Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship? HTML version
Science gives us reason to think we can vanquish famine, disease, and poverty. Religion heralds "peace
on Earth, goodwill toward men." Neither of these venerable institutions can deliver on its promise without
help from the other, but together there is reason to hope that they can.
The book concludes with a model of morality that emerges, unexpectedly, as a peace dividend. As
partners, science and religion can make the golden rule largely self-enforcing, and hasten our arrival into
a world wherein everyone's dignity is secure.
I know this sounds utopian, but wait and see. Developments in both science and religion have made a
partnership possible. Ending centuries of fruitless squabbling and initiating a beautiful friendship is no
longer an impossible dream.
I begin with what hooked me on these issues in the first place: the incompatible notions of truth advocated
by my two schools: Sunday School and Public School.
My parents were not church-goers, but they thought their children should be exposed to the religious
perspective. So, until we graduated from eighth grade, they made my brothers and me attend a
Presbyterian Sunday School.
When I asked my Sunday School teacher how Jesus could turn a few fish and a little bread into enough
food to feed a crowd, she expla ined it as a miracle. She gave the same answer about walking on water,
raising Lazarus, and coming back from the dead. When I pressed her on the biblical account of creation—
"He did all that in six days?"—she reread Genesis to the class.
My other school, a public school in Chatham, New Jersey, was located in the shadow of Bell
Laboratories, where my father worked. Bell Labs was then one of the top scientific research labs in the
In third grade we studied the solar system. Our textbook had a diagram of Copernicus's heliocentric
mode l showing the planets revolving around the sun in circ les. A table gave the distance of each planet
from the sun in miles and its period of revolution in days: 365 for the earth, 225 for Venus, just 88 for
Mercury, and so on, all the way out to Pluto. Printed alongside each planet's orbit was its average speed in
miles per hour as it circled the sun.
It was just then that we were studying circ les in arithmetic. The lesson for the week was that the
circumference of a circle C = 2πR, where R is the circle's radius and π is a universal constant
approximately equal to 3.14. A closeted nerd in the days before we had our own identity group, I decided
to verify the speed shown for the orbiting earth using this formula. The computation was simple
enough—just form the product 2πR and divide by the time—one year—that it took the Earth to complete
But something was wrong. My result did not agree with the Earth's speed in the book. It was not even
close. So I tried the same calculation for Venus and Mercury. No agreement with those either. I did the
other six planets. Not one of my calculations agreed with the numbers in the book. Frustrated, I asked my
father for help. He checked my figures, examined the textbook, and announced the unthinkable: the book
was wrong. I had thought books couldn't be wrong. We all had.
The next day I showed the error to my teacher, Mrs. Bahoosian. It made her nervous. She drew me aside
and spoke in a hushed voice. I think she worried that if word got out it might cast doubt on the entire