I very much enjoyed your interview with Martin Rees and I appreciate his stance on the right relationship between science and religion. If I could, in all respect, correct an assumption that Mr. Rees echoed during the interview regarding the nature of religion. In the interview he states:
“And that makes me skeptical of anyone who claims to have the last word or complete understanding of any deep aspect of reality.”
I find it distressing whenever I hear a scientist give as a reason for their non-observance the idea of religious ‘certainty’. There may be many reasons for not wanting to participate in religious life, but it seems to me that can’t be one of them.
Religion is NOT about certainty.
Religion is in fact about the the very opposite of certainty. Religion is based in humility and has at its root the very uncertain nature of the entire enterprise we call existence. At its best, it keeps us rooted in that humility by reminding us that no matter how much knowledge we as a species accumulate, as individuals, we are exceedingly limited in our capacity for understanding. That is not to say that religion opposes the accumulation of new knowledge. Knowledge informs religious observance. I admit that religious institutions are slow at processing new knowledge and bringing it into the focus of its communal life. It is debatable, however, whether this is a virtue or a vice.
When Rees later states that “I think the most we can hope for is some incomplete and metaphorical understanding and to share the mystery and wonder” he is in fact ironically giving us the very definition of the purpose and practice of religion.
When two people get married, we call that a ‘leap of faith’, not because we know how things will turn out, but because we have only limited knowledge and capacity to guide how things might turn out. There is no certainty to it. That’s why we call it faith.
I wish that people in the scientific community would get that straight in their minds. If they did, they might begin to understand that religion and science are not only foreign to each other, they are in many ways kindred spirits.
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