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'Faith and Reason' Transcript

ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Faith and Reason is provided by the John Templeton Foundation, dedicated to exploring the creative interface between science and religion; and the Pew Charitable Trusts, investing in ideas, returning results. Additional funding is provided by the Counterbalance Foundation, supporting new views on complex issues, and Lyn and Norman Lear.

(Musical break.)

DR. DAVIES: The early scientists were all deeply religious, and they believe that in doing their science they were uncovering God's handiwork, God's plan, if you like, for the universe.

MS. MURPHY: Most Christian theists would want to say that God created the human race through the process of evolution.

DR. DAWKINS: I don't understand why so many people who are sophisticated in science go on believing in God.

DR. WEINBERG: God, historically, has not meant the laws of nature. It has meant an interested personality.

DR. RUSSELL: The two world's view of science and religion is breaking down, because scientists are asking questions.

MS. WERTHEIM: Hello, I'm Margaret Wertheim. We tend to think that science and religion are at war with one another. Yet, there are people trying to bridge the differences between the two, and some who think that science and religion aren't really in conflict at all.

For the past several years, I've been studying and writing about a new movement of scientists and Christian theologians who believe that science and religion can actually support one another. Their goal is to find a balance in their work and in their own hearts between faith and reason.

(Musical break.)

MS. WERTHEIM: Kitt Peak in Arizona's Sonoran Desert is considered sacred by the local Tahono O' Otham people. Forty years ago, however, they performed a ceremony to move the mountain's spirit to a nearby range. Thereby making way for a different kind of spirit, the spirit of scientific exploration and discovery.

Today, Kitt Peak is a major research facility, and home to the world's largest collection of research telescopes, more than 20 in all. Among them is a telescope used by astronomers from the Vatican Observatory.

One of these Vatican astronomers is Father George Coyne, a man whose life shows the way faith and reason can work together. Coyne grew up in a Roman Catholic family in Baltimore. As a young man, he entered into the long course of training to become a Jesuit Priest. At the same time, pursuing his love of astronomy. For more than 30 years, he has studied the evolution of stars. Since 1978, he has been director of the Vatican Observatory.

FATHER COYNE: My scientific investigation has always supported my belief in God in a very real sense. It helps me to pray better. I have more things to pray about. My prayer is enriched, et cetera. As a religious priest, I find it a very enriching experience to do my scientific research.

The nature of God is something that is of serious interest to believers, to theologians and philosophers, and yet we can't come to the nature of God unless we also have some knowledge of the nature of the universe as having come from God.

A lot of the scientific research, being a scientist, helps to support both my life as a Jesuit and my belief in God.

MS. WERTHEIM: In 1997, the scientific journal Nature, published a survey of a cross-section of American scientists. Perhaps surprisingly, fully 40 percent believed in a personal God to whom they can pray. Around the world, there are now a dozen centers devoted specifically to a science-religion dialogue. Questions raised by science ultimately affect people of all religious faith, but so far most of those involved in the science and religion dialogue are working in a Christian context. And so that's what we will focus on in this program.

(Musical break.)

MS. WERTHEIM: Within the Christian world, one major place where science and religion meet is at a series of conferences hosted by the Vatican Observatory. Each summer, Father Coyne travels from Kitt Peak to the Observatory's traditional headquarters in the Pope's summer palace. Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.

POPE JOHN PAUL II: I'm pleased to greet you on the occasion of this fourth conference.

MS. WERTHEIM: There scientists, philosophers, and theologians from a variety of different churches and denominations come together. At the most recent meeting, the focus was on evolution.

POPE JOHN PAUL II: As you continue to consider God's action in the physical world, you turn now to the complex issue of the nature of life itself, seeking to arrive at a fuller understanding of the universe and man's place within it.

MS. WERTHEIM: Conference participants included physicist Paul Davies, biochemist Arthur Peacocke, ecologist Charles Birch, and Christian philosopher Nancey Murphy.

MS. MURPHY: It's a terrible misconception to see evolutionary biology and Christian theology as in competition. Ever since the rise of modern science, Christians have had to come to terms with some understanding of God working through natural processes, and God's action in natural biological processes should not be any exception to that.

MS. WERTHEIM: The controversy over biological evolution began in 1859, when Charles Darwin published his monumental book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Darwin's book suggested that instead of being specially created by God, humanity was the product of biological evolution. As he later wrote:

ANNOUNCER: "Man is descended from a hairy quadruped furnished with a tail and pointed ears, probably arboreal in its habits."

FATHER COYNE: This is reading from the Book of Genesis. "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth..."

MS. WERTHEIM: Darwin's arguments challenged traditional interpretations of the Biblical account of creation.

FATHER COYNE: Then God said, "Let make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Man in his image: male and female, he created them."

MS. WERTHEIM: Many religious believers in the 19th Century felt that Darwinian evolution robbed humanity of its dignity.

ANNOUNCER: Darwinism casts us down from this elevated platform, and herds us all with the four-footed beasts and creeping things. It tears the crowns from our heads. It treats as bastards, not sons, and reveals the degrading fact that man, even DR. Darwin, is but a civilized, dressed up, educated monkey.

MS. WERTHEIM: Even in the 19th Century, there were theologians who did not see a conflict between their faith and Darwin's science.

DR. NUMBERS: Within the community of theologians and ministers who spoke out publicly on this issue, opinion was rather divided, as one might expect. From conservatives who rejected evolution in any form, to liberals who embraced evolution as an example of how God effected the creation. These liberals often went to great lengths to convince the public that evolution could be harmonized with traditional religious views and values.

MS. WERTHEIM: In Europe, that view tended to prevail. But, in America, the idea that science and religion were inevitably at war became deeply entrenched. Today, Christian creationists continue to feel that evolution poses a threat to their faith. They worry that if Darwin's account is accepted, the basis of Christian morality could collapse.

At the Vatican conference, however, participants express very different views. Physicist Robert Russell is a minister in the United Church of Christ. He is also the founder of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences affiliated with the University of California at Berkeley. His center co-sponsors the Divine Action Conferences, and is a leader in the science-religion dialogue.

DR. RUSSELL: As a Christian, I believe in God as creator, ongoing creator. How do I understand that in light of evolution? And, of course, the basic answer is, evolution is the way God does it. Evolution is God's instruments, all of nature articulates God's grace as creator and redeemer. So, evolution, which we discovered through science, is in fact the way God goes about being creator, ongoing, in nature.

MS. WERTHEIM: Biochemist Arthur Peacocke believes the theory of evolution can even enhance understanding of God. Peacocke is not only a scientist, he's also an ordained minister in the Anglican Church.

DR. PEACOCKE: The whole evolutionary perspective, which was set off by Darwin, actually widens our understanding and perception of the world in a way which is, actually, I think, very encouraging and enhancing, and enriching of Christian faith, because what it tells us is that unlike the normal idea that creation happened 4,000 years ago, or 4 even 20 billion years ago, and the whole Big Bang. What it reminds us is that the world continues to be creative. So that whatever we meant by God being creator, it wasn't something that God did once in the past, as it were, set off and wound up the clock and walked off and left it to keep going, but it's something that's going on all the time that God is continuously being creator. God is continuously creating.

MS. WERTHEIM: Some creationists may be upset by Christians like Russell and Peacocke who endorse an evolutionary perspective. But they are not alone. Religious believers aren't the only ones who object to efforts to reconcile evolution and religion. Some scientists also get pretty upset about this. One of the most famous is English evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

DR. DAWKINS: More sophisticated theological views, people like Arthur Peacocke, obviously they're not creationists in any simple sense, they're not fundamentalists. So, do I respect them more? In one respect, obviously, I do because, you know, you could have an intelligent conversation with them, they're not just ignorant. On the other hand, I can't understand what they're doing it for. I mean, I don't understand what it is that is being added, either to their lives or to the storehouse of human wisdom or understanding. We're working on building up a complete picture of the Universe, which, if we succeed, will be a complete understanding of the Universe and everything that's in it. I don't understand why they waste their time going in for this other stuff which never has added anything to the storehouse of human wisdom, and I don't see that it ever will.

MS. WERTHEIM: So, why do some scientists continue to seek God, even as they accept the idea that the Universe is evolving?

FATHER COYNE: Well, I see God and an evolutionary Universe as a really a very stimulating thing. It's generally looked upon as an evolutionary universe sort of leads us to a disbelief, atheism. I think far the opposite because an evolutionary Universe to me allows me to see a God who deals and works in the Universe, in a sense, in the way he works in me. That is, a Universe that participates in freedom, that has a development of its own from the inside out. It doesn't have a built-in design, but it has the ability to develop according to degrees of uncertainty, et cetera. Not according to strict deterministic laws.

MS. WERTHEIM: Just a few months after the Divine Action Conference, Pope John Paul II issued an historic statement on evolutionary theory.

ANNOUNCER: Fresh knowledge leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than just a hypothesis.

MS. WERTHEIM: In other words, new scientific evidence makes the theory of biological evolution very probably true.

(Musical break.)

MS. WERTHEIM: Although there have been very real tensions between supporters of evolution and some Christian fundamentalists, science and religion have not generally been at war with one another. In fact, for much of history, the two have been deeply entwined.

DR. NUMBERS: One of the most prevailing models was called the Two Books that God had revealed himself in the Book of Nature as he had in the Scriptures. And that since God was the author of both books, it was impossible that the two should conflict.

MS. WERTHEIM: While Christian Europe coped with the chaos of the early Middle Ages, the science, mathematics and astronomy of the ancient Greeks were kept alive in the Islamic world, where they were further developed and enriched by Muslim scholars.

In the 13th Century, this scientific heritage began to filter back into Western Europe, where it was taken up by Christian monks and theologians. Until the 17th Century, most of those in Europe studying science were men of the church. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church was a major supporter of science, especially of astronomy. In Christianity, the most important holy day is Easter, the date of which is determined each year by the cycles of both the sun and the moon. During the late Renaissance, the church became concerned about the dating of Easter, and actively supported astronomical research to improve the accuracy of the calendar.

In 1582 in this room, using this meridian line, Pope Gregory XIII became convinced of the urgent need for the reform of the Western calendar. Although there are no telescopes here, this is actually a kind of solar observatory. Every day at noon, the sun shines through a whole in the wall and casts a ray of light down onto the meridian line. By observing here, Gregory could see that the day of the Spring Equinox was off by 10 days, thus the calendar was out of sync with the Heavens.

The church's interest in reforming the calendar helped to advance the new cosmology. All the great founders of this cosmology, Nicholas Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, and Isaac Newton were men of deep faith who forged their vision of the Heavens as an offshoot of their theology.

DR. DAVIES: Scientists were all deeply religious, and they believed that in doing their science they were uncovering God's handiwork, God's plan, if you like, for the Universe. And my own discipline, physics, I think, brings this out in the most forceful way.

MS. WERTHEIM: Even the great Italian physicist Galileo was a religious man. According to popular mythology, however, he almost lost his life at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church for advocating the idea that the Earth orbits the Sun rather than the Sun circling the Earth. Yet, historians have now shown that the whole story ha been greatly exaggerated.

These are the documents related to Galileo's famous trial. In many people's minds, this event has taken on all the trappings of a medieval witch hunt. But, in fact, during the proceedings, Galileo was housed in luxury, and never spent a single day in jail.

The year was 1633. At the time, Galileo did not have definite proof that the Earth orbits the Sun, nobody did. Astronomy then was not accurate enough to decide between an Earth-centered and Sun-centered system. Nevertheless, the church was moving towards accepting a heliocentric view. And it is likely the whole conflict could have been avoided, if Galileo himself had been a bit less arrogant.

The church was far from admirable in its behavior, and for the last eight years of his life, Galileo was committed to house arrest. But church officials did not stop him from doing science. It was during his house arrest that Galileo wrote the great book, Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences, which established his role as a founder of modern physics.

DR. NUMBERS: It's hard to write counter-factual history about what might have happened if, but there seems no reason to believe that Galileo at any point faced the threat of death. There was never any indication in the court records of death being a possible penalty, and no other scientists were put to death for their scientific views.

One scientist, who is often said to have been killed for science, is Giordano Bruno, but that's simply not true.

MS. WERTHEIM: Bruno was a Dominican priest. In the year 1600, he was burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church here in this piazza. Bruno believed that the Universe was infinite, and filled with countless other worlds. Each world had its own soul and was populated by other beings. According to popular myth, Bruno was executed for these ideas. But, again, historians have shown that this account is mistaken.

DR. NUMBERS: As far as we know, Bruno's science wasn't the issue at all. What really worried the church were his heretical religious notions, especially his denial of the divinity of Jesus, and his advocacy of a magical and animistic religion.

MS. WERTHEIM: Bruno's problems with the clerical authorities did not arise from his science, but from his heretical religious tendencies. The tragedy here was not the result of a clash between science and religion, but between opposing religious views.

DR. NUMBERS: Throughout most of modern history, science and religion have not been in a state of conflict. Certainly, this didn't occur during the so-called scientific revolution of the 17th Century.

MS. WERTHEIM: Indeed, the greatest of all the founders of modern science, Isaac Newton, hoped that his physics would inspire belief in God. His whole life work can be seen as a search for God, as he himself once explained:

ANNOUNCER: "When I wrote my treatise about our system, I had my eye upon such principles as might work with considering men for the belief of a deity. And nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that purpose."

MS. WERTHEIM: Only in the 18th Century did science and religion really begin to part company. Yet, even then, there was little idea of warfare between them. The notion of a conflict is actually fairly recent. It arose only after the publication of Darwin's theory of evolution.

DR. NUMBERS: The notion of conflict between science and religion became especially prominent in the last third of the 19th Century, with the appearance of two best selling books. One by John William Draper, a medical school professor in New York City; and the other by the president of Cornell University, Andrew Dixon White. Andrew Dixon White published the fullest treatment of this in 1896 in a two-volume work called A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom.

MS. WERTHEIM: According to Draper, the Roman Catholic Church in particular was the enemy of science. As he wrote: "The church was ferociously suppressing by the stake and the sword every attempt at progress." As we have seen, this is a distortion of history that ignores the fact that for hundreds of years science and religion had been deeply entwined.

Today, English physicist Paul Davies continues the tradition of Isaac Newton. He believes the discoveries of 20th Century science still offer evidence for some kind of divine order.

DR. DAVIES: And the fact that we see this deep, hidden code in nature for me is, you know, overwhelming evidence that there is something not only deeply harmonious and beautiful, but deeply ingenious in the way that the world is put together, and strong evidence for something like meaning, or purpose, or design, call it what you like. So, I don't think you can be a scientist without, as an act of faith, believing that there is an intelligible, law-like order in the Universe. So, even atheistic scientists are adopting what is essentially a theistic world view that belief in an intelligible, law-like order in nature.

(Musical break.)

MS. WERTHEIM: The supposed conflicts between science and religion have been greatly exaggerated. Nonetheless, new scientific discoveries do pose challenges to religious believers. Today, those challenges come mainly from the biological sciences, especially from genetics labs like this one.

Around the world, geneticists are now engaged in one of the biggest scientific endeavors of all time. Known as the Human Genome Project, the aim is decipher the entire genetic code of human beings, and to unlock the secrets of the 100,000 or so genes in our DNA. The project has been called the biological equivalent of putting a man on the moon.

The U.S. government has committed $3 billion to this effort. Research is coordinated at the National Institutes of Health by leading gene scientist and religious believer, DR. Francis Collins.

DR. COLLINS: My own area of expertise is the genetics of human disease. I was fortunate to be part of the team that found the genes for cystic fibrosis and Huntington's Disease, and neurofibromatosis, so I come at this from the point of view of somebody who would like to see the long list of human genetic diseases that afflict far too many people understood better, treated, and eventually cured.

MS. WERTHEIM: As a boy, DR. Collins attended an Episcopalian church. But in college, he became an atheist. At the age of 27, however, after reading the works of the English Christian writer C.S. Lewis, he was converted.

DR. COLLINS: I became convinced that this was a decision I wanted to make. And I became, by choice, a Christian, a serious Christian, who believes that faith is not something that you just do on Sunday, but that if it makes any sense at all, it's part of your whole life. It's the most important organizing principle in my life.

MS. WERTHEIM: As a working geneticist and person of faith, DR. Collins believes that gene science actually helps to fulfill a religious mandate.

DR. COLLINS: I think genetic engineering ought to be put in context of medical research in general. It's interesting when you read of the life of Christ how much of his time he spent here healing the sick. There must have been a reason for that. He was modeling for us what it is that we are intended to do by following in his path. So, I think the mandate for us as human beings to reach out to those who are suffering and try to heal their illnesses is a very strong one, and it's entirely consistent with strong faith.

MS. WERTHEIM: As scientists advance our understanding of genetics, some religious believers fear that humanity runs the risk of playing God. But Lutheran theologian Ted Peters takes a different view.

DR. PETERS: The phrase "playing God" usually means in this respect that we overshoot ourselves, that we're proud, that we're smug, that we think that with out scientific tools we can do more than we actually can. And, if we get into the DNA, and if we mess around with it, maybe we'll screw something up. And I think people who want to say, don't play God, they want to prevent those big mistakes from happening. And so, by making DNA look sacred, they can say, hands off.

Now, I disagree with that. One aspect of the human genome project that's currently going on that is extremely important is the search for genes that cause disease. And I would hate to see a doctrine of the sacrality of DNA that would say, stop that kind of research, stop that kind of improvement of human health.

MS. WERTHEIM: DR. Collins also thinks that those who make religious arguments against genetic engineering are often misguided.

DR. COLLINS: To say that genetic engineering is unacceptable across the board because of its potential for creating some ethical dilemmas is the most unethical stance of all. It's to basically say, here is a powerful approach which could alleviate human suffering, but we're not going to do it because we're worried about the misuses that might occur. I find that completely unacceptable from every possible point of view, most profoundly, the theological one.

What it does do is to require us to assume some responsibility for deciding which kinds of genetic engineering are, in fact, consistent with that mandate to heal the sick, and which kind are putting us in a troubling direction where we'd best not go. And that is obviously where the debates begin to get underway.

MS. WERTHEIM: Cloning is one development that particularly worries many religious believers. That concern was raised by the announcement in February 1997 of a cloned sheep named Dolly at the Roslin Institute in Scotland.

In a ground-breaking and still controversial experiment, biologist Ian Wilmut took an unfertilized egg from one sheep, removed its DNA, and fused it with an adult cell from another sheep. By fusing the two cells, DR. Wilmut got the egg to develop into a fetus without the help of a sperm. The resulting offspring, Dolly, was a clone, or identical twin, of her genetic mother.

When news of Dolly hit the press, many people feared it would open the door to all sorts of evils. Could a dictator clone a private army, or perhaps himself? Would a clone be treated as fully human? Would cloning lower the value of human life? After the announcement of Dolly, President Clinton called for a ban on all scientific and medical research into human cloning.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Banning human cloning reflects our humanity. It is the right thing to do. Creating a child through this new method calls into question our most fundamental beliefs. It has the potential to threaten the sacred family bonds at the very core of our ideals and our society.

MS. WERTHEIM: In February 1998, Senator William Frist, who is also a heart transplant surgeon, introduced legislation into the U.S. Senate to make human cloning illegal.

SEN. FRIST: And says, let's ban that procedure. Let's allow that procedure even in animals, in the research arena, in cells, let's learn more about that procedure so we'll know what those implications are. But let's ban that narrow procedure when it's used to create a human being, another person.

MS. WERTHEIM: Even some scientists are concerned about the possibility of human cloning.

DR. COLLINS: Human cloning, I think, gets right to the heart of people's concerns about how biotechnology is going to change us and our view of ourselves, and I share that. I think before we get deeply into that, people need to keep reminding each other that the practicality of actually doing that is a long way from being proven. So, from a practical point of view, it's not clear that this will ever be doable in the way that it was for Dolly.

Assuming that those barriers can be overcome, but I don't think one should just assume that, then I do think there's a very significant, ethical and religious debate, is this way of creating a human being a part of God's plan for our lives? Actually, in my view, it is not.

MS. WERTHEIM: Ted Peters says, however, that in his view, God would not reject human clones.

DR. PETERS: I do not think that God would view any one of us, if we've come into the world through cloning, as any different. We would be just as much a child of God, loved by God. We would have our individuality. We would have our dignity. And certainly we would have our own soul, just like anyone else.

MS. WERTHEIM: Scientists are going to play a huge role in deciding what is done with this new technology. But there is also a role here for people of faith.

DR. COLLINS: I think religious people have a critical role to play in making decisions, contributing to the dialogue about what is an ethical use of genetics, and what is not. Scientists are not in a unique position to do that at all. And if you ask them, they will tell you that. And they will tell you how uncomfortable they are if people assume that they're going to make those decisions. They can tell you the facts. They can tell you what can be done, and what can't be done. And that's really important because we've had a lot of useless debates about things that can't be done anyway. But when it comes to the things that can be done, and deciding which ought to actually be done, scientists alone are in a very poor position to make those decisions. That requires a broad dialogue. And I think people of faith have a particularly critical role to play there. To do that effectively, of course, they need to be highly informed about the specifics of the science.

MS. WERTHEIM: Ted Peters goes even further, for him religious belief requires that humanity pursue genetic research.

DR. PETERS: And I think your and my task insofar as we mirror God, insofar as we carry God's image in this world, is to try to make this world a better place. And so that's the only reason that I think that genetic engineering ought to be advocated, that we would do it for some higher purpose. I think those who want to caution us against the Brave New World syndrome, or turning the power of genetic engineering to the service of a totalitarian government, we need cautions against that kind of thing. There's no question about that. But, I do think a sensible, careful, step by step attempt to improve human health that's something we are responsible to God for doing.

MS. WERTHEIM: Not everyone's going to agree with Ted Peters, that religious faith demands that we pursue genetic research. But, given its enormous ethical implications, it seems inevitable that various churches are going to have to get involved in discussions about gene science.

DR. PETERS: I think church's attitude to that, to my mind, as a scientist, but from within the church should be the church should welcome it, should encourage it, should be involved in it, so it's not coming up late, and beginning to condemn technological developments that come from genetic research. But, it is part of that genetic research, so that it can participate as a church with the technological developments, and not let just them happen I their own way, and then come up late and begin to condemn them or something like this. I think the church's attitude should be to be a part of it, to welcome research in genetics.

MS. WERTHEIM: It is not just biology that poses challenges for religious belief, modern cosmology, too, raises issues for people of faith.

FATHER COYNE: God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.

MS. WERTHEIM: According to the Bible, God created the Universe in six days.

FATHER COYNE: Thus, the heavens and the Earth and all their array were completed.

MS. WERTHEIM: Yet, according to cosmologists, the Universe began with a big bang, exploding into being out of nothing, and evolving from there by natural laws into billions of galaxies. The theoretical basis for the big bang came from the general theory of relativity, developed by Albert Einstein. Interestingly, Einstein said that when doing science he was inspired by what he called a cosmic religious feeling.

While Einstein's equations predicted a big bang, it was a Jesuit priest who initially embraced the idea, his name was Father George LeMaitre. In the 1920s, Father LaMaitre was one of the very first general relativity physicists. For many years he was also the head of the Pontifical Academy of sciences, located in the Vatican. LaMaitre was the first person to take seriously the prediction of general relativity, that the Universe is expanding. At the time that was such a radical idea that even Einstein had rejected it.

In the 1930s and '40s, many physicists thought that the idea of a big bang was radical, because they felt it implied the existence of God. After all, if the Universe had a beginning, then it must have had a creator, but that would be unscientific. Ironically, the shoe is not on the other foot, and the big bang is seen by many cosmologists as evidence against the existence of God.

One famous proponent of this view is British physicist Stephen Hawking. In his book, A Brief History of Time, Hawking writes that although there must have been a big bang, there was no precise moment when time began. Hence, no precise moment of cosmic origin. Without that, Hawking claims, there is no role for a creator.

DR. HAWKING VOICE: So long as the Universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But, if the Universe is really completely self-contained, it would have neither a beginning or end, it would simply be. What place then for a creator?

MS. WERTHEIM: Stephen Hawking seems to want to have it both ways. On the one hand, his books suggest that science might make God redundant. On the other hand, he hints that when physicists do find out how the Universe began, they will have found God. The theory Hawking is looking for is often called a theory of everything. It is a single set of equations that physicists hope will one day explain everything, from subatomic particles to galaxies containing billions of stars.

DR. HAWKING: To a large extent we shall have to rely on mathematical beauty and consistency to find the ultimate theory of everything. I am confident we will discover it by the end of the 21st Century, and probably much sooner.

MS. WERTHEIM: When physicists discover this theory, Hawking writes, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason, for then we would know the mind of God. Stephen Hawking is by no means alone in linking God and physics. Lots of other scientists are also doing this. But, what kind of God are these scientists offering? What exactly is the God that lurks beyond their equations? Scientist Rustum Roy, who is a devout Christian, objects to Hawking reducing God to a scientific equation.

DR. ROY: I've always been appalled by Stephen Hawking and of his book, in which he says if we've solved this equation we shall have known the mind of God. What a small God. And so I suppose that these abstractions and these equations, and the TOE, theory of everything, is really the theory of everything that matters to nobody. It is Einstein saying, we know more and more about less and less, until we know everything about nothing.

MS. WERTHEIM: Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist Stephen Weinberg has made major contributions towards the theory of everything.

DR. WEINBERG: If language is to be of any use to us, we ought to try to preserve the meanings of words. And God historically has not meant the laws of nature, it has meant an interested personality. I rather grieve that they use the word God, because I do think one should have some loyalty to the way words are used historically. And that's not what people have historically meant by God, not an abstract principle of harmony and order.

DR. DAWKINS: There are physicists who are deeply awed, as I am, by the majesty of the Universe, and who are moved by this, to say there is something so mysterious that it's almost like God. And maybe use the metaphor of God, and that's fine. I mean, that's just a redefinition of that which we find mysterious at the basis of the Universe. But, other people misunderstand that, because to them God is that which forgives sins, that which trans-substantiates wine. That's a totally different matter. The reaction is, oh, this great physicist believes in God. That means I'm free to believe in the Trinity, and in the crucifixion, and incarnation of Christ, and all that stuff, which of course has nothing whatever to do with the fundamental constants of physics, which is what these physicists are talking about.

FATHER COYNE: I believe that the God of cosmologists, modern cosmologists and the God of religious belief†--†I actually accept completely that they're totally different realities. However, there is a relationship. And recently, the cosmologists have been trying to bring God back in the picture. Paul Davies' great book Of The Mind of God, et cetera. The God of those people is not a personal God. It's a sort of theory of everything. It's a cosmological model. It's very deceiving, therefore, to use the word God. However, it's also very inviting, because it shows that deep within the movement of cosmology there is this quest for something that goes beyond cosmology, that goes beyond scientific rational approach. It's very indicative, I think. But, the God of religious faith is a God who revealed himself to us in a way that transcends any of scientific approach to God.

MS. WERTHEIM: Another challenge modern cosmology poses for religious belief is the question of purpose. While religions traditionally hold the Universe has meaning, science often seems to paint a picture of a pointless world. Stephen Weinberg is a leading proponent of this view.

DR. WEINBERG: Years ago I wrote a book about cosmology, and the remark I guess I was foolish enough to make the remark that the more the Universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless. There's no point in the Universe that can be discovered by the methods of science. I believe that what we have found so far, an impersonal Universe in which it's not particularly directed toward human beings is what we're going to continue to find. And that when we find the ultimate laws of nature, they will have a chilling, cold, impersonal quality about them.

MS. WERTHEIM: Charles Birch is a founder of the modern science of ecology, and a religious believer.

DR. BIRCH: Stephen Weinberg comes to that conclusion, through his scientific understanding of the world, and it's not surprising in a way, because most science leads to a very mechanical picture of the world. But, I think if you look at yourself as a part of a product of the total system, and then look backwards, I find meaning in it. Mine is a different faith. Now, neither of us can demonstrate the absolute truth of either position. And I think one is often in that situation with science. You've got complex things, you're trying to make some judgement about them, and in the end you've got to use your own sense of values and understanding to make your own judgement.

DR. DAVIES: I think one of the reasons people have become so demoralized and disillusioned with science over the last two or three-hundred years is because it's had this tendency to marginalize, or trivialize human beings. So that we get the impression we're just here for the ride, that we're not fully integrated into nature. Whereas, what I'm saying is that because life and consciousness emerge as part of the natural outworkings of the laws of physics, we can see that we have a place, we are at home in the Universe, a humble place, it's not a central place, but a place nevertheless.

FATHER COYNE: The Universe would seem pointless to anyone who doesn't have a point. Now, that may seem trite, but I think it's a very important statement to make. A point is beyond science. I mean, the whole of human experience, I think, tells us that there is a point, there is a meaningfulness to things. I mean, when I hold the hand of a dying friend, and see the expression of hope and joy, even at the moment of death in that friend's eyes, I can see that there is a meaningfulness to existence that goes beyond scientific investigation. And so I think the point here is that the point of things cannot be limited to one dimension of human experience. And science is only one dimension of human experience.

MS. WERTHEIM: In fact, despite Weinberg's famous statement about pointlessness, in many ways he agrees with Father Coyne.

DR. WEINBERG: If there's no point in the Universe that we discover by the methods of science, there is a point that we can give the Universe, by the way we live, by loving each other, by discovering things about nature, by creating works of art. And that, in a way, although we are not the stars in a cosmic drama, if the only drama that we're starring in is one that we're making up as we go along, it's not entirely ignoble, that faced with this unloving, impersonal Universe, we make a little island of warmth and love and science and art for ourselves. That's not an entirely despicable a role for us to play.

MS. WERTHEIM: America is a religious nation. In opinion polls, over 95 percent of Americans say they believe in some sort of God. And 60 percent say they attend church regularly. America is also a highly scientific nation. Our modern economy relies on the products of scientific research. Genetically engineered crops provide food for our tables. Microchips run our computers, satellites transmit our phone calls, and new materials make up our cars and appliances. Pennsylvania State University is home to one of the world's leading materials research labs. Professor Rustum Roy, a scientist at this lab, was raised an Anglican in his native India. He believes that religious people should know more about science and technology.

DR. ROY: I think the religious community has to work in the real world, in which technology is ever present, and ever expanding. And if they don't understand it, and how it functions, they will never be able to interface with it. So the religious community must understand the rules of the game, the laws of technology.

MS. WERTHEIM: Religious people can bring their values to bear in deciding how new scientific discoveries and technologies are put to use.

DR. ROY: The fact is that common sense, and the will of the people can be exercised, so the religious community must learn to make some judgments about today's technological choices.

MS. WERTHEIM: For Ted Peters, accurate technological and scientific knowledge of the world around us is crucial for people of faith.

DR. PETERS: And we need the scientists to help us keep our feet on the ground, so to speak, so that our understanding of the natural world, of human nature is accurate and on target. I don't think that God wants us to believe dumb things or stupid things. And I think scientists can help us get our act together.

MS. WERTHEIM: At the same time the scientific community will be better able to serve society if scientists also think carefully about the research they do, and how it will affect people's lives.

DR. ROY: The people of science also need a hierarchical agenda, of saying what's important in science. And we've been saying up to now that the smaller the particle, the more important it is. Well, I think in engineering and the real science, where people affect human beings, that's no longer true. So we do need a kind of a theory of what's important in science, and I would think that should come from our religious traditions. And most of that should be service and service to the largest number.

MS. WERTHEIM: If religious traditions can help science to serve humanity, Bob Russell stresses that modern science can also support religious endeavors.

DR. RUSSELL: Theologians have to address themselves to questions of social justice, environmental need, human need, and to do that adequately in our technological age, we need to know science and technology. You can't talk about human genetics, and human counseling on genetics if you don't know evolutionary theory. And you can't really talk about the environment, and the way it's interlaced with poverty, if you don't understand both economic theory, and simple environmental issues. So those are laced for theologians and ethicists.

MS. WERTHEIM: As science and technology become more global, not only Christians but people of all faiths will have to deal with the questions raised by these forces. And with religious fervor growing around the world, the interface between science and religion will become increasingly important.

DR. RUSSELL: We're in a pluralistic culture, where the sciences themselves are changing by cultures. And we're in a pluralistic culture where the religions are in dialogue. And so the actual relations between religion and science become much more complex.

MS. WERTHEIM: As astronomers like those here at the Stuart Observatory, peer ever deeper into outer space, and as biologists peer deeper into the mysteries of evolution and genetics, scientists are beginning to answer questions that were once in the domain of theologians.

DR. RUSSELL: For scientists, science raises questions which are broader than science can answer. Some are philosophical, like why is there the Universe, or why does science make sense, or why should I do science, why is it a value? And some are moral, can I do science, if it has certain moral consequences? So science raises questions which it needs the moral and ethical and theological spheres to-- and philosophical spheres to give a context to. And theologians and ethicists need scientists for the grist of the mill for their discussions of questions that face society. We need each other.

MS. WERTHEIM: Episcopalian Nancey Murphy believes that science and religion are two sides of the same coin.

MS. MURPHY: The separation between science and religion that understands science as talking about the facts, the way things really are, and religion as talking primarily about the meaning of life, is problematic, because first of all, how do you distinguish between different views of the meaning of life. Isn't that purely subjective? And isn't one person's take on what it all means just as valid as anyone else's? And so it leads very easily to a sort of religious relativism. And also, it's difficult to say what the meaning means, if it's not intimately connected with the way things really are.

MS. WERTHEIM: Today the Roman Catholic Church continues a dialogue between science and a variety of religious faiths from around the world, with regular meetings at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The aim of this dialogue is to encourage open minds on all sides.

DR. BIRCH: It seems to me, truth is usually fairly complicated. And that puts people off. So they look for simple solutions, and very simple dogmatic sort of religion. And so others do this with science, too. I think it's a two-way thing. I mean, most of my colleagues are atheists, and they're atheists for reasons which I think are not very credible reasons for me, because I haven't thought through certain situations. And some of my colleagues are religious, because they have a different sort of faith attitude for the world around them.

FATHER COYNE: May the Lord accept this sacrifice at our hands, to the praise and glory of His name, for our good, and the good of all his church.

My scientific investigation, because God is reflected in the world in which he made, in some sense. My scientific investigation has always supported my belief in God, in a very real sense. But, I have never come to know God, to see God, to believe in God through doing science, he's not the conclusion of some sort of process of my personal scientific investigation.

MS. WERTHEIM: As we've seen, science and religion are not necessarily in conflict. Although, there are those on both sides who want to deny the value of the other's views, many of the people we've seen in this program happily embrace both religious faith, and scientific reason. They don't see that they should give up either one.

DR. DAVIES: Since I started writing and talking about God, I've been attacked from both sides. Many of my scientific colleagues say, well, why don't you just get on with the science? Why contaminate it with all this God talk? On the other hand, there are people who are deeply religious in a rather traditional sense who think that I'm heretical by saying that we don't need a special act of creation to bring the Universe into being, or for the origin of life, and so on. So it's a somewhat uncomfortable position. I actually receive quite a bit of hate mail. And this makes me very upset, because after all, all I'm trying to do is to say that I'm just a poor physicist trying to make sense of the world.

MS. WERTHEIM: As we look to the future, what will be the relationship between science and religion? Will bitter arguments, like those over biological evolution, continue to divide religious and scientific communities, or can we as a society learn to accommodate both faith and reason? On that note, let us give the last word to Bob Russell, a man who received his Ph.D. in physics the same day he was ordained as a minister in the United Church of Christ.

DR. RUSSELL: Science really raises philosophical questions of a fundamental nature, why is the Universe contingent, and understandable by mathematics, and discoverable through experimental methods. And theology depends upon the notion of what is experience and text and tradition. They are three groups, the philosophers, the theologians and the scientists to get together, but also to get together realizing that it's not a turf war, we're not trying to replace one with the other one, or import solutions from one to the other one. We're trying to learn from each other.

ANNOUNCER: To learn more about Faith and Reason, visit PBS Online, at www.pbs.org.

(Musical break.)

ANNOUNCER: Faith and Reason is a production of New River Media, in association with Five Continents Music, which are solely responsible for its content.

Major funding for Faith and Reason is provided by the John Templeton Foundation, dedicated to exploring the creative interface between science and religion and the Pew Charitable Trusts, investing in ideas, returning results. Additional funding is provided by the Counterbalance Foundation, supporting new views on complex issues.

(End of program.)

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Interviews

'Faith and Reason' Transcript

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Munawar Anees
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