Enough Tupperware
by Leslie Lawrence '72

This symbiotic relationship has led each discipline to influence the other. Science helped shape modern religion by shooting down myth and superstition. Religion prodded men and women of science to delve deeper into the forces that drive our universe; Isaac Newton, for instance, wanted his theories to prove the existence of God.

Religion is not the answer for every scientist. But for some, the findings of physics, biology, and other fields only reinforce their faith in a higher being. "There are two views in the science community," says John Scofield, associate professor of physics at Oberlin. "For some, the more they know about science, the more they find that they can't possibly believe in religion. For others, the more they know about science, the more they are drawn to religion. The more I learn, the more I think there has to be a reason behind it all."

On a very large scale, change a few things in the laws of physics and the universe would not exist. On a much smaller measure, consider our four seasons, which would be reduced to one if not for the tilt of the earth's axis with respect to its orbital plane around the sun. "That little tilt gives rise to tremendous seasonal variation in climate," says Scofield. "If there were no tilt, I don't think it would affect the fact that we have life on Earth, but the richness of life would be so different. I marvel at this richness of nature and the cleverness of the Being who put it together."
Ultimately, though, science and religion may fill different needs: for scientists, faith picks up where systemized knowledge leaves off. "Human beings appear to yearn for meaning and explanation," says Oberlin's Norman Craig, emeritus professor of chemistry. "It's the province of religious experience and thinking to deal with such yearnings. In teaching chemistry, I never ask students to explain something. I don't think science, in the deepest use of words, ever explains things. I worry that in the heat of an exam, a student will hit a crisis because he or she realizes that science can't explain anything. Science merely describes. I tend to see science and religion as alongside one another, rather than in conflict."

Scofield agrees. "Science tells us how things happen; it doesn't tell us why. Many people make the mistake of looking at the Bible and seeing it as a scientific manual. When I look at the Bible, I don't see it as a book about how."

Some religious factions, including fundamentalist Christians in this country, have perceived major conflicts between science and religion. Devout scientists, on the other hand, see no clash. "I'm a scientist and a mathematician, and I believe in God," says Jeff Witmer, professor of mathematics. "I think where some people have a problem is if they have a literal interpretation of the Bible. Then parts of religion come into conflict with a scientific understanding of the world. But I don't think the Bible was meant to be taken literally."

While some scientists accept the disciplines as complementary, others have applied the scientific method to their beliefs to find that religion can't pass the test. Robert Weinstock, emeritus professor of physics, was one. "When a scientist is called upon to reach a conclusion, the most important question to be answered is: 'What is the evidence?'" he says.

When Weinstock applied that standard to his religious beliefs, the answers didn't change his ethical principles, but they did undermine his faith in "an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent deity who has a strong interest in my personal welfare," he recalls. "I soon became a deeply convinced atheist. My conviction has not since weakened." Still, he acknowledges that there are fundamental questions to which science has no answers. "How ought we to behave? Is there life after death? A heaven? A hell? Is there a supernatural deity? How effective is prayer?" The answer to any of these questions, he believes, is a matter of individual belief.

Professor of biology David Benzing ceased believing in a deity long before entering his field. "Even though I can't explain all that's out there, I find it very difficult to imagine that there is a deity, and that Christianity just happens to have all the right answers," he says. "I certainly understand the benefits of religion and the comfort it provides to people. But I wonder if we've outlived religion as we've practiced it in many parts of the world. I'd like to see some sort of secular humanism as a replacement, but I don't think people are ready for that yet."

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