywhere else.
A 13 billion-year-old galaxy also was discovered, but what greeted the explorers on their return? A whiny headline: "Astronomers' discoveries don't solve big riddle: Is there a God?"
Criminy, there's no pleasing some people. What were they expecting? A really big shoe? A Social Security card, number 0? A sign that said, "Gone judgin'?" You rezone the universe and no one cares; they just want to play Where's Omnipotent Waldo? It's impossible to measure up to that kind of job criteria. "You didn't prove or disprove the existence of God today. What good are you?"
Actually it's kind of funny that astronomers were the ones expected to get a bead on God ... like he was last seen in the sky, so that's where they're looking. He's old -- maybe he just wandered off. He's probably in that other solar system, sitting on the Publix bench in a Guyabara shirt, bitching about how his son never visits.
It's also kind of funny that the debate about God's existence would be a scientific endeavor at all. But news publications have been talking about science and religion the way People might talk about Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston: "Astronomy and Theology -- they're engaged!" And the two have been caught in bed together a lot lately: Priests and physicists sit together on panels promoting "the interface of science and religion." Chairs in the convergence of the studies are established at Ivy League colleges. The pope concedes evolution is "more than just a hypothesis," and astronomer Allan Sandage says the Big Bang can be understood "only as a miracle." What the hell is going on here?
To understand why they're uniting, consider why they broke up in the first place. Religion and science used to be the same thing. Sorcerers and shamans talked with the spirits but also knew which herbs would heal. They prayed for help, but they read the directions.
After Christianity overtook the globe like Coca-Cola, all that changed. Suddenly things that came naturally -- like sex and curiosity -- led straight to hell. The study of nature threatened to unravel the mysteries religion relied on. So, like a man who doesn't want his wife to work because then she might not need him, the church said to science, "Quit or I'll leave you." Eventually science replied, "Don't let the door hit your sacred ass on the way out."
Since then the two have been bickering like Siskel and Ebert used to: "Two thumbs up for creationism? Gene, those plot holes are so big I could fit through them." "You're going to hell, Roger." Either that or they don't talk at all.
Being so used to seeing this bitter couple apart, seeing them together is weird and uncomfortable, like that time Sonny and Cher sang "I Got You, Babe," on "Letterman." But religion seems to have been just about cornered, almost Clintoned, into owning up to a thing or two. In the face of all the facts about evolution, literal creationism has as much credibility as, "I was holding it for a friend." When you're obviously wrong, trying to save face is the only way to lose it. It's more graceful to concede, if only on one battle.
And, ironically, the gains made by science seem to make people think God is more likely to be around than less so. Showing people how life works makes them so astonished at its complexity, they're convinced it must have help. Besides, we're so used to being let down that when anything works, it's a miracle. People think it's an act of God when they can get on AOL; the observable symmetry of a self-cleaning universe is almost overkill.
Maybe "miracle" and "God" are just words we need for things we can explain but not comprehend, a sort of sugar to make the facts absorbable. You could say, "Your pheromones cause me disorienting cardiorhythms," instead of saying, "I'm madly in love with you," but you don't. When we know the most ethereal things are actually concrete -- music is just math, love is just chemicals -- why shouldn't the most concrete things actually be abstract?
As long as religion doesn't get the deciding vote on what we're allowed to learn and science doesn't make cracks like "virgin birth, feh," why should there be just one winner? Balance always wills out, anyway. You can't have harmony with one note. And if you're playing all by yourself, it's harder to tell if you've gone flat.
That, too, might explain why that old couple seems to be sniffing around each other's back doors again. Each thought the other a stubborn, pushy pain in the ass, but at least their fights were kind of fun. Provided they're not trying to bring you to your knees, it's kind of nice to have someone keeping you on your toes.