Letter: `Godless' geologists

Sir: Dr Sam Little accuses geologists of being a "notoriously godless lot" (letter, 30 August), and implies that this has to do with the fact that geology recently underwent a unifying revolution (through plate tectonic theory) of comparable magnitude to that experienced by biology (with genetic theory). He contrasts this situation with the allegedly more god-fearing physicists, whose holier outlook stems, he asserts, from the fact that physics is not currently "closed" by all-unifying theory.

Science and religion coexist quite happily in the minds of all but the most strident fundamentalists (scientific or religious). Whereas science explores the empirical constitution of the universe, religion is the search for proper ethical values and spiritual meaning in life. Both are necessary. But neither can trespass competently upon the domain of the other.

This leaves scientists, including geologists, as free as any other human to choose to believe or not to believe in the existence of a supernatural deity, as an act of faith.

It is perhaps true that certain sciences attract, to differing degrees depending on their stage of development, a group of dedicated scientists who believe their science allows a specially close inspection of the Face of God. Astronomy has always been strong in this area, and it may well be that, in its more speculative 19th-century phases, geology did, too. However, this is not the same thing as looking for empirical evidence of the supernatural.

I know many fine geologists who are also strong believers. I know also many who are not. However, the truth is that science and religion do not overlap, are not necessarily at war, and it ill behoves any scientist to suggest that any one group of people is more or less godless than another.