Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.
— Albert Einstein
This quote appears in so many places and is often used to show that even an agnostic like Einstein couldn’t deny that religion has something to say about fabric of reality. Similarly Einstein is also quoted as saying he wanted to know how God created the world and His thoughts. For him, “the rest are details.”
At the same time, in his so-called “God letter”, which is now up for auction on eBay (see this month’s News section), Einstein presents a much more pessimistic view of faith. Calling religion childish superstition, he writes: “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”
But isn’t that 2nd attitude just what has put people of faith on the defensive? It’s easy to discuss science and leave God out of the equation. At the same time it is easy to talk about spiritual forces, as Einstein did, without scientific input. The challenge remains in seeing how religious tradition and scientific facts fit together and after all these years it remains difficult to sum up religion-and-science in a relatively brief and satisfying way.
That doesn’t stop anyone from trying. For physicists that might translate as the search for the perfect equation or, in the case of the Higgs boson, an that elementary particle as a way to “explain everything.” For others like John Albright (see this month’s Profile), the danger is an oversimplified view of mathematics or a too simplistic anthropic principle. Any of these can trip up many an eager religion-and-science scholar.
At the same time some see the “spiritual forces” at work as a possible friend to the planet. For instance this year’s IRAS conference looked at the possible religious and ethical answers to our ecological crisis (see this month’s Feature).
From the religious side, some religious leaders recently have questioned the morality of scientific work in a number of areas, most notably in the stem cell research. It is true that recent Nobel Prize (see this month’s News section) winners did not acknowledge the potential for their findings on creating artificial stem cells to help relieve such moral dilemmas, but it will likely be discussed in other venues where both pastors and scientists can educate each other on their mutual aims for humanity. But then again, that is perhaps what Einstein would have seen as “the details” that are not readily revealed in mathematics, physics or in scientific experiments.
Susan is an author with a long-time interest in religion and science. She currently edits Covalence, the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology’s online magazine. She has written articles in The Lutheran and the Zygon Center for Religion and Science newsletter. Susan is a board member for the Center for Advanced Study of Religion and Science, the supporting organization for the Zygon Center and the Zygon Journal. She also co-wrote Our Bodies Are Selves with Dr. Philip Hefner and Dr. Ann Pederson.