Can science and religion be friends?

(This post is admittedly rough.  My thoughts on the topic are still amorphous, much like the organization of this post…All apologies.)

Science and religion are often perceived as begin at war with one another.  And it seems that the people who get the most media play are the ones that are the most offensive and in your face.  Each side shouting and name-calling so loud that neither can hear the other.  Perhaps they are doing it on purpose so they don’t have to hear the other.  I recently listened to a talk given by Dr. John Polkinghorne that set me to thinking about this perceived war.  Polkinghorne is among the most genial and humble people I have ever heard speak on the topic.

I know this video is longish, but I think it is worth a listen.  Dr. Polkinhorne is a theoretical physicist turned Anglican priest.  This guy has serious credentials.  He was directly involved in the experiments that discovered quarks and gluons and is now an ordained priest.  He has published a number of books on the intersection of science and religion.

So, can science and religion be friends?  I don’t know.  I do know that it will be difficult for fundamentalist religious folks (Christian, Muslim, etc) and dogmatic atheists to ever get along.  Though, I don’t think that matters.  Not all scientists are dogmatic atheists and most people don’t take the Bible literally.  It is possible for scientists and clergy to  get along and so I also feel, by extension, the avocations of science and religion can be friends, too.

The key to forging this friendship is to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each.  That’s what makes friendships work.  Science is well placed to help us know about the natural world.   That’s what science does.  It tells us how the world works.  Religion can help us know what it means to be human.  It tells us how to treat one another.  How to live good lives. The key is to make sure neither overstep its bounds.  Holy books are not science books and science shouldn’t determine our morality.

The first step to forming any friendship is dialogue.  Discourse will help both parties know where the other stands and what they stand for.  And like all good friendships either can explain when the other over steps their bounds and how they did so.  Most people are blissfully unaware of what science is, how it progresses, and how it is carried out.  To most people, science is their computer, or cell phone, or a medical procedure that saved their life, nothing more.  Similarly, they have given very little thought to religion.  To most people, religion is going to church every Sunday.  If these people could see those at the  forefront of science and religion engaged in thoughtful and productive dialogue, they will be more likely to learn about both ways of knowing.

So give Polkinghorne a look or a read, think about what science is , think about what religion is, and consider how each fits into your life and your world.  Both are aspects of humanity (a desire to understand our world and ourselves) that define what it means to be human.


About benevolentheathen

I am an Associate Professor of Biology at Northwestern Oklahoma State University. I teach courses in ecology, evolution, and behavior with an emphasis on terrestrial vertebrates, especially reptiles. In recent years I have become increasingly interested in the interplay between science and religion. I consider myself spiritual, but not religious. I am continually reassessing my thoughts and ideas about God, faith, and religion and how they fit into my empirical worldview. View all posts by benevolentheathen

One response to “Can science and religion be friends?

  • Luke Scott

    ok i haven’t watched the Dr. Polkinhorne video yet, but i definately think science and religion can be friends…and i will even go as far as to say that science and religion can be intimate…and i’ll go even further to say that, in truth, science and religion are indeed ONE. However…all the baggage that comes with these two loaded terms ‘science’ and ‘religion’ tends to lead people astray. I would first begin to merge science and religion by abandoning the loaded terms and all the baggage that comes with it.
    The seeker of truth should consider The Creator foremost. Forget religion for the moment and focus ONLY on the One and Only…The Power that gives life to the universe and all that exists is beyond religion, beyond science, and certainly far far beyond human thought. In the west we call “him” ‘God’. It is crucial to acknowledge that ‘God’ is not a “him”. God is not an anthropomorphic being. God is not a man or and angel or any”thing” that we can imagine. God is beyond all…and it is here that is the beginning of understanding…

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