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TEXAS FAITH: Why should science talk to religion?

  3:04 PM Tue, Aug 18, 2009 | Permalink | Yahoo! Buzz

Rod Dreher/Columnist     Bio |   E-mail  |  News tips 


I spent two months this summer as a Templeton Foundation journalism fellow in science and religion, attending Cambridge University seminars on various aspects of the dialogue, historical and contemporary, between science and religion. It was surprising for me to discover that the perception that the two are oil and water is fairly recent. Indeed, I met this summer on the program robust atheist scientists and academics, but also believers from Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism.


All thinking religious believers of whatever tradition understand that religion has to engage science in a serious way. There's no serious debate over that. But there is a serious discussion among scientists as to what, if anything, science ought to be saying to religion. Some, like the famed biologist Richard Dawkins, argue more or less that the only meaningful thing science has to say to religion is, "Sit down and shut up." But there are many others who are more open, but wary.


So, here's this week's question of the week for our panelists:


How would you make a case for mutual engagement between science and religion?strong>


Answers below the jump:


KATIE SHERROD, Episcopal lay activist, Diocese of Fort Worth:


Nowhere is the conversation between science and religion more important than at the intersection of what science teaches us we can do with what we know and what religion teaches us we should do with what we know.

When we separate science and religion we are left with two of the most frightening images in our modern world--that of a scientist operating without any moral anchor and that of a religious leader operating without any respect for scientific revelations. Both can do immense and long lasting harm to innocent people.


We shudder today at the infamous Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, a clinical study done by the U.S. Public Health Service between 1932 and 1972 in which 399 poor black sharecroppers suffering from syphilis were left untreated in order to observe the "natural progression of the untreated disease."


Even though by 1947 penicillin was known to cure syphilis, doctors withheld it from the infected black men. The study ended only when a leak to the press resulted in public outrage. But by then many of the men had died from syphilis, many of their wives had contracted the disease and many had children born with congenital syphilis.


The Catholic Church at one time declared left-handed people servants of the Devil. Islam declares the left hand and everything associated with it unclean. But science knows that left-handedness has nothing to do with evil. Sonograms reveal that babies in the womb will exhibit a preference for their right or left hand. The odds of a child being born left-handed are not the work of the Devil, but of genetics, a fact confirmed by scientists in 2007.


Using left-handedness as evidence of a "sinister" nature strikes many religious people today as slightly ludicrous. But the harm done to generations of children by efforts to undo their left-handedness -- such as stuttering -- lasted a lifetime.


And what are we to do with the growing body of data showing that human sexuality is much more complex than ever envisioned by the writers of Genesis 1 and 2? Some humans are born "intersexed," i.e.: born with chromosomal or other biological characteristics of both male and female. Scientists have concluded that this is a normal, if rare, form of human biology. How does this fit in with Genesis 1.27: "male and female he created them in the image of God?"


What about the growing body of scientific evidence that homosexuality is innate, not a "lifestyle choice?" Given that homosexuality occurs in humans at about the rate that left-handedness does, one wonders how long it will be before we look back at religious declarations about homosexuality with the same chagrin we do declarations about left-handedness.


Our intellects are gifts from God. Separating science from religion or religion from science impoverishes both and leaves humanity and all God's creation vulnerable to terrible abuses.



ROBIN LOVIN, SMU professor of ethics:


Faith claims to lead us to reality, to a truth that lies beyond our illusions and a purpose that remains secure despite our uncertainty. Faith assures us that these things are real. We can know them and build our lives around them. But faith also warns us that we see these things "through a glass, darkly." We never have all of reality, all at once and forever. Our minds are just not made to know reality that way.


Religion has a habit of forgetting this, especially when it is threatened by change or challenged in its authority. Then religion says, "There is only one way to know reality. We have it, and it doesn't change." Usually this happens just before things change quite a lot. Think about the way that the theologians resisted the new discoveries in astronomy at the beginning of the modern scientific revolution.


Like parents who sometimes pass bad habits on to their children, dogmatic religions seems to have given rise to a kind of dogmatic science. For these scientists, dialogue with religion--or anything else that claims to know reality in a different way--is pointless. There isn't any other way.


But here, too, dogmatism may whisper a warning about its own limitations. The best argument for mutual engagement between science and religion is that the dialogue is already happening in the minds of people who know enough of both ways of knowing to understand that the methods of faith and the methods of science are meant to be the beginning of knowledge, and not the end of it.



MATTHEW WILSON, SMU political scientist (Roman Catholic):


If science and religion fail to engage one another, both are impoverished. I believe, as many have said, that "all truth is God's truth"--in other words, that everything we discover through science about the nature of humanity, society, and the universe helps us better to understand the mystery of God. Catholicism has a long tradition of "natural theology," which holds that much about God, man, and their relationship can be discerned through rational reflection and observation of the world, quite apart from any "special revelation." Indeed, this very Aristotelian desire for a rationally and observationally-rooted metaphysics animated Saint Thomas Aquinas and the medieval scholastic philosophers. It has also undergirded the Church's long history of engagement with and support for scientific inquiry. The unfortunate Galileo controversy notwithstanding, it is worth noting that such path-breaking scientists as Copernicus and Mendel were Catholic priests, and that the Vatican still maintains a major astronomical observatory. Any religion that is reflexively adversarial toward science closes itself off to general revelation and severely hampers its ability to speak to the larger world.

At the same time, science should be open to engagement with religion by acknowledging its own limitations. The scientific method is well suited to answering questions of "what?" and "how?", but not of "why?" and "so what?". We as humans have always sought answers to those deeper questions of meaning--it distinguishes us from the animals, and is one profound respect in which we are created "in the image of God." The concern by Dawkins and others that science might "legitimize" religion reflects an historical and cultural myopia. For the vast majority of the people who have lived on this planet, religion's legitimacy is a given. The much bigger question for most of the world is the popular legitimacy of science. If the Islamic world is to embrace modernity (including modern science), if religious Americans are to be brought into an intelligent dialogue about human origins and evolution, then science will have to disavow the association with atheism that Dawkins is so eager to promote. If scientific learning is truly to shape human consciousness in the way that it should--not just for a small intellectual "elite", but for all humanity--it will need to be legitimized by religion, not the other way around. The potential harmony between theistic faith and science has been embraced by countless prominent scientists, from Albert Einstein to Francis Collins. I have little patience for the narrow fundamentalists, of either a religious or a scientific sort, who would deny its possibility.

GEORGE MASON, senior pastor, Wilshire Baptist Church:

The late Anglican theologian and missiologist Leslie Newbigin talked about the idea of "plausibility structures" of knowledge. Science and religion both ought to keep a sense of openness about the truth, given the tentative nature of knowing anything fully until all ambiguity is removed.

Christians, for instance, should only speak of absolute truth eschatologically; that is, in the context of faith that what we believe will be proven at the end of days but cannot be fully proven before then. No matter how committed we may be our understanding that God has revealed certain truths in the midst of a changing world, we should be humble enough to realize that the most we can do this side of the end is to demonstrate how what we believe is true might be a plausible explanation of reality.


Likewise, science might acknowledge that while experimentation might seem to demonstrate something to be true, even that creates only stronger or weaker plausibility of truth. Science also proceeds on the basis of assumptions about the way things are. These continue to be tested and are sometimes changed in light of new data. Occasionally, revolutions in scientific understanding take place when enough changes in what seemed settled is no longer deemed so.


The idea of settled knowledge by either science or religion tends to close down the pursuit of truth rather than open it wider. Humility by both parties is not just courtesy for the sake of peaceful coexistence; it is an honest approach to discover the fullness of truth in each discipline. And if we were to do so together, we might find new and uncovered aspects to reality that will challenge and help reframe our own views of the world until all truth can be acknowledged as truth by all.


DEAL HUDSON, The Morley Foundation (Roman Catholic):

There can't be any serious engagement between scientists and theologians until both sides acknowledge that their respective knowledge claims do not meet head on. Empirical science is a form of knowledge bounded by a rigorous standard of experimentation. Its conclusions are of a kind that can be disproved by future generations of scientists working with better data or improved methodologies.

Theology rests on a Credo that cannot be disproved -- the implications of creedal principles can be unpacked, elucidated, and applied to historical circumstances, but assertions such as "God exists," "God created the heavens and the earth," and "Jesus Christ is the son of God" cannot be disproved -- they can only be rejected by unbelief. Science cannot conduct any experiments proving or disproving the existence of God, whose being exists beyond empirical observation. Metaphysical reasoning, which is superior to empirical science, can infer the existence of God but not God's relation to the world as Creator. Science, in the form of historiography, is also helpless in regard to Christology, as is metaphysics. There is nothing sillier, or less scientific, than an empirical scientist running around proclaiming atheism -- it's more or less the equivalent of a car mechanic denying the existence of sub-atomic particles.





Religion without philosophy and logic is sentiment or fanaticism. Philosophy or science, without religion, is mental speculation and therefore cannot reveal metaphysical subjects. Modern science mainly deals with empiric evidence (Pratyakşa) and logic (Anumāna). However metaphysical subjects such as beauty, love, the soul, and God cannot be understood simply empiric and analytical exercises. It is necessary to also access knowledge that is from a metaphysical origin. This knowledge, coming from unadulterated scripture, should be seen in the light of logic and empiric evidence. Scripture should stand the test of logic and reason, otherwise such scripture can be understood to adulterated. For God is the most intelligent being, His words should be the most intelligent and free from philosophical discrepancies. Therefore the scientific method, specifically the involvement of reason, is essential for religion.

Modern science has failed to produce life and gives post-dated checks, stating that they shall create life from dead matter in the future. Intelligence persons should not put their faith in such empty prophecies. Because such subjects cannot be dealt with sufficiently by empiric study and logic, religion, specifically knowledge coming from a metaphysical origin, is essential for science.


AMY MARTIN, executive director, Earth Rhythms:


Books and articles and essays of beautiful prose have been written about the symbiosis of science and spirituality and the potential for peace between them. I can say little to illuminate their enlightened thoughts.

But I can point out that many authors cited as atheist are more anti-religion than anti-spirituality. While not embracing a personal God as perceived through Judasim, Christianity and Islam, some embrace a universal consciousness as perceived by Buddhists, the spiritual-not-religious, and Earth-centered faiths. The later writings of Sherwin B. Nuland are such as example.


To me it sums up in this: Proponents of science and religion should stop trying to make either one be everybody's everything. There are so many types of brains and personalities. Some people perceive the world though sensing, others by intuition. Some make judgments by thinking, others by feeling. Science will make sense for some of these brains, while religion does it for others. Mystic paths like Taoism and Buddhism fall somewhere in between.


The root of the science-religion conundrum lies in dualist either/or thinking and the folly that any view can ever "win." If you look for an opponent you'll find one; look for a cooperative relationship and you'll find that, too. Both are on a journey of discovery. Where they meet is wonder, that humble place where we accept the limits of knowledge and open ourselves to the unfolding question of existence.



BOB DEAN, Dallas Baptist Association:


From a Christian perspective, science and faith are not enemies that should avoid any mutual engagement. They use different methodologies to discover truth, but there is a mutual benefit to dialogue. Many of the finest scientists in our world are people of faith. The "conflict thesis" that science and religion have constantly been in conflict has been rejected by many historians. In Science and Religion, Gary Ferngren states, "Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavour, while at other times the two have co-existed without either tension or attempts at harmonization." As a Christian, the most important truths that I have learned have come from the Bible and my faith in Jesus Christ. However, as a student of our world, I have learned many valuable truths from science and history that have enhanced my understanding of our world.

JOE CLIFFORD, pastor, First Presbyterian Church (Dallas):


Both science and religion have critical contributions to make to the world. They represent different responses to different questions human beings pose. Science helps us explore the what's and the how's of our existence. Religion helps us explore the why's and the who's. Both contribute to our well being.

For example, this morning I watched the sun "rise." Science teaches us that the sun doesn't actually rise. Rather the earth turns on it's axis in such a way that the sun appears on the eastern horizon seemingly "rising." As the earth makes its annual trek around the sun, known as its orbit, the position of the sun changes from day to day along the eastern horizon. That's the way science understands a sunrise.


Poet e.e. cummings offers us another way:


i thank You God for most this amazing

day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes


(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)


how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any--lifted from the no

of all nothing--human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?


(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)


That's a different way of understanding the sunrise; a way that opens our hearts and souls to the beauty of another day of life. I believe both are legitimate ways of understanding the sunrise. As a person whose life is dedicated to the pursuit of God, I prefer to spend my time and energy exploring the latter. I'm thankful for those who dedicate their lives to science for they provide us many things to improve our existence. The world would no doubt be the worse off without either religion or science.



DANIEL KANTER, pastor, First Unitarian Church of Dallas:


On my desk is the book Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion. In it author Stuart Kaufman aims to find common ground. Like theologian Henry Nelson Weiman he sees God in every act of creativity. Both men urge us to take a look around and be stunned with reverence that after 3.8 billion years the sun shining on the earth has created all life we experience. A mutual engagement between religion and science clears space for both sides to see common ground in the majesty of what we encounter in the world and the responsibility we have to it. Such an engagement requires science to expand its vocabulary and welcome the realm of mystery and wonder while demanding that religion not cling to concretized images of God and history without seeing how scientific discovery helps religion itself progress. This engagement may help us all reclaim the sacred in life and see God as creativity in nature and the world as a creative process which honors that reality.

CYNTHIA RIGBY, professor, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary:

First, I want the readers to know (if they don't, already) that there are a variety of forums in which science and religion are together being engaged, and they are not (by any stretch of the imagination) limited to debates on "creation versus evolution," as popular stereotypes may suggest. See, for example, the journal Zygon (providing a forum for dialogue between religion and science since 1966) at Or google the acclaimed "Gifford Lectures," again devoted to showcasing work on religion and natural theology (the lectures were given in 2004 by my former teacher Wentzel van Huyssteen, professor of theology and science at Princeton Theological Seminary). My answer to the question is: Scientists and theologians generally share the conviction that their subject matter is greater than anything we can fully grasp or, possibly, even imagine. At some point in every interview with a scientist I've seen on the "Discovery" channel, for example, the scientist pauses in wonderment to express appreciation for the beauty, intricacy, and even mysterious elements of whatever it is he or she is explaining. While my impression is that some scientists would be more inclined than most theologians to think that exhaustive understanding of what "is" is at least a hypothetical goal, my bet is that most scientists would agree with Augustine's comment that "if we have understood, what we have understood is not God." (Though scientists might understand "God," in that sentence, to reference that which is "more than" that which is empirically measurable rather than a sentient, supernatural being). The case I would make for the basis for mutual engagement between science and religion, however, is not only shared appreciation for the value of seeking understanding of that which seems ever to expand beyond our reach, the more we learn. I would also argue for the importance of something lacking both in those religious persons who eschew science (for fear they will "lose their faith") and those scientists who eschew religion (for fear, it seems, of becoming themselves "delusional," by virtue of sheer association). What is needed, I believe, is a good dose of FEARLESSNESS. I have in mind, along these lines, something my father taught me when I was a little girl. My father taught me to explore freely, and with passion, any worthy subject matter. If what I believe is true, he used to say, it will stand up to any test: historical, experiential, scientific, philosophical. If what I believe doesn't hold up, on the other hand, I should be glad to have it fall away. I would now add to my father's wise words my related conviction that unhindered, un-fearful exploration will only deepen our participation in that which is true. The Apostle Paul's instructions to the Philippians, I believe, are instructive re: grounding dialogue between science and religion. Paul wrote: whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things" (4:8). I believe there is truth, honor, and excellence in both religion and science, and that there could be no better basis for, therefore, fearlessly entering together into any and all conversations.

RIC DEXTER, Men's Division Chapter Leader, Nichiren Buddhist (Soka Gakkai organization)


Daisaku Ikeda and Arnold Toynbee addressed this question in dialogues, agreeing that science and religion need not and ought not conflict, that harmony between science and religion would have a revelatory effect on all mankind. Toynbee described Buddhism as "a bridge that could reunite the estranged worlds of matter and spirit."

In physics I learned of the statistical law of causation. I was intrigued by a discussion of the Buddhist principle of law of cause and effect. As I continued study in Buddhism I learned that mind and matter are different but inseparable, I later read Heisenberg postulating that all elemental particles are only different forms of energy. Bohm postulated that the "interconnectedness of the whole universe is the fundamental reality." In Buddhist study I learned that the macrocosm is contained within the microcosm. Powerful telescopes and electron microscopes demonstrated the apparent fact of this belief. Science continues to prove wisdom proffered 2500 years ago in Buddhist principles.


Nichiren Buddhism looks for the "three proofs" of any belief or fact, proof by documentary evidence, by logical reasoning, and most importantly by demonstration of actual fact. Scientific proof requires rational theories, experimental proof, and demonstration of that proof.


Science and Buddhism differ in at least one principle. Modern science is founded on Descartes' dualistic principles while Buddhism is non-dualistic. While modern science constrains itself to the study of the material realm and "has to take the mind out of it" Buddhism sees the two as inseparable.


Both science and religion aspire to contribute to the well being of humankind. As religion recognizes itself as a science that specializes in human life, and science grows to incorporate the human mind and morals, both will prosper as never before. As Albert Einstein said "Science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind."

LARRY BETHUNE, pastor, University Baptist Church (Austin):

"To the one who has only a hammer, everything looks like a nail." The fundamentalist who reduces all life to a single orthodoxy, whether it's religion, science, art, politics, or philosophy not only reveals a dangerous arrogance but also truncates human life. These different approaches to truth are mutually supporting and mutually challenging. As Albert Einstein said, "Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind."

No one can question the benefit science (like religion) has brought to humanity. Consider also the disasters science (like religion) has wrought. By itself, science has lacked the moral conscience to question whether the possibility of scientific advancement requires its accomplishment without regard to its effects on humanity (nuclear weapons, genetic engineering, social engineering, etc.). Science needs religion as a prophetic conscience. Religion needs science for its benefits to humankind, as well as challenges to religious beliefs presented as "scientific truths." Bad religion makes for bad science, and vice versa.

To be sure, science and religion have two different methods for discerning truth. Whether religious or not, scientists ought to challenge other scientists whose scientific truth claims are based on religious rather than scientific methodology. But they ought also respect the intellectual freedom of their colleagues with regard to their own personal religious beliefs. I respect the atheist scientists' soul freedom to be atheists, but wonder whether they recognize the religious fervor with which they believe in science. Their need to pressure other scientists into sharing their "orthodoxy" mirrors the religious fundamentalists they denigrate.

Respect for history requires modern science recognize its indebtedness to religion's search for truth. Indeed, many of the early scientists were clergy! Religion, on the other hand, must confess that while sponsoring scientific advancement, it has also blocked it, occasionally with good reason, but often enough out of fear, superstition, and self-interest.

I am not a scientist, but as a religious person I believe science (and art, politics, philosophy, and other approaches to truth) a Divine gift leading to a richer human experience. To rely solely on one approach is not only simplistic, but often disastrous and always a reduction of the life God has given us.

WILLIAM B. LAWRENCE, dean, SMU Perkins School of Theology:

An encounter between religion and science can be resisted either by religionists or by scientists, but only if either (or both) of them chooses to ignore the intellectual or cultural realities that they represent. It is religion that has inhibited (note the church's opposition to Galileo) and supported (note the church's decision to create universities in the middle ages) where the intellectual work of science occurred. It is science that has made possible some of the very activities--archeology, textual recovery--that have allowed religious life to flourish. Scientific endeavors and religious activities both have broad cultural expressions. So unless scientific interests are prepared to say that religious organizations do not exist, or unless religous interests are willing to ignore the scientific realities that allow their work to use electronic means of communication to reach their consitutents around the world, they have to recognize the merits of one another's truths. From the most basic standpoint, then, religion and science have much to discuss. They can debate the intellectual bases on which each other is built. They can dispute the financial or social costs of their endeavors. They can even argue with each other about which of the two contributed the most to the reality of war--relgion, which can be misused into a motivation for hatred; or science, which can devise weapons of mass destruction. Religion and science must mutually engage each other. Both of them have invested their identities in so much that is good and in so much that is wicked.

DARRELL BOCK, professor, Dallas Theological Seminary:


Religion, in its best moments, honors the place of life and affirms the value of people as a significant part of the creation. Science, in its best moments, represents the human attempt to analyze our world absent of bias and passion. if I may make an analogy, religion has a soul, while science has a brain. In addition, the fact is that most people are religious. To refuse to engage between science and religion is to ignore those elements of life that have soul and that do not involve things we can truly and completely measure through repeated experimentation. Just like humanities and science exist side by side in the university and students need exposure to both because they require different skills and contribute distinctly to human understanding, so we need science and religion to be in conversation to give a fullness of perspective to our lives as humans who can both measure and feel.




Posted by Jerome Haltom @ 5:33 PM Tue, Aug 18, 2009

So many fallacies.

KATIE SHERROD says we can't be moral without religion. Science has theories about why we're moral (kin selection, etc). Also, there are many moral non-believers. Argument defeated out of the gate.

MATTHEW WILSON brings up the old staple: science can't answer "why". Sorry, religion can't answer why either. It can only invent answers. Maybe science will somebody be able to answer it. It has more of a chance at that than a circle of robbed men.

GEORGE MASON pretends science should acknowledge that it cannot prove anything certainly. Science does acknowledge this. It's the root of skeptism. It's a polar opposite of faith: the acceptance that something IS true. You cannot be skeptical about all knowledge, while cornering your own little section off and labeling it "true".


DEAL HUDSON makes the claim that science can only examine what exists. And that this makes metaphysical methods superior. Interesting. Science gives us toasters, microwaves, satalites, cars, engines, gas, computers and medicine. Metaphysical thinking ... makes us feel good about ourselfs, even if we're wrong? Yeah. Superior.


NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS love and beauty can be understood in two ways. We can understand that in fact things are beautiful. And that we love things. And we can hold these beliefs. We can ALSO explain them materialistically as the output of evolution. One does not subtract from the other except in CHANDRA's own mind.

AMY MARTIN I agree with. To the extent that there's different types of people. I disagree with her that one type is doomed to live in a world of self delusions.

JOE CLIFFORD I share your sentiments. The sunrise is beautiful whether the Sun comes up or we go around. Knowing that we go around does not alter it's beauty. There is no reason to pretend it comes up. The beauty of life does not change when you don't believe Jesus died for your sins.

DARRELL BOCK Nobody refuses to engage the two. A new class of scientists refuse to offer deferential respect to the other, nothing more.



Posted by Jerome Haltom @ 5:40 PM Tue, Aug 18, 2009

In addition, the question you chose to ask the panel, there is little doubt in my mind that it was chosen because of the present day rise of the group of thinkers known as "New Atheists."

That's fine.

It's notable that you did not choose to include somebody representing the New Atheist side on your panel.

I see a collection of mainstream theologians on a panel given a question which has significance only because of the existance of another group not invited to the panel.



Posted by Jerome Haltom @ 6:02 PM Tue, Aug 18, 2009

KATIE SHERROD also goes on at length about the atrocities religion has caused. And then declares that science without religion is impoverishing. Huh? That doesn't make your case, dear, it makes mine.



Posted by Ed Cognoski @ 6:46 PM Tue, Aug 18, 2009

A lot of talk here of the worth of spirituality, religion and vague notions of something called God. I can subscribe to much of it. But face it, that's not what Sunday morning is all about. It's about worshiping a God-man who was born of a virgin, who died and rose again, who ascended into heaven and who will return again to judge the living and the dead. Science and religion really don't have much to say to each other when one sees myth and the other sees literal historical truth.


Posted by Ed Cognoski @ 6:48 PM Tue, Aug 18, 2009

P.S. to Katie Sherrod: The left hand is "unclean" for reasons of personal hygiene. Blaming it on Satan might be just a polite way of avoiding bathroom talk at the dinner table.



Posted by Paul Powers @ 8:18 PM Tue, Aug 18, 2009

It would have been nice if the panel included a few scientists.

I don't think you have to convince scientists that there should be "a mutual engagement between science and religion." They know it.


I think scientists could approach the topic a bit differently. The Dawkinses of the world should drop the atheist talk and say they have no idea if God exists or doesn't exist. With that approach, they might be able to keep the conversation going.

Common ground might be reached through neuroscience. According to "How God Changes Your Brain," thinking about a benevolent God can actually change your brain in a positive way.


On the religious side, I doubt anything will change people who are getting their science at The Creation Museum. But everyone else should give science a change. It's fun. And you don't even have to read about it. You can watch it on The Discovery Channel and NOVA on PBS. It's easy.


Ms. Sherrod. You do not need religion to be moral. That statement is insulting to a lot of very good people.


Posted by Ruth King Kollman @ 8:44 PM Tue, Aug 18, 2009

An Open Invitation to Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker, et al.:

You may doubt what you, as scientists, bring to a mutual engagement between science and religion. I am reminded of the team of scientists in the 1970s faced for the first time with the now-reducible heart of the atom, quantum particles called "quarks" that appeared and disappeared in nano-seconds. They christened two of these first subnuclear flickerings "Truth" and "Beauty." Nobel Laureate physicist Murray Gell-Mann borrowed a term from Buddhist scripture and named the relationship between particles made up of quarks "the Eightfold Way." ["Quark" is a word Dr. Gell-Man ran across reading James Joyce's novel Finnegan's Wake.] Scientific existentialism gives priority to existence over essence, a philosophy most find incompatible with religion. Nonetheless, quarks "truth" and "beauty" symbolize science's recognition that at its inner margins in every atom's heart, the scientific method fails. "Truth" and "beauty" only describe the quarks' essence. Their very existence is still a matter of debate in some circles. "What is" does not completely satisfy, although science edges ever closer.

Religion makes these leaps with what it calls "faith." This is where science has more in common with religion than you perhaps care to recognize. Merriam-Webster's first definition of "faith" is "allegiance to duty or a person, loyalty; fidelity to one's promises; sincerity of intentions." This is the definition we mean when we use the word in a negative context, such as "unfaithful spouse" or "faithless servant" [if you are reading much of the Brontë sisters these days]. One has to reach the second definition of "faith" to find "belief and trust in and loyalty to God; belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion; firm belief in something for which there is no proof; complete trust." Thus we find in the definition of "faith" the real source of the duality–and the duel–between science and religion: "no proof." But both science and religion have "faith." Religion has God. You owe your allegiance to the scientific method. When it does not supply absolute proof of quarks' existence, you resort to "Truth" and "Beauty."

"Belief" provides common ground as well. It means "something believed; especially a tenet or body of tenets held by a group." "Tenet" is defined as a principle, belief, or doctrine generally held to be true, especially one held in common by members of an organization, movement, or profession." Science and religion have their respective "beliefs," as well.

As scientists, you often are skeptical, even overtly critical, of some of the excesses of religion. Televangelist scandals are a particular source of scorn because they underscore the frailty of religious "faith." All three of you are eloquent, outspoken evolutionists. Recent DNA sequencing suggests re-evaluation of some of Darwin's conclusions may be in order. Discourse between science and religion in light of these new developments can prevent dissemination of inaccurate information. One of the basic tenets of your scientific "faith" is under attack in a credible way that underscores its frailty. Who will defend your "belief" if you refuse?

If you believe, as I do, in your existence as a conscious being, rather than as an essence assigned by religion, then as scientists part of the duty you owe your "faith" is an open dialogue with religion. That act of allegiance will affirm the ultimate significance, the primacy of your existence as flickering points of consciousness of yourselves and of objects of which you are aware, your existence as conscious beings against all efforts by religion to reduce you to an essence. That, indeed, shows "sincerity of intention." That is faith.


Posted by D J Wray @ 11:28 PM Tue, Aug 18, 2009

Science should talk to religion because there is a reason for everything and because they share common ground.


D J Wray


Posted by Jerome Haltom @ 2:20 AM Wed, Aug 19, 2009

Science should treat faith as any other aspect of anthropology. An evolutionary endowed characteristed. There is no reason to open a dialog with you. We study you. No more is called for. Any dialog is simply that of study.

Posted by Jerome Haltom @ 2:23 AM Wed, Aug 19, 2009

Ruth. You have not proposed anything for Dawkins and etc to confront. Nothing. Everything you have said is hyperbole. Your feelings about religion do not change the materialistic nature of them. You are a subject of study, nothing else.

All of that is covered by their books.


Posted by Jerome Haltom @ 2:24 AM Wed, Aug 19, 2009


No idea if God exists or does not exists is irrelevant. We have no idea if the pink unicorn exists or does not exist. But you see no rational discourse about the subject. God is the same.


Posted by Erleclaire @ 8:58 AM Wed, Aug 19, 2009

If I say there is no God then upon whose authority do I make such claims? Particularly when one cannot account for the next heart beat or breath. Yet, I can look at a snowflake and consider that all are six sided crystals and at the same time all uniquely different, by the trillions and gazillions since they first fell. And looking at all of nature, leaves, flowers, DNA, Atoms, most everything in nature,... and even humans. The one thing that is incongruent is the mind, which negates possibilities so as to reinforce fears and superstition. In my years of review and study I find no breach of continuity between my faith and the realm of physics, science or understanding of the meaning within the Bible. (I cannot attest to any other beliefs) However, on both sides I see communities of prejudice and self inflicted ignorance. I was born with anomaly that made me Intersex and a Transsexual. Yes the order of things is male and female, but not so clearly or rightly defined as some would suppose. Like a snowflake things can be broken and not so perfectly defined. So if I say there is no God, then I am the fool for not accepting the possibility, as I would as well be the fool to say that there is nothing beyond science. In my humble and often abused and bigotry inflicted life I am denied oft the basic human necessities and access that others so freely enjoy. Again it is an incongruent mind that so many seem to possess, which in their own insecurity will deny others so as to not face possibilities. Science reveals the possibilities that God has laid before us.


Posted by DeSoto @ 8:59 AM Wed, Aug 19, 2009

It is not as though science and religion are polar opposites...they are not on the same continuum (Nor does one preclude the other.) Science deals with the physical and empirical. Religion deals with the spiritual and faith. It is ludicrous for the scientist to demand I prove my faith, and for the religious to demand scientific acceptance of the supernatural.

For either to make no provision for discourse is arrogant.


Posted by erleclaire @ 9:00 AM Wed, Aug 19, 2009

If I say there is no God then upon whose authority do I make such claims? Particularly when one cannot account for the next heart beat or breath. Yet, I can look at a snowflake and consider that all are six sided crystals and at the same time all uniquely different, by the trillions and gazillions since they first fell. And looking at all of nature, leaves, flowers, DNA, Atoms, most everything in nature,... and even humans. The one thing that is incongruent is the mind, which negates possibilities so as to reinforce fears and superstition. In my years of review and study I find no breach of continuity between my faith and the realm of physics, science or understanding of the meaning within the Bible. (I cannot attest to any other beliefs) However, on both sides I see communities of prejudice and self inflicted ignorance. I was born with anomaly that made me Intersex and a Transsexual. Yes the order of things is male and female, but not so clearly or rightly defined as some would suppose. Like a snowflake things can be broken and not so perfectly defined. So if I say there is no God, then I am the fool for not accepting the possibility, as I would as well be the fool to say that there is nothing beyond science. In my humble and often abused and bigotry inflicted life I am denied oft the basic human necessities and access that others so freely enjoy. Again it is an incongruent mind that so many seem to possess, which in their own insecurity will deny others so as to not face possibilities. Science reveals the possibilities that God has laid before us.


Posted by Rev. Richard Matthews @ 10:51 AM Wed, Aug 19, 2009  Creationism: God created the world in six days, then rested. After a while, his best creation disappointed him and he has been trying to get it to correct its wrongs ever since. And that's the truth.

Evolution: First there was nothing; then rocks turned to meat and started to think. I can prove it. (?)

Atheism: There is no god, no spirit, no supreme consciousness, no meaning, no nothing except a big accident. Oh, and I'm right.

Folly all 'round.


Posted by Jerome Haltom @ 11:44 AM Wed, Aug 19, 2009

@Richard Matthews


If the only way you can understand evolution is to simplfy it down as dumb as creationism is, then you're not going to get very far.

Evolution is driven by the differential survival of information encoded in DNA. Nature selects between the different information based on it's pheonotype. This is not amazing, not difficult, and not magic. It's trivially demonstrated. It makes mathimatical sense. Give the process 3 billion years and arriving at complexity is not a suprising outcome.

To take the last 3 *billion* years of Earth's history and pretend it is nothing more than 'rocks turning into meat' is highly ignorant.

You also have a twisted view of atheism. I don't believe that everything is an accident. I simply don't have an answer. And I'm not going to make it up. So no, the position is not that "i'm right". It's that "I don't know." It's also that "I don't know" is a better position to take.

Admitting you don't have the answer to a question is more honorable than pretending, or convincing yourself, that you do.


Posted by JohnFranc @ 11:49 AM Wed, Aug 19, 2009

Most of the panel responses are excellent... and I note the absence of Trey Graham, who I suspect would have offered a rather different view.

Religion and science both seek truth, but they approach it from different perspectives. Science seeks objective, verifiable, material truth. Religion seeks subjective, believable, spiritual truth. Science tells us "what" and "how", religion tells us "why" and what it means. We need both. We need the knowledge and material benefits that comes from learning how the natural world works, and we need the inspiration and meaning that comes from our myths, rituals, and experience of wonder and awe.

Fundamentalists of both sides will never admit it, but there are limits to what we can truly know through either science or religion. None of us have the whole picture, and, I think, we never will. In that regard, I think George Mason has the most relevant line of all: "Humility by both parties is not just courtesy for the sake of peaceful coexistence; it is an honest approach to discover the fullness of truth in each discipline."


Posted by DeSoto @ 1:39 PM Wed, Aug 19, 2009

"Admitting you don't have the answer to a question is more honorable than pretending, or convincing yourself, that you do."

Jerome, I thought the Rev. was being a bit tongue in cheek? Perhaps your slap down was not warranted?

Posted by John @ 3:08 PM Wed, Aug 19, 2009

Centuries ago the majority of our scientists were believers in God. It has only been since the Darwin movement that this controversy has arisen. The psalmist said it best,

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Scientific discovery should be drawing us closer to God as we discover the complexity and precision of his creation!God bless,John

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