Leading Article: Two cultures converge

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The Independent Online
IT IS often thought that science and theology are necessarily locked in fierce conflict. The Roman Catholic Church took 359 years until it could admit last November that Galileo was right. Conversely, some scientists have been among the most fervent proselytisers of atheism.

The relationship does not have to be so bitter. As Einstein said: 'Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.' In this spirit, Susan Howatch, the best-selling author, has donated pounds 1m to Cambridge University to endow a lectureship in theology and natural science.

There could be no more suitable location for such a lectureship than Cambridge, which regards itself as the premier university for natural sciences. It was from Cambridge that the novelist and don C P Snow first lamented the gap between the two cultures: the humanities and science. Signs that science and theology could live in peace have been emerging this century. Quantum mechanics, relativity and, later, chaos theory overturned the certainties of Newtonian physics. In the new uncertainties there has been more space for God and free will. It is called the 'God-gap'. However, theologians have wisely not relied on this window, which might easily be closed by scientific advance.

Rather, scientists and theologians have increasingly avoided competition, instead offering each other a respect often lacking in earlier, more dogma-ridden times. Religious thinkers speak of letting science answer how the world came into existence, while they focus on the question of why creation occurred and the use to which scientific advances should be put. Furthermore, although some people remain attached to fundamentalist religious beliefs, many theologians show a healthy willingness to rethink and reformulate ideas in the light of experience.

Announcing her endowment, Ms Howatch expressed widely shared hopes for a more fruitful relationship between science and theology, arguing that these disciplines should no longer be seen as opposed but as complementary. The fascination with which the general public has greeted scientific theories attempting to explain creation suggests this is a wise course. Stephen Hawking's book A Brief History of Time, for example, is not alone of its genre in becoming a bestseller. People want to know as much as possible about their origins. A renewed war of attrition between religion and science would be futile.