Yes, you can believe in both religion and science at same time, author Dan discovers

THE question "is science compatible with religion?" has been raging for at least 400 years. But science journalist and author Dan Falk reckons the question we should be asking ourselves is: Is religion compatible with religion?

"You turn on the television and the conflicts are all between different factions of religion," said the 42-year-old Canadian.

"I recently met the priests who worked at the Vatican observatory - these are men with a devout faith. They have reconciled science and religion, but in their own way.

"It is a difficult kind of reconciliation.

"I asked one of them if they believed in the virgin birth and the Resurrection and they still do.

"It sounds like a problem and against the methods of science, but these men of religion are top-notch scientists, too."

Dan's latest book In Search of Time: Journeys Along a Curious Dimension sees him set off a journey in pursuit of the enigma of time.

His quest takes him from the ancient observatories of Stone Age Ireland and England to the atomic clocks of the US Naval Observatory.

Dan explained: "Our brains seemed to be wired to remembering certain dates.

"Time is involved in the ultimate long-term fate of the universe - a lot of it is to do with eschatology (a part of theology and philosophy concerned with what is believed to be the final events in the history of the world).

"Scientifically, the universe will keep on expanding and become darker and cooler.

"To describe when the universe will end, I can only say it is 10 to the power of 100 years - it is that long.

"The underlying psychology behind the 'end of the world' is a question that fascinates us.

"Every culture has a story about creation and how it is all going to end."

Born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Lilian and Michael Falk - Polish child survivors of the Holocaust - Dan did not have a particularly observant upbringing, but went to shul on the "important" High Holy Days.

The Holocaust was rarely mentioned at home.

He recalled: "The subject did not come up a lot.

"My parents did take part in Steven Spielberg's Shoah project a few years ago and that was a powerful experience for them."

He added that there were only two synagogues in Halifax, but little antisemitism.

His interest in science began at a young age.

Dan, who lives in Toronto, said: "There were always astronomy books lying around the house.

"When I was young I found a children's book called Know The Stars by H A Rey, of Curious George fame.

"It was a wonderful book.

"And when I was 14, I made my parents buy me a telescope. I clearly remember it was an Edmund Astrocan with a four-inch diameter mirror.

"I used to invite people on to the roof to show them the rings of Saturn and other stars.

"I am not an excitable person, but I loved showing them to people who had never seen them before."

Dan went on to read physics at Dalhousie University in his home town and then journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto.

A regular contributor to Canadian newspapers the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, his first book, The Universe on a T-Shirt: The Quest for the Theory of Everything, won the 2002 Science in Society Journalism Award from the Canadian Science Writers' Association.

Dan admits faith is independent of science and is scathing of the powerful creationist movement in America.

He explained: "To be a creationist is to have a wilful ignorance.

"They have a big resistance to Charles Darwin's theories in America - it is as if they think that Darwin was saying we were created from bad creatures rather than God 6,000 years ago.

"But the evidence is overwhelming - it is a preponderance of evidence.

"Some conservative religious believers who are dismayed about evolution are upset to hear what liberal theologians think.

"A lot of people who have a belief in God have a laissez faire attitude towards it."

However, Dan said he could see the creationist's point of view.

"Hundreds of years ago it was reasonable to accept that people thought the universe was only a few thousand years old," he said.

"But we can now date rocks that are hundreds of millions of years old and I would estimate the universe is around 13.7 million years old.

"The problem is that the creationists think that if our cousins are chimpanzees and apes, then we will act like them - it is a moral thing for them.

"They do not want to know about Darwin or the Big Bang, but I am not embarrassed to be part of the animal kingdom."

Dan says that he does not believe in a traditional God: "I am a fan of (author) Richard Dawkins - he hits the nail on the head and his arguments are viable".

But despite not growing up overly-observant, his parents have started to attend synagogue more in the past few years.

Dan added: "Politically, my parents are extremely liberal and my mom has expressed her doubts about Israel's position in the West Bank.

"I went to Israel twice when I was young and I would just like to see a peaceful solution.

"I do not agree with everything the Israeli government does."

Unfortunately he recently encountered anti-Zionism in Italy while researching for his next project - a book on the 17th- century Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei.

"I saw anti-Zionism graffiti everywhere I went in Italy, even daubed on a shul in Padova," he recalled.

As 2009 is the fourth centenary of Galileo's first recorded astronomical observations with the telescope, the United Nations has scheduled it to be the International Year of Astronomy.

Galileo's belief in heliocentrism - the theory that the sun is at the centre of the universe - caused fury in the Roman Catholic Church and he was found a suspect of heresy.

Dan said: "He was treated quite horribly by Pope Urban XIII.

"There was an apology from the Vatican in 1992, but I do not think they have done enough in admitting to their own role."

One area of his new book that Dan had fun writing about was time travel.

"I tackle the subject thoroughly in the last chapter of the book," he said. "Time travel into the future is not controversial, although it is not like turning a dial on a time machine like in Back to the Future.

"I explore the paradoxes of time travel, although I am sceptical. Professor Stephen Hawking has argued that it is impossible, but what is it in the laws of physics that makes it not possible?"

Dan concedes that religion will always exist, but at its best "had inspired great works of art".

"Religion comes with many, many dangers," he summed up.

In Search of Time: Journeys Along a Curious Dimension, published by the National Maritime Museum, was released last week, priced 14.99.

© 2009 Jewish Telegraph