Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship? HTML version
educationa l enterprise among my peers. But she mollified me by promising to write the publishing
Months later she reported that the publisher was going to change the numbers in the next edition. She
never told the class. I remember checking a year later and sure enough the mistakes had been corrected.
Catching that mistake broke the spell of the printed word, and a new notion of truth took hold of me : the
truth is not necessarily what some authority says it is, but rather what can be proven.
But, if so, where did that leave the truths taught in my Sunday School? Some of what was taught there
contradicted our science lessons. It seemed my two schools stood for two incompatible worlds: science
People hadn't always had to face this dilemma. For millennia , science and religion were not regarded as
distinct. Religion offered explanations of life and the cosmos, and for a long time there was scant
evidence to contradict them.
However, bit by bit, evidence contradicting the religious explanations was gathered and, by the
seventeenth century, battle lines were forming. A more evidence-based way of pursuing truth was taking
shape within the religious consensus, and sometimes the findings of those who ins isted on seeing for
themselves threatened the doctrine espoused by church leaders.
Science cited facts, made predictions, and tolerated dissent. In contrast, religion invoked scripture, urged
faith, and required conformity. Science said, "Doubt me." Religion said, "Trust me."
As a child, I couldn't make peace between my Sunday school and my grade school, so I took the easy way
out. I dismissed religion as unfounded and resolved to ignore it. With hardly a backward glance, I set my
sights on a career in math and physics where I was encouraged to question authority.
But I did not go away empty-handed. I took with me a pair of questions that, in time, would shape my
It is not instruction but provocation that I can receive from another.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
In Sunday School, I had noticed, everyone had noticed, that the commandments, precepts, and rules
taught there were often disregarded, not only by the scoundrels and criminals we read about in the news,
but by some of the very people whose job it was to teach us these morals.
Upon detecting hypocrisy in the messenger, my impulse had been to throw out the message. But I couldn't
quite shake the golden rule. Its symmetry gave expression to an intuition that ran deep: that I shouldn't
expect to be well-treated by those whom I treated poorly; that I should afford others the dignity I sought
My take-away questions from Sunday School were:
1. Why are moral precepts—even those that everyone accepts—widely ignored?
2. Why has "peace on Earth, goodwill toward Men" not been realized?
I wondered about this gap between the ideal and the reality as World War II raged, as the Holocaust was
revealed, and as Japan surrendered to American atom bombs. It seemed to me then, as it does now, that