— Science, Religion, and the Human Future Leon R. Kass TESTERN CIVILIZATION would not be West- W civilization were it not for biblical reli- gion, which reveres and trusts in the one God, Who has made known what He wants of human beings through what is called His revelation that is, through Scripture. Western civilization would not be Western civilization were it not also for sci- ence, which extols and trusts in human reason to disclose the workings of nature and to use the knowledge gained to improve human life. These twin sources of Western civilization—religion and science (or, before science, philosophy), divine rev- elation and human reason-are, to say the least, not easily harmonized. One might even say that Western civilization would not be Western civi- lization without the continuing dialectical tension between the claims and demands of biblical reli- gion and the cultivation of autonomous human reason. In the United States today, the age-old tension between science and scriptural religion is intensi- fying. Recent debates over stem-cell research and the teaching of evolution are but small skirmishes in a larger contest of worldviews, a contest heating LEON R. KASS, the Hertog fellow at the American Enter- prise Institute and professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, served from 2001 through 2005 as chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics. In somewhat different form, this essay will appear in a volume on religion and the American future to be pub- lished later this year by the American Enterprise Institute. up especially because of the triumphant emergence of the new sciences of genetics, neurobiology, and evolutionary psychology. As the findings of these biological sciences are elevated into scientistic chal- lenges to traditional understandings of human na- ture and man's standing in the universe, religious teachings are increasingly under attack and suspi- cion. Biblical religion finds itself intellectually on the defensive, in the face of assaults from an ag- gressive scientific and intellectual elite eager to embarrass it. Make no mistake: the stakes in this contest are high. At issue are the moral and spiritual health of our nation, the continued vitality of science, and our own human self-understanding as human be- ings and as children of the West. N THIS essay, I will examine the challenge of the lical religion can meet that challenge. Before pro- ceeding, however, I need to enter a few preliminary stipulations about the terms "religion" and "sci- ence," each of which is complicated and ambiguous. The world knows innumerable religions, and even the so-called great religions, East and West, 1 See, for example, recent books by the biologist and bio-prophet Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) and the philosophy professor Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenome- non). Both offer purely naturalistic and evolutionary accounts of the origin of human religions and document what they regard as the evils that belief in God has wrought.  SCIENCE, RELIGION, AND THE HUMAN FUTURE differ profoundly in their conceptions of divinity, nature, man, reason, morals, spirituality, and the purpose of it all. Nor is it correct to characterize our subject as a contest between faith and reason. Religions are about much more than faith, and many of the teachings of biblical religion are nei- ther irrational nor unreasonable. It is true that Christianity emphasizes the supreme importance of belief and the affirmation of doctrine and creed as compared with matters of practice, ritual, and law- ful observance. But Enlightenment rationalism, for its part, has welcomed this dichotomy, which serves the purpose of an attack on religion as "irrational." "Ścience," too, is supremely ambiguous, refer- ring (in its modern meanings) both to a methodi- cal art for gaining knowledge and to the accumu- lated knowledge itself. Both need to be distin- guished from a strictly scientific outlook on life and the world, which in its full form has been called "scientism," a quasi-religious faith in the sufficien- cy of modern science to give a complete account of our world, human life included. One need not be scientistic to practice and scientists HAT science, how are not. Indeed, many a scientist is also a self-iden. W is it related to the truths promulgated by tified member of one or another religious commu- nity, though part of what is at issue here is whether any easy-going compatibility of, for example, Dar- winism during the week and Judaism or Christian- ity on the Sabbath is rationally defensible and free of contradiction. In what follows, I will use "religion" to refer to both Judaism and Christianity, overlooking for the most part all of the important differences between them (and within each). By “science" I will mean modern Western science, the globally successful ef- fort to understand how things work-of which mathematical physics is the jewel and foundation- based on a method of discovery uniquely invented for this purpose, and ultimately imbued with a philanthropic aspiration to use that knowledge for the relief of man's estate and the betterment of human life. the mirror that I am providing should, I hope, stimulate salutary self-reflection. Although any religion as a human (and more- than-human) institution comprises much more than the knowledge or truths it propounds, the pri- mary point of contact and contest between science and religion happens to be about truth. Hence the central question is this: how do matters stand be- tween the truths discovered by science and the truths revealed by biblical religion, between the truths that can send a man to the moon and the truth spoken in the Torah or the truth that shall make you free? Finally, a word about my approach. The relation between religion and science is, of course, neither a scientific nor a religious question. Insofar as it is a genuine question, it is a philosophical one, both the subject and object of a quest for wisdom. My philo- sophical approach carries its own hazards of distor- tion, since it risks treating science and (especially) the various religions from the outside, and not in the way they understand themselves; accordingly, thoughtful believing Jews and Christians and knowledgeable scientists may well not recognize themselves in my account. Nevertheless, looking in My answer is divided into three parts: first, some remarks about scientific knowledge and truth in general, and its implications for religious teachings; second, remarks about knowledge of man and his place in the whole; and third, remarks about knowledge of how human beings ought to live. II biblical religion? Are these, as the late Stephen Jay Gould argued, "non-overlapping magisteria,” each with its own canons of evidence and legitimate claims, but—despite apparent contradictions be- tween them-perfectly compatible domains, nei- ther one capable of refuting or replacing the other? Or should we rather insist that there cannot be contradictory "truths" about the one world? For ei- ther the world is eternal or it came into being; if it came into being, either it was created by God or it was not; if there is divinity, either there is one God or many gods; either man is the one god-like crea- ture (in the “image of God") or he is not; either his soul is immortal or it is not; either he has free will or he does not; either God has made known to man what He requires of him or He has not. It is, I trust, not just the residual scientist in me that in- sists that there cannot be more than one truth about the one world, even if we human beings can never know it to the bottom. This premise of a single, universal truth is in- deed one of the starting points of modern science, and it is science's reliance on methodical reason to discover such truth that makes possible its transna- tional and trans-religious appeal. If Buddhists or Muslims or Christians want to describe the relation of pressure to volume in a gas at constant temperature or the motion of falling bodies, they will necessarily embrace the equations that are Boyle's law or the law of universal gravita-  COMMENTARY APRIL 2007 tion. Indeed, the quest for indubitable knowledge, universally accessible and rationally expressible, was the radical new goal of modern science, re- belling against a 2,000-year history of intellectual controversy and disagreement on nearly all matters hitherto discussed by scholars. As Descartes put it, "There is nothing imaginable so strange or so lit- tle credible that it has not been maintained by one philosopher or other." By the stringent standard of indubitability, a cri- tique similar to Descartes' could be applied now as well as then to some of the central teachings of the world's great religions. Anyone can doubt or deny creation or immortality or the resurrection of the dead without self-contradiction; but no one can deny that the square built on the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares built on the other two sides. In order to gain knowledge as indubitable as mathematics, the founders of mod- ern science had to re-conceive nature in objectified (mathematical) terms and to change the questions being asked: no longer the big questions regarding the nature of things, pursued by rare wisdom-seek- ers, but quantifiable problems regarding an objec- tified nature, soluble by ordinary mathematical problem-solvers. If the history of modern science could be viewed not retrospectively from the pre- sent, but prospectively from its origins in the early 17th century, we would be absolutely astonished at what science has been able to learn about the work- ings of nature, objectively reconceived. Nevertheless, despite its universality, its quest for certainty, its reliance on reason purified from all distortions of sensation and prejudice by the use of mathematical method, and the reproducibility of its findings, science does not-and cannot-pro- vide us with absolute knowledge. The reasons are not only methodological but also substantive, and not merely substantive but also intrinsic and per- manent. The substantive limits of science follow from certain fundamental aspects of scientific knowledge and from science's assumptions about what sorts of things are scientifically knowable. They stem from science's own self-proclaimed conceptual limita- tions limitations to which neither religious nor philosophical thought is subject. This is not be- cause, science being rational, it is incapable of deal- ing with the passionate or sub-rational or spiritual or supernatural aspects of being. It is, on the con- trary, because the rationality of science is but a par- tial and highly specialized rationality, concocted for the purpose of gaining only that kind of knowledge for which it was devised, and applied to only those aspects of the world that can be captured by such rationalized notions. The peculiar reason of science is not the natural reason of everyday life captured in ordinary speech, and it is also not the reason of philosophy or religious thought, both of which are tied to even as they seek to take us beyond the world as we experience it. 2 ONSIDER THE following features of science and ex- perience. First, science at its peak seeks laws of na- ture, ideally expressed mathematically in the form of equations that describe precisely the relation- ships among changing measurable variables; sci- ence does not seek to know beings or their natures, but rather the regularities of the changes that they undergo. Second, science—especially in biology- seeks to know how things work and the mecha- nisms of action of their workings; it does not seek to know what things are, and why. Third, science can give the histories of things but not their direc- tions, aspirations, or purposes: science is, by self- definition, non-teleological, oblivious to the natur- al purposiveness of all living things. Fourth, science is wonderful at quantifying selected external rela- tions of one object to another, or an earlier phase to a later one; but it can say nothing at all about the inner states of being, not only of human beings but of any living creature. Fifth, and strangest of all, modern science does not care much about causa- tion; because it knows the regularities of change, it can often predict what will happen if certain per- turbations occur, but it eschews explanations in terms of causes, especially of ultimate causes. In a word, we have a remarkable science of na- ture that has made enormous progress precisely by its metaphysical neutrality and its indifference to 2 It is therefore worth calling into question the arguments offered by those who seek to harmonize science and religion by assimilat- ing the rationality of science with the rationality of the biblical God and His creation. They will point out, correctly, that God's creation according to Genesis 1, based on intelligible principles, proceeds through acts of intelligible speech. they will point out that the Christian God is a God of reason because "In the beginning was the logos and the logos was with God." But neither the intelligible principles of creation in Genesis 1 (separation, place, motion, and life) nor the logos spoken of in the Gospel of John are anything like the principles or mathematized logoi (ratios) of science. The former are tied to the distinctions of ordinary speech, which names quali- tatively different natural kinds; the latter are tied to the concept of quantity, which homogenizes the differences of natural beings (and even the difference between discrete and continuous quantity, be- tween multitudes and magnitudes). For more on the conceptual peculiarities of modern science, and its radical difference both from ancient science and from ordinary human reasoning about life and the world, see the Appendix at the end of this article.  SCIENCE, RELIGION, AND THE HUMAN FUTURE questions of being, cause, purpose, inwardness, hi- erarchy, and the goodness or badness of things, sci- entific knowledge included. Let me illustrate these abstract generalizations with a few concrete examples. In cosmology, we have seen wonderful progress in characterizing the temporal beginnings as a “big bang" and elaborate calculations to characterize what happened next. But from science we get complete silence regarding the status quo ante and the ultimate cause. Unlike a normally curious child, a cosmologist does not ask, "What was before the big bang?" or "Why is there something rather than nothing?" because the an- swer must be an exasperated "God only knows!" In genetics, we have the complete DNA se- quence of several organisms, including man, and we are rapidly learning what many of these genes "do." But this analytic approach cannot tell us how the life of a cockroach differs from that of a chim- panzee, or even what accounts for the special unity and active wholeness of cockroaches or chim- panzees or the purposive effort each living thing makes to preserve its own specific integrity. In neurophysiology, we know vast amounts about the processing of visual stimuli, their trans- formation into electrochemical signals, and the pathways and mechanisms for transmitting these signals to the visual cortex of the brain. But the na- ture of sight itself we know not scientifically but only from the inside, and then only because we are not blind. As Aristotle pointed out long ago, the eyeball (and, I would add, the brain) has extension, takes up space, can be held in the hand; but neither sight (the capacity) nor seeing (the activity) is ex- tended, and you cannot hold them in your hand or point to them. Although absolutely dependent on material conditions, they are in their essence im- material: they are capacities and activities of soul- hence, not an object of knowledge for an objecti- fied and materialist science. III THAT ARE the implications of all this for scrip- On the one hand, the self-limited character of scientific knowledge is very good news for Chris- tians and Jews. Eschewing philosophical specula- tion and metaphysical matters, science leaves those activities and domains free for complementary ac- tivities. Human beings will always ask questions of what and why, as well as of when and how. Human beings will always ask questions about the first cause and the end of days. Speculative philosophy and religion address these concerns and offer their own answers-albeit on grounds that must of ne- cessity be "unscientific." If, for example, Genesis 1 offers a picture of the hierarchy of being, with man perched at its apex, the truth of that claim will not be based on scientific evidence; nor, as I will sug- gest at the end, is that truth likely to be confirmed or denied by scientific findings. But, on closer examination, Stephen Jay Gould's live-and-let live suggestion of complementary truths has its own limitations for the seriously reli- gious. This is especially the case for those whose reading of Scripture is not only literal but literalist: those who think that the truths of Scripture belong to the same category of knowledge as that which can be demonstrated or falsified by science or his- torical research—a misguided hypothesis, in my opinion, but popular nonetheless. So, for example, those who, like Bishop Ussher in the 17th century, would learn the precise age of the earth from Scripture may be compelled to reconsider the ve- racity of the Bible, given the abundant evidence re- garding the vast age of the cosmos. The fossil record, despite its lacunae, is an embarrassment to those who believe that the Bible teaches correctly the near-instantaneous appearance of all God's creatures-unless, of course, they retreat to the po- sition (proposed seriously in the 19th century) that God seeded the earth's layers with fossils of crea- tures that never existed, precisely in order to test the faithful. And then, finally, there is that old chestnut, still hard to crack, of miracles. Few of us, creatures of the present age, believe in miracles-in occur- rences that suspend the laws of nature-events that we must hold to be, according to the regularities that science describes for us, "impossible." In this respect, we are all children of science, at least re- garding our contemporary life on earth. So little do we believe in the possibility of miracles that many of us even have trouble imagining any occurrence so unusual or momentous that would shake our faith in the impossibility of miracles.  ONCE DISCUSSED this with of bril- Nont high schoolers studying Descartes's Dis- course on Method, where the students were dogmat- ically insisting that their faith in nature's abiding lawfulness could never be shaken, come what may. "What if," I confidently asked, “Descartes himself were suddenly to appear in the flesh right before us, not some Madame Tussaud dummy but the real René? Would you change your mind?" To my as- tonishment, no one was the least bit moved. In- COMMENTARY APRIL 2007 stead, invoking the laws of probability and the al- ways-finite chance of even the rarest of events, the smart scientists in the class averred that the mole- cules that once accompanied the genius that was Descartes might, on their own, accidentally reunite to give us his reincarnation. I found their faith as touching as it was preposterous. Yet the irrationality of their zeal does not solve the problem for believing Christians and Jews, for whom big miracles surely matter, and attempts to harmonize science and religion cannot make this issue disappear. Either God gave the law to the Is- raelites at Mount Horeb or He didn't; if not, the 600,000 witnesses were deluded, and those who ac- cept that His Torah was His gift may need to recon- sider. Either the Red Sea parted and the sun stood still, or they didn't, in which case God's providence on behalf of His people is less than it is cracked up to be not an uncommon opinion among some post-Holocaust Jews. And, abundant claims for the harmony of faith and reason notwithstanding, either Jesus rose from the dead or he did not a miracle from the point of view not only of science but of all reasonable human experience. Yet on the truth of his resurrection rests the deepest ground for the Christ- ian faith in the divinity of Jesus and the promise of man's ultimate salvation in him. About such astounding “irregularities,” science not only casts doubt: it cannot abide them. This is, for science, no idle prejudice. And the reason is plain. If a willful and powerful God were capable of intervening in worldly affairs and suspending the laws of nature, genuine science would be impossi- ble. Its regularities would be mere probabilities, and its predictions would be entirely contingent on God's being out to lunch. To my mind, it is a limping rejoinder to this chal- lenge to say that an omnipotent God could still per- form miracles and may someday do so again, but that He binds His power by His will for His own good purposes-hence, among other things, mak- ing science possible. This is too neat and too ad-hoc to be satisfying. And there is, I should add, nothing in Scripture to support these apologetic fancies. On top of this rather old difficulty about miracles in general a difficulty Christians and Jews have apparently learned to live with-biblical religious teachings today face newer and more particular dif- ficulties in relation to specific scientific develop- ments, of which the possible tension between evo- lution and the Bible is only the most well-known example. Here I have in mind present and projected discoveries in genetics and neuroscience, and, even the interpretations of these findings in the the- more, oretical (and often explicitly anti-religious) pro- nouncements of evolutionary psychologists: inter- pretations and pronouncements that are supported but, in my view, hardly necessitated by those scien- tific discoveries. Today and tomorrow, major chal- lenges are ing that affect not only specific reli- gious dogmas, unique to each faith, but also the biblical understanding of human nature and human dignity, central ideas in all scriptural religion. This is where the next big battles may be antici- pated, and where we may next turn. IV THR HE LIMITATIONS of the scientific understand- ing of the world are, for most of us all of the time and for all of us most of the time, not a source of disquiet. Who cares, really, that according to our physics this most solid table at which I am writing is largely empty space, or that beautiful colors are conceived of as mere mathematized waves? Almost no one even notices that science ignores the being of things, even living things, and approaches them in objectified and mechanistic terms. We start to fret only when the account comes home to roost, to challenge our self-understanding as free and self-conscious beings with a rich inner life. This venerable self-conception, rooted in every- day human experience, has been reinforced by cen- turies of philosophical and religious teachings. Yet the challenge to it has been coming for a long time; indeed, it emerged with the origins of modern sci- ence in the 17th century and has been there for all to see. For several centuries, giants of Western phi- losophy, including Leibniz, Spinoza, and Kant, la- bored mightily to find a home for human freedom and dignity, now that all of nature had to be ceded to mechanistic physics. Today, those philosophical defenses are no longer being attempted, whereas the challengers-all adherents of scientism-have become increasingly bold. The strongest summonses today come from an increasingly unified approacl to biology and human biology-evolutionist, materialist, deter- minist, mechanistic, and objectified-combining powerful ideas from genetics, developmental biol- Although Descartes has gained a great deal of fame for his proofs of the existence of God, the god to whose "existence" he is "devot- ed” is not the God of Scripture. Far from being omnipotent, the god of physics is “himself” bound by nature's immutable laws and nature's lawful motion. The divine, decisively defined as "eternal changelessness," is in fact indistinguishable from eternal, unchang- ing nature, acting according to those immutable laws and therefore utterly immune to the sorts of miracles that are indispensable to scriptural teaching.