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Science And Technology


 

SCIENCE WITHOUT RELIGION IS BLIND

-By ANN FINKBEINER

 

In 1916, a psychologist named James Leuba sent a questionnaire to 1,000 scientists,

chosen at random, asking whether they believed in a personal God to whom you could pray and who would answer with more than the comforting effect of prayer. A little over 40% of the scientists said they believed, another 40% said they didn’t, and the remainder didn’t know. Leuba thought that as science marched on, the percentage of disbelievers would grow. Leuba was wrong: 80 years later, Edward Larson a historian of science, sent the same questioner to 1,000 scientists chosen the same way, and got thee same answer. How odd that ever though scientists know 80-years-worth more science, they still have faith how equally odd to thin that the more scientists know, the less faith they’d have.

 

Start with the case for scientific knowledge undermining faith. Numbers apparently support the case: Harris and Gallup polls say either 95 or 93% of Americans believe in god; the number of scientists who believe is half that. Harris says 84% of Americans believing in life after death is half that. This difference belief doesn’t sound terrifically surprising. I think common wisdom assumes that science and religion disagree, and that much of the disagreement is over differing accounts of creation. Religious accounts of creation are resonant and moving stories, and you believe them because you have faith. Scientific accounts of creation include how the universe began, how life started on Earth, how species evolve, how humans grow from the union of two cells into differentiated, complex individuals. And science backs its answers with evidence you don’t need faith to believe.

If all this true, then why are any scientists religious? And since most of this evidence of creation was gathered during those 80 years between Leuba’s questionnaire and Larson’s, why hasn’t that percentage of religious scientists gone from 40 to zero? Maybe, even if you don’t believe religion’s accounts of creation, you still have questions science can’t answer.

Science accounts for how all those creations occur; science asks “how” questions. The “why” questions_ why are we here? Why am I? Who I am? _ Never have been nor will be the province of science. I don’t mean science never asks why, because it does. The answers are usually theories that then have to be verified; why us a whole population of blue galaxies small and faint? The theory is they’re so far away. So verify it; find how far away they are. But science does not ask why a galaxy exists or what it means that we live in a universe with other galaxies. Science doesn’t ask about ultimate causes, ultimate meanings. And maybe some scientists, like some of the rest of us, are cautious about ultimate causes and meaning.

One prestigious scientific journal, ‘Nature’, infrequently but regularly runs letters from its readers about whether scientists are more or less likely to be religious. The letters come down firmly on both sides. Some say that religion is superstition and scientists are above such nonsense. Others say that religion is a search for meaning about which science is silent. “At our best, we think seriously about purpose and meaning.” says one letter. “In this, science provides no guidance and we each have to find our own path. Religious thought provides one option.”

Some scientists suspect they are religious because both science and religion share a search for certainty, for higher laws. Albert Einstein attributed a physicist friend’s persistence at difficult work to “the longing to behold… pre-established harmony.” Religious people have the same longing, he said, and a legitimate conflict between science and religions cannot exist.” I agree with Einstein.

“Science without religion is lame.” He went on to say, “Religion without science is blind.” I’m not sure what he meant by that, but it sounds right. The world is complicated and people, who are also complicated and people, who are also complicated, have a lot of questions. Some questions- the simple, concrete ones- science can answer. Other questions – the ones about how best to live and find meaning in life- only religions can answer. I can’t imagine living without both scientific knowledge and religious faith.