Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship? HTML version
explanations or theories that tell us how nature behaves, for example, Bohr's atomic model. These days
one does not start a company without first creating a business model.
A model is a representation of an object, phenomenon, or person that resembles the real
thing. By studying the mode l we can learn about what it mirrors.
When we ask if there are two distinct kinds of knowledge—scientific truths and religious truths—we're
really asking if the same methodology can unlock the secrets in both realms. The tool of mode ling,
coupled with demystification of the discovery process, provides a conceptual framework broad and deep
enough to hold both science and religion.
I begin with a look at some models from science, then examine some mode ls from religion. Once we have
identified what's of lasting va lue—that is, some of the time-tested teachings—in both traditions, the next
step is to spell out the ir complementary roles in addressing the life-threatening challenges facing
Man is a creature who makes pictures of himself, and then comes to resemble the picture.
– Iris Murdock , as quoted by Simon Leys (4)
The title of Mark Twain's What Is Man? poses a question that humans have pondered for millennia. Our
species modestly calls itse lf Homo sapiens—Man, the wise. We've also been dubbed Man, the builder;
the tool maker; the game player; and the talker. Twain himself argued that man is a machine, Homo
While all these characterizations capture some aspect of humanness, none does so uniquely. On the
contrary, it seems that every time someone makes a case that a particular trait sets humans apart, experts
in anima l life say, 'No, anima ls do that too.' Anima ls show inte lligence and build nests, dams, and webs.
They make tools, play games, and make war. They communicate and display emotion.
But no species other than ours holds the fate of the Earth in its hands. The question, the n, is what is it
about humans that has brought us such power?
There's one faculty that humans have developed more than other animals. It's our capacity to build ever
more accurate and comprehensive models that explain the world and nature and thereby give us a measure
of control over it. In this context, you can think of mode ls as explanations and stories—explanations of
how the world works; stories about how we ourselves behave.
I'm not saying that other animals don't employ mode ls. Once again, the distinction doesn't appear to be
absolute. We may never know when our hominid ancestors began inventing stories and telling fortunes,
making maps and myths, keeping accounts and ledgers, depicting animals, explaining disasters, and
speculating about death.
What's clear, though, is that these first steps to simulate aspects of the world and our place in it were
taken at a time when there was no distinction between religion and science. Though we didn't think of it
as modeling, building mode ls was what we were doing. The crowning accomplishment of proto-religion
and proto-science, which were then one, was the emergence of a model featuring us as individua ls in the