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The Future

As astronomers peer ever deeper into outer space and cosmologists extend their equations to encompass ever more of the universe, as geneticists unravel the mysteries of our genes and evolutionary biologists uncover more about the origins and development of life, scientists are answering questions that once fell to theologians. In this scientific age, we might well ask what role is there for religion? And how might science and religion work together?

Kitt Peack, AZ.For physicist and theologian Robert Russell - the director of the Berkeley-based Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences - the two disciplines "need each other". Although scientists are answering a huge range of questions, Russell notes that science also "raises questions which are broader than science can answer." These questions are usually philosophical or moral in nature: Why is there a universe at all? Why do we find mathematical order in the world around us? Why does science itself make sense? Why is science of value? And how can we best put our scientific knowledge to use? According to Russell these questions require the input not only of scientists, but also of philosophers, ethicists, and theologians.

On the other hand, Russell points out that in the modern scientific age theologians and religious people cannot afford to ignore what is going on in science. Christian philosopher Nancey Murphy, of Fuller Theological Seminary, explains that if religious world views do not seem to be connected to the concrete universe that science describes, then it is easy to dismiss them. Indeed the separation of religion from science in the post-Enlightenment era has done much to undermine religious belief in the Western world. According to Murphy, in order for religions to maintain the power of their moral teachings they must be seen to be in harmony with the "truths" of science. In other words, if you want people to believe what you have to say on moral issues, Murphy suggests you need them to take your cognitive world picture seriously - which means, she says, not contradicting the theories of science.

Statue with CrossBut in looking to harmonize religious and scientific world views, Jesuit priest and astronomer Father George Coyne warns that one must be careful not to let either side dominate the other. On the one hand Father Coyne notes that "my scientific investigation has always supported my belief in God in a very real sense". As a Christian, Coyne believes in the universe as in some sense a creation of God, hence, he says, God must be reflected in that universe. But at the same time he stresses that science cannot be used to prove the existence of God, or as the basis of religious faith. As he explains, "I have never come to know God, to believe in God though doing science. He is not the conclusion of some sort of process of my scientific investigation." In the end, Father Coyne says, faith stands outside science. Yet he notes that once you have faith then scientific discoveries can be a wonderful way of affirming that faith, by showing you the marvelous beauty and order in the universe.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Margaret Wertheim

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