TranscriptQuestion: Does science make faith in God obsolete?
William Phillips: Yeah. Well first of all, I should say that I’m not particularly comfortable with being described as a religious person because somehow I have this image in my mind of somebody who’s very proper and prim and follows all sorts of rituals and stuff. And I like rather to describe myself as a person of faith. And clearly I don’t believe that science has made belief in god obsolete, or else I wouldn’t describe myself as a person of faith.
I believe that certain ways of interpreting certain scriptures have been made obsolete by science, but that in no way makes religious faith or belief in God obsolete, it just requires what I would consider to be a different outlook, a maturation of religious faith. But if we look at the history of religious faith as told in the scriptures and as seen through history, I think the entire history of faith has been one of a maturation of that faith.
I see it as not so much as people becoming more mature in their faith, but God challenging people to become more mature, to get a clearer understanding of what god wants for human-kind and I think God is always pushing us to be better than what we are.
Question: Have your religious beliefs contributed to your work as a scientist?
William Phillips: Well, okay, so there’s two ways of answering that question. By and large, science and religion deal with different kinds of questions. Science deals with questions about how do things come to be the way they are, how should I think about the way things are? How shall I organize my understanding of the way things behave?
Whereas, religion deals with questions like, how should I behave toward my fellow human creatures? What should my relationship be to God? How should I understand the ultimate origins of this world and this universe in which we live? These are different kinds of questions. But sometimes the areas that science addresses and the areas that religion address can overlap. So, I don’t ascribe to the idea of science and religion as being non-overlapping magisterial, as they’ve sometimes been described. But I also will say that, by and large, they deal with different kinds of questions. But they are ethical questions that might involve things like medial ethics, or environmental questions where you have to understand the science in order to be able to make good ethical decisions that are guided by your religious principles.
So, there’s always going to be places where science and religion are going to come to bear on the same kinds of problems.
Recorded June 4, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman