Sun | May 20, 2018

Religion, reason can intersect

Published:Tuesday | February 19, 2013 | 12:00 AM


I have read with interest the series of Gleaner articles by Roman Catholic deacon Peter Espeut and secularist Hilaire Sobers.

The former's contributions were 'An unexamined life is not worth living' (Gleaner, February 1, 2013) and 'Gay rights aren't human rights' (Gleaner, February 15, 2013); the latter's contribution was 'Reason and faith are like oil and water' (Gleaner, February 5, 2013).

Both learned gentlemen have stated their positions clearly and I can add naught to them.

The debate, however, did remind me of a story written by Arthur C. Clarke, which I read as a lad. The story, titled 'The Star', first appeared in 1955 in the magazine Infinity Science Fiction.

The central theme of the story is religious faith, and it is the monologue of the central character who happens to be a Jesuit astrophysicist. We learn that he has never had a problem reconciling reason and faith in the past, despite the fact that his career demanded the former and his religion demanded the latter.

crisis of faith

But now, we learn, a crisis of faith is upon him. He is returning on a starship from exploring a planetary system whose sun had exploded, wiping out all life within the system. The unfortunate inhabitants of the system, whose level of scientific development had allowed them to travel within the system but not beyond it, had realised that their existence was about to end and had left a complete record of their history in underground caverns.

The people of the system were very human-like, except that they had escaped the negatives of humanity, and had lived a life devoted to beauty, music, sculpture, dance and civilised debate.

What the narrator has discovered, and cannot bring himself to tell the other crew members, is that the supernova that destroyed this idyllic civilisation of beauty was known on earth as The Star of Bethlehem, the star which burned brightly in the skies of earth to herald the birth of Jesus Christ.