Science and Religion in Western History
by Frederick Gregory
© 1995 by the History of Science Society, All rights reserved
Among those subjects about which most people possess an opinion, frequently a strongly held opinion, is the relationship between science and religion. Some reasons for this may seem obvious. Many people who identify themselves as religious, for example, feel it is important to view the physical universe in terms consistent with human purpose and meaning. Others, who prefer to invoke science as the source of their understanding of the natural world, feel compelled to regard nature as completely indifferent to human existence. Such contrary responses to our encounter with nature sometimes evoke passionate disagreements, for consideration of the relationship between natural science and religion inevitably involves basic questions about how we should ascertain and evaluate the place of human beings in the larger scheme of things.
Although it may seem that the issues raised here divide people into two rather clearly identifiable groups, such is not the case. The relationship between religion and natural science, as the history of their interaction reveals, is in fact a very complex matter. A historical investigation makes clear, for example, that the tendency to separate science cleanly from religion, a tendency that developed first in the medieval period, flowered again during the late nineteenth century, and still survives in many quarters today, greatly oversimplifies the story. Since neither science nor religion has remained a permanently fixed entity their relationship to each other can and has varied considerably over time. Today's defender of the faith might well have appeared incomprehensible and even heretical to past believers, while the perspective of the natural philosopher of a past era could seem largely irrelevant to the viewpoint of many present-day scientists.
It would be a mistake, therefore, to insist on a fixed definition of science and of religion before undertaking this treatment of their historical relationship. Yet in spite of the complexity that blurs the line separating them, peoples in the West have continued to distinguish between scientific and religious outlooks. Here again history renders assistance, for by providing us with vast source material it enables us to evaluate as fully as possible the claims that have been made about the similarities and differences present in religion and science.
Although in our investigation we shall employ the standard historical periodization commonly found in high school world history and western civilization textbooks, it is important to recognize that there is nothing sacred about such periodization. We should remain open to new divisions of history when they are utilized in order not to remain blind to new insights that a different periodization might make possible.
Viewed from the broadest possible vantage point, the history of science and religion initially divides into the two eras that are reflected in the classical struggle between "the ancients and the moderns." The historical watershed dividing these two periods defines a third basic historical period, the so-called Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It begins with the work of Nicholas Copernicus and ends with the achievement of Isaac Newton. Although much has been written that undermines the revolutionary nature of this prolonged historical episode, it remains the case that a great deal was changed in both religion and science during the century and a half between Copernicus's Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs (1543) and Newton's Principia Mathematica (1687). So convinced of this was the British historian Herbert Butterfield that he was willing to credit the Scientific Revolution with truly outstanding historical significance. It "looms so large as the real origin, both of the modern world and the modern mentality," he wrote in 1949, that "it outshines everything since the rise of Christianity and reduces the Renaissance and Reformation to the ranks of mere episodes ... within the system of medieval Christendom."
Of course neither the ancient nor the modern period, nor even the Scientific Revolution
itself, presents us with a unified or undifferentiated stance on issues of science and religion. Quite
the opposite is true. Each era contains a diverse and changing set of reactions to the religious
challenges created by humankind's increasing familiarity with the physical world. In our survey of
these three periods we shall try to balance the need to generalize against a concern not to
oversimplify their complex histories too greatly.
PLATO (427-347 B.C.E.) returned in 388 from travels in Italy and Sicily to his native Athens,
where he founded a school in which young men could pursue philosophical studies. Plato taught
that the physical world was the product of a divine craftsman, who formed the cosmos according
to a rational and mathematical plan. In our attempts to know the world, then, we have the right
to assume that it can be captured by human reason, as long as our reason is properly used. This
fundamental belief was later incorporated into many Western religious perspectives, and
eventually found expression in the basic conviction that the world was fashioned according to
laws, and that it is the task of the scientist to discover these laws.
ARISTOTLE (384-322 B.C.E.) was a member of Plato's Academy for approximately twenty
years, after which he spent several years traveling . He returned to Macedonia, where he became
the tutor of young Alexander, later to be called Alexander the Great. For the last 13 years of his
life he taught in the Lyceum in Athens. Aristotle was an astute observer of the physical and
biological world. In spite of some philosophical differences with his teacher Plato, his voluminous
compositions regarding the constitution and motion of physical objects and concerning the world
of living things became the dominant corpus of written materials on these subjects for centuries to
come. They served as an exemplification of the Platonic assumption that the natural world was
rational and as an explication of the physics of the geocentric worldview of the ancients.
CLAUDIUS PTOLEMY (fl. 150 A.D.) lived in North Africa and was affiliated with the famous
Museum in Alexandria, a temple devoted to religious veneration and learning. He is not to be
associated with the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt. In his book, The Almagest, Ptolemy assembled
what had been learned up to his time in astronomy and added several conclusions and techniques
of his own. This compilation of technical wisdom, which explained the motion of the heavens in
awe-inspiring detail, became the astronomical canon for years to come. It was the technical
articulation of what people living in the ancient and medieval worlds already knew; namely, that
the motion of the stars and planets took place around a central earth, which was at rest and
ROGER BACON (ca.1220 - ca.1292) studied at both Oxford and Paris and taught in the latter
city for several years before joining the Franciscans. In several works addressed to the pope
Bacon defended the need to utilize the philosophical and scientific writings of the ancient Greeks
in Christian theology. By arguing that natural philosophy provided an essential complement to
theology Bacon challenged the notion that it was merely the "handmaiden of theology." Bacon's
writings among others forced scholars in the Middle Ages to examine the question of the
capability of human reason to get at and express God's truth.
THOMAS AQUINAS (ca. 1224 - 1274) was educated in Italy but spent most of his adult life in
Paris as a teacher of theology. He attempted to reconcile Aristotle's philosophical system with
Christian theology by delineating the proper spheres of both theology and philosophy. Aquinas
argued that these two disciplines might sometimes come to different truths, but he insisted that
they could not contradict each other since both human reason and divine revelation were gifts of
God. Others took Aquinas's defense of Aristotle to heart, but because they proceeded without
Aquinas's care they became less concerned about possible clashes between Aristotle's philosophy
and Christian doctrine. This trend led in 1270 to a condemnation, supported by Aquinas, of 13
radical propositions. Three years after Aquinas's death a second condemnation was issued against
the continuing embrace of Aristotle. The condemnation of 1277 included numerous propositions
to be found in Aquinas's works.
NICHOLAS OF CUSA (1400-1464) was a priest and later cardinal in the Catholic Church. He
favored unity of the Eastern and Western churches, and was sent by Pope Nicholas V to
Constantinople to attempt to bring about their reunion. He was sympathetic to the stance of
those medieval mystics who taught that God could not be known except through direct
experience. Cusa's demonstrated the limits of reason by showing how rational analysis of the
heavens led to contradictory results. His willingness to entertain through reason a center of the
cosmos different from the earth has sometimes been misinterpreted to mean that he was a
forerunner of Copernicus.
MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546) abandoned an early determination to become a lawyer and,
following an powerful religious experience during a storm, decided in 1505 to enter a monastery.
He received his doctoral degree in theology in 1512 and taught at the University of Wittenberg.
Sparked by his opposition to the practice of selling indulgences as a means of escaping the penalty
for sin, Luther challenged the church on a number of doctrinal matters and was excommunicated
by Pope Leo X in 1521. In spite of an early indication that he wished to separate what he
regarded as the core doctrine of Christianity, justification by faith, from church teaching about
God's relation to the physical world, in the end Luther did not maintain that science and religion
must be kept completely separate from each other. He denounced the Copernican system in favor
of the commonly accepted geocentric view of his day.
NICHOLAS COPERNICUS (1473-1543) was born in Thorn, Poland and attended the University
of Cracow. Copernicus supported himself through income from a clerical position in the
cathedral chapter of Frauenburg, an appointment he owed to the influence of an uncle who was a
bishop. He continued his education in Italy, where he studied astronomy, law, and medicine.
Returning to Poland Copernicus formulated ideas for dealing with the problems in accounting for
the motions of the heavens that were plaguing astronomers in the early sixteenth century.
Sometime before 1515 he composed a manuscript, entitled Commentariolus, containing his
suggestion that the sun was the center of the planetary motions. The work was circulated among
friends but was not published. Copernicus worried that his ideas would not be accepted by those
who insisted on a literal interpretation of scripture. Only after an extended visit from Georg
Rheticus in 1539 did he grant permission for his larger work, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly
Orbs, to be published. The book, which was dedicated to the pope, was brought to Copernicus
just before he died.
TYCHO BRAHE (1546-1601) was stolen as a child from his Danish parents and raised by an
uncle. Fortunately for Tycho the uncle was richer than was his real father and his inheritance
meant that he would be well off financially. Tycho mastered astronomy and built an observatory
on the island of Hveen that permitted him to gather the best observational data available anywhere
in Europe. Although he knew the Copernican theory well, Tycho preferred his own compromise
system to that of his Polish predecessor. In Tycho's system of planetary motion, which was
observationally equivalent to that of Copernicus, the moon and sun revolved around a central and
stable earth while the rest of the planets circled the sun. Since the earth occupied its customary
place none of the objections to the Copernican system, including that of violating scripture,
applied to Tycho's scheme.
GALILEO GALILEI (1564-1642) attended the University of Pisa where he studied medicine
according to his father's wish. His attraction to mathematics and physics was great enough to
turn him from medicine to these subjects. Eventually he became a professor at the University of
Padua, where he taught mathematics and astronomy and continued research on many aspects of
physical science. In 1610 he published The Starry Messenger, a work in which he described the
novel observations of the heavens available through the newly invented telescope. He soon
became a defender of the Copernican system and went on his own to Rome in 1616 to discuss his
views with church authorities. Told that he could not teach the Copernican theory as a fact but
that he could treat it as an hypothesis, Galileo composed a large discussion of Copernicus which
he published in 1632 as Dialogues on the Two Chief Systems of the World. He was summoned to
Rome immediately to answer for his indiscretion. Tried by the Inquisition and found guilty of
heresy, Galileo was forced to recant his Copernican belief.
MAFFEO BARBERINI (1568-1644) served as Pope Urban VIII from 1623 to the year of his
death. A friend of Galileo from Florence, Barberini enjoyed intellectual debates and was
interested in Galileo's ideas about astronomy and natural philosophy. After Barberini became
pope Galileo dedicated his work The Assayer to him as a gift. Urban VIII welcomed Galileo
warmly to Rome in 1623, when the two conducted six extended discussions on scientific matters,
including especially the doctrines of Copernicus. Once Galileo's work on the Copernican system
was published in 1632, however, Urban considered that Galileo had exploited his friendship. As a
result Galileo fell from the favor of his patron and was tried for heresy.
RENÉ DESCARTES (1596-1650) was able to secure sufficient support from patrons to enable
him to pursue the life of an independent philosopher and mathematician. Although he is perhaps
best known for introducing a mathematical coordinate system that permitted geometric
representation of algebraic relationships, his famous conclusion, "I think, therefore I am," is one
of the most recognized arguments in Western philosophy. In 1629 Descartes wrote to a friend
that he had resolved to replace the physics of Aristotle with his own mechanical view of nature.
In his new system all reality was divided into categories, mind and matter. God, angels, and
humans possessed mind and everything else, including animals and space itself, was made of
matter alone. To explain the operation (though not the origin or continued existence) of the
physical world, then, Descartes banished all reference to mind and appealed only to patterns of
matter in motion. With this move God's relationship to the operation of the physical world
became problematical for many.
THOMAS HOBBES (1588-1679) attended Oxford University and later, as the tutor of William
Cavendish, traveled widely in Europe where he met many philosophers and scientists. He also
served as tutor in mathematics to the Prince of Wales, subsequently King Charles II. Hobbes's
interests centered on political theory and natural philosophy. Impressed by the clarity and rigor of
mathematical relationships, Hobbes concluded that if one could discover first principles for other
fields one could achieve the same certainty for them that was attainable in mathematics. Where
the physical world was concerned Hobbes maintained that only matter exists and that all events
occur in accordance with fixed laws. Although he denied that this vision of things entailed
atheism and a repudiation of human free will, many accused him of holding these heresies.
ISAAC NEWTON (1642-1727) studied at Cambridge University in the middle years of the
seventeenth century. While still a student Newton privately figured out a way to test the idea that
the moon was retained in its orbit around the earth by the same cause that is responsible for the
fall of an apple. Later Newton was persuaded by Edmund Halley to publish all his ideas on the
nature and cause of the motion of objects. The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy
appeared in 1687 and immediately established Newton's reputation as a natural philosopher of
enormous stature. Newton regarded himself as the servant God had chosen to reveal truths of
nature to humankind. As the sustainer of the physical world God was a necessary presence in the
world for Newton. Although he taught for several years at Cambridge University, where
adherence to the articles of faith of the Anglican Church was required, Newton's personal version
of Christianity resembled unitarianism more than it did traditional Anglican doctrine.
WILLIAM PALEY (1743-1806) was an Anglican priest in England whose writings were directed
to the branch of theology known as apologetics. He attempted to make use of the latest wisdom
humans had acquired, including philosophy and natural science, to defend the Christian faith.
From science he marshaled new information about the physical and biological worlds to establish
an argument that had long been in use, but which had never been so systematically and
successfully expounded before his Natural Theology of 1802. Paley's exposition of the so-called
argument from design, which holds that it is possible to infer the existence of a designer from the
evidence of design in the natural world, has been called by John Brooke "one of the most popular
works of philosophical theology in the English language." It was to become standard reading
material for educated people in England for much of the nineteenth century.
PIERRE SIMON LAPLACE (1749-1827) was born the son of a farmer in Beaumont-en-Auge,
France, but by the age of 20 had gone to Paris and was quickly accepted by the scientific
community of the early 1770s. His gifts in mathematics and astronomy were clear, especially as
he refined and extended the celestial mechanical system of Newton. In 1773 Laplace presented to
the Academy of Sciences his stance on a question that had concerned him for some time. He
asserted that a superhuman calculator who knew for a given moment "all the relations of being in
this universe" would "be able to determine for any instant of the past or future their respective
positions, motions, and generally their affections." Laplace's declaration capped a long line of
inquiries by eighteenth-century natural philosophers about the implications of Newton's system for
the relation of God to the physical world. Since God was not mentioned anywhere in Laplace's
statement, Laplace has been frequently cited as a representative of deism, the belief that God is
necessary for the creation of the world, but that God does not interfere in its subsequent
IMMANUEL KANT (1724-1804) never traveled more than 50 miles from his native city of
Königsberg, then in the German state of East Prussia. Kant studied philosophy, theology, and
natural science and over the course of his life wrote a great deal on all three subjects. In 1755 he
wrote A Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens, whose subtitle, An Attempt to
Explain the Composition and Mechanical Origin of the Universe According to Principles of
Newtonian Physics, unambiguously reveals his goal. Later Kant became convinced from reading
works by the Scottish thinker David Hume that reasoning such as that contained in the argument
from design was fallacious. He set about a critique of human reason in order, he said, to make
room for faith. Although Kant did rescue a place for faith, it came at a high price, for in Kant's
mature view religion had to be redefined in strictly moral terms. This meant that religion had to
be kept separate from our analysis of the physical world.
CHARLES DARWIN (1809-1882) was raised in an upper middle class English family during the
height of the expansion of the British Empire. Educated at Cambridge and Edinburgh, Darwin
grew particularly fond of the study of living things. Although he determined to enter the ministry
after completing his university training, a trip around the world aboard the H.M.S. Beagle as
ship's naturalist caused him to abandon his earlier intention in favor of an investigation of geology
and natural history. Shortly after his return from the voyage in 1836 Darwin began formulating
his theory of evolution, which was eventually published as the Origin of Species in 1859.
Darwin's theory attempted to provide a naturalistic explanation of how species might have come
into being since God's original creative activity. It became the focus of a prolonged controversy
about plant, animal, and especially human origins soon after it appeared in print. The controversy
was central to the discussions of science and religion in the nineteenth century and remains so for
many to this day.
CHARLES HODGE (1797-1878) was the most eminent professor of theology in the newly
organized Princeton Theological Seminary when he represented that institution at the 1873
international meeting of the Evangelical Alliance in New York. Among the issues discussed at the
gathering was the theory of evolution as propounded by Darwin. Hodge felt called to oppose the
tendency to accept some form of evolution on the part of some of the delegates. The year
following the meeting he authored his detailed analysis of the matter, titled What is Darwinism?
In the work Hodge became the spokesman not only for his fellow Presbyterians, but for all
conservative religious minds. His conclusion, while based on an informed evaluation of Darwin's
work, was nevertheless concise: Darwinism was atheism.
FREDERICK TEMPLE (1821-1902) was an Anglican clergyman who became bishop of Exeter
and later archbishop of Canterbury. His position was that of a liberal theologian. In 1860 he was
one of the contributors to the 1860 Essays and Reviews, a series of treatises that re-examined the
contents and meaning of biblical writings in light of modern historical scholarship. In his Bampton
Lectures of 1884 he defended the proposition that the physical operation of the universe was
determined, implying that God does not interfere with it. Temple asserted that God's
superintendence of the world, including the evolution of life, was guaranteed through God's
original creative decree. In his view the theory of evolution left the argument for an intelligent
creator stronger than before.
DAVID FRIEDRICH STRAUSS (1808-1874) studied theology at the famous Tübinger Stift in
the 1820s. Drawing on his training in German philosophy and theology he penned in 1835 a
shocking study, The Life of Jesus, in which he maintained that the stories surrounding Jesus's life
and work did not derive from actual events but had resulted from an Old Testament mythological
tradition. Strauss sealed his fate with this work since he was essentially barred from participation
in an academic career. In 1872 he confirmed to the public that his radical nature had not altered
by publishing The Old Faith and the New. In this work Strauss argued that the modern scientific
knowledge of the physical and biological world (including especially Darwin's theory of evolution)
allowed us to conclude that the universe did not exist as part of a divine plan nor was it concerned
with the fate of the human species.
WILHELM HERRMANN (1846-1922) was born into a theological family. Since his father and
grandfather before him had been clergymen, his decision to become a theologian was hardly
surprising. Herrmann concerned himself early in his career with the question of the status of
scientific knowledge. As a follower of Albrecht Ritschl, whose writings were part of the
reawakened interest in Immanuel Kant during the second half of the nineteenth century, Herrmann
concluded that assertions of many theologians and Darwinian scientists alike of his day went
beyond the confines of science into the realm of metaphysics. Through his attempt to rid theology
(and science) of metaphysics, Herrmann sought to carry out both the separation of science and
religion and the redefinition of religion in terms of morals that had been called for by Kant at the
end of the previous century. As the teacher of the twentieth-century theologians Karl Barth and
Rudolph Bultmann Herrmann contributed to establishing of an existential approach to theology.
Antiquity and the Middle Ages
People in the twentieth century are so used to thinking of science and religion as distinct endeavors that it is sometimes difficult for them to realize that in earlier times there was no necessary separation between them. Certainly among those whose representation of experience has been called mythopoeic, for example the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, and the early Greeks, the actions of divine beings and the behavior of nature were often one and the same. Lightning, for example, was a weapon of the god Zeus, who threw bolts down from Olympus.
Later Greeks created the new category of "natural" processes by removing supernatural agencies from their explanations of nature. It is not gods who inhabit the planets and cause them to move; rather, the motion of the planets occurs in accordance with unchanging patterns as a result of "natural" motions. With this distinction came a new task: to discover and describe the patterns governing nature's behavior.
One must be careful, however, not to ascribe too much to the Greek approach. For example, even though natural phenomena were no longer explained as the activity of supernatural beings, that does not mean that the Greek accounts were completely impersonal. On the contrary, the Greeks assumed that nature's behavior could be described according to qualities possessed by human beings, particularly Greek human beings. Known for their cultivation of rational analysis, Greek thinkers like Plato and his student Aristotle assumed that nature too was rational. They also assumed that another quality important to humans, purpose, was likewise to be found in nature. As a result the Greek explanation of nature employed rational analysis, epitomized in mathematical description, and the identification of nature's purposeful goals. Aristotle's analysis of the physical and biological realms and the mathematical models of the heavens compiled by the astronomer Ptolemy in the first and second centuries A.D. represent two illustrations of the Greek achievement.
The removal of supernatural agency from natural phenomena did not, therefore, create a new "scientific" account antagonistic to a religious viewpoint. The Greeks focused on the personal qualities of reason and purpose where nature was concerned. Although their failure to attribute other human qualities like love and morality to nature made their "religious" interpretation of nature appear overly abstract and of secondary importance to many who came after them, it remains nevertheless true that the Greek ascription of personal qualities to nature was consistent with what would become the Christian understanding of the relationship between God and the physical world.
If the love of God and one's neighbor formed the central concern of Western religion, then the search for an understanding of the physical world could not be expected to define a particularly valued activity. Such was indeed the case in the early Medieval world. At best what we call science, which involved applying the Greek gift of rational inquiry to nature, was invoked to confirm the greatness and wisdom of the Creator. According to the medieval historian of science Edward Grant, prior to the twelfth century the pursuit of scientific explanations did not entail a commitment to metaphysical beliefs; i.e., the attempt to describe nature's regularities did not require that one formulate a view about the nature of physical reality. Science was viewed simply as the "handmaiden to theology." In theology the Greek gift was brought to bear on God's program to redeem a fallen humankind. Here knowledge of and beliefs about the physical world were of secondary importance.
After the twelfth century, however, a challenge to this attitude began to make its appearance as a result of the study of recovered works of ancient Greek thinkers, Plato's in the twelfth century and Aristotle's in the thirteenth. Latin scholars found rational accounts of nature's behavior in these writings. They had been used to deferring to Holy Scripture whenever it contained direct pronouncements or implications about nature. Pagan Greeks, however, operated under no such caution. What must have struck medieval minds initially as presumptuous eventually became an attitude recognizable in some medieval figures: philosophy, not theology, should provide our understanding of nature and its regular causes and events.
As study of recovered Greek texts, especially those of Aristotle, proceeded, thirteenth-century scholars like Roger Bacon contended that a philosophical understanding of nature would complement but not contradict theological understanding. The historian of science David Lindberg writes that
Bacon argued that the new philosophy is a divine gift, capable of proving the articles of the faith and persuading the unconverted, that scientific knowledge contributes vitally to the interpretation of Scripture, that astronomy is essential for establishing the religious calendar, that astrology enables us to predict the future, that "experimental science" teaches us how to prolong life, and that optics enables us to create devices that will terrorize unbelievers and lead to their conversion.
But if prior to the twelfth century the pursuit of knowledge about the physical world did not involve a metaphysical commitment, the Greek writings constituted a composite scientific system complete with explicit metaphysical beliefs that were hard to miss. Aristotle's belief in the eternality of the world and his exclusive use of natural as opposed to supernatural agency to explain physical events ran directly contrary to beliefs inherent in the Christian perspective of the Latin West. Since Aristotle's thought took root in the newly founded universities of Europe, the stage was set for a protracted struggle between those Christian medievals who felt that the Aristotelian employment of reason must be taken into account and those who condemned ideas they believed were subversive to the Christian faith.
This encounter between Greek and Christian thought forced medieval thinkers to scrutinize carefully questions about the ability of human beings to know the world and about the value and place of philosophical knowledge of the world in the larger scheme of things. Was the world knowable through reason, or was our knowledge of it necessarily limited in some way? Did pursuit of rational knowledge presuppose beliefs about the structure and operation of the world or did its results dictate and confirm what those beliefs should be?
Medieval figures, including those who favored the study of Greek thought, generally agreed that philosophical knowledge was necessarily incomplete. This permitted them to avoid having to embrace Greek metaphysical beliefs about nature while at the same time to employ Greek rational methods in the investigation of nature. Theologians like Thomas Aquinas held that one must carry rational analysis as far as possible, but he insisted that the results of rational inquiry could not contradict Christian beliefs, including acceptance of biblical declarations about nature. If rational thought was subservient to beliefs, how then were Christian beliefs acquired and how could one be sure they imparted certainty? Aquinas and others maintained that their beliefs were given to us by God through revelation. Theology, which was the articulation of these beliefs, was therefore still the highest science.
These questions, in various forms, became central and would persevere amid the many changes in the developing relationship between natural science and religion. Through impressive philosophical investigations fourteenth century thinkers like William of Ockham concluded that philosophy, by its nature, was unable to achieve certainty. A new tendency became evident in Western thought: philosophy and theology made peace with each other by withdrawing from each other. Although both continued to flourish by themselves it began to be commonly assumed that if their results ever clashed reason, the tool of philosophy, would in the end have to give way to faith, whose ultimate authority derived from its source in revelation. Medieval understanding, in other words, came to regard it as necessary to regulate or control reason.
In the fifteenth century the German theologian Nicholas of Cusa wrote a work in which he maintained that rational analysis sometimes leads to contradictory results. In his work On Learned Ignorance Cusa argued that one could conclude on the basis of observation and reason that the cosmos was structured such that its circumference was everywhere and its center nowhere. By showing that one clearly could not trust reason to provide sure and final results about the physical world, Cusa reinforced the inappropriateness of relying on reason where beliefs about God and his relationship to the world were concerned. On the eve of Copernicus's novel astronomical account of the cosmos many medieval scholars had concluded that the essential structure and operation of the world was not knowable through the employment of reason. At best rational inquiry could provide us with hypothetical depictions of the true nature of the world.
Copernicus's achievement came on the heels of the Protestant Reformation, which was set in motion by Martin Luther in 1517. The German theologian Albrecht Ritschl wrote some three and a half centuries after this event that the young Luther had intended his radical interpretation of the gospel message to be understood as having no dependence at all on a worldly reality whose truth was allegedly accessible to reason. The young Luther, in other words, was carrying the regulation of reason of his medieval predecessors to the extreme in maintaining that the central Christian beliefs had no relation at all to one's belief about the structure of the world. This amounted to a complete separation of the worlds of science and religion, one in which there was no possibility of harmonizing the two since they had no common ground. The young Luther was not arguing, as Aquinas had done, that reason's conclusions were at least compatible with Christian belief about the world. He was saying, Ritschl maintained, that Christian belief should be restricted to the question of human redemption and that all claims about God's relation to the world should be removed from theology.
Ritschl applauded the young Luther's intention, since he wished to re-establish it in his
own day. Alas, neither Luther nor those who succeeded him, observed Ritschl, had been able to
sustain such a bold stance. Scientists and theologians since the Reformation gradually abandoned
the medieval regulation of reason and adopted the original Greek presumption that the world
could be known through reason, and they were consequently no longer able to avoid having to
reconcile "unchristian" metaphysical conceptions of the physical world with their faith.
The Scientific Revolution
Historians of science have been investigating how and why the medieval tendency to question reason's ability to know the world was abandoned. Numerous explanations have been given. Some have pointed to the establishment of the academies which, because Plato's teachings were the central focus of interest, formed a counterpoint to the Aristotelian perspective in the universities with which medieval thinkers had made their peace. The medieval Aristotelian's attitude had been to investigate to what extent nature was rationally ordered by drawing links between the worlds of reason and that of the senses, recognizing that by pressing forward with a rational analysis of nature the limits of reason would come into view. The Renaissance Platonist, on the other hand, harbored no comparable hesitation about the match between reason and nature. Plato's insistence that the world had originated from the mind of God appeared to many to guarantee that rational order must reside in nature itself. If this was so then human beings, having been created in the image of God, could and should use their intellect to discover the rational plan God had imposed on the natural world.
According to these historians the works of Copernicus and of those who followed him in creating a sun-centered cosmos reflected the assumption that because God was a geometer His design of the heavens could be faithfully described through the supremely rational language of geometry. Galileo argued in his famous book, Dialogues of the Two Chief Systems of the World that while God surely knew more than we mortals did, we know reality as well as God himself does when we discover the single mathematical structure available to God when he designed the world. Gone was any hesitation about reason's capacity to depict reality.
Other historians take a wholly different tact. These scholars begin their work on the assumption that knowledge, including knowledge of nature, is not something permanent that accumulates apart from the social and economic conditions of a given time and place. According to them the knowledge of nature is acquired in conjunction with and is shaped by existing social dynamics within a society as well as by the activities a society sets for itself. They explain the shift away from the medieval hesitation about knowing reality through reason to a later confidence that reason can lead to certainty about the physical world as one of many expressions of the social and economic changes underway in Europe that conditioned the acquisition of knowledge.
After the voyages of Columbus Europe was brought into contact with other cultures with differing religious beliefs and systems of morality. Some historians are impressed that the commercial expansion and economic development of Europe brought with them novel social roles that required a new aggressiveness. An increased valuation of artisan activity in particular affected what humans understood knowledge to mean. The Italian historian of science Paolo Rossi argues that many Europeans began to cease treating knowledge as something that they contemplated and began to relate to it as something they constructed. The new spirit of aggressiveness affected, in other words, what knowledge itself was.
Although indications of an aggressive attempt to master nature's secrets are evident before the seventeenth century, in particular in the tradition of Renaissance magic, it came into its own with the extension of the idea of God the geometer, whose creation could be understood by human geometers, to that of God the mechanic, whose construction of the world invited humans to trust their constructive capacity as the foundation of all scientific explanation. In a profound reversal of the medieval assumption, which humbly assumed that human artifacts at best approximated nature, seventeenth century thinkers aggressively and presumptuously declared that nature conformed to human artifacts and that consequently any acceptable understanding of natural phenomena had to be expressed in terms of such products.
Among historians who view knowledge and its construction as embedded within social structures is Mario Biagioli, who has examined the work of Galileo less as a result of the new truths Galileo came to with the aid of the telescope than as the natural result of Galileo's attempt to improve his sociopolitical status within Italian society. As a university mathematician Galileo did not enjoy the position occupied by philosophers since mathematicians were regarded as technicians, and as such they were not thought capable of assessing the physical structure of the cosmos. Only philosophers and theologians could make cosmological pronouncements. By acquiring the patronage of the grand duke Cosimo II, however, Galileo won instant credentials as court philosopher. As the grand duke's champion in subsequent disputes Galileo had to take actions that protected and enhanced his new status. Biagioli explains much about Galileo's actions, including the eventual fall from grace, as a result of the dynamics of the patronage system.
It is no doubt obvious that many kinds of historical explanation, those which begin with the intellectual goals of the academies and those which choose as a point of departure the dynamics of the economic and social structure of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, should be employed when assessing the interaction of science and religion during the important episode known as the scientific revolution. All can help us better understand why the medieval regulation of reason was abandoned.
All of the principal figures in the period under discussion presumed that human abilities could know the world. There were differences, however, in how they depicted the motivation to gain knowledge. Although it is an oversimplification, it might be said that in one case the human aspiration to scientific knowledge was justified in God-centered religious terms (to think God's thoughts after him), while in another a human-oriented practical motive was preeminent (to master the world through the human capacity to construct or to advance one's career). A responsible history of science in its relation to religion must acknowledge all factors.
By far the most well known episode involving the new scientists and the representatives of religion occurred in the early 1630s with the publication of Galileo's Dialogues. For some time Galileo had let it be known that he supported the Copernican theory regarding the movement of the earth against Ptolemy's ancient system in which the earth was at the center of things and immovable. Catholic theologians interpreted the Bible to hold that the sun, not the earth, was in motion. Galileo was aware that the new attitudes about reason's ability to uncover the order in nature were not shared by most of the theologians in the Catholic Church, but he was nevertheless willing to force the issue by publishing his work.
It was not difficult for Galileo's opponents to demonstrate that scientific reasoning had already produced alternative scientific explanations to Ptolemy in which the earth did not move and in which the appearances were accounted for as well as they were by Copernicus. One such alternative had been developed by the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, about whose system Galileo had been suspiciously silent. Armed with the conviction that Copernicus's account represented just one of several alternative explanations of the heavens members of the Inquisition appealed to the old medieval regulation of reason in the face of competing results. Defenders of the church felt completely justified in condemning Galileo for his presumption because, when the revealed truth of the Bible was at stake, they did not share his willingness to value one rational conclusion over another.
In protestant England later in the seventeenth century Isaac Newton did not have to be concerned about official condemnation from the church when he published his famous Principia. It is clear from his writings that Newton shared the belief in a mechanic God whose construction of the world could be deciphered by human mechanics. Newton believed that God had chosen him to reveal to all the laws God had imposed on the machine universe He had created. Like his fellow English scientists Newton believed that by describing the mechanism of the creation one could exhibit the wisdom of the Creator and thereby testify to the greatness and glory of God.
As the seventeenth century came to a close many natural philosophers felt that their new attitude about nature had produced a wonderfully persuasive manner in which they could bear persuasive witness to the God of the Old and New Testaments. The discipline of natural theology, a new branch of theological argument, came into its own. In natural theology the Greek assumption of nature's rationality was celebrated in defense of the faith. Christian thinkers in particular argued that the existence of God Himself could be demonstrated from the evidence of design found in nature. Theological treatises dealing with this or that natural phenomenon abounded, prompting many to conclude that science was the natural ally of religion.
If the Scientific Revolution confirmed the harmony of science and religion on one front, all was not sweetness and light. For one thing, not everyone had completely abandoned the old medieval regulation of reason that had nagged the young Luther. Some in the seventeenth century worried about mixing the eternal truths of religion in with the new fad of natural science. Some saw the rise of science and the emergence of natural theology as one aspect of a struggle between the ancients and the moderns, and they frankly did not believe that ancient truths could be trusted to moderns. The fear here was that the older relationship between theology and natural science, in which science had been at best the handmaiden of theology, had been reversed. Now the emphasis was, as one Aristotelian critic of Galileo put it, on finding out how the heavens go, not on how to go to heaven.
What lent credence to this attitude of suspicion was a threat to the program of natural theology from the opposite quarter. Although the French Catholic thinker Rene Descartes vehemently defended the existence of God, his thoroughly mechanistic treatment of the natural world included a materialistic account of the so-called vegetative and sensitive souls of plants and animals. Some of his countrymen were prompted to charge that he had opened the door to the atheists' claim that the rational soul possessed by humans and God might also be understood as a material entity. Over in England, in fact, the fear soon appeared to have been warranted, for Thomas Hobbes did assert that the soul was material. However much he might dissent from the accusation of atheism, Hobbes's understanding of the mechanical universe as a realm of natural causes and effects was in the eyes of his contemporaries equivalent to a denial of God's existence. There was simply no chance that Hobbes would ever be welcomed into the company of English natural philosophers as a member of the Royal Society, the leading scientific society of the day.
Four perspectives on the scientific and religious issues that accompanied the Scientific
Revolution have been mentioned: 1) the continuation of the medieval regulation of human reason
by Galileo's clerical opponents, 2) Descartes's dualistic mechanism, 3) Hobbes's pantheistic
materialism, and 4) Galilean and Newtonian natural theology. Of these the medieval regulation of
reason and Hobbesian atheism suffered in comparison to the others as the new eighteenth century
progressed. The inhabitants of the new century, an era later to be known as the Age of Reason,
embraced both the existence of a rational God and the Greek assumption that reason resided in
nature. The heritages of both Newton and Descartes prospered - Newton's confidence that
aggressive scientific investigation could unearth testimony to God's presence and action in the
world, and Descartes's acceptance of a mechanistic natural world which, though inhabited by
rational souls like humans, angels, and God, could be given a physical description that did not
have to invoke directly the presence of spirit. It would be some time before an effective and
persuasive questioning of the reliability of reason itself would re-emerge from an assessment of
the relationship between science and religion.
Science and Religion in the Modern Period
The word "modern" has several meanings. When historians use it, especially when they make reference to the "modern period," they invariably mean the era since the Renaissance in which human beings more and more exercised their ability to question what was known and to assume responsibility for their own fate. The philosopher Immanuel Kant characterized the modern attitude as an abandonment of what he alleged was a self-encumbered dependency on a supra-human realm.
In the eighteenth century, also known as the Enlightenment or Age of Reason, the tension between religious motives to pursue scientific knowledge and those emerging from more practical and increasingly "enlightened" human interests began to grow. Throughout the period the tradition of natural theology flourished, especially in England. As the new century dawned it was greeted with the publication of a work that seemed simultaneously to sum up the tradition's past while pointing to a bright future ahead - William Paley's celebrated Natural Theology of 1802.
And yet the Enlightenment, particularly in France, also developed further Descartes's tendency to separate mind and matter. So-called deists depicted nature as an autonomous mechanism not dependent at all for its operation on immanent spiritual guidance. Natural theology strove to acquire true scientific knowledge as a testimony to God; French deism pursued scientific truth for its own sake. Pierre Simon Laplace described in his System of the World of 1796 and his multi-volume Treatise on Celestial Mechanics beginning in 1799 a machine universe whose stable and predictable operation ground on eternally because it was constrained and governed by Newton's laws.
There is a temptation to regard eighteenth century France as a land full of atheists and totally opposed to religion. Although many French Enlightenment thinkers, like Voltaire, were severely critical of the organized church, one simply cannot equate anti-clericalism with a thorough-going hostility to religion. For one thing, atheism was a rare occurrence in France and elsewhere in Europe during the Age of Reason. However uninterested deists might have been in supporting a traditional program of demonstrating the wisdom and greatness of God through nature, they were nevertheless largely committed to the existence of God as the creator of the natural world and of the moral order. They did not doubt the Western religious heritage in which God was understood to have had created the world and imposed on it rational laws that humans could discover in both the natural and moral realms. The progress they felt had been made toward a rational understanding of the world in fact imparted to them an appreciation of themselves as enlightened.
For most people in the eighteenth century and after, however, religious understanding involved more than an intellectual commitment to the existence of an abstract rational God who was responsible for the creation of the natural world. The possibility that God might have created the universe and then, as someone has put the deist's view, "went out for an eternal beer" left most religiously minded folks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as cold as it does many today. Most people expected the acquisition of scientific knowledge to confirm the details of their religious view, including their understanding of the biblical account of the history of creation and of God's intimate involvement with the world. To them the deists were as much of a threat to their religion as were atheists.
The tension created in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries between natural theology and deism existed throughout the nineteenth century and has in fact persisted to our own day. Many continued to regard scientific knowledge as a natural confirmation of God's intimate involvement with human history and the world while others conceded that scientific knowledge testified only to God as creator of the world but not as sustainer. The tension was heightened, of course, when various doctrinal statements containing specific propositions about the natural world were challenged by new scientific theories. Some of the classic confessions of the Christian Church, for instance, involved precise claims about the age of the earth and of humankind. As these and other propositions were challenged by exciting new assertions from scientists studying geology and natural history, declarations that led ultimately to the famous nineteenth-century debates over evolution, the sense that science was a natural ally of traditional religion began to erode and eventually was stubbornly retained only by traditionalists. Because it involved so many scientific disciplines, including physics and even psychology, the flowering of evolutionary theory in the second half of the nineteenth century that was triggered by the appearance of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859 has to be regarded as the central episode of the century where the relationship between science and religion is in view.
As the nineteenth century progressed there were several variations of the old deistic position that opposed themselves to natural theology and traditional religion. In some of these there was a vital interest in articulating new, sometimes radical religious implications of natural science. In others the acquisition of new scientific knowledge was so paramount that there was little apparent interest in religion. What marked them all, and what they shared with orthodox belief as well, was the old Greek conviction that nature could, unquestionably, be explained by human reason. Much of the controversy over the theory of evolution was framed by these approaches to science and religion.
Before summarizing the basic contours of the nineteenth century evaluation of science and religion, especially in reference to the theory of evolution, it is important to note that an alternative voice was beginning to be heard as the century dawned. In one sense it was a persuasive new articulation of an old position, the medieval regulation of reason. Of course there had always been those who had remained unimpressed with the rational achievements of the modern period. Especially in the eighteenth century numerous religious sects emphasized personal religious experience over assent to rational doctrinal propositions, but these pietists, as they were known, lived in isolated communities whose physical separation from the rest of Western society betrayed their lack of intellectual acceptance in general.
With the appearance of the work of Immanuel Kant during the second half of the eighteenth century, however, a more persuasive challenge to the unquestioned rule of reason arrived on the scene. As in the case of some of his medieval predecessors, Kant used reason itself to critique reason. He did not, in other words, simply oppose reason to experience and discount the former in favor of the latter as did the pietists of his day. Nor did Kant downplay the achievement of reason where knowledge of nature was concerned; on the contrary, Kant made clear that it was through a proper use and understanding of reason that humans could and should acquire useful knowledge about the natural world.
Nevertheless Kant was clear about the relationship between science and religion. Reason, he argued, could not be sure of itself regarding the final or ultimate truth of nature. We can never acquire a final or complete knowledge of nature because of an inescapable subjectivity in our employment of reason. We should not, therefore, think that we can make our religious convictions, which have to do with questions of ultimate human meaning, dependent on natural knowledge in any way.
Two important implications that were contained in Kant's position took some time to be realized. First, Kant had effectively separated religion from natural science and vice versa. Second, since religion traditionally had included propositions involving claims about nature, Kant's view required that religion be redefined so as not to contain references to knowledge of the world. What all this amounted to was a challenge to the assumptions of the modern age, including the old Greek assumption that a match was guaranteed between human reason and the structure of the world. Implicit in Kant's view was the assertion that the ultimate structure of the world was inscrutable; we pursue knowledge of the world not as a search for final truth, but as a means of controlling the world for our practical ends. As for religion, its focus was relocated on the relations of human beings among themselves, excluding their relation to the natural world around them. Religion was now concerned exclusively with the moral.
Although there was an attempt to move religion away from the rational articulation of doctrinal propositions on the part of some theologians at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the radical nature of the implications contained in Kant's critique of reason was unacceptable to the great majority of people. Not until the end of the century were these implications made explicit to a significant segment of society by neo-Kantian thinkers who tried valiantly to oppose the triumphant march of Darwinian scientific naturalists. The so-called Ritschl School in Germany, led by the theologians Albrecht Ritschl and Wilhelm Herrmann, formulated a Kantian critique of scientific knowledge that laid the groundwork for the flowering of existential theology in the twentieth century. Those who found it persuasive were unconcerned that the achievements of scientists like Charles Darwin were used by some to claim that a modern scientific view undermined or even eliminated religious purpose. Existential theologians did not feel themselves constrained by scientific assertions since they regarded them as at best provisional and temporary.
Most people in the nineteenth century, however, did not find the separation of science and religion acceptable. To them the Kantian claim that, as Herrmann put it, "the material of our ideas and the object of our faith are completely incommensurable," violated their conviction that their religious beliefs, like knowledge of the natural world, could be assumed to be reasonable. Most religiously minded individuals felt they could not isolate science and religion from each other; on the contrary, they presumed they had to formulate a religious stance that took stock of the claims that emerged from the increasing knowledge of physical and biological science during the nineteenth century and after.
We turn, then, to those who did attempt to make clear how modern science and religion were related. There were in the nineteenth century at least three fundamentally different stances represented, stances that have persisted to the present. Religious conservatives, sometimes known as creationists, have insisted that new knowledge of nature must be evaluated in light of specific biblical claims and that the existence and nature of the biological and physical realms be explained in conjunction with a purposeful (redemptive) view of the world's history. Among the specific claims are included propositions about the young age of the earth and of human beings and about the manner in which both came into existence. God's direct superintendence of creation lies at the heart of this perspective. Scientific knowledge, in conforming to carefully guarded religious knowledge, demonstrates its reliability, its rational basis, and its truth. Needless to say conservatives have remained consistently staunch in their opposition to evolutionary theory. Classic nineteenth century illustrations of the public clash between conservative thinkers and protectors of evolution include Samuel Wilberforce's 1860 encounter with Thomas Huxley in England, Charles Hodge's speech at the 1873 meeting of the Evangelical Alliance in America, and Otto Zöckler's repeated attacks on defenders of an ancient origin of life in Germany. In the twentieth century this position is carried on in the work of the Creation Research Society.
Religious liberals, the second stance to be described, have continued the deistic tradition. In the many debates in the nineteenth century and since they have not imposed restrictions on the specific conclusions to which scientists may come, nor have they generally held that God controls the physical world by directly superintending it. Like the conservative, however, they have maintained that truth is one and that it can be apprehended through reason; hence they have insisted that there can be no contradiction between scientific and religious truth provided that both are properly expressed. Apparent contradictions between religion and science are due to imperfect knowledge in one realm or the other. They further have maintained that while the natural world operates without the direct intervention of God, its existence, along with that of human beings, is part of a larger teleological plan that reflects God's intent. Archbishop Frederick Temple in nineteenth century England is perhaps the best representative of the liberal view, which tended to accept the evolution of life from primitive beginnings. What Temple and others could not accept, however, was that the reality of an evolutionary past implied that the development of life on earth was somehow outside or beyond the control of God's ultimate purpose. Consequently many embraced the idea of evolution, but rejected evolution by natural selection. Countless varieties of this compromise position have continued to exist in churches and synagogues everywhere in our own century.
Finally, there arose in the nineteenth century a more radical alternative regarding the relationship of religion and science that also has persisted to our own time. If the conservative view required science to defer to religion, in the perspective of scientific naturalists religion must conform to science. In the worldview of the theologian David Friedrich Strauss, whose book dealing with Darwin appeared in 1872, the advance of scientific knowledge usurped all claims about the details and meaning of the physical world. Strauss believed firmly that the physical world could be rationally understood. He felt, in fact, that the natural scientists of his day, building on the achievements of those who had come before them, had uncovered important truths about the world on which humans could rely. Because scientists had been so successful in deciphering the structure of the universe, Strauss was confident that it had been demonstrated that the universe had not been created by an external God, nor did it exist as part of a larger purposeful plan. To Strauss, and to contemporary naturalists like him, the natural world cannot be said to be purposeful. It is not an arena that reinforces the human experience of purpose; indeed, it cares not one whit for the fortunes of the human race. Wherein, then, lies its religious dimension? Religion in this view arises from our willingness to accept our place in the larger scheme and to find satisfaction and meaning in so doing.
The growing confidence among laypeople and some scientists in the second half of the nineteenth century that knowledge of nature's fundamental physical laws was nearing completion ran counter to the neo-Kantian interpretation of science and religion described above. It supported the traditional view, the so-called Platonic ideal in which all genuine questions must have one true answer and one only. But neo-Kantian theologians were not the only ones to question the Platonic ideal in the new century. Developments within physics at the end of the nineteenth century led to the formulation of relativity theory and quantum mechanics in the twentieth. Scientists now had to concede that representing reality was a far more complex enterprise than what had engaged their counterparts in the nineteenth century. The old deterministic mechanical view of the world that had reigned since Laplace had been replaced by an uncertain world in which paradox accompanied all attempts to inquire about nature's most basic entities. This produced a new willingness, at least among many physical scientists and theologians, to pursue separate goals and to declare a truce in the old conflict between science and religion while they did so. This new relationship between scientists and theologians continued until well after the new century's mid-point.
Twentieth century science and theology had both produced movements that eroded the older confidence of practitioners from both disciplines. This erosion was reinforced by world events as well. After two world wars and the immediate onset of a global nuclear threat it was not surprising that, in the words of the theologian Paul Tillich, foundations had been shaken. With little certainty left, the world science had helped produce was thrown open to question. That meant that scholars would begin to look at the history of science differently as well. From Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962 came the call to place the context of historical developments in science on at least an equal footing with the cognition of their contents. Later Kuhn would dissociate himself from those who exclusively emphasized the social or cultural context; nevertheless, among the implications that followed from Kuhn's book was the declaration that historians and scientists have to modify the conviction, historically common to both disciplines, that theirs was a business of finding truth. We just have to bear the tension between not knowing truth and having to aim at it anyway.
Since Kuhn's seminal work discussions about science and religion have taken this declaration to the extreme, urging that one should not even aim at truth. Richard Rorty, for example, writes that one should not ask questions about the nature of truth any longer because humans do not have the ability to move beyond their beliefs to something that serves as a legitimating ground. Here the rights of science and religion lose all meaning in the face of an "anything goes" mentality where the only matter of interest is power. Not surprisingly, scientists and theologians are discovering that their shared conviction to pursue truth has the potential to make them more allies than enemies. The result has been a greater willingness to engage each other.
After the 1960s theologians began to realize that the nature theologians had been willing to hand over to the scientists at the beginning of the century was a classical nature, a closed, causal continuum. Once they finally became aware that physicists themselves had given up the classical mechanical world view in favor of dynamic alternatives, they found that their old theological metaphors were now woefully inadequate. Characteristic of many of the newer attempts to re-engage religion and science have been approaches in which divine action is depicted in metaphors of personal agency. In some systems God is represented as external to nature, in others new biological and feminine analogies stress a more intimate connection to the world. In virtually all, however, the challenges raised by the rise of quantum theory in physics lie at the heart of the reformulation of the theological conclusions. Not surprisingly one area of particular focus has involved the work in theoretical physics bearing on cosmology.
Even the old argument from design has found a place in the new discussions. Questions about the irreducibility of biochemical complexity have caused some to prefer conceding an element of design, while others find the same concession to be necessary from the latest scientific knowledge about how the universe has developed. Recent investigations, for example, have produced greater than a dozen co-incidental physical and cosmological quantities whose values seem to be circumscribed by the requirements for life.
From a very different avenue of approach, some historians have been impressed by the traditional absence of women from science over the ages. They explain this circumstance by establishing a common link in the missions of Western religion and science. In fact theoretical physics, according to this interpretation, contains a clear echo of a "religious" mission. The ancient Pythagorean search for nature's mathematical symmetry and harmony continues in the search for symmetry in modern theoretical physics. It should not be surprising, therefore, to learn that the historical separation of the sexes in religion has been carried over into modern theoretical physics, the scientific discipline with the least gender balance.
The diversity of opinion that has been displayed in history about the interaction of science and religion has stemmed from the variety of assumptions that have been brought to the issues by the participants. Always, however, there has been a basic question, the answer to which has been decisive in the past and will continue to be so for future explorations of issues in science and religion: Is the ultimate metaphysical category that is being assume Person or is it matter in motion? As a contemporary philosopher has said, there really is no third.