Press Languages and Religious Freedom
Second, prominent scientists feel no need to take seriously dissent that comes from outside the professional research community. They feel safe in assuming that such dissent is uninformed, and the newspapers and television networks will ordinarily accept the judgment of the leading scientists as the final word on just about any subject. In a word, the scientific community constitutes our official priesthood. That is why scientists like Feynman and Dyson can breezily dismiss the possibility of rival sources of knowledge with offhand remarks. Priests and theologians can’t treat science that way.
When Feynman said that religion can live without dogma, he meant that it can accept its proper status as a purely subjective belief system and make no claims to possessing knowledge. Freeman Dyson went on to develop this point, asserting (apparently on no better authority than comments by scientist friends of his from Moslem and Hindu backgrounds) that Christianity is the only religion that bothers with maintaining a theology, and hence is the only religion that tends to conflict with science.
Other religions, he wrote, “have beliefs and stories and ceremonies and rules of behavior, but their literature is poetical rather than analytical. The idea that God may be approached and understood through intellectual analysis is uniquely Christian.” In other words, the non-Christian religions are relatively rational in that they admit that they are non-rational.
Dyson illustrated his point with the example of John Polkinghorne, a physicist who became a priest of the Church of England and recently retired from the Presidency of Queen’s College, Cambridge.
Polkinghorne’s Terry Lectures at Yale in 1996 drew parallels between the development of quantum mechanics in the twentieth century and the development of Christology over a much longer period, making the argument that science and theology are comparable intellectual disciplines. Dyson commented that this comparison disregards a crucial difference:
When all is said and done, science is about things and theology is about words. Things behave in the same way everywhere, but words do not. Quantum mechanics works equally in all countries and in all cultures…Theology works in one culture alone. If you have not grown up in Polkinghome’s culture, where words such as `incarnation’ and `trinity’ have a profound meaning, you cannot share his vision.
Science is about things and theology is about words.
That sentence perfectly encapsulates the metaphysical position that has dominated the twentieth century — not only in science, but in every aspect of intellectual life.
According to materialists, the things that science studies — the particles that make up energy and matter along with their physical interactions and chemical reactions — are the only ultimate reality. Everything else, including our minds and our thought, is a product of the fundamental entities and nothing else. When we talk about God, or about such intangible matters as beauty and goodness, we are only talking about our own subjective feelings. About matters that cannot be confirmed by science we can have no knowledge, but only beliefs.