Beliefnet

To be presented with a prize of this prestige, designated as for "Progress in Religion," is both an exhilarating and a humbling experience -- exhilarating because it represents an assurance that my own, somewhat unusual, path in the last few decades, unswervingly supported by my wife, has indeed not been misdirected -- humbling both because I "stand on the shoulders of giants" who preceded me in the dialogue between science and religion and because I am but part of a growing corporate endeavor of inquiry in this field and one I shall now have the means to enhance.

This great enterprise is now global and engages professional theologians, scientists, historians and philosophers in the academic world and is the concern of those of many faiths, and of none. It has been stimulated by the support of the Templeton Foundation, so generously and wisely promoted by Sir John's munificence that also provides this magnificent Prize, for the award of which I warmly thank the Trustees and Judges.

I have often been asked something like this: "How is it that you, a research scientist involved in the early work on the exciting structure of DNA, could have become so interested in what many think of as the opposite of science, religion, that you should not only be a member of the Church but even become a priest in it?" My response is that the search for intelligibility that characterizes science and the search for meaning that characterizes religion are two necessary intertwined strands of the human enterprise and are not opposed. They are essential to each other, complementary yet distinct and strongly interacting -- indeed just like the two helical strands of DNA itself! I came only gradually to this understanding by persistently asking the question "Why?" as my scientific training had rightly impressed upon me.

One only knows what science is really about by doing research. I recall vividly in my early days as an investigator into the physical chemistry of biological systems asking myself, "Why should the concepts and thoughts I am deploying actually work at all in explaining the results of my experiments?" and indeed, "Why is there anything at all for the scientist to study?" These are questions about meaning, and progress in religion is about having a more and more comprehensive understanding of particular realities and of that Ultimate Reality, the Source of all Being and Becoming, who, in English, is named as 'God.'

In the last five decades it has been the natural sciences that have unveiled new intellectually beautiful and dazzling vistas. We are the first generation of human beings to have solid evidence of the origin of our cosmos and of human life and this has to affect the kind of meaning we can find in our existence in it. We can now ask "Why should the cosmos be of such a kind that from the Hot Big Bang some 10 billion years ago, there should emerge by natural processes human persons with creativity, free will and a sense of beauty, truth and goodness -- a Mozart or Shakespeare, a Buddha, a Jesus of Nazareth, and you and me!"

Progress in religion can come only when the religious quest engages creatively with such new scientific perspectives. It has been my chief objective to initiate and facilitate the opening up of new dimensions in the religious quest by bringing together scientists, theologians, historians and philosophers -- and some who master more than one of these disciplines. I have, with the growing support of others, been able to do this locally mainly at Oxford, and earlier at Cambridge; nationally in the UK; and internationally in Europe.

I was especially encouraged to find, at first within the Church of England and then in other Christian churches, a growing number of scientists who were also ordained as priests or ministers and who wished to express their double vocation both to their faith and to science. Together twelve of us formed a new kind of dispersed Order with its own Rule -- the Society of Ordained Scientists which now has as full members 79 men and women from seven different denominations and five countries. They constitute a sign in living experience as well as in hard thinking of the fruitfulness of the interaction between science and religion.

For science, as it now plunges ever more deeply into the physico-chemical basis of life, of reproduction and even of thinking, increasingly needs a framework of reference that can take account of the integrity and meaning of personal life. The community of science needs the meanings that religion unveils.

But the process is reciprocal and mutual. For religion itself can progress only if it is willing to open up new horizons by reflecting on these scientific vistas and the new challenges to traditional affirmations that they provoke. It has led me not only to a revision of some traditional Christian ways of putting things but also to an increasing depth in understanding of my core convictions and to new ways of expressing them positively. For progress in religion is not so different from that in science -- a surer insight into and experience of reality.

Science is the global language and possession of our times and it is time, especially now at the beginning of this first century of the new millennium, for thinkers and adherents of all religions to engage creatively with the universal perspectives of the sciences. In exploring together these expanding frontiers with the sciences they could begin to understand and respect each other more. And, if we do not cease from this joint exploration, we shall find not only that we shall arrive anew at the spiritual bases from which we have severally set out but also that, through this progressive intertwining of our intellectual and spiritual quests for both intelligibility and meaning, we shall know those places for the first time.

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