Religion and Science: Making Ends Meet

Article excerpt

The next time public television lionizes a great scientific atheist of our day - whether a Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould or Francis Crick - there is a place to turn for the perplexed believer.

John F. Haught's new book, "Science and Religion," shows that there are several ways to reconcile belief in God with the gods of laboratory materialism. He also shows that both religion and science have Achilles' heels when it comes to absolute proof, so a little humility is in order for each side.

A frequent writer on the subject, Mr. Haught, a professor of theology at Georgetown University, has produced an excellent overview of science-vs.-religion arguments in a way that can help readers decide where they stand.

He is probably correct in saying most Americans have not sorted out the details, and lean toward the error of "conflation" - the tendency people have to blanket most of life with a single outlook, whether it be religious or scientific. As an alternative, Mr. Haught offers four reasonable contemporary viewpoints, and organizes his book around them.

He calls the first of these "conflict," the scientific materialist view that sees religion as fairy tales. Next comes "contrast," a less-judgmental position typified by a National Academy of Science statement in 1981: "Religion and science are separate and mutually exclusive realms of human thought."

Finding these first two wanting, Mr. Haught supports two other approaches, which he calls "contact" and "confirmation." The "contact" view accepts the results of scientific inquiry and is willing to adjust a theology of God to fit new knowledge of the physical universe.

"Confirmation" is Mr. Haught's original contribution: "My proposal is simply that religion essentially fortifies the humble desire to know," he writes. "Scientists can be theists . . . because their discipline thrives on the conviction that the world does finally make sense."

Such leanings reveal Mr. Haught to be in the so-called process school of thought, in which God is seen as continually creating a universe that, according to modern physics, is full of processes, creative chance and new horizons.

Significantly, though, the book seeks to uphold the personal God of biblical religion in the face of scientific claims; pantheistic religion, by contrast, has few if any conflicts with science.

For a theologian and philosopher, Mr. Haught shows a considerable grasp of scientific data, theories and fields in addressing such questions as whether religion is opposed to science, whether evolution rules out the existence of God, whether life is reducable to chemistry and "Do we belong here? …