If the struggle between religion and science for the amorphous prize of truth had a flashpoint, it might have been 1633, when Galileo revealed the results of his observations supporting the Copernican theory that Earth and the other planets move around the sun. Nowadays, amid countless words written about the still testy relationship between the two institutions, a refrain can be found that perhaps does not enjoy the prominence it deserves. This is the contention that science is actually among the most religious of pursuits.

Dictionary definitions of religion refer to a quest for the values of the "ideal" life, and the world view that motivates this quest. Those definitions don't attempt to assay the emotions that accompany such a journey, but similar feelings of euphoria and awe have been described by high-level practitioners of both religion and science. When these feelings derive from scientific inquiry, can they fairly be...

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