by Roald Hoffmann, Ph.D., recipient of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
That science and religion only contend, or that they occupy separate compartments in our minds, one unrelated to the other — these are both such impoverishing views. Scientific knowledge, aesthetics, and faith cohabit. They use the same neural pathways. They speak to one another in the human soul — yes, sometimes their dialogue is uneasy. But it is their intertwined voices which shape true human understanding of our condition as moral creatures on earth.
To me, the intersections of science and religion suffice — they are profoundly evocative of the spirit of both religion and science.
I do not wish to minimize the differences between science and religion. In the spectrum of being the same and not the same, science and religion are perhaps more different than alike. And, at times, in every culture, they’ve been led into conflict — be it the American textbook wars on creationism, in his time Galileo and the Catholic Church, the ultraorthodox vs. archaeologists in Israel. The conflict has occurred when science or religion (either one) have tried to shape to their liking the fabric of our culture which is our social contract, our governments.
But I believe that science and Jewish religious tradition share this: the conviction that this world is very much real and tangible, that the world and the actions of human beings matter, and that there is order to be found. This commonality is a lot to build on.
There is no need to look for fuzzy systems of religious thought supposedly more amenable to scientific thinking, nor to wring one’s hands at the “irrational” persistence of serious religious conviction after two centuries of science. Nor will one find in science a “justification” for what is in the Bible. And I really dislike the seductive identification of God with the edge of the universe, or for that matter with all the infinities of our ignorance.
I believe that the middle ground is just there, to be found in the jigsaw puzzle pieces, the richness and complexity of human beings and the world. That middle ground is reached if one respects all the ways that human beings have devised for trying to understand this world.
Science and religion are both ways of trying to understand the world, to find meaning in that world’s beauty and terror. The story I’ve told you is testimony to the struggle to understand. Stories such as this one bear evidence to the human condition — that people seek meaning, and people act. In these stories of matter and spirit men and women speak, try to understand, exercise compassion, find the new. The voices of science and religion intertwine.
(This post is part of Sinai and Synapses’ project Scientists in Synagogues, a grass-roots program to offer Jews opportunities to explore the most interesting and pressing questions surrounding Judaism and science. This post is from Congregation Adas Kodesch Shel Emeth‘s four-part series, Natural and Man-Made).