Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship? HTML version
In the epigraph at the beginning of this book, Rabbi Abraham Heschel draws attention to dignity in an
even larger sense. As we try to fathom our place in the cosmos, most of us, at one time or another,
experience a sense of awe. Heschel interprets awe as an "intuition of the dignity of all things, a realization
that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme. "
The intuition of the dignity of all things is tantamount to recognizing that everything has an integral place
in the whole, everything belongs and has an indispensable role. There is a perfection to things, not
necessarily as they are at the moment, but rather at the next level up—as an inseparable part of the
process of becoming. Everything is integra l to the process, including our judgments and opinions,
positive or negative, about what's happening. Heschel's observation recognizes this property of the
universe and identifies awe as an appropriate response to the world's intricate integrity.
Again, it's now wide ly acknowledged that religion's record at upholding dignity is spotty. Religious
leaders of every faith have at times sanctioned indignity toward others, persecuting them as infidels,
heathens, and heretics.
Science makes as many mistakes as religion, probably more, but it rectifies them relative ly quickly. As a
result there are few who doubt its value. In contrast, the proposition that "The world would be better off
without religion" has many takers (18).
Religious mode ls such as monothe ism, the golden rule, and universal dignity are pillars of human
civilization. Like science models, their strength is due to the truth they embody, and not dependent upon
the zeal of "true believers." A prerequisite to realizing religion's vision of "peace on Earth, goodwill
toward men" is a new relationship to the idea of belief itself.
The public…demands certainties… But there are no certainties.
– H. L. Mencken
When we hear the word fundamentalist, images of fanatical proselytizers, religious extremists, and
suic ide bombers leap to mind. But I shall use the word more broadly to refer to any true be lievers and
even to that part of ourselves that might be closed-minded about one thing or another. By generalizing in
this way, we include those who reflexive ly dismiss anything contrary to their own views, whether
religious, scientific, artistic, or ideological. Such closed-mindedness is the antithesis of the modeling
Though the popular stereotype is that all fundamentalists are intolerant zealots, there are people who call
themselves fundamentalists who hold that their beliefs are for themselves only, and who make no effort to
convert anyone else. It may be that the fixity of the ir beliefs handicaps them—by keeping them ignorant
of advances in scientific, politica l, or religious thought—but they're hardly a lone in that regard.
Fundamenta lism of the imperious sort comes in a variety of disguises: mora l righteousness, technological
arrogance, intellectual condescension, and artistic snobbery, to name a few. Such domineering forms of
fundamentalism tend to be magisteria l, overbearing, strident, e litist, and supercilious.
In a world without absolutes, fundamenta lists' claims to represent higher authority would not be given
special credence. In such a setting, inerrancy is out, fallibility is in. Questioning the current consensus is
not only permitted, it's encouraged. The one thing that tolerance does not extend to is aggressive