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Speaking of God.

God has become the center of attention in an unlikely place. Nature, the "International Weekly Journal of Science," has lately been revealing to readers what some contemporary scientists are thinking about the age-old question of the relation of theology to their own disciplines, and the biases represented are . . . well . . . revealing.

One exchange was kicked off by the editors themselves, when they derided the University of Cambridge for accepting money from popular author Susan Howatch for a lectureship in Theology and Natural Science (1 April 1993). They admit that it would be "churlish to chide Ms. Howatch for polluting British universities with the profits of her blockbusters," but they do question whether it is "proper that one of Britain's leading centres of learning should put a price on its academic rigour" by accepting her donation. The editors reject the view that a study of the interaction of science and theology can offer greater understanding of our existence, believing instead that only research on the psychology of religious belief would be worthy of scientific consideration: "What other academic purpose can there be?"

In addition to a letter from the funder herself, correcting certain errors of fact, one response came from an agnostic who was "happy to acknowledge the very great contributions to science of Christian thinkers," noting that anti-Christian scientists had spread influence that found its way to the Nazis and the New Right (22 April 1993),. Another writer defends the lectureship on grounds that religion may be a basis for moral values that can guide scientific work. Other correspondents point to the value of theology in helping to answer the "why" questions that science cannot answer, or to harness the creative and destructive powers of science for the common good. Theology, after all, can be "rigorous" too.

Another exchange on the same topic arose in Nature from comments by John Polkinghorne in his review of a work by Lewis Wolpert (26 November 1992). He accuses Wolpert of "being at his worst" when speaking of religion, accusing him of not thinking more about "what is the source of our intuition of the value of human individuals." Such thinking might have avoided policies like the eugenics practices of Nazi Germany. "Science," Polkinghorne concludes, "is tinged with scientism (|science is all')." A letter in response charges that the source of our morality is unknowable; ethical or religious beliefs cannot be defended except by announcing, "I feel it: I have faith" (28 January 1993).

But wait! One scientist believes the answer to all of this may lie in the place where more and more answers are residing these days: the genes (15 April 1992). "Any scientific study of religion should . . . take account of the fact that a central theme of religion (pathological variants excluded) is the attempt to maximize human |goodness' (a quality I shall not attempt to define precisely). I speculate that religious practices have in part a genetic basis, involving genes linked to potential for goodness. Societies in which this potential is actualized in a sizeable proportion of its members will tend to function more harmoniously and more efficiently, so that natural selection will tend to favour the presence in human societies of genes of this type. " Do we have here a new application for the Human Genome Project?

Perhaps the British could use a good lectureship to help sort this out.
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Title Annotation:science and theology
Author:Hanson, Mark J.
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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