Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Science versus Religion – Tension if not Incompatibility

Posted by NT Wrong on September 22, 2008

Stephen Weinberg’s essay on the relationship between science and Christianity, ‘Without God’, appears in the September 25, 2008 New York Review of Books. It’s a fine read. Weinberg argues that while science and Christianity are not strictly incompatible, they are in tension at many points. These tensions have led to the weakening of this particular institutional form of religion.

“The first source of tension arises from the fact that religion originally gained much of its strength from the observation of mysterious phenomena—thunder, earthquakes, disease—that seemed to require the intervention of some divine being. There was a nymph in every brook, and a dryad in every tree. But as time passed more and more of these mysteries have been explained in purely natural ways. Explaining this or that about the natural world does not of course rule out religious belief. But if people believe in God because no other explanation seems possible for a whole host of mysteries, and then over the years these mysteries were one by one resolved naturalistically, then a certain weakening of belief can be expected. It is no accident that the advent of widespread atheism and agnosticism among the educated in the eighteenth century followed hard upon the birth of modern science in the previous century.”
– Stephen Weinberg, ‘Without God’

Towards the end of his essay, Weinberg offers a few words of guidance “for those who have already lost their religious beliefs, or who may be losing them, or fear that they will lose their beliefs, about how it is possible to live without God.”

“We who are not zealots can rejoice that when bread and wine are no longer sacraments, they will still be bread and wine.”

(Spotted on Santi Tafarella’s magical blog, which also offers this juxtaposition.)

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