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Well, history is full of civilizations clashing, and for that matter, of civilizations not clashing. And the story of the role played by religious ideas—fanning the flames or dampening the flames, and often changing in the process—is instructive. I think it tells us what we can do to make the current “clash” more likely to have a happy ending.
The second aspect of the current world situation I’ll address is another kind of clash—the much-discussed “clash” between science and religion. Like the first kind of clash, this one has a long and instructive history. It can be traced at least as far back as ancient Babylon, where eclipses that had long been attributed to restless and malignant supernatural beings were suddenly found to occur at predictable intervals—predictable enough to make you wonder whether restless and malignant supernatural beings were really the problem.
There have been many such unsettling (from religion’s point of view) discoveries since then, but always some notion of the divine has survived the encounter with science. The notion has had to change, but that’s no indictment of religion.
After all, science has changed relentlessly, revising if not discarding old theories, and none of us think of that as an indictment of science. On the contrary, we think this ongoing adaptation is carrying science closer to the truth. Maybe the same thing is happening to religion. Maybe, in the end, a mercilessly scientific account of our predicament—such as the account that got me denounced from the pulpit of my mother’s church—is actually compatible with a truly religious worldview, and is part of the process that refines a religious worldview, moving it closer to truth.
These two big “clash” questions can be put into one sentence: Can religions in the modern world reconcile themselves to one another, and can they reconcile themselves to science? I think their history points to affirmative answers.