Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship? HTML version
just prolongs the search for a model until we find one that meets the stringent condition of taking into
account of all the evidence (13).
It is said that it takes ten years to get good at anything. Well, it's taken humans more like ten thousand
years to get good at building mode ls. For most of human history, our mode ls lacked explanatory power.
Models of that kind are often dismissed as myths. It's more fruitful to think of myths as early mode ls,
stepping stones to better ones. We now understand some things far better than our ancestors and other
things not much better at all. But the overall trend is that we keep coming up with better explanations and,
as more and more of us turn our attention to model building, our models are improving faster and our
ability to usurp Nature's power is growing. To what purpose?
We'll discuss a variety of responses to this question in the sequel. Religion famously heeds us to "separate
the wheat from the chaff," and we'd be remiss if we did not apply this proverb to beliefs of every kind,
inc luding those of religion itself.
"An eye for an eye" comes down to us from King Hammurabi (18th century, BCE) who had it carved in
stone at a time when there was no distinction between religion and science. It can be usefully understood
not just as a formula for punishment, but rather as a simple descriptive mode l of how humans behave.
When we're injured or abused, our immediate impulse is to do unto the perpetrator what's been done to us.
We call it biblica l justice. Often, victims of predation are not satisfied with merely getting even, but rather
are inclined to "better the instruction," as Shylock points out in The Merchant of Venice. Escalation
follows. Not to stand up to the perpetrator of a predatory act is to signal weakness and invite a follow -up
that may bring death or enslavement.
It may be hard to tell who started a feud because the initia l act of predation lies buried in a disputed past
and escalation has since blurred the picture. A pattern of reciprocal indignities is what we see today in any
number of ongoing conflicts around the world. At some point, it becomes more important to find a way to
interrupt the cycle of revenge than to assign blame.
Attempts to stop cycles of predation by "turning the other cheek" can be suicida l unless they're part of a
broad-based strategy of civil disobedience, and even then can result in great harm to protestors. Religious
teachings, decoupled from political pressure, have seldom been enough to prevent predation or to arrest
the cycles of vengeance that tend to ensue.
On the other hand, turning the other cheek, in the form of forgiveness—as institutiona lized, for example,
in "Truth and Reconciliation" commissions—is the only thing that can permanently end a cycle of
The golden rule embodies a symmetry reminiscent of those that turn up everywhere in physics mode ls. A
variant of the golden rule can be found in virtua lly every religion, ethical code, or moral philosophy (14).
Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.
Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
What you do not want done to yourse lf, do not do to others.