Science, Religion, and Fundamentalism


The most recent question posed to the panel of bloggers at the Newsweek/Washington Post "On Faith" web site is this:

In his "letter to a Southern Baptist pastor," biosociologist E.O. Wilson warns: "An alliance between science and religion, forged in an atomosphere of mutual respect, may be the only way to protect life on earth." Is such an alliance necessary? Possible?
I liked the answer given by Rabbi Irwin Kula. He begins by pointing out that much of the public dialogue on this question seems to be dominated by two sets of fundamentalisms: the "fundamentalist scientific views (Dawkins and Hitchens and co.) that claim religion is a superstitious relic from the past or a survival trick that nature uses to reproduce the species," and the "religious fundamentalist view (Dobson and Perkins and co.) that science is part of the fallen world and has no access to the Real truth." As Kula rightly points out,
As entertaining as the fight between these two fundamentalisms is it has led to an impoverishment of public conversation – a disenchanted, flattened experience of the world on the one side and an anti-science literalism that claims dogma and mythic beliefs as truth on the other.
I believe that it is indeed possible for science and religion to complement each other. The basic problem of fundamentalist scientific atheism is that it proposes to explain via science that which is outside the domain of science; and the problem with fundamentalist religion is that it proposes to explain via religious dogma and myth that which falls properly within the domain of science. So a true alliance between science and religion is only possible by moving beyond these two forms of fundamentalism. As Kula puts it:
Can we have an alliance of science and religion? Not as long as science functions as scientism and actually imagines that it is the exhaustive way to explain reality and not as long as religion imagines that its myths and stories actually explain the material world better than science. When science respects its limits to powerfully explain the external, physical and material world and religion respects its limits to powerfully illuminate our interior experience, our inner world, and our higher levels of development and consciousness, then there can indeed be mutual respect and even an alliance. This would be science that transcends the narrow scientific materialism of our fundamentalist scientists and religion that transcends the literalist, ethnocentric understanding of the myths and stories of our religious fundamentalists. One might call this a more humble science and more humble religion each of which invites the other to develop its own potentials to understand the depth and breadth of this radiant Kosmos.