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A Tapestry of Essays
Robin Wilding

2 Religion- the shadow in science

We make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge,

when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear.

Christian Philosophy and Science

The philosophy of the early Christians was largely adopted from the later Greek philosophers.
Both have had several powerful influences on the philosophy of Science. The Greek
philosophers believed there was a pure elevated world of form and truth which was held
separate from a more lowly world of matter and nature. This separation persisted in the early
Christian view that the soul/mind is of the spirit and distinct from the body which is matter. We
still fall into this habit of seeing the working of the mind as separate from the working of the
body. We are inclined to separate causes of suffering such as pain, as being either of the body
or of the mind. So we may categorize our unwell patients (for example people with chronic
pain or chronic fatigue) as being malingerers needing psychiatric treatment, when no bodily
cause can be found for their illness. The separation of the mind and body is usually attributed
to Rene Descartes (1696-1650). Cartesian duality has been derived from his name and is a well
known ghost in science. The circumstances of Descarte’s duality have much to do with the
pressure brought to bear on him (indirectly) by the Catholic Church. Descartes knew that
Galileo had been forced to recant his views, admit that the world was the center of the universe
and recite psalms as a weekly penitence. Descarte decided to avoid the mind and soul as
dangerous ground and instead to delve into the material world of the body. The exclusion of
the soul, particularly from animals allowed a period of gross cruelty to animals on the grounds
that without a soul they could not feel anything. Who knows what influence this may have had
on animal experiments since?

One of the consequences of The Greek separation of “pure” from “base” is the separation of

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male and female. Authority in Christianity resides in a male God and male priests. Females
have a lower subservient role, there for the express purpose of man, to reproduce and nurture,
both their men and their children. They have been excluded from the priesthood, and until
recently from most other positions of secular authority. Along with females, the rest of the
natural world was cast as base, beast-like and in need of control, whether it was out there or in
our hearts and minds. The lusts of the body were to be disciplined as the disciple Paul advised.
Bacon later would urge that our scientific minds should be “disciplined” to avoid the baseness
of emotion and intuition. The insightful, cooperative, ethical, sense-able female has been
overshadowed by male qualities.
Another influence on our thinking has been that God is All-mighty and causes the world to be
as it is. A hierarchy of control where every effect has a direct cause, is thus a familiar idea.
When we find something puzzling in science we tend to assume that there must be a cause.
Some(Thing) is making it happen. A series of coupled causes and effects might be responsible
for quite complex processes like a cascade of dominoes falling against each other. This system
of linear control, which we recognise in commerce as top-down line management, pervades the
philosophy of science. We are most comfortable when we think we find a well ordered chain of
causes and effects which explains the workings of nature and the universe. Even the most
complex systems, like life itself have been reduced to a linear cascade of predictable events. The
hierarchy begins at the top of the ladder with the ultimate authority, the genome.
But hierarchical control systems are not the only driving process in nature. They do not
preclude the possibility of networks of interactive agents which cause stable outcomes without
the intervention of a higher level control. In fact in more complex systems like immunity and
the expression of genes there is no simple hierarchy of causes. In such complex systems it is
not always helpful to strip them down to their smallest functioning parts like a watch
mechanism. The whole is sometimes greater than the sum of its parts. We will discuss the
limitations of applying a reductionist approach to solving problems in Chapter 3.

Finally, Christianity has also offered us the comforting security of order, beauty and purity as
beacons to light our way forward in the dark.. We even use the name “Pure” for a major

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division of mathematics. This universal order was badly shaken by the apparent randomness
and uncertainty of sub atomic particles. Einstein rejected this uncertainty with his often quoted
objection “ God does not play dice” .
A meeting place for religion and science
Most natural scientists see no need to find a meeting place for science and religion, and
apart from cosmologists, are not asking the sort of questions which lead them into the realm of
creation. This may be because there are fundamental differences in how the natural scientist
goes about finding out what is true and how the priest, and social scientist, identify what is
good. One is still more concerned with reality and the other with morality. This should allow us
to go to the laboratory for truths about the world around us and to church or temple on the
Sabbath to worship God.
Most religions have a strong creed which regulates the secular behavior of its followers.
In the Islamic countries which are Religious States, the final legal authority is held in the hands
of the priesthood. Some like Christianity and Judaism raise the level of their codes of behavior
to commandments, though no longer hold the secular power they once did. In England the
Church Courts used to resolve secular disputes between members of the public. The church
today still has strong opinions about many current issues in society but has lost its legal
authority to judge.
Social Sciences and Religion
Such overt conflict as there is between religion and science appears to arise at the
boundaries of their two domains. The behavioral sciences including psychology and psychiatry
appear to induce greater conflict with religion than do the social sciences. When psychologists
try to demystify the soul, and reduce faith to sets of inner drives or conditioned behavior they
distance themselves from all which is sacred. Sometimes even the “harder” natural sciences go
beyond themselves. Over the issue of genetically modified crops, and in response to the Prince
of Wales’ concern, James Watson (Noble Laureate with Francis Crick) was reported to have
remarked “People say we are playing God. In all honesty, if scientists don’t play God, who
will?” Only slightly less confrontational is physicist Davies’ advice that "science offers a surer
path to God than religion”.
The Christian church has long campaigned for human rights, humane treatment of prisoners,

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care for the poor and rejected members of society, all with the help and cooperation of social
scientists. But on issues of sexual behavior there may be less consensus. The need for
contraception, desire for sex before marriage, acceptance of homosexuality, divorce and
abortion and recognition for female priests are issues of both a secular and religious nature. The
Christian church has given ground on several laws which were once inflexible. Most
denominations have reluctantly accepted divorce but many have reservations about
homosexuality. However the recent vote in the House of Lords in England over the repeal of a
law prohibiting promotion of homosexuality revealed the Church to be firmly on the side of the
social scientists who have been pressing for reform, and a more accepting attitude to
homosexual relationships.

Physics and Religion

Paul Davies is a physicist who argues that the universe must have had a beginning. The
evidence lies in ancient radiation, the remains of a reverberating explosion billions of years ago.
There is also a relentless loss of order according to the Second Law of thermodynamics, which
predicts that the order of the universe will eventually run down until there is a featureless
continuum of matter and energy. The expansion of the galaxies from each other indicates that
they were once in a smaller very condensed ball of matter and energy. These are just three of
the most persuasive arguments that there was once nothing and then, in just a few milli seconds
something. The conclusion this reality force on us, writes Davies, is that the universe was an act
of creation. It is an uncomfortable and rather grudging possibility, a forced conclusion in the
light of evidence rather than a joyous celebration of the mystery of the universe both big and
Physicists usually manage to keep God at a safe working distance by reducing the large
overall picture down into small manageable bits. But the origin and early evolution of the
universe, force some cosmologists to devise some plausible theory, however convoluted, to
avoid God.
We now have what seems like some clumsy efforts to tidy up the dilemma of how the
universe started. The first rather awkward solution was based on so called “singularities”.
Singularities may create order or disorder, and there is no way of telling which it will be. The

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universe, then may have emerged as an ordered creation of a singularity. The behavior of
singularities is serious stuff and occupied the minds of great physicists in the 1980's. More
popular from the 1990's is string theory. In order to reconcile the weakness of gravity in
comparison to the other primary forces, it is proposed that at a very small scale, less than
subatomic, there are an infinite number of dimensions to the universe. The final unifying theory
is not yet to hand though there appears to be no place for God. With admirable optimism
Davies assures us that these frontier ideas are solvable with future progress in physics,
“..considering the catalogue of successes (which) constitute a triumph for the ideas of modern
physics based on reductionist reasoning."
John Horgan reports on a conference on cosmology at which some of the brightest and
best of astronomers, physicists and cosmologists met to air and share their views on the origin
of the universe. At the end of it all they went home without reaching consensus. Throughout
the meeting Horgan admits he could not keep up, and whilst aware of his lack of expertise and
small brain, wondered whether it was not all highly inventive and speculative talk. Such debate
has not yet yielded to Paul Davies’s “ triumph for the ideas of modern physics” nor yet
contributed to the “catalogue of success”.
Some, though not all scientific hubris is tempered by a real appreciation of the beauty,
harmony and symmetry of the universal laws, which are not accidental. The universe is as it is,
writes Davies, because God has chosen it to be that way. He quotes Einstein in support of this
view, who wrote “What I am really interested in is whether God could have made the world in
a different way, that is whether the necessity of logical simplicity leave any freedom at all”.
The need for a chain of logical causes to explain existence, is a mind set which we have
noted comes from Christianity. It leads to a search for the ultimate cause for the existence of
the universe. Everything must have a cause before it exists. A conflict arises in applying
causality to the behavior of sub atomic particles. The theories of quantum physics, imply some
degree of uncertainty about either the position or the direction of sub atomic particles. What
causes an electron to be where it is when its position is known? Not knowing where it has come
from prevents the observer knowing what caused it to be where it is observed. This uncertainty,
proposed by Heisenberg, was the source of a life long rift with Einstein.
Bohr suggested that there must be a degree of “wholeness” in events which seem

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unpredictable. The classical double slit experiment, illustrates the capacity of an electron to
behave as either a particle or a wave, and to apparently “make up its mind” which it is going to
be, very late in its course when fired through a slit. If there is another electron passing through a
nearby slit, it will behave as a wave, but if it is alone it will behave as a particle. Bohr suggested
it “knows” what is going on around it, perhaps even far away from it, as there is a “wholeness”
which unites events in an experiment.
David Bohm found Bohr’s view more interesting than Einstein’s. He suggested that the
hidden “cause” which would account for the uncertainty in quantum mechanics was to be
found in the notion of active information, not far from Bohr’s “knowing”. The electron,
according to Bohm, is not just a simple particle, subject to environmental forces in a classical
way. It is a highly complex entity, by no means elementary. Its responds to the quantum field
of energy surrounding it, is not in proportion to the strength of this field but in response to its
form. The electron’s quantum potential is in-formed by this field, however distant. The
quantum potential becomes the causal factor in determining the behavior of the electron.
Rather than being unpredictable, the electron’s behavior is informed, subtle and even
mysterious. There is beneath the apparent uncertainty an “implicate order”. Bohm’s causal
interpretation of quantum mechanics provides an answer to the divide between quantum and
classical mechanics. The world at the level of canon balls and apples does indeed comply with
quantum mechanics, it just lacks the quantum potential.
Bohm’s theory has not been popular with other physicists. He suspects that this is
because they are not willing to take seriously the idea of non-local effects. Recall that the
quantum field is influential at any distance. That implies that what happens to sub atomic
particles is somehow influenced by events at distances too great to allow information, even
traveling at the speed of light, to be transmitted. Bohm pleas that the quantum potential is very
fragile and any attempt to measure it destroys it. He further argues, perhaps to allow his theory
to survive, for inclusive dialogue and interpretation in physics. We interpret observations
differently not necessarily being either right or wrong. Science is always steeped in culture,
aesthetics, philosophy and of course religion. Religions claims to hold truths, to banish
uncertainty and to discourage dialogue. Bohm reminds us that no true dialogue has ever taken
place during our history, between religions which have fundamentally different beliefs.

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Truth and Faith
Physicists who are intuitively closer to religion may prefer truth to probability. There are
physicists who for example believe that the search for a unifying theory which neatly wraps up
all truths into one, is achievable. The faith they show in the search is akin to the faith required in
religions, of the single perfect truth of God.
John Horgan concludes after interviewing many physicists, that most have an
unshakeable faith in the power of physics to reveal absolute truths. He notes that few of these
true believers in a final theory, with the exception of Stephen Weinberg, acknowledges that
their faith is indeed Faith. The cancellation of plans to build better and bigger particle
accelerators has cast a shadow over their plans but this intrepid band of physicists have not
given up the faith.
John Wheeler worked with and learnt from Niels Bohr. He, as his mentor had
proposed in the late 1920's, believed that electrons had no real existence but are forced into a
physical state by observation. Wheeler pursued this view to conclude that it required a
conscious observer. This lead to his anthropic principle which holds that the universe must be
as it is, because if it were otherwise we should not be able to observe it. Wheeler adds to this
prelude for religious belief with a certainty that eventually our search will be rewarded, and
there will be a beautiful revelation of truth. We will have found the answers. From the
uncertainties and probabilities of Bohr, Wheeler leads us in just two steps to religion. Wheeler
provides an example of the powerful influence on scientists and their theories, of emotional and
cultural desires. He would not be the first seeker after truth who looked for the answers where
there was beauty, wholeness, perfection and solid ground.
There are physicists who find it obvious that we live in a God created universe.
John Polkinghorne sights numerous instances which prove that the laws of physics enabled the
universe to evolve in a complex way. The forces of gravity, electromagnetism, weak and strong
particle forces are all set just right to allow our universe to exists. This must be because some
creative mind twiddled the right knobs to get it all started. The theme which emerges is
intelligent purpose. All that we can perceive about the world is so coherent and well designed
for what it does. The foundation for these beliefs is Wheelers "anthropic" principle which
conveys the prime focus of God. This ideas is put forward with some enthusiasm and moreover

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adopted by Polkinghorne as a way of living his personal life as a priest. His physics provides
him with the reason to support his belief, if one were needed. The "reasoned" God comes with
a price however. There has to be special pleadings that God loves life so well that he allows it to
run its course without interference, like caring parents let go of their growing children. Without
this caveat God would be held responsible for the vast scale of human suffering. God has to
have taken a step away , a suitable working distance, from the details working of such a fruitful
endowment. Yet all is not left to chance but to opportunity. Polkinghorne finds no conflict
between science and religion. He applies scientific rigour in one domain and prays to God in

Biologists and religion

Monod believes that the universe is unfeeling and uncaring. Man has emerged, and dinosaurs
disappeared, purely out of chance alone. Stephen Jay Gold agrees. "We are the accidental result
of an unplanned process” Dawkin likes the image of a blind watchmaker, a dismissive and
derisive reference to any implicate order. Life is reduced to a tick- tock mechanism of cause and
effect between genes and their capacity to ensure their own survival. There is no place for a
broader view of life, and certainly no tolerance for mysticism in this rigidly materialistic view.
There is no place for Bohm’s dialogue. Dawkin views God as in direct competition with his
ideas and will not allow any co-existence. In taking this stand he resembles those religious
fundamentalists who would not sit at the same table with those who have a different view.
Anyone who does not agree with the prophet must be mentally challenged. Dawkin writing is
rich in narrative and rhetoric. In marketing terms it is a heavy sell. His view that genes are
selfish independent units who struggle for survival, is full of human bias. Not only does it
convey anthropomorphic behavior to genes , it selects the most pejorative, moralistic and
austere view. There is little acknowledgment of the cooperative and complex interactive
network type of relationships between genes, which makes competition between them a
ludicrous anachronism. There is no larger view of the entire organism, and its selective success.
Edward Wilson shares Dawkin view of selfish genes though acknowledges the role of the
organism. His narrative style is even richer than Dawkin in the use of human values and
moralistic judgement. Holmes Rolston makes a comprehensive review of Wilson’s use of

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words such as “aggression”, “cheating and lying” “warfare and slavery” and many more
descriptors of ants and other insect behavior which are straight from human experiences.
Wilson goes further to include a description of “sin”.
This style of biology echoes the monotheistic religious doctrine that the sub human
world is base and sinful. In the last 2000 years we have lost the pagan reverence and respect for
the mystery and richness of all forms of life. The western religious doctrine against base nature
has infiltrated our thinking. Scientists are still ordinary people, who whether they like it or not,
have been steeped in religion’s world view. The soaking has been ancient and thorough.
Montaigne wrote ”We are, I know not how, double in ourselves, so that what we believe we
disbelieve, and cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn”
In comparison to evolutionary biologists, molecular biologists follow the reductionist
mind set of small particle physicists. They have a blind faith that when the human genome is
decoded a major breakthrough in understanding and controlling human life will open. No lesser
luminary than the UK governments scientific advisor, Sir Robert May predicts a “biothech
revolution as important and far-reaching as the industrial revolution... the genome project is on
a par with Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.” May cautioned the government in the June 25th
issue of the Sunday Times, 2000, that the expected increase in life expectancy was
underestimated and could cause unplanned for demands on social services. Such hubris may
be a little premature. In the same newspaper, Tom Kirkwood, a gerontologist at Newcastle
University cautions that extending the life span is not an inevitable consequence of coding the
genome. Whether or not this may be possible, it does not seem to occur to May to ask himself
a simple and common sense question. Would eternal youth be a good idea, or a curse? Does he
simply fail to see the uncharted ethical challenges of gene therapy ahead?
The prospect of cheating nature and being immortal may be the molecular biologist’s
equivalent of the physicists “final theory of everything”. They both share an obsession with
unlocking the secrets of nature so as to gain control. At last perhaps they will be able to look
down from on high and say.. “its actually quite simple really, its just.....”
This is a determined effort to follow the materialistic and reductionist mind set all the
way to the end. Eventually the apprentice will grasp the sorcerer’s wand and have all his power.

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Science and Buddhism
The western religions invest God with almighty power which reigns and rains
downwards causing feast or famine, misery or salvation. Every event has a cause, whether the
will of God or the similarly authoritative Laws of Nature. A hierarchy of authority working
through a chain of causes does not feature in Buddhist thinking. All things and events are
connected and arise co-dependent on each other. The closest western thinking comes to this
view is in describing a network where the agents influence each other. There is no single
authoritative agent, no final cause and no hierarchy. Buddhists have no need for an all
powerful creative God as creation is always arising. Buddhism goes further, to conclude that
nothing exists in its own right because nothing is truly independent of anything else. Emptiness
sounds a paradoxical way to describe things which are quite substantial but it conveys that they
have no separate existence. The absence of an all powerful creator sets the Buddhist way of life
outside some definitions of religion. Yet there is no doubt that it shares much in common with
the ethics of the desert religions, in particularly Christianity. The concern with reducing the
suffering of others is one of the rules of Buddhist teaching. It is necessary to banish the illusion
of the self and to empty oneself of desire. The great truth which has to be learned through
thought and practices is that the root cause of all suffering is ignorance and illusion. The search
for truth and enlightenment is not a comfortable path. If Buddhism lacks the revelation of
western religions it does not lack the rigour of practice.
Science and Buddhism have no difficulty in working side by side. They are different
pursuits but it is possible to do science with a strong ethic and selfless pursuit for
understanding. As Buddhism has made no claim to stake out the territory of the soul, or to save
it in revelation, it does not exclude psychology from its interest. The Buddhist understanding of
psychology is advanced and sits happily side by side the tenants of spiritual way of life. There
is no conflict, as there is between Christianity and western psychology. The Buddhism monk
and Buddhist psychologist are searching for the same thing, an understanding of the sources of
happiness and suffering. They both suggest a way of life in which any illusion of self
importance is dispelled and everything possible is done to relieve the suffering of others.
The process of searching for this insight and practice does not exclude contemplation.
In contrast to the Baconian tradition of disciplining the senses, the Buddhist disciplines the

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mind. Stilling the inner chatter requires practice and determination. No truth can enter a noisy
mind. Discipline is required in discarding useless information in order to obtain a distilled and
clear product. This process has the rigor and method of western science.
New information has no special place in Buddhist thinking. There is no sense that
knowledge has progressed in an historic way or that we are better happier, kinder people due to
each forward step of society. Many western scientist are driven by a desire for discovery, which
brings more grant money, recognition and perhaps even fame. The Buddhist view is that new
ideas merely satisfy a superficial craving for satisfaction which can only be found within
oneself. The way is to look for quality rather than novelty. And where better to look than in the
experiences of those who have been there before us.
The search for quality, has not transferred to mainstream western science, though there
is a persuasive argument from Brian Goodwin to recognise and develop a science of qualities in
the style of Goethe. The world of literature has been more welcoming. Quality is the central
theme of Robert Persig’s book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”.
The concern of western philosophers with the history and category of ideas does not
lead to their own personal enlightenment, increased spirituality, peace of mind or wisdom. The
western scientist also separates his quest for knowledge and control of the material world, from
his quest for meaning, values and wisdom, all of which become marginalised or even disappear.
In the dialogues between a western philosopher Jean-Francois Revel and his Buddhist son
Mattieu Ricard , this loss of values is described as a “wound” of western civilisation. It is an
appropriate word, considering the cost to human happiness of the relentless pursuit of
materialism to the exclusion of the soul/spirit.
Thomas Huxley wrote of the influence the church has had since the middle ages, in
what philosophers could believe.”They were allowed the high privilege of showing, by logical
process, how and why that which the church said was true. And if their demonstrations fell
short of or exceeded the limit, the Church was maternally ready to check their aberrations; if
need were by the help of the secular arm.”
The Church has sustained this maternal influence on science, and although it has lost
many battles over details of the Bible, it has not lost the entire Crusade. A religious world view

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is still strong though well hidden in those scientists who long to find perfection, purity, beauty
and solid ground. Science is soaked in religion, yet fiercely denies it.
Western scientists try to be objective and disciplined, to stand apart from their
observation. It is no doubt a useful space to occupy if desires, feelings, prejudice, arrogance are
all getting in the way. The danger is in thinking that such "objective" analysis possible. To
believe that we can exclude religion from our perception is an illusion. To know ones weakness
is to be able to start to deal with them. So every western scientist as he comes to a conclusion
about his observation should repeat this caution. "But I am carrying religious, and other
intellectual and emotional baggage which influence my perception. I have to take into account
the influence on my thinking of being, for example, English speaking, male, western, white,
literate, of Christian influence”.

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