Some twenty-five hundred years ago, the original relationship between Religion and Science was one of integration. And this integration had a name - Philosophy. So early philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, and later ones like Thomas Aquinas, were men of scientific bent. They thought in terms of evidence and they questioned premises, but they were totally convinced that God was an essential reality. But in the 16th Century things began to go sour, and they hit bottom in 1633 when Galileo was summoned before the Inquisition. The results of that event were decidedly unpleasant. They were unpleasant for Galileo, who was forced to recant his beliefs in Copernician theory - that the planets revolve around the sun - and then was placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life. However, in short order, things got even more unpleasant for the Church.
To describe what happened next, let me indulge in a fantasy. Imagine that the year is 1705 and we are in London, England, privileged to be witnesses to a secret meeting in the private offices of Queen Anne herself. To this meeting, traveling in secret all the way from Rome, has come Pope Clement XI. And responding to a summons from his Queen has come, from his laboratories at the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, none other than Isaac Newton.
The Queen begins the meeting by saying, "As you know, I have God-given responsibility for the political order and stability of our civilization. I am grateful to His Holiness for recently sending me a secret message which suggested an action that might be taken to help me fulfill, by God's Grace, those responsibilities. Since it was at your initiation that this meeting came to pass, Your Holiness, perhaps you would be so kind as to convey to Mr. Newton the sense of your message."
"Thank you, Your Majesty," says the Pope. "As you know, Mr. Newton, the Galileo affair has been of considerable embarrassment to the Church for some years now. All I did was to propose to your Queen that it is high time that there should be some healing in the conflict between Science and Religion."
"Such would certainly be in the best interest of the State," says the Queen.
Newton is quick to respond that the means and aims of Science as they have developed over the past century have become quite different from those of Religion. "The age of the armchair philosopher is past," he says. "I do not see how we can turn back the clock or that we should attempt to do so."
"Oh, I quite agree, Mr. Newton," says the Pope. "A true reunification is not possible, but surely there can be some reconciliation at least, a rapprochement of sorts, between the scientific and the religious communities."
"But what do you want me to do?" asks Newton.
"A deal, Isaac," says the Queen. "The time has come to make a deal."
"An Agreement, Mr. Newton," says the Pope. "As the representative of the Holy See, I am empowered to make an Agreement whereby the Church would no longer harass any genuine member of the scientific establishment, as long as the scientific establishment agrees, in turn, to keep its scientific nose out of religious matters."
"What we are proposing, Isaac," says the Queen, "is a mutual respect for each other's territories, through a stable balance of POWER and a cooperative RELATIONSHIP in which everyone's back can be scratched. This is an Accord with already existing boundaries. The aim of your Society - which, I might add, currently thrives under my auspices and protection - is, as its title suggests, to improve Natural knowledge. Now, Natural knowledge is quite different from Supernatural knowledge, which I'm sure you will agree is quite properly the province of the Church."
"Just as politics is quite properly the domain of the politician," says the Pope. "Surely the scientific quest for natural knowledge should not be sullied by the vagaries of vulgar politics. Should Science stand above political concerns as well as aside from Religious matters, I can even forsee the possibility of support for Science in the form of Government subsidies for scientific departments within the universities as well as for the increasingly complex equipment coming to be required for scientific investigation."
"Quite possibly," says the Queen. "Should you be willing to support the idea of pure Science along the lines we have been considering, Isaac, well then, the Church would be able to create an image of the pure scientist as a public hero."
"Which would surely pave the way," says the Pope, "for public tax monies to be made available for scientific investigation, properly restricted to natural phenomena."
Newton sits for a lengthy moment in obviously thoughtful silence. Finally he says, "Well, the advantages of the arrangement do seem rather compelling."
The Queen smiles. "As President of the Royal Society, Isaac, you are the most influential scientist in Christendom. If you can support the development of the ideal of pure Science we have been describing, I have no doubt that a giant step will have been taken to ensure the stability of Christian civilization for centuries to come. But, of course, it all must be done rather quietly. This is a subtle sort of business. It is a matter of vision. I see no need for us to mention this meeting to anyone. It should all be done without any fanfare. I know that I can count on your cooperation."
"I'll see what I can do, Your Majesty," says Newton.
"Oh, thank you, Isaac," says the Queen. "And by the way, since I know that you can keep secrets, I see no harm in telling you now that I have been seriously considering you for Knighthood before the year is out."
So ends my fantasy. Of course, no such meeting took place. But just such an unwritten social contract dividing up the territory between Government, Science and Religion was developed toward the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries. It was not consciously developed. It was an almost unconscious response to the needs of the day. Nonetheless, this unwritten social contract has done more than anything else to determine the nature of our science and our religion ever since.
Indeed, it might be looked upon as one of the great intellectual happenings of humankind. All manner of good came from it: the Inquisition faded away, religious folk stopped burning witches, the coffers of the Church remained full for several centuries, slavery was abolished, democracy was established without anarchy, and, perhaps because it did restrict itself to natural phenomena, Science thrived, giving birth to a technological revolution beyond anybody's wildest expectations, even to the point of paving the way for the development of a planetary culture.
The problem is that this unwritten social contract no longer works. Indeed, at this point in time, it is becoming downright diabolic. This unwritten social contract is tearing us apart.
M. Scott Peck, M.D.
"Further Along The Road Less Traveled"