The Quest for Knowledge, Truth, and Values in Science and Religion


The Memorial Church, Harvard University, October 21-23, 2001

Highlights by Paul Henry Carr

In opening the first Science and Religion Conference since Sept 11, Dr. W. Mark Richardson, who organized the conference with Dr. Philip D. Clayton, noted that the attack was a demonic example of the power of science and religion. Science, symbolized by jet airplanes, was destructively combined with religious fundamentalism and dogma. The fundamental conflict is between dogma and dialogue. Scientific dialogue is always questioning and updating its theories, which transcend national and religious boundaries. Scientists representing the worlds religions, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hindu, shared how they connect their faith to their research. They related to Einstein's "cosmic religious feeling" and marveled in the dynamic, self-creating universe where intelligent life emerged.


Jane Goodall, Jane Goodall Institute, Calgary, Canada

Anthropologist Jane Goodall described her pioneering discoveries about our closest genetic cousins, the chimpanzees, who make and use tools, a skill once believed exclusive to humans. Chimps use body language and gestures similar to our own. They have a sense of awe and wonder and are capable of both good and evil. Goodall’s answer to the question

"What does it mean to be human?" was

"Spoken language makes humans unique along with our ability to understand and project into the future." She was optimistic about our final victory over terrorism, an attitude consistent with her book "Reason to Hope."

Her answer to cell-biologist Ursula Goodenough’s concern that environmental issues are now taking a back seat to terrorism was

"We need to continue to protect our environment, otherwise there will be nothing left."


of Sufi Pir Khan

"Unity is not uniformity.

Both scientists and mystics value experience.

We must shatter our ideals on the rock of truth."


William D. Phillips

National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD

1997 Nobel Laureate in Physics:

"for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light."

As a Methodist, Dr. Phillips believes that belief is founded on the four pillars of

1. Scripture (the Bible)

2. Tradition (the wisdom of religious thinkers throughout history)

3. Reason

4. Experience.

He sees strong parallels between these and the foundations of scientific knowledge. Scripture and transition represented received knowledge. Scientists have the opportunity to verify these in their own laboratory. Because of time, energy, and funding constraints, most scientists accept the results of other scientists on faith however. Verification of received knowledge is not generally possible for religion. Reason and experience are very similar for both science and religion. Dr. Phillips finds inspiration and meaning from singing hymns like "Immortal, Invincible, God Only Wise" in his Methodist church choir.


Paul Davies, Imperial College London & the University of Queensland

1995 Winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion

Dr. Davies shares Einstein's cosmic religious feeling, a sense that the order in nature revealed by science is neither arbitrary nor absurd, and that there is "something going on" in the universe, something deeply ingenious and elegant. The laws of physics marvelously permit the universe to create itself with space and time in a "Big Bang," arising from quantum fluctuations. St. Augustine was right, the universe was made with time not in time. Shortly after its explosive origin 14 billion years ago, the universe was so hot that only gas could exist. As it cooled, protons, electrons, atoms, stars, planets, and galaxies formed. Life on earth evolved from single cells 4 billion years ago to complex humans like us.

Science can not trace in detail how inanimate matter became living cells. However, models show that if physical forces, such as gravity and electromagnetism, as well as the nuclear cross section of carbon had been slightly different, it is doubtful that any sort of life would have been possible. This "fine tuning" of the physical constants for life is known as the Anthropic Principle. Scientists, who do not believe that a deity could have designed these laws to create conscious life, postulate a cosmic lottery of multiple universes with different laws and physical constants. Our universe is the one where the values were right for intelligent life to emerge.

Dr. Davies does believe in a cosmic lottery of multiple universes. It requires an infinity of unseen universes just to explain the one we do see. The cosmic lottery is scarcely an improvement over theism, with its hypothesis of an unseen creator, God. While the lottery may explain why we observe the known laws, it does not explain why there are laws in the first place.

Dr. Davies answered the question:

"What do you think of intelligent design theory?" as follows.

"I do not cling to the notion of God as a miracle-working cosmic magician, who makes a "Big Bang" and then intervenes as a cosmic repairman. A God who can create a self-creating universe with laws is much more majestic. As an emergentist, I believe in a hierarchy of principles, with the laws of physics at the bottom level and emergent laws operating at higher levels. Thus, we have laws of complexity, such as self-organizing chemical cycles. There are Mendel's laws of genetics when life appears. The high-level laws do not violate the lower level laws, nor are they reducible to them. They supervene on them."

Islamic, Buddhist, and Hundu scientists presented the session


Gentle Bridges Between the Science of the World and the Science of the Mind."

by Trinh Xuan Thuan, Astronomy Department, University of Virginia.

Dr. Thuan noted that Buddhism is characterized by the following concepts which are compatible with modern science:
  1. Interdependence of phenomena
  2. Emptiness: the Absence of an Intrinsic Reality (wave and particle duality)
  3. Impermanence at the Heart of Reality (change)
Dr. Tuan believes that science and religion offering complementary windows on reality. The aim of science is to understand physical phenomena. Religious contemplation aims to improve our inner selves so that we can improve everyone's existence.

Dr. Tuan does not subscribe to the idea of multiple universes. The fact that all of these universes would be unobservable and thus unverifiable, is more like metaphysics than science. Furthermore, Occam's razor bids us to cut out all the hypotheses that are not necessary. Why postulate the existence of an infinite number of barren universes to account for the one that is conscious of its own existence? Dr. Tuan believe we must wager, like Pascal, on the existence of a creative principle responsible for the fine-tuning of the universe. This is not a personified god, but a pantheistic principle omnipresent in Nature, not unlike that described by Spinoza and by Einstein's cosmic religious feeling.

by Ramanath Cowsik, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore, India.

Einstein's religion, as he described it was

"an attitude of cosmic awe and devout humility before the harmony in nature, rather than a belief in a personal God, who is able to control the lives of individuals. "

For Dr. Cowsik, this parallels the Hindu attributes of God:

Truth, Goodness, and Beauty (satyam, sivam, sundaram.)

Einstein also said:

"I am of the opinion that all finer speculations in science stem from a deep religious feeling….

Science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind."

Dr. Cowsik concluded his paper with the following words of Swami Vivekananda:

"All of science is a search for unity. Vidanta discovered this unit in the atman (God within.) Vidanta hopes for and welcomes further advances in modern science by which its own spiritual vision may be corroborated by positive scientific knowledge, so that the spirituality of science and the spirituality of religion my flow as a united stream to fertilize all aspects of human life. "


Terrence W. Deacon

Boston University

In an evolutionary emergent account of natural "design," the creative dynamic is understood to be built in or immanent rather than external to it. Life itself is an emergent phenomenon, in which the whole has properties, like metabolism and reproduction, which can not be predicted from the quantum mechanical laws governing it atoms. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, just is the meaning of a complete sentence can not be deduced from just knowing the meanings of its words.

Dr. Deacon illustrated this by showing the beautiful hexagonal symmetry of a snowflake, which is made of water molecules whose H20 atoms form a 120 degree triangle. This inherent symmetry of the microscopic molecules is the built-in ordering which emerges in the macroscopic snowflake.

"By recognizing the spontaneous creativity of the material process, emergentism neither requires an appeal to extra-physical causality to explain the orderliness in the word nor denies the special nature of the subjective mental or ethical realms. Understanding subjective phenomena as emergent and evolving is consistent with both spiritual reflection and neuroscience."

"Emergentism transforms the concept of transcendence from a dualistic conception to a monistic one. A clockwork universe, fashioned and animate by eternal causes, is a dead world that requires a larger but equally determined and closed spiritual world to animate it, and in which subjectivity and value originate by divine fiat. But a universe that is spontaneously self-creative and contains self-creating minds is self-transcendent in the precise physical sense of constantly becoming more than itself and growing beyond itself…. This monistic view of transcendence, is not inconsistent with the view of a holistic immanently self-creative universe described in many nonwestern spiritual traditions. As advances in science and technology pose new ethical questions and spiritual challenges, the future of humanness may well hinge upon our ability to infuse scientific understanding with spiritual wisdom. This will best be accomplished by a worldview synthesis this is open, growing, and does not fracture the world in two."

Panelist Revd. Canon Dr. Arthur Peacocke of Oxford University and winner of the 2001 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion commented:

"Dr. Deacon's concept of self-creating immanence is the sort of God I believe in."

Dr. Peacocke believes in panentheism, in which God which is both immanent and transcendent.