December 2005

At a Magic Show


I recently attended an event featuring a magician as the “children’s program.” Most of the time he focused his attention on the children, even inviting them to participate in some of his tricks. In fact, all ages were captivated by his magic as well as his banter.

At some point though I started looking at the crowd and not at him That’s when I noticed that the children were carried away by the wow-ooh-ahh of it all, while the adults were in the how-did-he-do-that mode. Reflecting on this, I think that both reactions are desirable.

The children are representative of the part of us that lives in the moment, that sees wonder in nature, that doesn’t over-analyze, that feels, and that ultimately accepts that not everything can be explained in terms we can presently understand. In other words: Faith.

The adults are representative of the part of us that seeks understanding and ultimately control, that thinks and questions, that values science, process, proof and evidence. In other words: Science.

To me this demonstrates the Baha’i teachings about the inherent agreement between religion and science. Sadly, throughout history, there has been ample evidence of the conflict and disunity that can result from an imbalance between these two great principles.

Indeed, still in the world today there is widespread opinion that there is some basic opposition between science and religion, that scientific truth contradicts religion on some points, and that one must choose between being a religious person (a believer in God) or a scientist (a follower of reason).

It makes sense to me that if religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science, they are superstition and the result of imagination or unfounded ritual. The reverse is true as well, i.e. just because something can’t be proved or explained does not mean it is not true; that’s where faith comes into the picture.

As scientific enquiry advances so must our ideas be open to testing and to re-shaping. My personal caveat is that I do not need science to explain everything. Rather, I’d go so far as to say that “God” (or whatever name you may prefer) is intrinsically unknowable. This doesn’t scare or alarm me; I accept that as a given.

This doesn’t keep me from being curious about the nature of the Universe. For example, I want to know if there is life on another planet. I am also comforted that others with specific expertise are learning how to prevent floods in SE Asia, how to sanitize water in Africa, how to eradicate polio once and for all, and ever so much more. I don’t need to know everything myself, since we are all connected and increasingly taking a global approach to applying science to problems around the world.

Similarly, I don’t need to know how the magician made the rings inter-lock, how the card jumped from one child’s hand to another, or even how the rabbit fit into his hat and later turned into a dove. I can enjoy the show and join the children in the wonder of it all.


© Jaellayna Palmer 2005