Science Is Not Religion & Religion Is Not Science

February 19, 2017 ()


UUA By-Laws Article II Section C 2.1. Our sources

Bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association. From Article II, Section C 2.1.

  • Section C-2.1. Principles.

The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
  • Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith, we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision. As free congregations we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support.


From prominent scientists:

  • “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.” – Galileo Galilei
  • “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” – Albert Einstein
  • "Science makes people reach selflessly for truth and objectivity; it teaches people to accept reality, with wonder and admiration, not to mention the deep awe and joy that the natural order of things brings to the true scientist." — Physicist Lise Meitner
  • “Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated.” — Rosalind Franklin (Nobel Prize in Chemistry)
  • “We still talk in terms of conquest. We still haven't become mature enough to think of ourselves as only a tiny part of a vast and incredible universe. Man's attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.” – Rachel Carson
  • The real wealth of the Nation lies in the resources of the earth soil, water, forests, minerals, and wildlife. To utilize them for present needs while insuring their preservation for future generations requires a delicately balanced and continuing program, based on the most extensive research. Their administration is not properly, and cannot be, a matter of politics. – Rachel Carson
  • There is the natural tendency that all of us are vulnerable to, to deny unpleasant realities and to look for any excuse to push them away and resolve to think about them another day long in the future. – Al Gore


Last Sunday was Charles Darwin’s birthday and I said then that I would talk about science today. Darwin is remembered as a scientist, a naturalist. His work – On the Origin of Species – is in some ways as controversial today as it was when it was published. Why? Well, his notions about natural selection and the relationships that exist between different animals and species challenged the prevailing world view. Namely, that all of creation is God’s handiwork and was created in a short time frame and plunked down on earth in finished form– as described in the Bible.

During Darwin’s time, the church was in command of truth. And that religious truth formed and sustained their world view. It was an enormous leap for people to reorient their understanding of the world from divinely inspired creation of all life forms toward a world view that suggests that natural selection and adaptation play a role in how life forms came into being and survive on earth, past – present – and future.

Well, what happened? We know that Darwin was revered by some and demonized by others. His work, his methods, his motivations, his faith, even his character were called into question. Darwin was reporting what he saw through meticulous observation and constructed a very plausible theory about what stuff is and how it works. The conclusions he reached and offered were an affront to the religious, political and economic power brokers of the time. { Hmmm. Sound familiar? }

Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859. But in 1615, Galileo was convicted of heresy and placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life for the crime of scientific observation and publication. He observed that the heavens behave in ways different from the prevailing truths about the earth being central to all heavenly bodies. Too challenging for the powerful of his day, most notably, the Pope. We now may find it odd, even ridiculous, that the Pope was in charge of peer review and subjected all scientific theories to the test of compatibility with scripture.

Yet, it was so in 1615. It was so in 1859. I am troubled to say that, in some ways, it is so once again. What has happened to science? What has happened to us?

Fortunately, not all scientists are being dismissed. Not all science is dismissed. The science that is being questioned, denied and labeled as false is the science that challenges power, money and control. Suffice it to say that the most compelling reason I can find for the attacks and ridicule being heaped on science today is human greed. Greed for wealth. Greed for power. Greed for control of the prevailing worldview – embedded into law.

Look, let’s think about this for a minute. When religion, money and politics tie themselves together to assure mutual sustainability, position, and power nothing good happens for anyone else or the world. What we are seeing in America today is this same sort of unholy alliance between the religious right, the political right and the wealthiest institutions in the world – multi-national corporations. Some leaders of these groups want to consolidate money and power and use that to their own benefit. Western democracy is at risk. We seem to have lost track of the common good. And the risks to our world, are enormous.

The forces that are currently promoting anti science are the same forces that are promoting alternative facts and they are not scientists. They are a small group of religious leaders from the right wing, anti-government politicians, and certain CEOs and billionaires. They hardly care about actual science. Why? As Al Gore said, it’s inconvenient. It’s inconvenient because embracing science – especially climate science - would require them to make changes that might well diminish their power and wealth. We have a lot to lose if the unholy trinity of money, religion and politics is allowed to maintain this death grip on our country. The conflict between science and religion is a made-up conflict that is designed, I think, to protect wealth, status, and privilege.

The aim of science is to build true and accurate knowledge about how the world works. To be interested in scientific truth, one doesn't have to reject other sources of meaning, inlcuding spiritual truth and meaning.

If we can admit that both science and spirituality provide ways of investigating the world and searching for truth – using different methods and drawing conclusions that impact our lives in different but not mutually exclusive ways, there is no conflict. Different is not necessarily dangerous. Let’s go back to Galileo and Einstein. “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.” – Galileo Galilei “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” – Albert Einstein

Science asks: What is it and how does it work? Spirituality asks: How should we live? It’s not hard to coexist – until we add in human greed for power and wealth. Then, it’s awful.

Right now, in America, it’s awful. It seems that there is a full out assault on science – often in the name of prosperity and religious freedom. But that’s just a handful of misguided religious leaders being greedy for control of the truth as they see it. They are willingly coopted by forces of corporate wealth and political power that are stronger and maybe smarter than they are. We’ve watched as right wing religious leaders say and do the most outrageous things in opposition to science in order to promote their partners in the power structure. And the favor is returned by politicians who place selective religious teaching above accepted science in places where science has a natural interest and religion has no legitimate primacy at all.

The most devastating attack on science comes from the greed of corporations that believe they will lose wealth or profits when the conclusions of science are incorporated into how they are permitted to do business. Why is climate change considered junk science? Primarily because corporations, fossil fuel extraction chief among them, have no interest in addressing climate change because that would negatively impact their financial strength and power. When fossil fuels are all gone and all the profits are collected and the environment is ruined, they will turn and embrace the same science that is junk and false to them today. Politicians go along with these corporations in exchange for a promise of political power. Religious leaders go along with it in exchange for a promise of control over the moral and ethical life of the whole population. Who pays the penalty? Ordinary people and the environment do – every time. And now, the prevalence of political science abuse[1] is so widespread that we have science haters running the departments of science. Truth is rejected. Facts are irrelevant.

Let me not belabor the definition of TRUTH. If I go into a full description of what it is to live in a “Post-truth” world we will never get to our potluck. But, that is where we are right now. And that brings me to our question. How should we live? This is a question that spirituality seeks to answer. Our faith has answers. Good answers, I believe. The key from our faith’s vantage point is to know that truth is not finished with us. The divine energy that enlivens our universe continues to reveal to us things that are amazing and troubling and wonderful and confusing – all at the same time. To try to fix Truth at any point is to halt life at that very point. While a power-preserving institutional religion may find some value in that, spirituality does not. Science does not. Human curiosity will not. We will not.

So that’s the first thing our faith will contributes as an answer to “What do I do?” – an enthusiasm for the continuing search for truth and meaning – through science and through spirituality. Our fifth source from which our Unitarian Universalist faith draws is an endorsement of the search, a validation of the results and a caution against becoming proud know-it-alls.

  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;

Secondly, our history as a religious tradition that is often seen as outside the bounds of acceptable belief and practice has made us into people who understand religious oppression. Our founders were imprisoned, exiled, and sometimes burned at the stake because they would not compromise the truth they had come to accept through both scientific inquiry and spiritual discernment. We come from a long line of folks who stand up for truth – knowing that truth can evolve, but that it cannot be shamed into invisibility. We need to support truth --- now. We need to be vocal and persistent in naming both the truth and the deniers of truth. That means we must be outspoken allies of legitimate science. One of the signs that we saw at the Women’s march last month said:

So yes, we want science: evidence-based and peer reviewed science.

My dear Spiritual Companions, we travel together in challenging times. Let us be strong and unwavering in our commitment to the tenants of our faith that resonate with us today: freedom, reason, tolerance, truth and the belief that all things continue to unfold and evolve. Science and spirituality contribute greatly to our lives. Our quest is for justice and peace. Our commitment is to the common good of all of creation. Our action is love. Our prayer is our service to the well-being of all. The way forward is together. May we among those who resist that which tears apart the bonds of connection and love, and uplift always that which is true and just and compassionate. May we love this planet and all who dwell here with all our mind, soul and strength.

Blessed Be.   I Love You.   Amen.


[1] “Political science abuse,” defined by Mooney, is “any attempt to inappropriately undermine, alter, or otherwise interfere with the scientific process, or scientific conclusions, for political or ideological reasons.” Examples include interference with scientific studies or the work of individual scientists, the deliberate slanting, misrepresentation, or suppression, of scientific findings, including the exaggeration of uncertainty, or otherwise seeking to skew scientific conclusions for political gain. Such politicized science is not new, Mooney notes. “But it has recently reached crisis levels in the United States as the modern conservative movement — and the administration of George W. Bush — has shown a systematic willingness to misrepresent or even concoct its own ‘science’ to skew debates of fundamental consequence to the nation.” Mooney further argues that this trend “threatens not just our public health and the environment, but the very integrity of American democracy, which relies heavily on scientific and technical expertise to function.”


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Rev. Margaret A. Beckman

Rev. Margaret A. Beckman

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