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Understanding of Religion and Science

April 9, 2009 by  


By Mirza A. Beg

Written on Sunday, September 3rdh, 2006

Religions are very dear to the believers. The principles or as some would say the truth of the religions are enshrined in their scriptures, a guide to the believers. Scriptures do not claim to be a complete tome on laws, sciences or all knowledge. Fuzzy thinking creates unnecessary arguments that may end up insulting others when none is intended. Proper definitions of words and ideas are conducive to a constructive dialogue.

So let us start with some definitions:

Religion: A faith based system of beliefs. It springs from the belief in Divine guidance enshrined in the scriptures. It is an article of faith that it is “the truth”, therefore unalterable and eternal. Religions through scriptures preach a path to salvation in the hereafter and morality in this life to provide an internal antenna to those who are receptive, to help distinguish right from wrong.

Science: Systematized acquisition of knowledge of nature through observations, postulations and interpretations based on experiments or ideas that can eventually be observed or tested. It is an unending search for better explanations of the natural phenomena. There is nothing sacred in science, except truthful and accurate reporting of one’s work. Every thing is to be questioned to reach a better understanding with the advancement of knowledge. There is no such thing as the final or the ultimate answer in science.

Science is value neutral. It only asks for honesty in methodology, and reporting of procedures and inferences. Without honesty, there will be no science. Even evil people can do good science for very questionable or even despicable motives, using good scientific methods. Nazi motives were a prime example of that.

Often it creates a dilemma for moral people and societies, whether to use and how to use knowledge directed towards seemingly socially, ethically or religiously ‘illegitimate’ purposes, such as nuclear, chemical or biological weapons research. Even post-mortems (dissection of dead bodies) considered by many to be desecration of the dead were and still are an anathema20to some, but they have resulted in tremendous advances in surgical techniques, very helpful to human well-being.

At face value, all religious scriptures have passages that appear to contradict current scientific knowledge. The rationality of science has caused many to question religions. There are scientists who are atheists, some may even disdain religion. Yet there are many more doing pioneering work, and are amazed at the beauty of creation and the grandeur of the unfolding knowledge, fortifying their belief in the creator.

There is a tendency among some religious people to latch on to the scientific theories that appears to be in accordance with the scripture, to find fulfillment in their religion. The “Big Bang” theory of the creation of the universe is one such example, that many proponents of religions seem to like. In the last twenty years other theories have emerged, with nuances creating more beautiful ave nues of research in the field of the origin of the universe.

The down side of relating scriptures and science too closely is that it questions our honesty of purpose. Are we legitimizing scripture because even science agrees with our interpretation of the scripture? Obviously not, because the resultant corollary would argue that if science comes up with an alternate explanation, we should accept science and not the scripture? The notion that scientific understanding should adhere to the scripture kills the very idea of science. Science is an evolving method of better understanding, and one follows the lead the data provide. Science, in a manner of speaking is always incomplete and perpetually evolving.

Many Christian ‘fundamentalists’ insist on teaching a Biblical version of creation as science. Some among the Muslims also rail against the theory of evolution and call it Dar winism. This is a fallacious argument that detracts from science and questions the grandeur of God and scriptures. The very idea of equating scripture with science flies in the face of the definitions, a contradiction in terms.  Inadvertently it means that the scripture can be proven wrong. In religious terms, it is blasphemy; therefore those religious people equating the two should desist from it. 

Over the years the theory of evolution has been refined and will continue to be further refined. The basic principles of the theory have been established from many different directions and lines of research in the biological, geological and anthropological sciences. It has opened up many avenues of research to the betterment of humanity and advancement of many scientific disciplines.

A few social scientists have at20times extrapolated evolution, to suit their own intuitive biases; sometimes to support theories that our moral compass tells us to be reprehensible. They did not get much scientific traction and were ignored.

Contrary to some opinions, scientists do not ‘believe’ in the theory of evolution, in the sense of a religious belief. It is simply a very useful tool, an excellent working model. If in time it is superseded by a well researched better theory, it would be adopted as an advancement of science. Stealthily introducing ‘Creationism’ in science texts is a corruption of science, but even more grievously misrepresentation of religion, therefore immoral and irreligious.

Religions scriptures provide moral parameters for all walks of life, including scientific research. They do not scientifically explain natural phenomenon. It is up to us to decide morally, what we would and would not do as individuals, and what t o support or oppose in a public policy. Religion requires belief; science strongly recommends a healthy skepticism.

Writings of Mirza A. Beg are available at http://mirzasmusings.blogspot.com/ Mirza can be contacted at mab64@yahoo.com,

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