March 22, 2000
First, a big thankyou to Sir John Templeton and the administrators of theTempleton Foundationfor giving me this undeserved and unexpected honor. Second, a big thankyouto the Institute forAdvanced Study in Princeton for supporting me as a Professor of Physicswhile I strayed intoother areas remote from physics. Third, a big thankyou to the editors andpublishers of my booksfor giving me the chance to communicate with a wider public. Fourth, a bigthankyou to my wifeand family for keeping me from getting a swelled head.
Now I have five minutes to give you my message. The message is simple. "God forbid that weshould give out a dream of our own imagination for a pattern of the world." This was said byFrancis Bacon, one of the founding fathers of modern science, almost fourhundred years ago. Bacon was the smartest man of his time, with the possible exception ofWilliam Shakespeare. Bacon saw clearly what science could do and what science could not do. Heis saying to thephilosophers and theologians of his time: look for God in the facts ofnature, not in the theories ofPlato and Aristotle. I am saying to modern scientists and theologians: don't imagine that ourlatest ideas about the Big Bang or the human genome have solved themysteries of the universe orthe mysteries of life. Here are Bacon's words again: "The subtlety ofnature is greater many timesover than the subtlety of the senses and understanding." In the last fourhundred years, science hasfulfilled many of Bacon's dreams, but it still does not come close tocapturing the full subtlety ofnature. After sketching his program for the scientific revolution that heforesaw, Bacon endshis account with a prayer: "Humbly we pray that this mind may be steadfastin us, and thatthrough these our hands, and the hands of others to whom thou shalt givethe same spirit, thou wiltvouchsafe to endow the human family with new mercies." That is still agood prayer for all of usas we begin the twenty-first century.
Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying tounderstand the biguniverse outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windowsgive different views,but they look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neitheris complete. Both leaveout essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect. As the old Swiss nurse who helped to take care of our babies used to say, "Some people like to goto church, and somepeople like cherries."
Trouble arises when either science or religion claims universaljurisdiction, when either religiousdogma or scientific dogma claims to be infallible. Religious creationistsand scientific materialistsare equally dogmatic and insensitive. By their arrogance they bring bothscience and religion intodisrepute. The media exaggerate their numbers and importance. You mediapeople should tell thepublic that the great majority of religious people belong to moderatedenominations that treatscience with respect, and the great majority of scientists treat religionwith respect so long asreligion does not claim jurisdiction over scientific questions. In thelittle town of Princeton whereI live, we have more than twenty churches and at least one synagogue,providing different forms ofworship and belief for different kinds of people. They do more than anyother organizations in thetown to hold the community together. Within this community of people, heldtogether byreligious traditions of human brotherhood and sharing of burdens, a smallercommunity ofprofessional scientists also flourishes.
The great question for our time is, how to make sure that the continuingscientific revolutionbrings benefits to everybody rather than widening the gap between rich andpoor. To lift up poorcountries, and poor people in rich countries, from poverty, to give them achance of a decent life,technology is not enough. Technology must be guided and driven by ethicsif it is to do more thanprovide new toys for the rich. Scientists and business leaders who careabout social justice shouldjoin forces with environmentalists and religious organizations to givepolitical clout to ethics. Science and religion should work together to abolish the gross inequalitiesthat prevail in themodern world. That is my vision, and it is the same vision that inspiredFrancis Bacon fourhundred years ago, when he prayed that through science God would "endow thehuman familywith new mercies."