The Impact That Science has on Religion
In earlier times, religion was looked upon to answer all questions on the human condition and was believed to govern man’s manipulation of the physical world. Deities and supernatural forces were used to explain disease, poverty and natural phenomena in equal measure. However, in the modern era there is a heavier reliance on empirically based evidence to explain these same phenomena. The advance and successes in scientific endeavors has made science the more plausible option of the two. Even so, both disciplines have their limits and their strengths. Religion and science are not mutually exclusive disciplines. Though they approach the human experience in different ways, they are both important cultural forces whose coherence will only add to human knowledge.
Today, the disciplines responsible for intellectual development are science and religion. These disciplines approach the human experience in different ways. Religion tries to unravel the meaning (why) behind the human experience while science tries to gather information and explain how the human experience exists. The approaches of faith (religion) and reason (science) are used respectively.
The Nature of Science and the Nature of Religion
Science root word is derived from Scientia, the Latin word for knowledge. At its core science is the search for knowledge that uses the laid out approach of observation, description, and experimentation and finally an explanation of the observed phenomena. For these phenomena to be scientifically proven they then have to be natural, observable, and governed by a specific physical law.
Religion is a belief system, at the heart of it; religion emphasizes that man and his world all exist due to the will an unseen deity. Therefore man must forever live in reverence to this deity. As a belief system, religion shapes people’s attitudes, perceptions, and actions. Therefore ingraining itself in both social coexistence and culture.
Models Explaining How Science and Religion Relate
In this model, the interaction between the two disciplines is seen as inherently hostile. This is because the main principle behind the scientific approach is the need to test hypotheses against experience, while the main principle behind religion is faith. For religion to be fully experienced there has to be faith. These two ways of gaining knowledge, empirically based evidence versus faith are incompatible ways of perceiving the physical world.
Scientific skeptics then approach religion with suspicion; this is because the premise of faith then makes religion falsifiable. Faith is the main premise of religion, however it cannot be tested neither can it be falsified.
However, some scientists question the validity of the belief that there is a complete lack of reliance of faith in science, for man to venture into the search for understanding there had to be belief of a particular order that governed the earth and a belief that his mind had the capability of appreciating this order.
An excellent example of the conflict between science and religion, is the trial of Galileo who was convicted as a blasphemous heretic for observing that the earth was moving and that the sun stood still, this was regarded as going against the sacred teachings of the Bible.
The Independence or Contrast model
Both have completely different goals while science’s main aim is finding the order of the physical world, religion aims at discovering the purpose of man in the world. A question then arises, if the two are so different should the same standards that are used to judge science then be used to judge religion?
Though the principles are different and independent, the two should not be thought of as being mutually exclusive. Therefore, the knowledge of order does not rule out the need for the knowledge of the purpose of humanity. The contrast models try to explain the two institutions as being two completely different schools of thought. However, those in need of a unifying theory of reality are not convinced of the viability of this model.
Convergence or Coherence Model
Science and religion can sometimes be seen as support structures for each other, religion can feel the gaps that science can’t while science can reshape and build on the understanding of fundamental theological principles.
Scientific approaches may help in the discovery or in the proof of a deity that supports and nourishes man. Therefore, the core of this model is interaction and mutual impact between the two institutions.
The impact that science has played on religion and vice versa
Throughout history, there has been an undeniable conflict between religion and science. This is not to say that they did not impact on each other and sometimes they have even led to the advancement of the other.
First, it is believed that Christianity greatly aided the growth of science in its early years. For instance, the Catholic Church provided financial support to the growth of scientific research, included science and mathematics as part of the curriculum and members of the clergy were given the opportunity to study the sciences abroad. At this time, the laws of nature were thought to be a creation of a sacred deity, thus learning the sciences was a way of marveling and appreciating God’s works.
Others disregard this theory and believe instead that religion has been a great hindrance to the growth of science. For instance, Islam countries in the east refused to accept scientific principles earlier on as they believed them to be to west, some suggest this may have been the reason there was no scientific revolution in the east.
Today, for religion to remain intellectually relevant, it has had to acknowledge the strides made in science and not condemn this as heresy. Religion, however, cannot be completely relied on science as there are some phenomena which as of yet have not been completely explained by science.
There are scientists who believe that science cannot be wholly explained without incorporating religion. The design theory advanced by Michael Behe, proposes that the complexity of biochemical systems, the beautiful way in which these systems seem to blend, raises the belief that evolution cannot be wholly responsible for them, rather there was a guiding hand (the hand of God) that helped all these systems come together.
Further, for life to have been created in the physical world there needed to be a number of specific cosmological and microphysical constants. The skeptic scientist then raises the question on the probability that each of these laws could come so easily together; the probability of all these perfect coincidences is small. Therefore, some have advanced the principle that there exists a deity who was responsible for the fine-tuning of all these laws and this intricate fine tuning allowed the evolution of life.
The many universe theory tries to object to the fine tuning argument, proposing that there may be an infinite number of universes with different cosmological constants that could allow life to grow
A main theme for the theologically inclined, who would want to reconcile religion with science, is the image of God. Most religions explain humans as having been created after the image of God, thus humans imitate the nature of God which includes intellect and will. Thus, the drive and thirst which are a part of science and the search for knowledge can itself be seen to be a consequence of the fact that we are created in the image of God.
Suffice to say that a major theme in all religions is a search for righteousness and morality. The aspect morality governs the interaction of the human world with other members of the human race and is the key to access to the after-life. Scientific principles lack this morality clause and evolution is taken to be a purposeless mechanism of nature. Humans, however, are both physical and social beings; there is a need to protect the social and spiritual aspect of man. Religion, especially the morality advanced in religion has been crucial in governing the ethics of scientific research. It is now legally decreed that harm should not be done to humans in the search of scientific knowledge.
The Darwinian theory of evolution has undoubtedly been one of the pinnacles of conflict between religion (especially Christianity) and Science. In the evolution theory, life is a mere consequence millions of years of genetic variations, genetic mutations and natural selection of the same. On the other hand according to theistic beliefs man was designed by God and He alone conserves the world upon which man lives in.
Science has undoubtedly led to a rise in secularism in modern times. The rise of the renaissance period heralded a new path in human history and human perception. This new path was the need for explanation that is when faced with a new phenomenon it wasn’t enough to brush it aside as the will of the gods rather there was a need to know the mechanism behind it. The 21st century has been called the age of information, where numerous bits of information are relayed daily from one person to another. With this need for information, another salient theme comes into play, the search for information. Thus in the modern era there is a heavy reliance on methods that provide information and knowledge on previously unknown phenomena. It is no wonder then that the growth of the modern world has experienced an increase in secularity, with a wave towards the belief that science is the greater authority while religion is merely for filling in the gaps.
Perhaps an absolute conclusion about both religion and science is that none of them is absolute. First, our consciousness allows us to appreciate and experience nature. Our consciousness then is the only thing that assures us of our existence in the natural world, our interpretation of our humanity and our world is then subjective. The purely scientific mind interprets the world as a being indifferent to human existence and governed by measurable physical laws. The religious mind, however, interprets the physical world as being wholly meant to help man reach his meaning and his purpose.
Second, the discipline of science closely resembles religion in that there is a need to believe in something better and something undiscovered. The heart of both science and religion is the discoveries of an all unifying knowledge that will help man find a better understanding of him and the world he inhabits. A number of laws advanced by scientists rely heavily on chance and randomness, for instance evolution and the uncertainty principle. It would then be a great misconception to presume that science is all knowing. This would be scientism (a philosophy that science holds all answers) and this may be religion’s greatest enemy.
Third, religion is not only an idea of faith but for a majority of people in the world it is a way of life shared among different individuals and forms a basis for social existence. Religion is used to dictate the way of life for many communities across the world. At its best it fosters morality, understanding and an extension of human compassion. At its worst it has been used as the basis to fight other humans who do not share similar religious beliefs and are thus considered as heretics, infidels or unrighteous. The strong emotional and social component of religion thus makes it a very powerful institution because it goes beyond explanation it has the ability to shape and inspire people’s attitudes and actions.
This ability to shape not the emotions of man is a quality that science lacks. Science is mechanical, as its main approach is cause and effect, thus it can explain an emotion but very rarely does it make millions feel that emotion.
Lastly, science and religion are important in different ways. Evidence has shown that currently none offers an all-inclusive theory that explains the human condition entirely. Relying completely on empiric evidence would then mean ignoring that man has a spiritual side to his consciousness that is also unrelenting and that needs to be quenched. Relying solely on religion, however, then means ignoring evidence that physical laws do govern our world and that there are cause and effect relationships to many physical phenomena. A coherence of the two disciplines would then only be beneficial to the entire human community.