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The Faith of Scientists

The Faith of Scientists: In Their Own Words

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 542
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    The Faith of Scientists
    Book Description:

    The Faith of Scientistsis an anthology of writings by twenty-one legendary scientists, from the dawn of the Scientific Revolution to the frontiers of science today, about their faith, their views about God, and the place religion holds--or doesn't--in their lives in light of their commitment to science. This is the first book to bring together so many world-renowned figures of Western science and present them in their own words, offering an intimate window into their private and public reflections on science and faith.

    Leading religion scholar Nancy Frankenberry draws from diaries, personal letters, speeches, essays, and interviews, and reveals that the faith of scientists can take many different forms, whether religious or secular, supernatural or naturalistic, conventional or unorthodox. These eloquent writings reflect a spectrum of views from diverse areas of scientific inquiry. Represented here are some of the most influential and colossal personalities in the history of science, from the founders of science such as Galileo, Johannes Kepler, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein, to modern-day scientists like Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, Jane Goodall, Freeman Dyson, Stephen Hawking, Edward O. Wilson, and Ursula Goodenough. Frankenberry provides a general introduction as well as concise introductions to each chapter that place these writings in context and suggest further reading from the latest scholarship.

    As surprising as it is illuminating and inspiring,The Faith of Scientistsis indispensable for students, scholars, and anyone seeking to immerse themselves in important questions about God, the universe, and science.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2980-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xvi)

    No simple formula suffices for understanding the shifting relationship between science and religion over the last five hundred years in the West. From 1600 to the twenty-first century, in different times and places, science and religion have been constructed as overlapping, complementary, separated, fused, or conflicted. Contemporary discussions about science and religion tend to focus either on mapping different models of how theymightrelate or on proposing one model of how theyshouldrelate. Both tendencies risk reifying the problematic terms “science” and “religion” into abstractions without human or historical grounding. I have found that a good way of...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. PART ONE: Founders of Modern Science

    • 1 Galileo Galilei (1564–1642)
      (pp. 3-33)

      The playwright Bertolt Brecht labored for two decades over his anti–Third Reich playLeben des Galilei.The seventh scene is set on March 5, 1616, just as the Inquisition has censured the Copernican texts positing the heliocentric model of the universe. Galileo learns of this event during a conversation with several cardinals at a dinner party in Rome. Brecht dramatically captures the heart of Galileo’s religious faith:

      Barberini: He’s [i.e., Galileo is] really dreadful. In all innocence he accuses God of the juiciest boners in astronomy! I suppose God didn’t work hard enough at His astronomy before He wrote...

    • 2 Johannes Kepler (1571–1630)
      (pp. 34-58)

      Johannes Kepler, according to astrophysicist Marcelo Gleiser, is the most fascinating figure in the whole of science. Many colorful and tragic stories surround the life and career of this intellectual giant who, late in life, was called upon to defend his own mother, a woman as stubborn as she was naïve, against the charge of witchcraft. But it is in his religious fervor that Kepler is the most fascinating. A poor boy without position or patronage, a prodigy who aspired to be but a humble prelate, a Protestant assigned to teach in the Catholic city of Graz, Kepler was turned...

    • 3 Francis Bacon (1561–1626)
      (pp. 59-78)

      While Kepler was at work in Prague and Germany, and Galileo in Italy, Francis Bacon was rising to eminence in Anglican England. A philosopher and statesman more than an experimental scientist, Bacon gave classic expression to empiricism as science’s own philosophy and method. The one and only scientific experiment Bacon himself seems to have performed, although there is some debate about it, led to his death. In March 1626 he caught cold when stuffing a hen with snow in order to observe the effect of freezing on the preservation of flesh. He died a month later. Bacon belongs in this...

    • 4 Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)
      (pp. 79-101)

      In many ways, Blaise Pascal belongs as much to our contemporary epoch, with its acute awareness of human contingency, the immensity of the universe, and the mysteries of the microscopic, as to his own seventeenth-century French milieu. In the celebrated Fragment 230 of hisPensées, Pascal expressed with particular poignancy the feeling of existential isolation: “When I consider the brief span of my life, absorbed into the eternity before and after, the small space I occupy and which I see swallowed up in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I...

    • 5 Isaac Newton (1643–1727)
      (pp. 102-121)

      Not until after the famous 1936 sale of Isaac Newton’s papers in auction at Sotheby’s did the full extent of Newton’s heterodox theology begin to be revealed. Scattered as far as Jerusalem, some manuscripts only became generally accessible at the end of the 1960s. Finally, with the release in 1991 of the majority of Newton’s unpublished writings on microfilm, the availability of his unpublished theological papers has revolutionized Newton scholarship. The 1998 foundation of the Newton Project has so far managed to put online an astonishing number of transcriptions, but more astonishing still is Newton’s own vast outpouring of alchemical,...

    • 6 Charles Darwin (1809–1882)
      (pp. 122-142)

      Look up “creationist” in theOxford English Dictionaryand you will find an early 1859 use of the word credited to Charles Darwin. As might be expected, Darwin argued against the creationists, but in his time they were rival scientists, mostly geologists like Adam Sedgwick, who believed in a special creation for each species.

      Nowhere is it more important to differentiate periods of a scientist’s life and outlook than in the case of Charles Darwin’s complex religious views. The young Darwin received an orthodox Anglican education and had a conventional Christian faith. He firmly believed the Bible to be the...

    • 7 Albert Einstein (1879–1955)
      (pp. 143-176)

      The Swiss novelist and playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt commented that “Einstein used to speak so often of God that I tend to believe he has been a disguised theologian.”¹ Like many undisguised modern theologians, Einstein drew a crucial distinction between naïve, anthropomorphic belief in a personal God of miracles, rewards, and punishments and a faith that is more reflective and intellectual. He would have agreed with the theologian Paul Tillich, who redefined the concept of God on the grounds that “you have to save concepts before you can save souls.” The concept of God was an important part of Einstein’s religious...

    • 8 Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947)
      (pp. 177-194)

      It is fascinating to imagine a conversation between Einstein and Whitehead on any subject, but especially on the subject of the theory of relativity. Two of the most powerful and original minds of the twentieth century, they went in two different directions. Although he regarded Einstein’s discovery of the convertibility of mass and energy as brilliant, Whitehead was inspired to formulate his own theory of gravitation in his 1922 bookThe Principle of Relativity, and in his famous 1925 lecture series, published asScience and the Modern World, he offered audiences an early exposure to quantum mechanics. In brief, Whitehead...

  6. PART TWO: Scientists of Our Time

    • 9 Rachel Carson (1907–1964)
      (pp. 197-221)

      Rachel Carson, the ardent naturalist whose classic workSilent Springlaunched the environmental movement, was a resolutely intellectual and formidably precise biologist. She also possessed a profound natural piety that suffuses her writings. As her biographer Paul Brooks rightly points out, “her attitude toward the natural world was that of a deeply religious person.”¹ Carson’s fresh voice—both objective and lyrical at once—could give the processes of nature spiritual meaning without sacrificing the scientific accuracy of the biological facts or behaviors. Nature, she held, is necessary for spiritual growth: “I believe natural beauty has a necessary place in the...

    • 10 Carl Sagan (1934–1996)
      (pp. 222-248)

      Carl Sagan, astronomer, public intellectual, and creator of the popular television seriesCosmos, expresses in his writings a far more complex view of religion—and far more complex religious views—than his critics or even his admirers acknowledged during his lifetime. Sometimes severe in his assessment of religion’s history, Sagan is always fair in his depiction of the different future that the world’s religions might yet help to promote.

      Labels or “isms” such as agnosticism do not begin to do justice to Sagan’s own sense of “the numinous.” He revered the universe. He was utterly imbued with awe, wonder, and...

    • 11 Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002)
      (pp. 249-267)

      In the tradition of Thomas Henry Huxley, who was known as Darwin’s bulldog, Stephen Jay Gould ranged widely over philosophy, history, science, art, and literature—all from the perspective of an evolutionary biologist, paleontologist, and snail geneticist. At the start of Gould’s career, the neo-Darwinian synthesis of nineteenth-century natural selection with twentieth-century mathematical population genetics reigned. Predicting smooth and gradual change, neo-Darwinism, orchestrated by Ernst Mayr at Harvard, was challenged by the work of Gould and Niles Eldredge who called their theory “punctuated equilibrium.”

      Also in the tradition of Huxley, Gould could describe his own personal religious views as agnostic:...

    • 12 Richard Dawkins (1941–)
      (pp. 268-295)

      Richard Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. Regarded by many as the world’s leading evolutionary biologist, he works tirelessly to make scientific knowledge accessible to general audiences. He offers a bracing alternative to Stephen Jay Gould’s views in the last chapter. Disputing the idea of “non-overlapping magisteria,” Dawkins believes that science and religion really do conflict in their methods of obtaining and testing knowledge and in their crucial truth-claims. Religion’s truth-claims are false, or very improbable, while those of science are testable and corrigible in principle. The question of the existence...

    • 13 Jane Goodall (1934–)
      (pp. 296-316)

      In the summer of 1960, the young Englishwoman Jane Goodall arrived on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania, East Africa. With the encouragement of Dr. Louis Leakey and with her mother as a companion, she was about to venture into the African forest to study chimpanzees—quite an unconventional activity for a former secretary from Bournemouth. Three years earlier she had fulfilled her dream of coming to Africa, but she had not yet made it her home. Almost from the start, the mountains and valley forests of the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve became for her not only a home...

    • 14 Steven Weinberg (1933–)
      (pp. 317-339)

      Steven Weinberg’s faith is devoutly humanistic, realistic, and rationalistic. He believes that “humanity must choose an earthly kingdom because there isn’t any heavenly kingdom.”¹ He believes in the importance of a moral order independent of all religious doctrine. And he believes that one of the great social functions of science is to free people from superstition. Science writer Paul Horgan sees Weinberg, and most other particle physicists, as possessed of “a profound faith in the power of physics to achieve absolute truth.” “But what makes Weinberg such an interesting spokesperson for his tribe,” according to Ho gan, “is that he...

    • 15 John Polkinghorne (1930–)
      (pp. 340-364)

      Regarded by some as the C. S. Lewis of science-religion dialogues, John Polkinghorne, physicist, priest, and prolific author, is the finest British theologian/scientist of our time. His career path began with an appointment as professor of mathematical physics at the University of Cambridge, a position he held for twenty-five years. Resigning this chair in 1979 in order to study for ordination in the Church of England, he worked as a parish priest for a period before eventually returning to Cambridge in 1986 as dean of Trinity Hall. Subsequently, Polkinghorne was appointed president of Queen’s College, a post which he held...

    • 16 Freeman Dyson (1923–)
      (pp. 365-391)

      Freeman Dyson is a modern-day William James. He has the mind of a scientist, the pen of a master prose stylist, the heart of a humanist, and the irreverence and wit of genius. James the psychologist and Dyson the physicist, scientists both, never doubt the value and variety of the spiritual life. Neither has any place for exclusiveness or dogmatism in religion. James joyfully extolled his “pluralistic hypothesis” as Dyson does his “principle of maximum diversity.” Both look at religion from inside it, attuned to what real people, not academic theologians, make of it. InThe Varieties of Religious Experience...

    • 17 Stephen Hawking (1942–)
      (pp. 392-411)

      Isaac Newton was born in the same year that Galileo died, and Stephen Hawking was born exactly three hundred years from the day Galileo died. Hawking is now Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, the same chair that Newton held. He has been hailed as “Einstein’s heir,” “the greatest genius of the late twentieth century,” “the finest mind alive,” and even “Master of the Universe,” by one adoring journalist.¹ The extraordinary success of Hawking’s books is testimony both to the “genius factor” and to the public’s admiration for his fortitude in the face of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. More than...

    • 18 Paul Davies (1946–)
      (pp. 412-436)

      If the faith of physicist and astrobiologist Paul Davies could be characterized in a single word, it would be “hope.” His soul rebels against the popular conception that science reveals only a bleak and pointless universe in which humankind is an accidental and purposeless freak. Through scientific inquiry, he is convinced, we can glimpse a deeper meaning to physical existence than Bertrand Russell, for example, captured in his pessimistic reflections on the second law of thermodynamics. Musing on the fate of a degenerating, doomed universe, Russell saw it descending inexorably into chaos as all reserves of useful energy are squandered...

    • 19 Edward O. Wilson (1929–)
      (pp. 437-451)

      The world’s most famous entomologist, Edward O. Wilson, is Pellegrino University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, and born-again as a Southern Baptist, Wilson grew up keenly religious. As a teenager, he read the Bible from cover to cover, twice. Two influences left an indelible imprint on this shy child of divorced parents: the power of evangelical Christianity and the plants and animals of the southern towns he explored as he moved from school to school. In college, he discovered evolution and was enthralled. “A tumbler fell somewhere in my mind,” he explains, “and a door opened...

    • 20 Stuart A. Kauffman (1939–)
      (pp. 452-474)

      Alfred North Whitehead, greeting his friend Felix Frankfurter who had just been appointed to the U. S. Supreme Court, purportedly told him, “Remember, Felix, we need order! But not too much order!” Not only society but life itself, Whitehead understood, takes shape between too much and too little order. Anticipating by half a century the concept of “the edge of chaos” developed by complexity theorists, Whitehead wrote that “if there is to be progress beyond limited ideals, the course of history by way of escape must venture along the borders of chaos in its substitution of higher for lower types...

    • 21 Ursula Goodenough (1944–)
      (pp. 475-504)

      Ursula Goodenough shares with Stuart Kauffman all of the important elements of the emergentist worldview explored in the previous chapter, but she takes its religious implications further in an exhilarating blend of philosophy and lyricism. A bench scientist (she is a molecular geneticist/cell biologist at Washington University in St. Louis), Goodenough is developing a position called “religious naturalism,” a spiritual orientation that today has numerous representatives and multiple forms.

      At the heart of religious naturalism in all of its variants is the idea of emergence. As one of the most important new concepts for thinking about biological and cosmic evolution,...

  7. Permission Acknowledgments
    (pp. 505-512)
  8. Index
    (pp. 513-523)