Written by a biologist with a broad, open-minded curiosity about world religions, this brief meditative essay offers a multitude of opportunities to synthesize reason and faith.
Scientists commenting on their acceptance or disavowal of religion as a source of knowledge of reality have authored weighty tomes on this topic for centuries. But Simson stands out among the dozens of recent scientist-writers in this controversial area by establishing an exceedingly clear glossary of terms germane to thinking carefully about science and religion. Through making repeated references to these glossary definitions, and by defining these terms with a disarming mix of simplicity and thoughtfulness, Simson has created an inviting way for readers to search out their own connection between scientific reason and religious faith. For example, the often ambiguous meanings attributed to “belief” and “faith” are differentiated by the position that “faith is arrived at from one’s own experience, whereas belief involves acceptance of a received doctrine, integrated into personal experience.” Bringing together more than a half-century of readings in world religions along with global travel to sacred sites, Simson presents a nondoctrinaire, lively view of how science and religion possess their own realms of legitimate authority. For Simson, science finds meaning through testing facets of external reality, and religion forges meaning through the individual and collective interpretations of beliefs, myths and practices. The author nuances religion personally to mean a gratitude to a power higher than oneself for the gift of life. The nature of what conservative believers identify as “sin” and “evil” Simson identifies as the inevitable conflict of biological instincts and societal limits—the only time in the book when the author seems an unequivocal spokesperson for the scientific point of view over the religious. In suggesting that all religions historically have promoted ideals of gratefulness, love of creation and a dedication to living a life of service to others, Simson particularly focuses upon the centrality of feelings of love and the need to make modest claims—scientifically and religiously—about what we absolutely know of ultimate reality.
This well-reasoned, sensitively written meditation on the relationship of science and religion offers considerable food for thought for readers eschewing simple dogmas.