It's complicated

Fri Sep 30 18:44:00 2016

Category : Blog

Author : Mike

When I told someone the other day that I work on the relationship between science and religion, they looked slightly quizzical and asked, “Is there a relationship?”


Given how central the relationship between science and religion is to the Faith and Science Collaborative Research Forum, it seemed worth a blog post. But before I get into a topic as thorny as the relationship between science and religion, let me start with another relationship of which I have some experience. I actually spend quite some time working on the relationship between me and my wife. Given a cynic can look holy matrimony and ask “Is there a relationship?” it is worth considering some views people have of such a relationship.



I do shouting; she does silent. I would like to live my life free to be who I am; she would like me to put my socks in the washing basket. The person who wished to characterise marriage as conflict would not have to look too far for examples.

Some people go so far as to say that marriage does not simply involve conflict, but rather consists entirely of necessary and unending conflict: Even when I help my wife, it is simply another ploy in the age old struggle of the sexes, using any means necessary to get to what I ultimately want. Even when my wife thinks she is being kind to me, it is really a primal mechanism for her to ensure I do not leave, so that I help with the children, so her genes can continue. We are always and only at war.

Yeah. You can shoe-horn all experience into that template, I suppose, if you want. I’m sure you can write best-selling books about the war of the sexes. Conflict sells. But beyond its appeal to our visceral desire to see a good bust up, I find it hard to swallow as the totalising narrative of my marriage.



I work here; she works there. I have grand plans and visions; she knows what day of the week it is. That my wife and I are different is clear. And being different is not the same as being wrong: My wife is welcome to go shopping as much as she wants. As long as she does not expect me to join her.

Some people go as far as to say that, ultimately, guys and girls get on perfectly well provided they never have to interact. Separate but equal. There are fewer arguments if we are never in the same city.

And yet, again, I am not prepared to live like this. Even if there are no observable arguments, separation begets simmering resentments that could be dispelled with the slightest effort to discuss things and understand each other. More than that, sometimes I find interacting with my wife can be fun. Sometimes she is my complement, with the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.



Some fine and altruistic souls think that my wife and I should talk to each other. We live in the same house, eat from the same fridge, raise the same kids. While independence would mean she could buy soy milk and I could buy cow’s milk, dialogue lets her ask me to also pick up soy milk while I am out. While conflict would mean we fight over where to send the kids to school, dialogue lets us work together to find solutions.

Some people go so far as to say that marriage is all about dialogue. But, without wanting to seem contrary, sometimes it isn’t. I may be interested to learn how to better balance an op-amp circuit but my wife is most definitely not. She genuinely does not care, and is grateful if I do not waste her time by talking to her about it. And that is OK. How do I know she doesn’t care? We had as much dialogue as was needed to realise that, when it comes to electronics, dialogue is not needed.



Marriage is a profound mystery. Somehow two become one. What is mine is my wife’s, and what is my wife’s is mine. Two lives entwined. Marriage is the ultimate example of integration.

And yet, care is needed in understanding this. In an integrated marriage, I support my wife’s love of shopping by staying at home and looking after the kids while she is out. In many respects integration leads to heightening, not supression, of our distinctive qualities. (This being said, alas, my habit of leaving socks on the floor apparently cannot be integrated into a happy marriage.)


It’s complicated

It would be nice to find a single unifying concept to characterise a relationship. But, considering my marriage to my wife, it is not that simple. And the examples above do not tell the half of it: for better and for worse, I am not the man I used to be. For instance, I have learned a lot since I first got married: I have learned how to communicate with my wife in a more understanding way; and I have also learned that there are times I can ignore my wife and let her do her thing.

Moreover, there are seasons in life. We may have had fewer disagreements the week after we got married than the week before, but that does not mean all of the difficulties had gone away. It is part of the ebb and flow of how relationships work. Seasons change: an entire relationship cannot be judged only on a single event or even a single season. If last year was difficult, it does not mean that next year will be.

And all of this only considers one marriage. What about the two billion other marriages in the world? No two women are the same, and each guy has his own quirks. Many marriages have many similarities, but no two marriages are identical.

So we accept that the picture is complicated. Don’t get me wrong, we can make some general statements. (That’s half of what keeps social scientists employed.) But we must balance these against the realisation that every concrete situation is an exception. (That’s the other half what keeps social scientists employed.) And, hey, maybe some of the exceptions can shed some light on the rules.


All of this, then is a very long and roundabout way of saying that you should be careful about simple blanket statements like “If you get those two together it will be like Aunt Norma’s funeral all over again!” because, look, Aunt Norma’s funeral was… complicated. Pete was drunk. I was jet-lagged. Everyone was a little overwrought. Judith said some things she shouldn’t have. There were some misunderstandings. It wasn’t the best time. Anyway, we could all sit down and laugh about it afterwards. Except Cousin Nigel. I don’t think he’s gotten over it yet. Sorry, Cousin Nigel.


Science and Religion

This was supposed to be a blog about the relationship between science and religion, so I had better get back on topic.


I was recently told that “If you put science and religion together it will be like Galileo all over again!”


I’ll leave the reader to think about that.