I read an article in The Washington Post today that briefly touched on varying views about the Iceland volcano eruption and how some people prefer to let science explain the momentous event while others prefer to view it as nature/ revenge of nature/revenge of gods. The author wrote that some people she had talked to suddenly became scientists and could talk for hours about why the volcano erupted: the mechanics of tectonic plates, the properties of lava and lava flow, why the ash cloud is a big deal, etc. Whereas others she had spoken to have become “mystics,” as she put it. To quote the article: “Others have become mystics. A British friend sees this as ‘judgment for the bad things we have done to the Earth.’ Another thinks this is the beginning of many years of volcanic activity, thus heralding the end of civilization as we know it.”
It got me thinking about the intersection of science and paganism. We as pagans tend to honor and work with gods that sometimes personify human conditions (greed, deceit, love), or nature (wind, fire, rain), or natural occurrences (hurricanes, seasons, floods) or even gods that are the embodiment of natural landmarks (hills, mountains, glaciers, etc). But we also live in an age where science has an explanation for almost everything, and if there is no solid explanation then there are hundreds of theories that try to explain the world around us.
How do we integrate these two apparently separate beliefs? Science tells us that evolution is likely the explanation (granted, it is debatable in some circles) for humans, but our myths from almost every pantheon tend to support a divine hand in the creation of humanity, and many of us work with/honor divine beings of fertility and creation. It may seem like a convoluted question, but how do these two beliefs (if you believe in evolution, which I know some do not) coincide and work together? Can they work together, or must they remain separate entirely?
This is a question that is debated many times over in various other religious circles. I think it is definitely a pertinent question to paganism because much of science explains the natural world, which is a big part of most paths of paganism. Geology, seismology, meteorology, oceanography, zoology, etc., are just a few of the scientific disciplines that explain with science some of the things that we also believe through our beliefs. We know how earthquakes happen–scientifically, they are caused by a shifting of tectonic plates. But there are also earthquake gods: Poseidon, Neptune, Ru, and others.
I suppose the point of this is, science and paganism go together, but it’s a kind of strained, atypical relationship. It’s possible to believe in both science and religion, but the question then becomes how far do you take either one when integrating one with the other? Does science “win” more and dominate more of belief, or does religion/spirituality “win” more?