Essay on Relations between Religion and Science

(i) The View that Religion and Science are mutually Conflicting. In some circles, there is the opinion that science should clash with religion because religion is incompatible with science. Some reasons are attributed for this conflict.

(ii) Religion is based on faith and rituals whereas science depends on observations, experiments, verifications, proofs and facts. Religion is more than a body of dogma, faith and ritual in connection with unseen forces. It is also an explanation of the universe and a way of interpreting the natural order.

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The outlook of science is one of observation and test and verification. By studying only that which can be observed and tested by means of various scientific techniques science has struck at the root of man’s conception of the super-natural realm. The following examples clarify this point.

Examples: (i) Plague, proved to be transmitted by infected rats, no longer remains as an evidence of God’s wrath. In the same way, the serum which stops the plague cannot be interpreted as God’s blessing, since men devised it and men administer it; (ii) In the same manner, from the scientific point of view a successful crop cannot be attributed to God’ boon; (iii) As per the scientific view, a hysterical man is no longer “possessed by the devil”, an earthquake cannot be explained as the consequence of man’s failure to obey the “Ten Commandments” and so on.

(ii) Ritualism, religious fundamentalism and fanaticism rooted in religion are very much opposed to science. Religion does not always remain at the theoretical plane. Religious beliefs are expressed in human actions and practices called rituals. In the practice of rituals, normally the origi­nal belief is either forgotten or ignored and only the external usages come to be called the real practice of religion.

This is nothing but ritualism. Ritualism devoid of the original religious belief is definitely opposed to science. For example, the ritualisic practice of human and animal sacrifice is definitely opposed to science.

Religious fanaticism and fundamentalism are also opposed to science. As H.E. Barnes has pointed out fundamentalist religion and modern science are definitely at a conflict. It is on record that dogmatic religion opposed science and interfered with its development by every means pos­sible.

Dr. William Harvey’s Blood Circulation Theory, Galileo’s Theory of the Planetary System and Giordano Bruno’s repeated advocacy of a ‘sun-centred universe’, etc., had to meet with reli­gious opposition. Even now religion hardly encourages free inquiry. Sumner and Keller writes, “It is difficult to find any type of religion which has welcomed free inquiry”

Causes for the Conflict between Science and Religion: Views of Kingsley Davis

According to Kingsley Davis, there are two important causes for the conflict between religion and science. They are stated below.

(i) Science deals with the ‘known’ or the empirical world:

Religion is concerned with the ‘unknown’ or supernatural world. As Kingsley Davis point out, “The boundary between the un­known and the known is a shifting one”. What was unknown yesterday is known today.

Science could not give an account of the origin of man then. Religious belief filled in the gap by giving its own account of that. Later with its progress science too could give a satisfactory explanation of that.

Here arose the conflict between the two. Because the scientist could not accept the religious account as true even though he lived among the people who believed in religious explanation. This situation created tension between him and the ordinary people or the religious leader.

Thus, Davis writes, “So long as the frontier between the known and unknown is a shifting one, so long as … science is expanding, there will be conflict between religion and science.”Still in this battle neither one will be vanquished. When religion loses, it merely retreats to higher levels. The religious ideology becomes more philosophical “It changes from fundamentalist to liberal, from dogma to philosophy”.

(ii) The second cause of conflict is that science believes in empirical truth whereas religion pursues the nonempirical truth:

As Davis writes, “The scientific pursuit of empirical truth as the highest goal is exactly the opposite of religious pursuit of nonempirical truth.” Thus the scientist develops his scepticism about religious beliefs and explanations concerning creation, heaven, hell, life after death, miracles, etc. The sharpest conflict between the two comes when religion itself is subjected to scientific analysis.

(iii) The View that Science and Religion are not mutually Opposing:

Some writers hold the view that science and religion have no need to be at conflict. C.E.M. Joad writes: “I have sought to establish the commonplace proposition that there is no conflict be­tween science and religion”

Viewed analytically, however, science and religion need not be at conflict. Science deals with what is known. It is potential knowledge based on sensory evidences. Religious beliefs refer to the world beyond the senses. If they cannot be proved by the methods of science, they cannot be dis­proved also.

As A. W. Green has pointed out, “anything which lies outside the narrow area of inves­tigation that science has marked out is not and cannot be proved nonexistent.” Any claim to the contrary would be itself unscientific.

Science cannot be opposed to Religion:

It is wrong to say that religion is based on emotion; and science, on thought. In fact, both are based on thought though this is applied to different types of reality. But here is always “the danger of disagreement when the temporal is taken as eternal and the doubtful as certain; or when the scientist tends to interpret every advance of science as a defeat of religion.”

True religion and true science cannot clash. K. Davis has pointed out it is possible for a scientist to have belief in God and still work as a good biologist or a physicist. “His and his beaviour in church appropriate to religious situation, with no feeling of incongruity.” Prof. Culson has said that “true religion and true science, lead to the same end.”

Scientists are not always hostile towards religion. Even the attitude of scientist towards reli­gion has not been that of a hostile one. A large number of scientists such as Newton, Descartes, Pasteur, Lister, Kepler, Galileo, Copernicus, Euler, Franklin, Boyle, Mariotte, Haller, Linneo, Galvani, Cuvier, Ampere, Volta and others were either sincere believers, or at least were not opposed to religion.

Religion is not unscientific, it is only non-scientific. Scientific truth is that which is known by the evidence of the senses. Religious truth is that which is known by revelations, by faith.

An attempt to “reconcile” the two can promote mutual respect across the barrier. Any reconciliation which attempts to combine them can only undermine both. A. W. Green writes: “Religion is not unscientific, it is only non-scientific.”

Relationship between Religion and Science: Concluding Remarks

Religion is a social reality. “The persistence of religion throughout the ages very much im­pressed Sumner and Keller as proof of its “survival value.”‘ It has rendered undeniable services to the humanity and is still serving.

Scientific investigators agree that religion like other institutions has its roots in certain human needs. Hence, it was felt to be a necessity and continues to be a necessary thing.

What type of religion we should have? What type of worshipping is acceptable? What type of ritual system must be accepted? What type of religion, in brief, is worth building and preserving?

These questions are more philosophical than sociological. They are value-based questions. Even if one attempts to answer them, the answers become subjective. Hence, sociologists don’t suggest any answers for them.

Sociologists can only suggest that any religion for that matter should adjust itself to changes in life conditions. The more it is adapted to existing conditions and knowledge, the greater the chance of its being effective as an institution.

Is religion compatible with science? Our answer to this question depends upon the kind of religion that we have in our mind. If religion is construed as nothing but belief in superhuman force or power, it remains incompatible with science. If, on the other hand, it is understood as a kind of “ethical philosophy”, serving the cause of humanity, then the two are compatible.

According to H.E. Barnes, fundamentalist religion and modern science are always conflicting, but no conflict exists between modern science and the latest trend in religion called “humanism”.

It should be noted that religion in its real sense is not conflicting with science. It is only the dogma or theology or the distorted version of religion that conflicts with science. Champions of humanism, like H.E. Barnes and others who have tried to give a new interpretation to religion have said that religion should be based “upon the service of man rather than the worship of God”.

If the sole purpose of religion, is, “service to mankind”, then, it can never clash with science. Humanism, a new trend in religion, represents such kind of service-oriented religion. MacIver and Page, Barnes, Albert Einstein, Gandhiji and many others have strongly supported humanism.

The discussion of the relationship between science and religion cap be concluded in this way: If religion respects and accepts the values of science and if science recognises and accepts the reality and necessity of religion (of course, with its own limitations) then, there could be no conflict between religion and science.

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