Science

  • Issue 109 / January -February 2016



    Science and Religion in a World of Religious Pluralism

    Philip Clayton

    We live in a time of deep division: will the coming years reveal an increasing number of partnerships between science and religion, or will we see a battle to the death between the two?


    The world has never been more reliant on the fruits of science. Yet the tree of knowledge that produces this fruit is often viewed as suspect. Around the world, it’s often religious people whose condemnations of science are the most vocal.


    Religious people in much of the world are actively pushing back against what they call “the worldview of science.” Many question the methods, the practices, the assumptions, and the funding priorities of science. But the same people bring no such skepticism to the fruits of science. People want good cell phones, good cars, state-of-the-art hospitals, safe food, modern cities, stable bridges, and the most modern technology.


    Religion versus science. Interpreted in the context of warfare, science exists as a challenge to religion, and the duty of religious persons is to protect their tradition against the dangerous encroachments onto their territory by scientists and their theories. Both sides must be ready to fight at a moment’s notice.


    This, at any rate, is the dominant view in our day. This is how we’ve been conditioned to behave: we defend the group we feel closest to and attack its enemies. We see science or religion – not science and religion.


    But then there are the peacemakers — the ones who seek other solutions to conflict; the ones who prioritize partnership over war. I believe that it’s possible to develop constructive relationships between science and each particular religious tradition. Harmony will be found in the opening of specific religious traditions to the world of science. Until we acknowledge the vastly different challenges faced by the different religions, genuine progress is unlikely.


    Before we get to the differences, however, let’s see how much common ground we can find.


    Partnerships more urgent than ever

    One obvious area of partnership is global climate change. But the environmental crisis is not the only area of common ground: science-religion partnerships are crucial across a wide variety of areas. Medical ethics and assessments of the patient’s quality of life profit from religious input. Moral outrage at the design and use of atomic, biological, and chemical weapons is often fueled by religious intuitions about what is unacceptable for one human being to do to another. The rapid expansion of technology inevitably raises ethical dilemmas. Yet there are relatively few religious thinkers who are well enough versed in the scientific details and nuanced enough in their judgments that they can make useful recommendations for when and how technology should be used.


    Cutting-edge scientific research also raises some of the most interesting conceptual questions that humans have ever encountered. Physics raises fundamental questions about the birth of the universe and its distant future. Since the time of Darwin, philosophers and theologians have speculated whether biological evolution is guided in some way, or whether evolution is random.


    Finally, the rapid advances in the neurosciences, fueled by greatly enhanced imaging techniques, raise urgent questions about the nature and causes of consciousness and cognition, of rationality and morality. Does the power of neuroscientific explanation prove that we are (as Francis Crick once wrote) “nothing but a pack of neurons”? Does it force us to conclude (as another neurologist put it), “Wires and chemicals, that’s all we are — wires and chemicals.” Many religious (and non-religious) scholars stand opposed to this view. They make the case that we are somehow more, that our conscious experience is unique among the species on this planet. They stand much closer to the response by the secular Jewish scientist Melvin Konner:



    I suspect that we are seeing [in this example] the most rudimentary form of the key to being human: a sort of wonderment at the spectacle of the world, and its apprehensibility by the mind; a focusing, of the sheer purpose of elevation; an intelligent waking dream. In that capacity, perhaps, we find our greatest distinction, and it may be our salvation.


    The questions I have just summarized are among the fundamental questions about human nature and the cosmos that are posed for us by this age of science. These questions arise naturally, compellingly, at the boundaries between recent scientific developments and the world’s most significant philosophical and religious traditions. Some of them are metaphysical questions. But they are also existential questions — questions about meaning, the construction of meaning, the search for meaning. Because they are about the creation of meaning, social sciences such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology play important roles in researching them.


    To aid in a dialogue, scientific scholars should not let their reports delve into highly technical prose, written for a narrow circle of academic specialists. The best scientists express the complex dilemmas and provocative possibilities that emerge at the ever-expanding intersections of science and religion, yet they do so in ways that are broadly accessible. Our audience is every person who seeks to understand the implications of being part of a single web of life that is becoming conscious of itself, its origins, and its ultimate future.


    A new dialogue

    What would be the signs that we are working constructively together on overlapping topics characterized by common questions and assumptions?


    I suggest three.


    (1) A core set of agreed-upon data and assumptions, however minimal.


    (2) Clear and honest formulation of disagreements. Can we clearly name the issues that threaten to tear us into warring factions? For example, for one research group all valid explanations must be naturalist explanations, of the sort accessible to contemporary science; for another group, if explanations do not include some reference to God’s supernatural actions, they cannot be valid.


    (3) Constructive proposals to bridge differences. Scholars must help us to analyze differences, to formulate the underlying assumptions of the other side, and to construct theories that might synthesize opposing positions.


    Back to the frontiers

    The birth of religion and science as a field is often cited as the 1960s; it’s sometimes connected with the 1966 publication of Ian Barbour’s Issues in Science and Religion. I can remember the early work in the 1980s and 90s, when there was a clear excitement about sharing these discussions with one’s religious and scientific friends. There was a clear sense that a real partnership was emerging.


    I wonder what it would be like to recover some of that open spirit of inquiry that characterized those early years — that sense of exploration and discovery. What would it take?


    My list would include some of the following qualities:



    1. willingness to compromise

    2. a sense of journeying, learning, and exploring together

    3. an interest in new data, in new things humans are learning about the world, and about ourselves

    4. Everyone, including religious people, would admit they don’t know all the answers in advance.

    5. We would see an excitement about differences, with the conviction that pursuing these differences can lead to deeper understanding



    Let’s consider this last point for a moment. What does it point to, and what does it reveal?


    Irreconcilable differences

    When two people file for divorce in the United States, they often cite what they call “irreconcilable differences.”


    In certain cultures, and at certain periods in the past, the marriage between science and religion was seen as a healthy and productive one. Today, many commentators are speaking of “irreconcilable differences” and are claiming that a complete divorce is the only solution.



    Many of us hold a different view. We believe that declaring a complete divorce between science and religion would be a tragedy. The partnership that they have had could and should be continued. It is essential for the good of humanity. Those of us who identify as Muslim, Jew or Christian, as Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain, feel that we must speak up when our co-religionists dismiss science as an enemy of our religion. We want them to understand that this divorce is not necessary.


    Those of us who are scientists argue the same way with our fellow scientists. Sure, we say, some religious people are fundamentally opposed to science, and some religious beliefs are incompatible with science. Still, religion as such is not our enemy. We can learn to build useful bridges between our science and their religion. Indeed, we argue, we have already found some neutral territory, and even some places of harmony. We are convinced that the actual and potential partnerships between science and religion are valuable enough that it would be a tragedy to declare that the two sides are irreconcilably at war.


     


    Sciences and religions as a new paradigm


    Predictions of secularists notwithstanding, religion is not “withering away”; globally, it is expanding faster than ever. And yet religious language is used by some to promote dogmatism, the rejection of science, and even violence.


    There is some encouraging data, however. In most cases, extremism in religious communities is inversely correlated with the degree of their engagement with science. To the extent that we can promote a serious and ongoing engagement with the methods and results of the sciences, we decrease the probability that religious communities will turn toward fundamentalism.


    Our challenge is, each tradition makes its peace with science in different ways. Until we as scholars in this area learn to understand and acknowledge the vastly different ways that the various traditions engage with science — what each tradition wants, what it needs, and what it fears — we will continue to misunderstand and misrepresent the other as if it shared the same concerns that define our own tradition.


    Let’s consider some examples. I begin with two religious traditions that have been able to live in a mostly non-conflictual way with science: Judaism and Buddhism.


    The Jewish intellectual tradition has been able to incorporate modern science with relative ease. The reasons lie deep in the Jewish tradition — in midrash, in the Rabbinical tradition, and in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE. Although all of Tanak, the Hebrew Bible, reveals the nature of the Almighty, the first five books (the Torah) have the highest authority for Jews. Observance of the Mitzvot, the 613 commandments in the Torah, stands at the center of Jewish observance, and hence Jewish identity. Because the actions of observance are most important, the interpretations that one offers about the commandments, and even the beliefs that one holds about God, come second.


    Over the centuries, Jewish thinkers were able to draw on a wide variety of philosophical schools to express emerging understandings of Jewish identity and Jewish views of reality. Rabbinical discourse valued multiplicity, difference of opinion, and debate. When modern science arose, the sphere of debate was simply expanded to include the new theories. Jewish communities valued the growth of knowledge, and many observant Jews became leading scientists.


    Over the last decades Buddhism has also evolved to become one of the most science-friendly religions in the world. As always, there are personal and political reasons behind this phenomenon. The 14th Dalai Lama has promoted and personally sponsored a wide variety of projects in religion and science. His famous comment is often repeated: “if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”


    Still, the reasons for the Dalai Lama’s support of science lie deep within Buddhist thought and practice. He speaks for much of the Buddhist tradition when we writes, “The … dimension … of basic spiritual well-being — by which I mean inner mental and emotional strength and balance — does not depend on religion but comes from our innate human nature as beings with a natural disposition toward compassion, kindness, and caring for others.”


    “Buddhism, like Judaism, places the major emphasis on practice. Meditative practices are central, along with certain types of experience and states of consciousness that meditation can produce. In Mahayana Buddhist in particular, achieving the state of compassion, and expressing it in action, is the highest goal; metaphysical concepts are important only to the extent that they promote this outcome. Compassion simply means the desire “to alleviate the suffering of others and to promote their well-being.”


    This approach leads to an avid interest in certain areas of science, which Buddhist practitioners, like many Hindu practitioners, view as natural allies to their own spiritual quest. They look to science to support traditional claims about the benefits of meditation and to verify the unusual physiological achievements of advanced meditators. Many practitioners are willing to distance themselves from ancient metaphysical teachings in the belief that what is most important to Buddhism will find scientific support and confirmation over the long term.


    While Judaism and Buddhist offer the most unambiguous cases, many other traditions have openings to science that are currently being emphasized and explored.


    In my opinion, of these various traditions that we are considering, none is more important globally today than the engagement of Islam with science.


    In 2008, the Islamic Forum of Science, Cultures, and the Future of Humanity adopted a declaration which stated, with reference to Islam, that “the so-called ‘warfare between science and religion’ is unnecessary and destructive—to religion, to science, and to the future of our species and our planet,” and that it “is possible in this century to bridge the gap between the cultures of science and religion. Succeeding in this task will require greater openness to contributions from all fields of knowledge…” They also stated that they “encourage an interdisciplinary approach to the discussion of science, culture, and religion. Yet this discussion must be conducted with discipline and intellectual rigor by people with the requisite expertise.”


    It is not my place as a non-Muslim to specify how Islam should make peace with science. To find solutions, Muslim scholars and imams are engaging in deep study of the Holy Qur’an, the classic tradition of Islamic philosophy and theology, and of course scientific theories and the history and philosophy of science. We as non-Muslim scholars can offer resources in these fields, and we can share solutions that our traditions have found useful. And of course we can share our confidence that solutions can be found, that Islam does not face an either/or: either reject modern science, or question the words of God’s Prophet.


    Many scholars are focusing on the most pressing issues in the Islam-science dialogue: Qur’anic support for the pursuit of knowledge of the natural world; how to connect natural causes with God as the final cause of all beings and all phenomena; natural knowledge and revealed knowledge; the apparent randomness of the evolutionary process versus God’s direction of all creation; the uniqueness of human beings; naturalism versus God’s supernatural acts; and, of particular importance, how to read the Holy Qur’an so that it does not become a direct competitor with science, while still allowing the Holy Book to function as the authoritative record of the teachings of the Prophet, on whom be peace.


    When it comes to my own tradition, I am obliged to speak not just of the strengths of Christian engagement with the sciences, but also of where we have fallen short.Some of the most extensive literature comes from Christian authors, and virtually every topic of Christian theology has been brought into dialogue with the sciences. One finds conservative and fundamentalist answers that reject science in toto as incompatible with Christianity, or that argue that Christian beliefs actually constitute better science than the natural sciences. At the other end of the spectrum, one finds Christian doctrines interpreted in purely scientific terms, so that no supernatural elements remain. In between these two extremes Christian authors have explored a vast variety of science-inspired interpretations of their tradition.


    This radical pluralism is a strength: Christian scholars propose, for each other and for other traditions, a great number of ways that compatibilities and incompatibilities with science can be expressed and incorporated.


    Conclusion: finding common cause across differences

    As scholars study relations at the various intersections of science and religion, we develop a shared body of knowledge.


    I hope that we will be able to express differences without being dogmatic. I continue to be inspired by the examples of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scientists who have accepted the call to productive scholarship, and thus have been able to make progress even in areas where there is real conflict. Deep scholarship involves deep listening. Where will we find that common foundation of respect today, without which we cannot succeed?


    We do best when we connect with affection and interest across the two cultures of science and religion — when we find common cause, common interests, common challenges.


    I believe that certain common values characterize our work. We value empirical data and seek to apportion our beliefs to the evidence. Because we recognize that specialization can lead to fragmentation, we value interdisciplinary scholarship and the crossing of boundaries. We know that the natural sciences, although crucial for knowledge of the world, do not tell the entire story, for the techniques and conclusions of the social sciences also play an important role. And both are supplemented by the humanities — by philosophy, ethics, and religious studies.


    It is with a call to compassion and action that I wish to conclude. For the first time in the history of humanity, humans now face a truly global crisis, one for which we, ultimately, are responsible. We have upset the natural rhythm of the planet. The effects of human-induced climate change are already producing mass migrations, starvation, deaths, and extinctions of species. No one will be able to understand the crisis and take appropriate actions unless they listen carefully to science — to climatologists, environmental theorists, ecologists, and others. Yet science alone will not be sufficient to motivate the necessary response: a global turning toward a sustainable, ecologically based civilization is also necessary.


    Fortunately, humanity does have resources that can supplement scientific knowledge and technological ability: we have the call to compassion, and the reminder of the sacredness of all life, that resounds across the world’s great religious traditions. These values, brought to bear on what may be the biggest crisis that humanity has ever faced, can make the crucial difference. If the decision is separation — “science or religion” — then I do not think that humanity will be able to marshal the moral and spiritual resources that it needs to slow the pace of climate change. If the decision is integration — “science and religion” — then we have a chance, a fighting chance.


    We live in a time of deep division: will the coming years reveal an increasing number of partnerships between science and religion, or will we see a battle to the death between the two?


    The world has never been more reliant on the fruits of science. Yet the tree of knowledge that produces this fruit is often viewed as suspect. Around the world, it’s often religious people whose condemnations of science are the most vocal.


    Religious people in much of the world are actively pushing back against what they call “the worldview of science.” Many question the methods, the practices, the assumptions, and the funding priorities of science. But the same people bring no such skepticism to the fruits of science. People want good cell phones, good cars, state-of-the-art hospitals, safe food, modern cities, stable bridges, and the most modern technology.


    Religion versus science. Interpreted in the context of warfare, science exists as a challenge to religion, and the duty of religious persons is to protect their tradition against the dangerous encroachments onto their territory by scientists and their theories. Both sides must be ready to fight at a moment’s notice.


    This, at any rate, is the dominant view in our day. This is how we’ve been conditioned to behave: we defend the group we feel closest to and attack its enemies. We see science or religion – not science and religion.


    But then there are the peacemakers — the ones who seek other solutions to conflict; the ones who prioritize partnership over war. I believe that it’s possible to develop constructive relationships between science and each particular religious tradition. Harmony will be found in the opening of specific religious traditions to the world of science. Until we acknowledge the vastly different challenges faced by the different religions, genuine progress is unlikely.


    Before we get to the differences, however, let’s see how much common ground we can find.


    Partnerships more urgent than ever

    One obvious area of partnership is global climate change. But the environmental crisis is not the only area of common ground: science-religion partnerships are crucial across a wide variety of areas. Medical ethics and assessments of the patient’s quality of life profit from religious input. Moral outrage at the design and use of atomic, biological, and chemical weapons is often fueled by religious intuitions about what is unacceptable for one human being to do to another. The rapid expansion of technology inevitably raises ethical dilemmas. Yet there are relatively few religious thinkers who are well enough versed in the scientific details and nuanced enough in their judgments that they can make useful recommendations for when and how technology should be used.


    Cutting-edge scientific research also raises some of the most interesting conceptual questions that humans have ever encountered. Physics raises fundamental questions about the birth of the universe and its distant future. Since the time of Darwin, philosophers and theologians have speculated whether biological evolution is guided in some way, or whether evolution is random.


    Finally, the rapid advances in the neurosciences, fueled by greatly enhanced imaging techniques, raise urgent questions about the nature and causes of consciousness and cognition, of rationality and morality. Does the power of neuroscientific explanation prove that we are (as Francis Crick once wrote) “nothing but a pack of neurons”? Does it force us to conclude (as another neurologist put it), “Wires and chemicals, that’s all we are — wires and chemicals.” Many religious (and non-religious) scholars stand opposed to this view. They make the case that we are somehow more, that our conscious experience is unique among the species on this planet. They stand much closer to the response by the secular Jewish scientist Melvin Konner:



    I suspect that we are seeing [in this example] the most rudimentary form of the key to being human: a sort of wonderment at the spectacle of the world, and its apprehensibility by the mind; a focusing, of the sheer purpose of elevation; an intelligent waking dream. In that capacity, perhaps, we find our greatest distinction, and it may be our salvation.


    The questions I have just summarized are among the fundamental questions about human nature and the cosmos that are posed for us by this age of science. These questions arise naturally, compellingly, at the boundaries between recent scientific developments and the world’s most significant philosophical and religious traditions. Some of them are metaphysical questions. But they are also existential questions — questions about meaning, the construction of meaning, the search for meaning. Because they are about the creation of meaning, social sciences such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology play important roles in researching them.


    To aid in a dialogue, scientific scholars should not let their reports delve into highly technical prose, written for a narrow circle of academic specialists. The best scientists express the complex dilemmas and provocative possibilities that emerge at the ever-expanding intersections of science and religion, yet they do so in ways that are broadly accessible. Our audience is every person who seeks to understand the implications of being part of a single web of life that is becoming conscious of itself, its origins, and its ultimate future.


    A new dialogue

    What would be the signs that we are working constructively together on overlapping topics characterized by common questions and assumptions?


    I suggest three.


    (1) A core set of agreed-upon data and assumptions, however minimal.


    (2) Clear and honest formulation of disagreements. Can we clearly name the issues that threaten to tear us into warring factions? For example, for one research group all valid explanations must be naturalist explanations, of the sort accessible to contemporary science; for another group, if explanations do not include some reference to God’s supernatural actions, they cannot be valid.


    (3) Constructive proposals to bridge differences. Scholars must help us to analyze differences, to formulate the underlying assumptions of the other side, and to construct theories that might synthesize opposing positions.


    Back to the frontiers

    The birth of religion and science as a field is often cited as the 1960s; it’s sometimes connected with the 1966 publication of Ian Barbour’s Issues in Science and Religion. I can remember the early work in the 1980s and 90s, when there was a clear excitement about sharing these discussions with one’s religious and scientific friends. There was a clear sense that a real partnership was emerging.


    I wonder what it would be like to recover some of that open spirit of inquiry that characterized those early years — that sense of exploration and discovery. What would it take?


    My list would include some of the following qualities:



    1. willingness to compromise

    2. a sense of journeying, learning, and exploring together

    3. an interest in new data, in new things humans are learning about the world, and about ourselves

    4. Everyone, including religious people, would admit they don’t know all the answers in advance.

    5. We would see an excitement about differences, with the conviction that pursuing these differences can lead to deeper understanding



    Let’s consider this last point for a moment. What does it point to, and what does it reveal?


    Irreconcilable differences

    When two people file for divorce in the United States, they often cite what they call “irreconcilable differences.”


    In certain cultures, and at certain periods in the past, the marriage between science and religion was seen as a healthy and productive one. Today, many commentators are speaking of “irreconcilable differences” and are claiming that a complete divorce is the only solution.



    Many of us hold a different view. We believe that declaring a complete divorce between science and religion would be a tragedy. The partnership that they have had could and should be continued. It is essential for the good of humanity. Those of us who identify as Muslim, Jew or Christian, as Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain, feel that we must speak up when our co-religionists dismiss science as an enemy of our religion. We want them to understand that this divorce is not necessary.


    Those of us who are scientists argue the same way with our fellow scientists. Sure, we say, some religious people are fundamentally opposed to science, and some religious beliefs are incompatible with science. Still, religion as such is not our enemy. We can learn to build useful bridges between our science and their religion. Indeed, we argue, we have already found some neutral territory, and even some places of harmony. We are convinced that the actual and potential partnerships between science and religion are valuable enough that it would be a tragedy to declare that the two sides are irreconcilably at war.


     


    Sciences and religions as a new paradigm


    Predictions of secularists notwithstanding, religion is not “withering away”; globally, it is expanding faster than ever. And yet religious language is used by some to promote dogmatism, the rejection of science, and even violence.


    There is some encouraging data, however. In most cases, extremism in religious communities is inversely correlated with the degree of their engagement with science. To the extent that we can promote a serious and ongoing engagement with the methods and results of the sciences, we decrease the probability that religious communities will turn toward fundamentalism.


    Our challenge is, each tradition makes its peace with science in different ways. Until we as scholars in this area learn to understand and acknowledge the vastly different ways that the various traditions engage with science — what each tradition wants, what it needs, and what it fears — we will continue to misunderstand and misrepresent the other as if it shared the same concerns that define our own tradition.


    Let’s consider some examples. I begin with two religious traditions that have been able to live in a mostly non-conflictual way with science: Judaism and Buddhism.


    The Jewish intellectual tradition has been able to incorporate modern science with relative ease. The reasons lie deep in the Jewish tradition — in midrash, in the Rabbinical tradition, and in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE. Although all of Tanak, the Hebrew Bible, reveals the nature of the Almighty, the first five books (the Torah) have the highest authority for Jews. Observance of the Mitzvot, the 613 commandments in the Torah, stands at the center of Jewish observance, and hence Jewish identity. Because the actions of observance are most important, the interpretations that one offers about the commandments, and even the beliefs that one holds about God, come second.


    Over the centuries, Jewish thinkers were able to draw on a wide variety of philosophical schools to express emerging understandings of Jewish identity and Jewish views of reality. Rabbinical discourse valued multiplicity, difference of opinion, and debate. When modern science arose, the sphere of debate was simply expanded to include the new theories. Jewish communities valued the growth of knowledge, and many observant Jews became leading scientists.


    Over the last decades Buddhism has also evolved to become one of the most science-friendly religions in the world. As always, there are personal and political reasons behind this phenomenon. The 14th Dalai Lama has promoted and personally sponsored a wide variety of projects in religion and science. His famous comment is often repeated: “if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”


    Still, the reasons for the Dalai Lama’s support of science lie deep within Buddhist thought and practice. He speaks for much of the Buddhist tradition when we writes, “The … dimension … of basic spiritual well-being — by which I mean inner mental and emotional strength and balance — does not depend on religion but comes from our innate human nature as beings with a natural disposition toward compassion, kindness, and caring for others.”


    “Buddhism, like Judaism, places the major emphasis on practice. Meditative practices are central, along with certain types of experience and states of consciousness that meditation can produce. In Mahayana Buddhist in particular, achieving the state of compassion, and expressing it in action, is the highest goal; metaphysical concepts are important only to the extent that they promote this outcome. Compassion simply means the desire “to alleviate the suffering of others and to promote their well-being.”


    This approach leads to an avid interest in certain areas of science, which Buddhist practitioners, like many Hindu practitioners, view as natural allies to their own spiritual quest. They look to science to support traditional claims about the benefits of meditation and to verify the unusual physiological achievements of advanced meditators. Many practitioners are willing to distance themselves from ancient metaphysical teachings in the belief that what is most important to Buddhism will find scientific support and confirmation over the long term.


    While Judaism and Buddhist offer the most unambiguous cases, many other traditions have openings to science that are currently being emphasized and explored.


    In my opinion, of these various traditions that we are considering, none is more important globally today than the engagement of Islam with science.


    In 2008, the Islamic Forum of Science, Cultures, and the Future of Humanity adopted a declaration which stated, with reference to Islam, that “the so-called ‘warfare between science and religion’ is unnecessary and destructive—to religion, to science, and to the future of our species and our planet,” and that it “is possible in this century to bridge the gap between the cultures of science and religion. Succeeding in this task will require greater openness to contributions from all fields of knowledge…” They also stated that they “encourage an interdisciplinary approach to the discussion of science, culture, and religion. Yet this discussion must be conducted with discipline and intellectual rigor by people with the requisite expertise.”


    It is not my place as a non-Muslim to specify how Islam should make peace with science. To find solutions, Muslim scholars and imams are engaging in deep study of the Holy Qur’an, the classic tradition of Islamic philosophy and theology, and of course scientific theories and the history and philosophy of science. We as non-Muslim scholars can offer resources in these fields, and we can share solutions that our traditions have found useful. And of course we can share our confidence that solutions can be found, that Islam does not face an either/or: either reject modern science, or question the words of God’s Prophet.


    Many scholars are focusing on the most pressing issues in the Islam-science dialogue: Qur’anic support for the pursuit of knowledge of the natural world; how to connect natural causes with God as the final cause of all beings and all phenomena; natural knowledge and revealed knowledge; the apparent randomness of the evolutionary process versus God’s direction of all creation; the uniqueness of human beings; naturalism versus God’s supernatural acts; and, of particular importance, how to read the Holy Qur’an so that it does not become a direct competitor with science, while still allowing the Holy Book to function as the authoritative record of the teachings of the Prophet, on whom be peace.


    When it comes to my own tradition, I am obliged to speak not just of the strengths of Christian engagement with the sciences, but also of where we have fallen short.Some of the most extensive literature comes from Christian authors, and virtually every topic of Christian theology has been brought into dialogue with the sciences. One finds conservative and fundamentalist answers that reject science in toto as incompatible with Christianity, or that argue that Christian beliefs actually constitute better science than the natural sciences. At the other end of the spectrum, one finds Christian doctrines interpreted in purely scientific terms, so that no supernatural elements remain. In between these two extremes Christian authors have explored a vast variety of science-inspired interpretations of their tradition.


    This radical pluralism is a strength: Christian scholars propose, for each other and for other traditions, a great number of ways that compatibilities and incompatibilities with science can be expressed and incorporated.


    Conclusion: finding common cause across differences

    As scholars study relations at the various intersections of science and religion, we develop a shared body of knowledge.


    I hope that we will be able to express differences without being dogmatic. I continue to be inspired by the examples of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scientists who have accepted the call to productive scholarship, and thus have been able to make progress even in areas where there is real conflict. Deep scholarship involves deep listening. Where will we find that common foundation of respect today, without which we cannot succeed?


    We do best when we connect with affection and interest across the two cultures of science and religion — when we find common cause, common interests, common challenges.


    I believe that certain common values characterize our work. We value empirical data and seek to apportion our beliefs to the evidence. Because we recognize that specialization can lead to fragmentation, we value interdisciplinary scholarship and the crossing of boundaries. We know that the natural sciences, although crucial for knowledge of the world, do not tell the entire story, for the techniques and conclusions of the social sciences also play an important role. And both are supplemented by the humanities — by philosophy, ethics, and religious studies.


    It is with a call to compassion and action that I wish to conclude. For the first time in the history of humanity, humans now face a truly global crisis, one for which we, ultimately, are responsible. We have upset the natural rhythm of the planet. The effects of human-induced climate change are already producing mass migrations, starvation, deaths, and extinctions of species. No one will be able to understand the crisis and take appropriate actions unless they listen carefully to science — to climatologists, environmental theorists, ecologists, and others. Yet science alone will not be sufficient to motivate the necessary response: a global turning toward a sustainable, ecologically based civilization is also necessary.


    Fortunately, humanity does have resources that can supplement scientific knowledge and technological ability: we have the call to compassion, and the reminder of the sacredness of all life, that resounds across the world’s great religious traditions. These values, brought to bear on what may be the biggest crisis that humanity has ever faced, can make the crucial difference. If the decision is separation — “science or religion” — then I do not think that humanity will be able to marshal the moral and spiritual resources that it needs to slow the pace of climate change. If the decision is integration — “science and religion” — then we have a chance, a fighting chance.


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