I am profoundly grateful to Sir John Templeton for establishing this prize, and to the judges for honouring my work in science and religion. I also thank all of you who are taking part in this ceremony in such a beautiful and historic setting.
My interest in science and religion grew out of my own life experience. After doctoral work, research and teaching in nuclear physics for several years, I took a year of leave to study theology and ethics and ended by completing a theological degree. I was then appointed to teach in both the physics department and the religion department at Carleton College in Minnesota. At first these were separate areas of my life, but as I sought to relate them to each other in my writing, I found many other people interested in bringing these realms of thought together. I am glad that a Russian translation of my latest book will be published later this year by St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological College here in Moscow.
Four Views of Science and Religion
Let me describe four views of science and religion, of which I favour the last.
- Conflict. Since Darwin’s day, the most widely held image has been that of conflict or warfare. We hear of debates between atheistic scientists and biblical literalists. One side believes in evolution but not God, the other believes in God but not evolution. But between these two extremes are many people who believe in both God and evolution, or see evolution as God’s way of creating. In reality there are diverse views among scientists, and diverse views within our religious traditions.
- Separate Domains. One way to avoid conflict is to assign science and religion to watertight compartments or separate domains of life. Every form of inquiry is selective and deals only with the aspects of reality that are its proper concern. Science asks about causal connections between natural phenomena, while religion asks about ultimate meaning and purpose in a wider interpretive framework. If science is selective, it cannot claim that its description of reality is complete. Materialism is a philosophical position, not a conclusion defended in any scientific journal. Biblical literalists also ignore these differences when they make scientific claims as if they were an essential part of religious faith.
This separation of domains is attractive because it recognizes the distinctiveness of religion in human life. Religion has to do with communal worship and liturgy. Religion has to do with individual prayer, meditation, and the experience of forgiveness and renewal in the healing of our broken lives and our broken communities. Religion also has to do with ethics, the way we treat our neighbours, and our response to issues of social justice. All these activities seem far removed from science. But they all presuppose beliefs about God and human nature which are affected by science. Moreover each of us is a whole person and we cannot be content to divide our lives into watertight compartments.
- Religious Dimensions of Science. Many scientists feel a sense of awe and wonder in response to the universe which science has disclosed to us. For some, the order and mathematical beauty of nature have religious implications. Albert Einstein wrote: “A conviction, akin to religious feeling, of the rationality or intelligibility of the world lies behind all scientific work of a high order.” Einstein’s own views were closer to pantheism than to theism, but the order and intelligibility of nature are also compatible with a more traditional religious interpretation.
The argument from design has taken a new form in recent astronomy. The universe has been expanding from an incredibly dense fireball 15 billion years ago. What happened at t=0, the singularity at which the laws of physics break down? A remarkable feature of the early universe is that it seems to be “fine-tuned” to the conditions needed for the emergence of life. Stephen Hawking writes: “If the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, it would have re- collapsed before it reached its present size.”
Of course some astronomers reject the idea of design. They suggest that there might be trillions of universes, or a succession of oscillating cycles, each with different fundamental constants, and we just happen by chance to live in one in which the conditions were just right for life. But it is impossible to find direct evidence of other universes because communication between them is in principle impossible. It is simpler to assume just one universe.
What about the complex molecular structures necessary for the emergence of life? Unpredictable higher levels of complexity can arise spontaneously from the dynamics of self-organization. Here again the argument from design is plausible but not conclusive. Design arguments are appealing today because they start from science which is accepted in diverse cultures around the world. But such arguments lead only to the absentee God who designed the universe and then went out to lunch. However, they can be combined with more traditional ideas. Ours is indeed the kind of world we might expect if an intelligent and personal God was interested in the creation of life, consciousness, and intelligent beings capable of personal relationships.
- Dialogue. I think this is the most promising approach. It allows us to draw from both the scientific and religious communities, not simply from either one alone. I am particularly interested in the Christian tradition, in which the dialogue has been most extensive, but it has also occurred in Judaism and Islam, and to some extent in Buddhism and Hinduism. We can start from a particular religious tradition and ask how its concept might be reformulated in the light of science without abandoning its central convictions. This requires humility on both sides. Scientists have to acknowledge that science does not have all the answers, and theologians have to recognize the changing historical contexts of theological reflection.
Examples of Dialogue
If we take the Bible seriously but not literally we can accept the central biblical message without accepting the pre-scientific cosmology in which it was expressed, such as the three-layer universe with heaven above and hell below, or the seven days of the creation story. The authors of Genesis believed that death was initiated as a punishment for human sin. Now we know that death was present long before human beings were here, and that it was a necessary feature of creation by evolution. But we can still believe that death threatens human beings in a unique way, intensified by the violation of relationships with God and neighbour which constitutes human sin.
In Darwin’s day it seemed an affront to human dignity to suggest that we might be descended from apes and earlier life forms. Today we can see both continuity and genuine novelty in evolutionary history. We are indeed part of a larger community of life, and we are kin to all creatures. We share with all life forms the same genetic code by which the four bases of DNA spell out the proteins from which all organisms are formed. But we can also point to the unique features of human self- consciousness, language, and culture. Each of us is at the same time a biological organism and a responsible self.
Through most of Western history it was assumed that God created living things all at once in their present forms. It was viewed as a completed world in which a transcendent God could still intervene occasionally from outside. Now we know that it has been a long, slow process of creation. We must give greater attention to God’s immanence working within the universe, without denying transcendence. In the Bible it is the Holy Spirit which represents God’s presence with the world, not only in the worshiping community, the inspiration of the prophets, and at Pentecost, but also in the world of nature.
In a more speculative vein, it may be possible to use concepts derived from science to provide new models of God’s relation to the world. The communication of information is an important concept in many fields of science, from DNA to computer networks. One proposal is that God’s action in the world can be thought of as the communication of information. We could even see a parallel with the first verse of John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word,” which in Greek is logos or rational structure, but which also expresses the more active Hebrew concept of the Word as the creative power of communication.
Another proposal takes the idea of top-down causality between the levels of an organism and extends it to speak of God as acting from an even higher level, making use of but not violating the laws of lower levels. In these proposals, God is acting continuously from within nature rather than intervening intermittently from outside. We do not search for gaps in the scientific account, and then introduce God to fill them. The so-called “God of the gaps” has retreated as each of the gaps was filled. God creates through the whole seamless process.
Christian Attitudes toward the Environment
Environmentalists have pointed out that Christianity has emphasized God’s transcendence more than immanence, and has drawn an absolute line between humanity and other creatures. The idea of human dominion has sometimes been used to justify unlimited exploitation of the natural world.
But there are other neglected biblical themes that provide support for environmental concern. Stewardship is called for since “the earth is the Lord’s” and we are accountable for our treatment of it. Many of the Psalms celebrate nature and appreciate its diversity. Some traditions have held that the sacred is present in and under nature. Celtic Christianity in Ireland expressed a deep love of the natural world and a conviction that God is immanent in it. All these themes can encourage our concern for the world of nature at a time when it is threatened by our escalating demands.
I am indebted to writers in the Greek and Russian Orthodox traditions who have included nature in the sphere of redemption. Gregory of Nyssa in the 4th century and Maximus the Confessor in the 6th century stressed the unity of humanity with all other creatures. Vladimir Solovyev in 19th-century Russia portrayed God’s activity throughout the realm of nature. More recently Alexander Schmemann at St Vladimir’s Seminary in New York wrote an impressive little book, The World as Sacrament. Other Russian writers have presented a vision of sobornost (usually translated as fellowship or community), not only within the church and within humanity, but extending to the entire cosmos. Without advocating pantheism we can say that the sacred is encountered in nature as well as history.
Technology and Ethics
Most scientists recognize that the applications of science raise ethical questions which science itself cannot answer. Science can tell us what is possible, but not what goals and values we should seek. Some segments of the population usually received most of the benefits of a new technology, and other groups carry the burden of risks and indirect costs, so questions of social justice are at stake. Moreover, new technologies give us new powers over nature and human nature, requiring choices which have never been faced before, such as those in biotechnology and genetic engineering.
Consider the new techniques of cloning in which the nucleus of a single cell from a living creature is used to produce a second individual with identical genes. We can perhaps accept the cloning of Dolly the sheep in Scotland, in which the motive was the production of new drugs for medical purposes. But the motives for cloning a human being seem much more dubious. A father might want to clone an exact duplicate of himself (though of course its personality will differ since it will grow up in a different generation in a different environment). A mother having a daughter with a fatal illness might clone another daughter to supply organs for transplantation, or to replace her if she died. Think of the burden of expectations carried by these children, who are not valued for their own sakes but to fulfill someone else’s purposes. Think of the disruption of family structures when the father’s cloned son is also his twin brother and there is no genetic mother. Of course the Bible does not tell us “Thou shalt not clone.” But it does hold up for us values that can guide us in our decisions, such as the dignity of the individual and the importance of the family.
We are in the eve of a new millennium in which we can expect exciting advances in science and their application in technology. Technological change will be far more rapid than ever before. Molecular biology will make possible new forms of genetic engineering in plants and animals and new medical therapies. Computers and the digital transmission of information will present new opportunities in entertainment, business, and education.
But the biblical heritage calls us to concern for the impacts of technology on people as well as on the environment. Today, a costly medical cure may be developed for a rare disease in one nation, while around the world millions of children die for lack of an inexpensive vaccine. Along with medical research, we must give attention to how its fruits are distributed in society. Computers in schools are a valuable tool in education and in preparation for a future job, but we must make them more widely available to all children. Technological changes often increase the gap between rich and poor within a country.
The biblical commitment to social justice can motivate us to make sure that those in greatest need are not left behind. The gospel message can empower us to seek environmental preservation, human dignity, and social justice in the deployment of the exciting scientific advances of the new millennium. It will take all our efforts together to bring an age of global peace and human fulfillment on God’s good earth.
The objective of the Templeton Prize is to stimulate the knowledge and love of God on the part of humankind everywhere. Such an attitude and such a relationship have their own intrinsic value. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Humanity was created by God for fellowship with God. God desires to be known, to be worshiped, and to be served by us. Our hearts will remain restless until we find rest in God.
Progress is needed in religion as in all other dimensions of human experience and endeavour. There has been a long departure, at least in Western culture, from the last synthesis when religious knowledge and scientific knowledge were organically related. It is imperative that progress in religion be accelerated as progress in other disciplines takes place. A wider universe demands deeper awareness of the dimension of the spirit and its spiritual resources available for people, of the immensity of God, and of the divine knowledge and understanding still to be claimed.
The Templeton Prize serves to stimulate this quest for deeper understanding and pioneering breakthroughs in religious knowledge by calling attention annually to the achievements that are being made in this area. It is hoped that there will result from this enterprise a deeper spiritual awareness on the part of all people, a better understanding of the meaning of life, heightened quality of devotion and love, and a greater emphasis on the kind of dedication that brings the human life more into concert with the divine will, thus releasing new and creative energies into human society today.