Reprinted with permission of Metanexus.
The recent Science and the Spiritual Quest Conference at Harvard University brought together more than 650 spiritual and scientific leaders from around the world. No message was more compelling or meaningful than that of Dr. Bruno Guiderdoni, Director of Research at the Paris Institute of Astrophysics. His main research field is in galaxy formation and evolution. He is also an expert on Islam in France and has published 30 papers on Islamic theology and mystics. He was in charge of a French TV program called "Knowing Islam" from 1993 to 1999, and is now the director of the Islamic Institute for Advanced Studies.
In his talk, Dr. Guiderdoni discussed the nature of scientificand religious truths, stressing the limitationsof both endeavors. Citing the Qur'an, he argues fora diversity of approaches, including religious pluralism,as an essential feature of God's intended order for humanity. "The acquisitionof religious knowledge," said Guiderdoni, "is also an open process, and weshould travel on the path towards the Truth with great humility." -- Billy Grassie, Metanexus
I begin this address by pronouncing the traditional sentence "in the name ofGod the Compassionate the All-Merciful." With this formula, the Muslimsinitiate all the ritual acts of their religious life, and also all theimportant acts of their everyday life which consequently acquire a sacredvalue. Before each act, I should always ask to myself: Will I truly act inthe name of God the Compassionate the All-Merciful? And if this act doesnot manifest God's Love and Mercy, it is better that I refrain fromperforming it. This formula is written at the beginning of each chapter ofthe Koran, one hundred and fourteen times, so that it appears as a keyprinciple for reading and interpreting it. Unfortunately we, human beings,are sinners, and we do not often live, in the name of God the Compassionatethe All-Merciful, the core of the spiritual quest that founds our humandignity.
I am a scientist and I am a believer. As a scientist, my interest goes tothe cosmos. I try to unravel the puzzles of the physical reality. As abeliever, my interest goes to God and to his action within the human. I tryto accept the mystery of the ultimate reality and the multiple ways itappears in the human condition. I feel deeply concerned by our 21st century.The terrible events of September 11 cast a dark shadow on it. Do we havereasons to hope again? Can we prepare seeds for the future? Do we stillbelieve in the human?
We are looking for peace. But we have first to understand that peace willnever be possible without justice. How is it possible for me to live quietlywhen my neighbor, on the other side of the street, is hungry, thirsty andcold? But why should I help my neighbor? Because we share the same humannature that requires this type of charity. We thus have to understand thatwe shall never have justice if we do not consider the truth that defines ourhuman condition.
According to many theologians, the two challenges of the 21st century dealwith the nature of scientific truth and the nature of religious truth. Bothof them are linked to the human condition.
Let me address first the nature of scientific truth. As you probably know,it is difficult to define scientific truth. What we know is the method thatleads to the growth of knowledge, the trial-and-error method of scientificexperiments and observations. The development of scientific knowledge hasbeen spectacular during the 20th century, and it will still be more dramaticin the 21st century, if the human kind survives the temptation of its owndestruction.
Probably the most interesting outcome of the science of the 20th century isthe fact that science has identified its own limits from within scienceitself: Goedel's meta-mathematical theorem, Heisenberg's uncertaintyprinciple, the existence of phenomena which are not predictable, or thefundamental limits of astronomical observations are examples of the horizonsof our scientific knowledge. It is not just a transient stage that will beovercome in the future. We now know that science cannot explore and monitorthe whole of reality. It leaves space for other approaches that can alsoaddress the issue of meaning. We understand that the acquisition ofscientific knowledge is an open process, and that we should travel on thepath towards truth with great humility.
Maybe we should also recover the twofold dimension of human intelligence.During the Middle Ages, the Jews, Christians and Muslims knew that the humanintelligence has two sides: on the one hand, the syllogistic power, on theother hand the contemplative power. We do not have only the ability to makealgorithms, to produce new true statements from previous true statements. Wealso have the ability to capture and contemplate truth. We can understandmuch more than what we can conceptualize. We are more than sophisticatedcomputers. Being human is keeping this twofold dimension of humanintelligence, by trying to reach a balance between reason and contemplation,between striving to solve puzzles and sitting to contemplate mysteries.