|Landscape in Carina Nebula [Courtesy NASA]|
However, many other scientists do profess religious belief. In a 2014 study, Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund surveyed nearly 1700 natural and social scientists in the U.S. from 2005 through 2008 about their views on religion, spirituality and ethics. She spoke with many of them personally, in their offices and laboratories. She found that nearly 50% of these scientists identify with a religious label. Roughly 18% attended weekly religious services, compared with 20 percent of the general population; 15% consider themselves "very religious," compared with 19% of the population; 13.5% read some religious text weekly, compared with 17% of the population; and 19% pray once or more per day, compared with 26% of the population [Ecklund2010]. In a previous study, Ecklund found that although 30% of the scientists surveyed considered themselves atheists, many of these consider themselves "spiritual atheists," meaning that although they do not subscribe to a traditional Judeo-Christian notion of God, nonetheless they have a deep sense of awe and wonder at the magnificence of the universe and the life on planet earth. Many report a deep craving for "something beyond themselves" [Ruth2014].
If science and religion are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction because they concern different matters. Science and religion are like two different windows for looking at the world. The two windows look at the same world, but they show different aspects of that world. Science concerns the processes that account for the natural world: how planets move, the composition of matter and the atmosphere, the origin and adaptations of organisms. Religion concerns the meaning and purpose of the world and of human life, the proper relation of people to the Creator and to each other, the moral values that inspire and govern people's lives. Apparent contradictions only emerge when either science or belief, or often both, cross over their boundaries and wrongfully encroach upon one another's subject matter.
The fact that religions through the ages have spoken in images, parables and paradoxes means simply that there are no other ways of grasping the reality to which they refer. But that does not mean that it is not a genuine reality. And splitting this reality into objective and subjective sides won't get us very far. That is why I consider those developments in physics during the last decades, which have shown how problematic such conceptions as 'objective' and 'subjective,' are a great liberation of thought.
In my view, there is no conflict in being a rigorous scientist and a person who believes in a God who takes a personal interest in each one of us. Science's domain is to explore nature. God's domain is in the spiritual world, a realm not possible to explore with the tools and language of science. It must be examined with the heart, the mind, and the soul -- and the mind must find a way to embrace both realms.
As human beings, we are groping for knowledge and understanding of the strange universe into which we are born. We have many ways of understanding, of which science is only one. ... Science is a particular bunch of tools that have been conspicuously successful for understanding and manipulating the material universe. Religion is another bunch of tools, giving us hints of a mental or spiritual universe that transcends the material universe.
The interpretation of religion, as here advanced, implies a dependence of science on the religious attitude, a relation which, in our predominantly materialistic age, is only too easily overlooked. While it is true that scientific results are entirely independent from religious or moral considerations, those individuals to whom we owe the great creative achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to the rational striving for knowledge. If this conviction had not been a strongly emotional one and if those searching for knowledge had not been inspired by Spinoza's Amor Dei Intellectualis, they wouid hardly have been capable of that untiring devotion which alone enables man to attain his greatest achievements.
Although I am now convinced that scientific truth is unassailable in its own field, I have never found it possible to dismiss the content of religious thinking as simply part of an outmoded phase in the consciousness of mankind, a part we shall have to give up from now on.
I think that faith and reason are both gifts from God. And if God is real, then faith and reason should complement each other rather than be in conflict. ... Does that mean that scientific reason, by taking some of the mystery out of nature, has taken away faith? I don't think so. I think by revealing a world that is infinitely more complex and infinitely more varied and creative than we had ever believed before, in a way it deepens our faith and our appreciation for the author of that nature, the author of that physical universe. And to people of faith, that author is God.
Science and theology ... share one fundamental aim which will always make them worthy of the attention of those imbued with intellectual integrity and the desire to understand: in their different ways and in their different domains, each is concerned with the search for truth. In itself, that is sufficient to guarantee that there will continue to be a fruitful developing dialogue between them.
People bent on science-religion conflict are picking the wrong battle. ... The real battle is against the daunting challenges facing the future of humanity, and regardless of our religious views, we're all better off fighting this battle united.
It is also worth nothing that at least one major scientific society has openly declared that science and religion are not in conflict. In its report Science, Evolution and Creationism, the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine declared [NAS2008, pg. 12]:
Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. ... Religious faith, in contrast, ... typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.