Religion And Science
By Mirza A. Beg
08 September, 2006
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
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
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 anathema to 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 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 avenues
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 Darwinism.
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
at times 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 to support or oppose in a public policy. Religion requires belief;
science strongly recommends a healthy skepticism.
Mirza A. Beg can be contacted