symbiotic relationship has led each discipline to influence
the other. Science helped shape modern religion by shooting
down myth and superstition. Religion prodded men and women
of science to delve deeper into the forces that drive our
universe; Isaac Newton, for instance, wanted his theories
to prove the existence of God.
Religion is not the answer for every scientist. But for
some, the findings of physics, biology, and other fields
only reinforce their faith in a higher being. "There are
two views in the science community," says John Scofield,
associate professor of physics at Oberlin. "For some, the
more they know about science, the more they find that they
can't possibly believe in religion. For others, the more
they know about science, the more they are drawn to religion.
The more I learn, the more I think there has to be a reason
behind it all."
On a very large scale, change a few things in the laws of
physics and the universe would not exist. On a much smaller
measure, consider our four seasons, which would be reduced
to one if not for the tilt of the earth's axis with respect
to its orbital plane around the sun. "That little tilt gives
rise to tremendous seasonal variation in climate," says
Scofield. "If there were no tilt, I don't think it would
affect the fact that we have life on Earth, but the richness
of life would be so different. I marvel at this richness
of nature and the cleverness of the Being who put it together."
though, science and religion may fill different needs: for
scientists, faith picks up where systemized knowledge leaves
off. "Human beings appear to yearn for meaning and explanation,"
says Oberlin's Norman Craig, emeritus professor of chemistry.
"It's the province of religious experience and thinking
to deal with such yearnings. In teaching chemistry, I never
ask students to explain something. I don't think science,
in the deepest use of words, ever explains things. I worry
that in the heat of an exam, a student will hit a crisis
because he or she realizes that science can't explain anything.
Science merely describes. I tend to see science and religion
as alongside one another, rather than in conflict."
Scofield agrees. "Science tells us how things happen; it
doesn't tell us why. Many people make the mistake of looking
at the Bible and seeing it as a scientific manual. When
I look at the Bible, I don't see it as a book about how."
Some religious factions, including fundamentalist Christians
in this country, have perceived major conflicts between
science and religion. Devout scientists, on the other hand,
see no clash. "I'm a scientist and a mathematician,
and I believe in God," says Jeff Witmer, professor
of mathematics. "I think where some people have a problem
is if they have a literal interpretation of the Bible. Then
parts of religion come into conflict with a scientific understanding
of the world. But I don't think the Bible was meant to be
While some scientists accept the disciplines as complementary,
others have applied the scientific method to their beliefs
to find that religion can't pass the test. Robert Weinstock,
emeritus professor of physics, was one. "When a scientist
is called upon to reach a conclusion, the most important
question to be answered is: 'What is the evidence?'"
When Weinstock applied that standard to his religious beliefs,
the answers didn't change his ethical principles, but they
did undermine his faith in "an omniscient, omnipotent,
benevolent deity who has a strong interest in my personal
welfare," he recalls. "I soon became a deeply
convinced atheist. My conviction has not since weakened."
Still, he acknowledges that there are fundamental questions
to which science has no answers. "How ought we to behave?
Is there life after death? A heaven? A hell? Is there a
supernatural deity? How effective is prayer?" The answer
to any of these questions, he believes, is a matter of individual
Professor of biology David Benzing ceased believing in a
deity long before entering his field. "Even though
I can't explain all that's out there, I find it very difficult
to imagine that there is a deity, and that Christianity
just happens to have all the right answers," he says.
"I certainly understand the benefits of religion and
the comfort it provides to people. But I wonder if we've
outlived religion as we've practiced it in many parts of
the world. I'd like to see some sort of secular humanism
as a replacement, but I don't think people are ready for