Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship? HTML version
Einste in's Question: Is the Universe Friendly?
[The 21st] century will be defined by a debate that will run through the remainder of its
decades: religion versus science. Religion will lose.
– John McLaughlin, TV talk show host (1)
Former priest John McLaughlin is hardly alone in his pessimism about religion's future. A spate of
bestsellers—The God Delusion; The End of Faith; and God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons
Everything (2) —argues that religion, as we've known it, no longer serves the needs of people with a
modern education and a globa l awareness.
Books like these have spelled out religion's shortcomings and I see no point in piling on. Rather, I will
make the case that, in the long view, both religion and science come off as godsends (forgive the pun).
And that, looking ahead, both are indispensable to letting go of old predatory practices and creating a fair,
just, and peaceful world. If religion can see its way clear to making a mid-course correction and science
can get off its high horse, John McLaughlin's prediction could be proven spectacularly wrong.
Many of the voices now being raised against religion are over-confident and patronizing, rather like those
of tria l lawyers who feel the jury is in the ir pocket. Perhaps that's because they are increasingly preaching
to a public alarmed by clerical abuses and fundamentalist zealotry. Contemporary religious leaders,
painfully aware of the relationship between public participation and institutional viability, know that
religion is in a fight for its life.
I realize that this terrain is full of landmines. In the hope of defusing a few, let me acknowledge at the
outset that the word religion means different things to different people. To some, it's knowledge and
wisdom; to others, superstition and dogma. To some, it's worship; to others, wonder. To some, religion is
salvation; to others, it's seeking. To some, religion is of divine origin; to others, it's manmade.
In this book, I'll use "religion" to refer loosely to the metaphysical, moral, and transformationa l precepts
of the founders, prophets, saints, and sages of the major religions. The focus here is neither the
theological doctrines associated with particular faiths nor the liturgical practices characteristic of various
sects. Rather, the goal is to present a unifying perspective on the findings of religious and scientific
Then, since the divergence between science and religion no longer serves either, I'll address the obstacles
that have kept them from developing a "beautiful friendship" and describe the pay-off we may expect
once they're both on the same side.