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NITAAI-Veda.nyf > Soul Science God Philosophy > Science and Spiritual Quest > Section 1 Scientific and Spiritual Paths for Ultimate Reality > SCIENCE AND RELIGION CAN CO-EXIST > Freeman Dyson

Freeman Dyson

Institute of Advanced Studies, Princeton University, USA


"God forbid that we should give out a dream of our own imagination for a pattern of the world." Those words were spoken by Francis Bacon, one of the founding fathers of modern science, nearly  400 years ago.Bacon was the smartest man of his time, with the possible exception of William Shakespeare. Bacon saw clearly what science could do and what science could not do. He was  saying to the philosophers and theologians of his time: look for God in the facts of nature, not in the theories of Plato and Aristotle. I am saying to modern scientists and theologians: do not  imagine that our latest ideas about the big bang or the human genome have solved the mysteries of the universe or the mysteries of life.Here are Bacon's words again: "The subtlety of nature is  greater many times over than the subtlety of the senses and understanding."In the last 400 years, science has fulfilled many of Bacon's dreams, but it still does not come close to capturing the  full subtlety of nature.After sketching his programme for the scientific revolution that he foresaw, Bacon ended his account with a prayer: "Humbly we pray that this mind may be steadfast in us,  and that through these our hands, and the hands of others to whom thou shalt give the same spirit, thou wilt vouchsafe to endow the human family with new mercies." That is still a good prayer  for all of us as we begin the 21st century.Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The  two windows give different views, but they look out at precisely the same universe. Both views are one-sided, and neither is complete. Both leave out some essential features of the real world.  And both views are just as worthy of respect.


As the old Swiss nurse who helped to take care of our babies used to say, "Some people like to go to church, and some people like cherries."Trouble arises when either science or religion  claims universal jurisdiction, when either religious dogma or scientific dogma claims to be infallible. Religious creationists and scientific materialists are equally dogmatic and insensitive. By their  arrogance they bring both science and religion into disrepute.The media exaggerate their numbers and importance. You people in the media should tell the general public that the great majority of  religious people belong to moderate denominations that treat science with respect, and the great majority of scientists treat religion with respect, so long as religion does not claim jurisdiction  over scientific questions.In the little town of Princeton, New Jersey, where I live, we have more than 20 churches and at least one synagogue, providing different forms of worship and belief for  different kinds of people. They do more than any other organisation in the town to hold the community together. Within this community of people, held together by religious traditions of human  brotherhood and the sharing of burdens, a smaller community of professional scientists also flourishes.


The great question for our time is how    to    make    sure    that    the continuing     scientific     revolution brings benefits to everybody, rather than widening the gap between rich and poor. To lift  up poor countries, and poor people in rich countries, from poverty, to give them a chance of a decent life,technology is not enough. Technology must be guided and driven by ethics if it

is to do more than simply provide new toys for the rich.Scientists and business leaders who care about social justice should join forces with environmentalists and religious organisations to give  political clout to ethics. Science and religion should work together to abolish the gross inequalities that prevail in the modern world. That is my vision, and it is the same vision that inspired those  words of Francis Bacon four centuries ago, when he prayed that, through science, God would "endow the human family with new mercies".