September 23, 2004

Krista's Journal: How Science and Religion Inform Each Other

September 23, 2004

I just returned from spending several days with journalists—mostly newspaper editors and reporters—from across the country. I was struck by that group's deep, shared longing to find new ways to cover religion—and not just as a subject for separate newspaper sections devoted exclusively to faith, but as an aspect of human experience that weaves itself through the whole of lives and communities and the news. The three scientists in this week's program provide a wonderful example of that, for me. And though they work in fields I'm not particularly versed in, I find that I've taken their insights to heart.

As I read about diseases and the search for cures, as I face the frailties of my own body, I remember Carl Feit's mutually enlivening passions for the Talmud and the task of immunology. His drive towards a cure for cancer is intricately bound with his theological conviction that this creation was left for us to finish.

As I watch the latest movie on artificial intelligence, I think of all the religious resonance Anne Foerst found in a robotics laboratory. She compels me, like the innovators at MIT, to rethink the meaning of human intelligence as well as emotion, incarnation, and free will. She challenges her colleagues, but also the rest of us, to reflect on the joy and perils of the act of creation, and the theological parallels that arise as we populate our world with machines made in our image.

And as geneticists continue to map and decode the human race, I love knowing that Lindon Eaves is out there. His trailblazing study of twins provides new and essential scientific data. At the same time, he is pursuing questions his data cannot answer and keeping those questions before himself, in science as in life: Where do we get the capacity to write novels and poetry and music? Where are the genes that give us a passion for justice?

Feit, Foerst, and Eaves shed light on how religious traditions can inform the work of science. But I am just as fascinated by their views of how scientific frontiers can enrich and expand theology. Their stories enliven my imagination about the questioning, searching core of all faith.

Lindon Eaves points out that in fact we are all living "a life of experiment," in every aspect of our lives. And both faith and science, he points out, hold truth and mystery in creative tension. Scientists are driven at one and the same time to pin down truth and to move beyond today's accepted hypothesis. Following the human religious impulse, we engage in discerning and naming truths, including ultimate truth, as best we can. But at any given moment we understand that we have everything yet to discover.

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is an Anglican priest and geneticist at Virginia Commonwealth University.

is a computer scientist and former theological advisor in the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab.

is an immunologist at Yeshiva University in Manhattan and a scholar of the Talmud.