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Science and Religion



Abstract

Over the centuries, many scholars, philosophers, and theologians have been trying to define the nature of the relations between religion and science. This relation is often viewed as a conflict between the two dissimilar and incompatible spheres. This confrontation traces its roots to the question of the origin of life, which is perceived differently from the scientific and religious perspectives. However, in the era of rapid technological development, globalization, and worldwide communication, the relationship between these fields have become much closer and more complex than merely a debate on creationism and evolution. The subject matters of science and religion entwine and influence each other in the most profound ways. Over time, theologians have arrived at the understanding and acceptance of the evolutionary theory and devised the new perspectives on the creation of the world and God’s creative activity.

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Although having many dissimilarities, science and religion share a single intention, which is to find the answers to the most fundamental questions of life and inspire the humankind to develop. Science opens to religion the new aspects of human experience, but religion should not be regarded as a form of less developed science. Instead, people should consider religion a separate way of thinking, which might offer believers a solution to problems otherwise unattainable. Therefore, one of the results of this mutual influence has been the acceptance and application of the scientific evidence in theology; and the other is the motivational-inspirational effect of religion on the individual scientists and scientific inquiry in various fields.

The Relation between Science and Religion

Science can be defined as knowledge, which is based on rational thinking and systematic study of the facts through means of the scientific method. This method derives from the observation and experiment (Chalmers, 2013). However, defining religion is a bit more challenging as it deals with more intangible matters, which are spiritual and even supernatural. Albert Einstein (1941) believed that, before defining religion, one should define a religious person, who has “the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations.” A religious person feels the certainty about these qualities, which do not require any rational basis.

If one observes the relationship between science and religion from a historical perspective, the differences and confrontation between them become clearly visible. From a scientific standpoint, the universe operates according to the law of causation, so the concept of a deity who interferes in the course of events seems inconceivable. Moreover, it is irrational that people’s behavior should be based on religion rather than on an individual’s education, social needs, and sympathy. Evidently, such attitudes towards religion lead churches to oppose science and oppress its enthusiasts, as it happened in the Dark Ages.

Despite the seemingly apparent clash of opposing views, there is an affinity between science and religion. Arthur Peacocke, a biochemist, and theologian claimed that these spheres are “ultimately converging” and “interacting and mutually reinforcing approaches to reality” (as cited in Nord, 1999). Einstein (1930) asserted that a religious feeling is the noblest motivation for scientific inquiry. Many great minds were motivated by it, including Kepler and Newton, who had spent years in solitude in order to discover the laws of gravitational astronomy. Their commitment can be compared only to the feelings of religious people, who have devoted their entire lives to similar causes. Therefore, in this materialistic age, such commitment displayed by scientists makes them the most religious of people.

The Impact of Science on Religion

Throughout the global history, the worldview of civilizations has been based largely on religion. However, in the 17th century, during the age, which is called the scientific revolution, scientists began gaining more influence in society. However, at that time, most of the great scholars were not atheists; meanwhile, many of the contemporary ones remain believers (Nord, 1999). Since the beginning of the scientific revolution, the church has experienced some tremendous changes. Nowadays, the old fighting between religion and science has largely stopped. This process is associated with the changes in attitudes of the public. Most people have now shaped their convictions about the world, and the issue of creation versus evolution is no longer critical. Most church leaders have acknowledged the main scientific discoveries or appropriated for the explanation of them (Schilling, 2009).

The Roman Catholic Church has accepted the theory of evolution and made an apology for the imprisonment of Galileo and the execution of Giordano Bruno (Rogaly, 1997). What is more, many liberal theologians have employed evidence from the scientific world in order to reconsider their understanding of God. They have tried to adapt their traditions to the contemporary principles of rationality and reason. For the first time, nowadays, many theologians have adopted a critical view on religion and begun considering religious claims testable, similarly to how scientists address the scientific claims (Nord, 1999).

In this respect, theology and science have formed a kind of peaceful coexistence, if not agreement. For instance, the theological explanation of the theory of evolution may not provide any scientific evidence of religious aspects of this process. Similarly, the evolutionary theory cannot refute religious arguments. However, the concepts of Darwin’s theory and the theological assertions do not necessarily have to be incompatible. This approach postulates that whatever the origin of life was, whether evolution or divine intervention, the world would look exactly as it is today. Therefore, religious claims should be tested and confirmed or disproved in the same way as the scientific claims are (Stevens, n. d.).

The work of Charles Darwin on the theory of evolution had some of the most profound effects on science. It has shaped people’s understanding of the world, humankind, society, and religion. Primarily, the dominant view was that religion and the evolutionary theory were incompatible, as the latter mounted serious challenges to the traditional theological belief about the creation of all the living. The proponents of both opposing views strived to reject the contradictory perspectives. However, the relation between evolution and theology has developed in a more coherent manner. Although most religious traditions, such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, consider God a creator of the world, they do not always indicate a specific way of this process. Though in almost every religion, the sacred texts make references to the point of the world creation, theologians have often had some doubts about whether they should take them literally or adhere to the scientific explanations (Stevens, n. d.).

It is worth mentioning that Darwin’s theory specifically questioned the idea that God had created all the living organisms as they could be seen now. Some creationist theories argue that all the life forms had remained unchanged, and the process of world creation occurred several thousand years ago. Other views only include the idea that the natural order of things is the imminent result of God’s design. Therefore, these theories postulate that the universe is constant because God commanded it to be so. However, Darwin’s theory suggests that the world is more dynamic in nature; this fact results in a wide array of different life forms that struggle for survival and slowly adapt to changeable conditions.

Even though many religious groups have denied the evolutionary theory as presumably atheistic, others have embraced it. Moreover, many theologians have indicated the theory’s positive influence on religious thinking. For instance, theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg said, “The theory of evolution has given theology an opportunity to see God’s ongoing activity not merely in the preservation of a fixed order but in the constant bringing forth of things that are new” (as cited in Stevens, n. d.). Nord (1999) suggests that the acceptance of the theory of evolution by the Church has inspired a new way of appreciation of God’s design among the believers as a continuing and flexible process.

The evolutionary theory has changed the theological perspective on how God interacts with people and the universe. For instance, in some theories in Christianity, the creation of the world is perceived as a form of kenosis, according to which, God does not interfere in the process of evolution of all the living forms allowing them to develop naturally. Theologian John Haught states, “God acts effectively in the world by offering to it a wide range of autonomously realizable possibilities within which it can “become itself” (as cited in Stevens, n. d.). Therefore, people and other living beings are autonomous and may evolve into what they are most fully meant to become.

The Impact of Religion on Science

Religion has a significant impact on scientific inquiry. One of the most important factors is the individual motivations of the scientists and their religious commitments that encourage them to seek the answers about the way the universe works. Obviously, many scientists deny God and religion in any form and often make skeptical or even atheistic claims. However, their number is not as overwhelmingly dominating in the scientific community as some might think. Francis Collins (2010), the director at the National Institutes of Health, states that the surveys show that about 40 percent of scientists acknowledge their belief in God, to whom they may pray in hope of an answer or seek inspiration in order to continue their studies.

Therefore, the interrelation of science and religion may benefit both these realms, as well as individuals. Religion has learned a lot from science, but science cannot be pursued by those who are not completely engaged in the desire to seek the truth. Einstein (1941) argued that the source of this aspiration can be found in religion and that a true scientist cannot work without that deep faith. Regarding this viewpoint, Einstein (1941) also gave one of his most famous quotes, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

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One of the examples of how individuals can be influenced by their faith is the life and work of Robert Boyle, a father of modern chemistry. He was motivated by his religious convictions to pursue his studies about the nature around him. His outstanding religiousness was the driving force behind his enthusiasm for the world of science. It is believed that his spiritual character was the reason for his determination to conduct scientific researches. Interestingly, despite his passionate love for the Bible, he struggled with religious doubts, which have moved him to write several significant works on the relations between science and religion (Davis, 2007).

As it was stated above, the intersecting point of the conflict between science and religion is usually the debate between evolution and creationism. However, many other scientific fields have interacted with theology, and many of them adopted some of its views and theories. While the evolutionary theory has been traditionally considered a threat to religion, the Big Bang theory often incorporates the ideas of creationism. One of the reasons why the scientists consider the ideas of creation by a deity, which does not necessarily mean God, is the evidence of the extraordinary coincidence that is associated with the Big Bang. It is based on some evidence that the likelihood of the formation of a life-sustaining universe is almost infinitely small. Had the rate, in which the universe had expanded after the Big Bang, been a fraction higher or lesser, it would have not been created or would have collapsed.

Many theories consider this fact and many other unlikely coincidences as evidence of intentional design (Nord, 1999). In this regard, cell biologist Kenneth Miller hypothesizes that theology can rely on the findings of physics, biology, and evolutionary cosmology (Stevens, n.d.). He draws the parallels with the claims from the Scripture that life has been created from the dust of the Earth. However, the factors that have contributed to this process are more complex than either the theologians or astronomers might believe. The human existence could not have emerged but for the emergence of a cosmos of unimaginable age, and its accurately tuned laws and constants that govern every single process in the universe (Stevens, n.d.).

During the past few decades, many theological studies have addressed the problems of ecology, the pollution of nature, and other environmental hazards. Typically, this literature promotes environmental concern as an essential virtue and provides examples from the sacred texts, which describe how God cares for nature (Nord, 1999). Other scientific fields have also adopted some theological principles. For instance, many scientists have acknowledged the effect of treating the mind or the soul on the treatment of various diseases. Many medical establishments fund and organize conferences and researches on the impact of spirituality on the healing and relationships between the brain and the soul (Nord, 1999).

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Conclusion

Religion and science are connected with a complex and profound relation. Throughout history, this relation has typically taken a form of confrontation but, after the scientific revolution of the 17th century, it employed a new form of interaction. Both science and religion have influenced each other in various ways and changed in consequence. The scientists and theologians have come to the understanding that, although the scientific and religious perspectives are not always compatible, they can coexist and even benefit from such cooperation.

In such a manner, science, especially Darwin’s theory of evolution, has altered the way religious people see the creation of the world and God’s creative activity. However, the relationship between these fields is much more complex and ambiguous that merely a debate on creationism and evolution. Nowadays, Many religious traditions acknowledge the evolutionary perspective and other scientific theories assert that they do not necessarily have to interfere with creationism. Instead, many of them began to consider God’s design a form kenosis, God’s will to allow his creations to develop and evolve naturally.

Religion also plays a significant role in scientific inquiry. It is believed to inspire and give strength to the scholars to continue their researches and motivate them to seek the answers to the questions about the order of the universe. Many also acknowledge the positive effects of theology, spirituality, and religious ethics on such fields as ecology and healthcare, among many others. The understanding of the religious concepts indicates an interrelation of science on theology.

While the scientific findings do not depend on any religious concerns, those men of science, who have introduced their outstanding achievements to the world, were inspired by the genuine religious beliefs that the world was a product of the perfect design and was governed by the rational laws. If their beliefs had not been deeply emotional ones, these individuals would barely have been able to demonstrate such persistence and commitment and succeed in their endeavors.

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