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From the Editor

By Edvard A. Hemmingsen

This issue has two essays and a book review, plus these comments, on matters touching on science or religion, or both. This was neither planned nor does it indicate any trend for subjects to be dealt with in the future in this newsletter; it incidentally happened.

Science versus religion. Not the words on an arena marquee (although at one time it could have been), but a state of conflict that has existed for centuries. Religion always collides with science when religion attempts to explain the physical world and the processes that are part of it; because it is not equipped to do so. Conversely, pure science has few or no tools to deal with such issues as ethics, morals, or the "ultimate meaning of life" (whatever this phrase may mean to a person); it is largely restricted to dealing with nature and its phenomena, things that can be measured and tested. But this does not mean that those more nebulous issues automatically become part of religion; humanists rightly and forcefully argue that point.

Surveys have shown that relatively few scientists with advanced education and experience see a need to believe in a higher power and supernatural phenomena. With the possible exception of one or two, none of the numerous eminent scientists I have known during a lifetime in science have been religious. Most have been biologists who have found great pleasure in knowing to their own satisfaction where they fit into nature, as part of a natural process. And their high level of ethics, morals and honesty could never be questioned. Of course, they have recognized that science does not (yet) provide answers to many important questions. But having seen its past advances, they have had confidence, as do I, that science will have the ability in the future to solve many problems which seem to be unsolvable now; even how the universe started, how the mind works and what consciousness is.

However, there are scientists and others for whom nature does not provide the answers they seek. The modern trend for them has been to establish different and separate spheres or domains for science and religion, in order to avoid traditional conflicts. But when such complete separation is attempted, new dilemmas arise, and philosophically they are not better off.

Carl Sagan began to entertain thoughts about a need for a second domain late in his life. We find that in his Book The Demon-Haunted World (reviewed in Volume 1, Issue 2). Stephen Jay Gould is attempting to make a case for the value or necessity of "Non-Overlapping Magisteria" for science and religion in his book Rocks of Ages (reviewed in this issue). He sees the conflicts between science and religion as false and unnecessary, and appears to view some form of religion as a necessary part of a full life.

Freeman Dyson, a distinguished physicist, also was in the news recently for his (new?) view of a world with two separate domains for science and religion. He was awarded the Templeton Prize (nearly a million dollars) this year. This prize was established by John Templeton of Wall Street fame for "research in spirituality". Previous recipients include Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and William Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, which raise questions about what "research" means for this foundation. After receiving the prize, Dyson stated that "Science and religion are two windows through which people look to understand ‘the big universe outside’." He also called himself a follower of Christ. Two of his books which I am familiar with, Origins of Life and Imagined World, did not express overtly his religious views. The first one explores how living systems in theory can be assembled by normal physical processes from relatively simple components (without metaphysics). The second one (reviewed in Volume 4, Issue 2) deals with the future of science and its role, with some hints of overtones of the supernatural in a few places.

This, together with other articles in this issue, goes to show you that the chasm between science and religion will not be eradicated easily. It is deep and complex and undoubtedly will be with us for a long time, and it may be best left at that. Yet, we have a duty to protest when attempts are made to inflict unwanted irrational and supernatural ideas on us . These attempts can be surprising and puzzling; from whence they come are often hidden.


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