Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship? HTML version
The idea of modeling emerges naturally from the idea of god because with the positing of a god we've
made understanding itse lf something we can plausibly aspire to: we need only imitate our father figure.
There has probably never been an idea so consequentia l as that of the world's comprehensibility. Even
today's scientists marvel at the fact that, if we try hard enough, the universe seems intelligible. Not a few
scientists share Nobel-laureate E. P. Wigner's perplexity regarding the unreasonable effectiveness of
mathematics in the natural sciences (11).
Comprehensibility does not necessarily mean that things accord with common sense. Quantum theory
famously defies common sense, even to its creators. Richard Feynman is often quoted as saying, "If you
think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." But a theory
doesn't need to jibe with common sense to be useful. It suffices that it account for what we observe.
Our faith in the comprehensibility of the world around us mirrors our ancestors' faith in godlike beings to
whom things were intelligible. Yes, it was perhaps a bit presumptuous of us to imagine ourselves stealing
our gods' thunder, but Homo sapiens has never lacked for hubris.
Genesis says that after creating the universe, God created Man in his own image. The proverb "Like
father, like son" then accounts for our emulating our creator, and growing up to be mode l builders like our
In contrast to polytheism, where a plethora of gods may be at odds, monothe ism carries with it the
expectation that a single god, endowed with omniscience and omnipotence, is of one mind. To this day
even non-believers, confounded by tough scientific problems, are apt to echo the biblica l, "God works in
mysterious ways" (12). But, miracle of miracles, not so mysterious as to prevent us from understanding
the workings of the cosmos, or, as Stephen Hawking famously put it to "know the mind of God. "
Monothe ism is the theological counterpart of the scientist's belief in the ultimate reconcilability of
apparently contradictory observations into one consistent framework. We cannot expect to know God's
mind until, at the very least, we have eliminated inconsistencies in our observations and contradictions in
our partia l visions.
This means that the imprimatur of authority (e.g., the King or the Church or any number of pedigreed
experts) is not enough to make a proposition true. Authorities who make pronouncements that overlook or
suppress inconsistencies in the evidence do not, for long, retain the ir authority.
Monothe ism is therefore not only a powerful constraint on the mode ls we build, it is also a first step
toward opening the quest for truth to outsiders and amateurs, who may see things differently than the
establishment. Buried within the mode l of monothe ism lies the democratic ideal of no favored status.
To the contemporary scientist this means that models must be free of both internal and external
contradictions, and they must not depend on the vantage point of the observer. These are stringent
conditions. Meeting them guides physicists as they seek to unify less comprehensive theories in a grand
"theory of everything," or TOE. (A TOE is an especially powerful kind of model, and I'll say more about
There's another implication of monothe ism that has often been overlooked in battles between religion and
science. An omnisc ient, unique god, worthy of the designation, would insist that the truth is singular, and
that it's His truth. In consequence, there cannot be two distinct, true, but contradictory bodies of
knowledge. So, the idea of monothe ism should stand as a refutation of cla ims that religious truths need
not be consistent with the truths of science. Of course, some of our beliefs—be they from science or
religion—will later be revealed as false. But that doesn't weaken monotheism's demand for consistency; it