Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship? HTML version
The miracle is not to walk on water, but to walk on earth.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
The allure of mystery points directly to the nature of reality as open and infinite. It offers a foretaste of
our real power within that reality as its discoverer and knower.
But because of its connection with power, the miraculous seduces some into magica l thinking. Both the
fraudulent and the profound appear at first to violate our expectations. Science has learned to examine
puzzling new phenomena from all angles to see if there isn't a way of accounting for them from known
principles. New evidence may force scientists to revise their best, most comprehensive theories, but only
as a last resort. This essential feature of science is captured in an oxymoronic description that scientists
sometimes apply to the ir methodology—radical conservatism.
The appeal of the mysterious has its origin in our desire to free ourselves from any "box" in which we
find ourselves. Our vicarious delight in the escape artist's success is an expression of our will to freedom.
But our true powers lie closer to hand, and may be tapped to the extent that we understand how Nature
works. Miracles do not consist of violations of Nature's laws but rather of aligning ourselves with them
with such fidelity that we partake of her miraculous powers.
Despite some egregious mora l lapses and its losing streak when it aligns itself with discredited science,
religion still holds a special place in the hearts of many. This is partly attributable to its genius for
multitasking. Religion consoles and guides. It commends and condemns. It awes and humbles. It helps
believers to endure the unendurable.
One need not belong to a particular faith to see that shared religious beliefs promote social cohesion
which in turn facilitates cooperation. A group's ability to respond to natural or manmade catastrophes
depends on nothing so much as unity. As Lincoln, quoting Jesus, noted, "A house divided against itself
can not stand." Shared religious beliefs hold the house together.
On the personal front, religion he lps to take us out of ourselves so—as witnesses to our own behavior—
we can see how we're affecting others and make adjustments. Above all, religion affirms human dignity
and helps us cope with the indignities and losses that invariably befall us.
When it comes to personal transformation, religion has not only made fundamental contributions in its
own right, but has also inspired great art and literature. Classics by Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare,
Milton, Goethe, Me lville, Balzac, Dostoevsky, and others serve as handmaidens to the world's holy books
Examples of religious insight into personal change can be found in all the religious traditions, but I'll c ite
only two, drawn from Christianity and Hinduism, respectively—the doctrines of resurrection and
reincarnation. As applied to the physical body, these tenets are arguable. Nonbelievers reject them
outright and even many be lievers take them metaphorically. That some people do take such doctrines
literally does no harm to those who do not, and since evidence is hard to come by, this is a realm where
agreeing to disagree is not an inexcusable cop out.
Interpreted metaphorically, however, and applied to mode ling, these ideas are arguably profound. Models
must "die to be reborn," none more dramatically than our self mode ls or identities. The disintegration of a
current identity is often experienced as a kind of death. The struggle to come to terms with the loss of a