What was going on here? Why would a president and a scientist, charged with announcing a milestone in biology and medicine, feel compelled to invoke a connection with God? Aren't the scientific and spiritual worldviews antithetical, or shouldn't they at least avoid appearing in the East Room together? What were the reasons for invoking God in these two speeches? Was this poetry? Hypocrisy? A cynical attempt to curry favor from believers, or to disarm those who might criticize this study of the human genome as reducing humankind to machinery? No. Not for me. Quite the contrary, for me the experience of sequencing the human genome, and uncovering this most remarkable of all texts, was both a stunning scientific achievement and an occasion of worship.
Many will be puzzled by these sentiments, assuming that a rigorous scientist could not also be a serious believer in a transcendent God. This book aims to dispel that notion, by arguing that belief in God can be an entirely rational choice, and that the principles of faith are, in fact, complementary with the principles of science.
This potential synthesis of the scientific and spiritual worldviews is assumed by many in modern times to be an impossibility, rather like trying to force the two poles of a magnet together into the same spot. Despite that impression, however, many Americans seem interested in incorporating the validity of both of these worldviews into their daily lives. Recent polls confirm that 93 percent of Americans profess some form of belief in God; yet most of them also drive cars, use electricity, and pay attention to weather reports, apparently assuming that the science undergirding these phenomena is generally trustworthy.
And what about spiritual belief amongst scientists? This is actually more prevalent than many realize. In 1916, researchers asked biologists, physicists, and mathematicians whether they believed in a God who actively communicates with humankind and to whom one may pray in expectation of receiving an answer. About 40 percent answered in the affirmative. In 1997, the same survey was repeated verbatim -- and to the surprise of the researchers, the percentage remained very nearly the same. So perhaps the "battle" between science and religion is not as polarized as it seems? Unfortunately, the evidence of potential harmony is often overshadowed by the high-decibel pronouncements of those who occupy the poles of the debate.
Bombs are definitely being thrown from both sides. For example, essentially discrediting the spiritual beliefs of 40 percent of his colleagues as sentimental nonsense, the prominent evolutionist Richard Dawkins has emerged as the leading spokesperson for the point of view that a belief in evolution demands atheism. Among his many eye-popping statements: "Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence. . . . Faith, being belief that isn't based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion."