Why can't science be a religion?

politics : Science and religion are mutually exclusive! - Not at all!

Mr. Reich, can scientists believe in God, or are religion and science mutually exclusive?

JENS REICH: They are mutually exclusive because they move into different classes of discourse. I don't think a scientist can talk about God and faith as a scientist. He would have to do rape experiments, that is, prove God on the electron screen - and that is of course not possible.

Nevertheless, there are efforts in America at the moment to bring God into science: as the “intelligent designer” who created man. How do you rate that?

REICH: “Intelligent design” is an attempt to get into school lessons by bypassing Darwin, precisely without using the term God. “Intelligent design” is still abstract, we can talk about it - whether the past of the biological can be described as being the result of an intelligent design. But we're not with God yet, that's the trick! Only when you find that plausible can you come with God. If you accept “intelligent design”, that is a metaphysical statement that is not mandatory and also extremely laborious because it does not provide a scientific explanation. At every point where something happens, I cannot deistically introduce the basic design of the whole of nature, but rather, if that is to make sense as a scientific explanation, I have to say again and again: And there was intervention, and there, and there ... Either is one then ready to allow evolution somewhere again, or one must interpret every miracle of nature as an intelligent intervention. But that is no longer scientific.

Mr. Schröder, when the first cosmonauts circled the earth, they passed on to the bottom that they had not discovered God ...

RICHARD SCHRÖDER: Yes, my daughter also brought that from school back then - the father of a classmate, a pilot, said he had never discovered God. So I said to her: Almut, we can look from below as far as he can see up there. God as the creator of the world is not part of the world, you can't run through the forest and look for him behind a tree.

Are science and religion mutually exclusive for you?

SCHRÖDER: Not at all. When I say that God created the world, the question remains: How did that come about in time? I look for the remains, fossils and the like in order to discover the secret of this process. These are not mutually exclusive questions. The theory of "intelligent design" aims to take the first chapter of the Bible with the creation story in seven days literally, and then of course one does not like the millions or billions of years that according to the theory of evolution were necessary for the origin of life. But the conflict is not new. Augustine already said that wherever the Bible contradicts the knowledge of science, one should accept that the Bible speaks according to the opinion of the people and that science is valid. Nothing is more embarrassing than when a Christian takes action against an obvious scientific fact.

But belief is not only a different category from knowledge, but also a contradiction.

SCHRÖDER: What does it mean to have a God? Luther asks and answers: Whatever you put your heart on is actually your God. So you can very well imagine someone saying: I am clearly only sticking to what has been proven. But you can't live that. If you don't believe, don't trust, but only accept what you know, you lead a miserable life.

Do you want to explain to Jens Reich in this way that even the scientist, who is a professional skeptic until a thesis is proven, cannot do without trust and belief?

SCHRÖDER: Well, look, when a scientist falsifies his research results, as has just happened in South Korea, so if he abuses trust, the shock goes so deep that some consider clone research itself to be endangered. That is the ethical implication of science. Anyone who walks up and says I don't care about anything can also cheat. Personal trust that the other person is honest is one of the basic requirements of scientific research. And even a scientist always bases his identity on trust: It starts with the fact that we have to trust our date of birth, although we can never be absolutely certain.

But from there to believing in God it is a long step ...

SCHRÖDER: That is correct. But we had spoken of faith and knowledge, and I had pointed out that the moment of trust in the personal dimension is part of all life. Because doing science is also a way of life, this element also belongs in the field of science. In faith there is a moment of decision that is not made blindly, that pays attention to plausibility, but that cannot be based on the ultimate certainty of a mathematical proof.

The Enlightenment thought that it could possibly prove that God was rational. Conversely, isn't “intelligent design” the mystical attempt to conclude from the existence of creation alone that it can only be made by God?

REICH: That is indeed the basic idea. I cannot imagine, says William Paley in a classic essay at the beginning of the 19th century, that the miracle of the eye can be explained in any other way than by a creator, by a creator, a designer. That cannot have come about by itself, that is the basic argument of “intelligent design”, initially God-free, and then comes the transition to “creation science”. But you can't do science if you build beliefs into your work.

Isn't there a point where both can touch - like parallels touch at infinity? The universe is around 13 billion years old, what was before, we don't know why it came into being, either. Isn't there so much that is fantastic in the origin of the cosmos that there is still enough space for the scientist to believe?

REICH: Of course the “big bang” theory of the origin of the universe is the modern, but not the only explanation of cosmology. One can also imagine that the world has always existed. But right now cosmologists are deducing a beginning from the movements they see. And what was before is of course open. I don't disagree with anyone who says that for them this moment is the creation of the world.

The source of the need for transcendence in order to get away from religion a bit, although it contains that, is the question of the beginning, but then also that of the end, of death - the question of our future. And then there is the middle in between, life itself. How responsibly does the scientist deal with it? If knowledge always means more power, how is abuse of power limited? We have already mentioned cloning: Mr. Reich, as a scientist, do you feel that there is increased pressure to legitimize this today?

REICH: The requirement that knowledge has to legitimize itself when it is used as power is not new. These problems already existed with the invention of gunpowder, the steam engine and the atomic bomb. That the scientist's play instinct reaches the limit where he has to justify that he has something good in mind.

But the problem of cloning marks a turning point: the possibility of humans to play creators themselves.

REICH: That is indeed a new point of view; these changes have not been possible so far. Aside from the technical functioning, that begs the question of how to justify that. You can't say: let's do it in peace, we can still think about it afterwards, but I don't want to be bothered in my laboratory. Science also has an obligation towards society.

This applies to stem cell research, for example, which is very strictly regulated in Germany. Is it too strictly regulated?

REICH: I mentioned the responsibility of science to talk about its own things. The question is whether this can be done sensibly with a highly bureaucratic system of regulation, prohibition and permission. There are limits. You can also kill science if you tell it exactly which experiments are allowed and which are not. It is too easy for politicians to imagine prescribing. With every regulation one has to consider carefully whether one does not neuter branches of scientific research with it.

Are there no taboos for you?

REICH: Yes, of course.

For example?

REICH: We are in agreement in the National Ethics Council, to which we both belong, that we do not want to construct people (Schröder nods in agreement). That this, even if it were technically possible, is not morally permissible.

Is everyone in the Ethics Council agreed on that?

SCHRÖDER: Yes. All reject the intervention in the germline, i.e. the heritable genetic change. And everyone rejects the “design baby”, the child as desired, including the choice of gender. I would reject anything that has no medical objective, unless a borderline case is described to me that I cannot now imagine. What modern genetic methods promise must remain in the therapeutic context.

There are thousands of frozen, fertilized egg cells in German research laboratories that, according to human judgment, are never inserted into a uterus. Is it allowed to use these egg cells for medical research?

SCHRÖDER: We have excess, frozen embryos as a result of artificial insemination, in which several egg cells are prepared, but the implantation of the first successfully leads to a pregnancy. In my opinion, research on such no longer needed egg cells does not make any particular demands on moral judgment, considering that 70 percent of fertilized egg cells are lost naturally. The thought that fertilized eggs must be destroyed is not pleasant, but it is inevitable. Therefore, I consider research on it to be justified. The idea that every fertilized egg cell could become a human is nonsense, because in nature a selection takes place before the fertilized cell nests. The actual point in time from which there is a high level of protection is the beginning of pregnancy. Incidentally, my grandmother would have already said that because she didn't even know that there were the preliminary phases that we are now arguing about - a fertilized egg cell that has not yet triggered a pregnancy.

German legislation is a bit bizarre here. You can terminate a pregnancy or have an abortion if there is a risk of developing cystic fibrosis. In the case of fertilized egg cells, however, one must not discard those from the transplant that might harbor this genetic predisposition.

SCHRÖDER: Yes, in my opinion it is a wrong decision that now the protection of the fertilized egg cell against pregnancy is greater than that of a pregnancy that has actually started. I consider this to be a legislative error. If you then also consider that the number of late abortions - those in which a birth would also be possible - is increasing in our country, that is a very strange situation that should be corrected.

Mr. Reich, is there a new discussion on this in the National Ethics Council?

REICH: I consider artificial insemination or assisted reproduction to be something that is morally justified. If this is combined with a diagnosis - i.e. discarding or selecting an egg cell - this is initially an individual conflict of conscience between those involved. In my opinion, the state goes too far with PDI (pre-implantation diagnosis) when it wants to prescribe conscientious decisions. I think these things shouldn't be regulated by law. The decision belongs in the privacy of those involved. I can imagine that parents who ardently want a child but need artificial insemination may not find it easy to free up the remaining eggs for any use.

SCHRÖDER: But that is not the normal case. The normal case would be that a certain number of eggs have been fertilized and pregnancy has occurred. Now there are two or three embryos left. I think stem cell research should be limited to really surplus embryos, i.e. those that cannot find a mother. I agree with you, Herr Reich, that it is extremely dangerous if the legislature wants to regulate everything down to the last detail. There should be some leeway for other bodies. When it comes to medical matters, for example, the Swiss do a lot about professional ethics. And when it comes to research, the DFG, the German Research Foundation, can issue guidelines. But when the Bundestag goes into the details here, that's legislative fanaticism.

REICH: Actually, we shouldn't allow assisted reproduction either, because it was developed abroad using methods that are prohibited by law here. If we can, we'll do it. And what about stem cell research, which we do not allow? If one day Parkinson's is cured with their help, we will say: Not here with us, go to Holland?

SCHRÖDER: The German health insurance companies also finance that in order to save care costs in Germany!

REICH: Sure, if we can, we'll do it. That is currently the moral compromise.

It affects the life that is becoming - but what about the life that is coming to an end? There have been some controversial initiatives to facilitate euthanasia this year. How do you both see this debate?

SCHRÖDER: There are generous regulations in the Netherlands. The evaluated reports warn us. They warn us because killing on demand appears to create opportunities to kill where the demand has been doubtful. When sick people have to live with the fear that the injection they are given is a lethal injection, it is devastating. I see the help of suicide somewhat differently with someone who wants to end his life in a hopeless and terrible situation, but is unable to do so without help. But here too you will have to be very careful. It is a problem that we are now also dealing with in the National Ethics Council. We will comment on this in the New Year.

Let's get back to faith one more time. Are we experiencing a renaissance of faith or is the old experience only confirmed that people pray more in bad times?

SCHRÖDER: Renaissance? I have my doubts. Certainly, the flat rationalism no longer satisfies the minds. There is certainly a desire for security. But whether it goes hand in hand with the desire to live in the face of God, that is a phrase with which I want to describe the Christian faith, I am not sure.

The interview was conducted by Gerd Appenzeller, Peter von Becker and Hartmut Wewetzer. It was photographed by Kai-Uwe Heinrich.


Richard Schröder was born in Frohburg / Saxony in 1943. He studied theology at church training centers and was parish priest in the Harz region. Schröder was married and has two grown daughters.


Since Schröder was not allowed to study at a university in the GDR “due to a lack of social commitment”, he was only able to complete his habilitation in 1991. In 1992 he became professor of philosophy and theology at Humboldt University.


Richard Schröder joined the SPD in December 1989. In the freely elected People's Chamber he was the leader of the Social Democratic parliamentary group. In 1993, out of loyalty to the SPD and Johannes Rau, he turned down a candidacy for the office of Federal President.


Jens Reich, 66 years old, grew up in Halberstadt. He studied medicine and completed specialist training in biochemistry. He stayed several times in the Soviet Union for research purposes. The empire, which is rooted in the intellectual milieu of East Berlin and the church, is married to a doctor. The couple has three grown children.


Reich is a molecular biologist and has headed the Bio-Informatics department at the Max Delbrück Center in Berlin-Buch since 1992.


In the GDR, Reich was part of the political opposition. Because he did not join any party and did not want to break off his contacts with the West, the SED blocked his academic career. In 1994, Reich ran for the office of Federal President for the Greens, although it was not party to any party.

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