Science, Religion, and the True Stories that Inspire Them Both


“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind,” Albert Einstein once remarked. But where can the resonances he discerned be found? Can we take the genius of general relativity at his word, in a world often dominated by narratives of conflict between science and religion?

Think-Write-Publish Science and Religion, a new project at Arizona State University, funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, will explore how the two domains describe reality in ways that are mutually reinforcing. The project seeks to mobilize the power of “creative nonfiction” to generate and convey thoughtful and inspiring accounts of this sophisticated relationship. “It’s a conscious attempt to use narrative to communicate complicated ideas,” says Lee Gutkind, writer, editor, and, according to Vanity Fair, the “Godfather behind creative nonfiction.” Gutkind describes creative nonfiction as “using storytelling techniques to communicate important factual information.”

The project seeks scholars, scientists, religious figures, writers, and others who are interested in creating a lively community of storytellers. One part of the project will award twelve $10,000 two-year fellowships to help individuals develop publishable nonfiction stories. The winners will be mentored through a program that also includes three intensive training workshops. Applications are due by May 15, 2016.

A second competition, to be launched this spring, invites essayists and authors to write about the rapport between science and religion, with the goal of inspiring readers to think differently and arrive at their own conclusions. In addition to cash prizes, the winning essays will be published in special issues of two periodicals, Creative Nonfiction and Issues in Science and Technology.

The project is founded on the conviction that the narrative of contradiction between science and religion is historically simplistic and philosophically naive. These two ways of knowing not only co-exist but mutually deepen one another. “A compelling voice that grasps the interactions of science and religion, in the lives of real scientists, can reach audiences in ways that more abstract discussions of the bare issues do not,” explains Gutkind. “The attempt to write in detached, objective ways may be required in journals, but if that’s the only way scientists write, that adds up to an abdication of responsibility.”

“It’s crucial for those who work in the sciences to be able to communicate effectively outside of professional circles,” continues Daniel Sarewitz of Arizona State University. “Technical isolation has constrained the public imagination, which tends to be shaped by a small handful of stories of conflict, referencing individuals like Galileo or contentious areas of contemporary research. This stultifies public debate as well as reflecting neither the historical truth nor present-day realities.”

Think-Write-Publish Science and Religion emerged from previous work, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, that focused on creative nonfiction essays to communicate important issues in science policy to a broad general audience. “The fundamental building blocks of creative nonfiction can be used to communicate important factual information embedded within more personal stories,” says Gutkind. Consider Einstein again. Many people can gain a deeper sense of his work through such narratives. The physics of relatively can be communicated via the thought experiments that inspired him when he imagined what it might be like to ride on a ray of light. Suggestive links to what can, with qualifications, be called a “religious” sensibility are also integral to his story, as he grappled with what the human mind can grasp of the structure of the cosmos.

Einstein’s views are subtle, as are those of others in this domain. But they, alongside the full richness of the relationship between science and religion, can be unfolded in exciting, open-minded, creative nonfiction.

  • db

    “It’s crucial for those who work in the sciences to be able to communicate effectively outside of professional circles,”
    In my view, there is far too much extra-scientific talk by scientists. Too many wear science as a badge knowing that many non-scientists bow to that badge. The public is at the mercy of the scientific salesperson. Yes, scientists need money to feed their imaginations. But to stoke “public imagination” to get the public on science’s side? There is a competing value to that of money, that of value for that money. That is a hard discussion (not a conversation) that is sorely lacking. Perhaps that lack is just because the taxpayer cannot understand the vocabulary, is taken in by flimflam spoken by too many public scientists today, or because those who give money to science are those whose relationship with scientists is all too cozy. Be careful of getting what is grant asks for.

  • AbedPeerally

    The Science/Religion theme is one of the most important for consolidating human solidarity and world peace in the decades and centuries to come. It has the potential to disseminate real knowledge and objectivity about our presence in the universe and what should be our devotion towards the Creator. The impact will be enormous in terms of how we should maintain our human, spiritual and environmental awareness. Therefore the Templeton Foundation initiative for a project on Science Religion interaction at this time in our history makes full sense to me, scientifically and philosophically.

    This is pertinent to me in very concrete ways. After I published the first integration of Einstein’s special and general relativity into one equation it became clear there is more spiritual meaning in our universe for by making relativistic effects, arising from my conclusion of my paper, a universal proportionality between special and general relativity, is proof of a supernatural act, which no accidental creation of our universe could have envisaged. It is no coincidence that my paper was strongly recommended for rapid publication by Prof. George Ellis, Templeton Laureate. The SA journal SAJS accepted it for publication within 90 hours of submission after refereeing and it appeared in SAJS 104 in 2008,

    A year later, in 2009, I started taking the symbiotic relationship of religion and science very seriously. My paper “Astronomy and the Ultimate Culture: Elucidating the origin of the universe will spell the integration of science, philosophy and religion”, SEAC, 2009, whose publication was delayed due to instability in Egypt since 2009, will now be published in the (Societe Europeenne de l’Astronomie en Culture) SEAC 2009 proceedings pp 217-227 in June 2016. Subsequently I will revise my tentative second paper on the “Ultimate Culture: Science and Religion, Cosmological Concepts etc. ” after revision, but it can be viewed in this tentative form in “”.

    I am currently completing my first book on the integration of religion and science and it will soon be submitted for publication and I am currently looking for a suitable publisher and the book title is: Power of Somethingness and Nothingness: The Mind behind the Universe. This is the first of two books. The second one will be: Origin of the Universe: The Theory of Everything (TOE). It will be the first book that will propose a scientific concept of the supernatural origin of the universe, meaning the Divine creation of the universe and it will show that what the Bible and other religious books say is exactly how the universe came into being. However my concept will be what the beginning of a TOE can be in its earliest stage, metaphysically and scientifically. I expect that it will convincingly show how the Creator conceived our universe. My concept will substantiate the prediction of Kepler and William Whewell, a former VC of Cambridge University, an eminent mathematician and philosopher, that God preplanned humans to one day realise how He went about to create the universe.