Physicist Warns of ‘Idolatry in Science’ – ‘Religion & science are complimentary paths to knowledge, not opponents’

Among scientists who attend to matters of religion, one of the most famous quotes from the 20th century is this couplet by Pope John Paul II, circa 1987:

Science can purify religion from error and superstition;

Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.

I doubt that many scientists have ever thought much about the word “idolatry”; the typical reaction would be “who, me?”  In science, it’s hard to imagine what the word “idolatry” could possibly mean.

Separately, “The Teaching Company” publishes CDs and DVDs on a wide assortment of course materials, including one cluster on world religions, which contains a set of lectures on Hinduism. Within that, there is a remarkably concise definition of idolatry:  “confusing your own concept (or model or image) with the actual reality.”

Whether in Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism or any other religion, that’s a pretty clear warning not to think that your own understanding of God is fully accurate. When the 10 Commandments prohibits making graven images, we immediately think of physical objects like a golden calf standing in for a god. Of course we see the folly of that, and take the warning seriously. Several faiths disapprove of any images at all, lest those inferior representations become the object of worship.