Letter: Religion's role in science

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Sir: May I, as a scientist, dissociate myself from Richard Dawkins's virulent attack (Letters, 20 March) on theology, inspired by the endowment of a chair in science and theology at Cambridge (leading article; 'Two cultures converge', 18 March). He contrasts the benefits derived from science's discoveries with theology's empty record, but fails to realise that theology is concerned with values.

Science teaches us the laws of nature, but religion commands us how we should live. The heroic efforts of the United Nations teams to bring relief to the victims of Yugoslavia's civil war are inspired, not by science, but by compassion taught by Christian and other religions.

Dr Dawkins does a disservice to the public perception of scientists by picturing them as the demolition squad of religious beliefs. Isaac Newton and the other founders of modern science pursued their studies of nature in order to discover the nature of God.

Charles Darwin's discrediting of the biblical story of creation did not prevent him from remaining a believing Christian. Michael Faraday was a devoted member of the Christian sect of the Sandemanians. Clerk Maxwell wrote on his death-bed: 'What is called myself is, I feel, done by something greater than myself within me.'

Albert Einstein believed the laws of physics that he discovered to be the work of a divine creator. Max Plank, the discoverer of the quantum, and many other of this century's great scientists, were profoundly religious, which was a source of great moral strength to them. We should respect their beliefs, even if we do not share them.

I should have preferred the endowment of a chair in science and ethics as a counter to the increasingly prevailing law of the jungle in the scientific world, but failing that, a chair in science and theology is the next best thing.

Scientists may not believe in God, but they should be taught why they ought to behave as if they did.

Yours faithfully,

M. F. PERUTZ

Cambridge

21 March

The writer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 1962.

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