The God Squad: Can science and religion be good neighbors?

January 17, 2014|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Q: I'm reading and studying the necessity of rising above dualistic thought, which separates, and embracing a much more holistic approach, which seeks reconciliation and unification. After all, who gave us all the scientific knowledge we now possess? I believe we need a new paradigm if we are to help move civilization toward true peace for all of humanity.

Eben Alexander's book, "Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife," for example, is a stunning validation from a scientific perspective of all we Christians believe and hope for in life after life. Why not embrace the scientific contributions that so strongly support Biblical and Christian theology? Is it not possible that science and religion co-substantiate each other? I also offer Francis Collins' book "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief," to support this view. — S., via

A: I think it comes down to this: Bad science and bad religion always conflict, but good science and good religion do not conflict. The key, as I've stated before when considering this question, is to understand Stephen Jay Gould's concept of NOMA.


Gould believed that science and religion are "non-overlapping magesteria." They are sovereign in their own realms. Science is the realm of what is and religion is the realm of what ought to be. Science describes how the strong prey upon the weak, but religion teaches that in the human sphere, the strong ought not to prey upon the weak.

In general, we're all best served when we honor the wall of separation between science and religion. As Robert Frost wrote in his magisterial poem "Mending Wall": "Good fences make good neighbors."

I would add to your book list philosopher Thomas Nagel's wonderful and controversial "Mind and Cosmos" as another example of brilliant speculation about the point of contact and possible reconciliations between our two great magesteria.


Q: I'm confused trying to reconcile God from both the New and Old Testaments. God in the Old Testament expresses anger, judgment and a desire for vengeance, while Jesus seems to delineate love, warmth and acceptance. Why the difference? What gives? — M., via

A: Hmmm, let me see...

"You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).

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