Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship? HTML version
Learning to see science models as provisiona l has resulted in previously unimaginable technological and
economic gains. A paralle l transformation in which we ope n ourselves to modifications of our
pe rsonal be lie fs will do like wise for global pe ace, social harmony, political partne rship, and
pe rsonal deve lopme nt.
Models have the extraordinary property of shielding the dignity of individuals who espouse them. You
can champion a model that turns out to be wrong, but that does not make you less worthy.
Moreover, mode ls aim to reconcile all points of view, to account for everyone's perceptions, and to
validate everyone's experience. In short, a good model is a synthesis (not a compromise) that makes
everyone right in at least some respect. Needless to say, when no one feels a loss of face, when everyone's
dignity survives a conflict, the chances of the various parties working together in the aftermath are much
While there's no denying that we need working beliefs, we can get along quite nicely without absolutes.
We need only resist elevating beliefs into eternal verities. To know who we are does not mean we know
who we'll become.
Although Bohr and Einste in disagreed on quantum theory, the ir dialogue is as exemplary for its
respectfulness as it is famous for delineating a divide in the road of human thought. The jury is still out on
the substance of their disagreement.
Moral codes are prescriptive behavioral models and, like all mode ls, they evolve. This does not mean
they're arbitrary or even "relativist" in the sense that "anything goes." That morals lack universality and
infa llibility does not mean we are free to ignore them where they do apply—just as the inapplicability of
Newtonian mechanics in the atomic realm does not render Newton's laws inapplicable to planets and
projectiles. On the contrary, in its applicable domain a particular principle—scientific or mora l—will
remain as valid as ever. Making such distinctions is part of learning to live without certainty, to inhabit a
post-fundamenta list world.
The truth is we've been living without absolutes from the start. There really never were any, but until now
we've needed to believe in them much as children fix on certain beliefs while they get their bearings. With
adolescence, we temper these beliefs, and with maturity we can let go of belief in belief itse lf.
In the realm beyond belief, everything looks a bit different. That's why I was thrown off balance when I
stumbled upon this terrain as a teen in my bedroom. At first you feel unmoored; then you smell freedom.
Not freedom to do anything, but enough freedom from conventional wisdom to question dogma and
loosen its shackles, if not escape its confines.
As we come to see ourselves as separate from, and senior to, our be liefs, we realize that we 'll survive a
change in them. They're our servants, not our master.
It is on the neutral ground beyond belief that science and religion can meet, do meet, and in truth have
always met, protestations of the authorities notwithstanding. On this common ground, where evidence is
king—and where, if the evidence itself is in dispute, the appeal is to evidence about evidence rather than
to dogma—science and religion can build a beautiful friendship.
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true
art and science.
– Albert Einstein