Practice Question: Is religion antithetical to science? Comment. (10 Marks) (UPSC 2013)
Approach: Introduction; Define Religion and Science; Give reasons why both are not opposing to each other, Similarly give reasons for why both are opposing to each other; Give examples; Conclusion.
There are two major opinions regarding the relationship between science and religion-Religion and science are mutually conflicting and Science and religion are not mutually opposing. According to HE Barnes, fundamentalist religion and modern science are always conflicting but no conflict exists between modern science and the latest trend in religion called humanism. 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. If the religion respects and accepts the values of science and if science recognizes and accepts the reality and necessity of religion then there could be no conflict between religion and science.
We can qualify religion as an attitude consisting in admitting the existence of a domain of reality that is sacred, that is superior to the visible reality (supernatural) and on which the visible reality depends. People of all cultures have shared the conviction that it is possible to come into contact with the divine, try to capture the benevolence of the gods, and also
receive from them indications regarding what to do in order to avoid dangers and, more radically, to realize a right conduct. The effort of translating these ideas into concrete practices has produced the various religions, such that religion, in a very general sense, can be considered as the way humans have designed in order to establish the appropriate contact with the divine, and they have articulated this requirement through the elaboration of certain practices (rites) and of certain norms of conduct (moral codes)
Francis Bacon believed that scientific study should be completely empirical, and involve gather data via real world experiments. Descartes’ view is a more philosophical one. Descartes took the view that instead of using experiments, science should be studied through observation of natural processes and theories. While there was much back and forth between these two ideas, Silver suggests that currently we cycle through both experiment and observation. While scientific study is done mostly in the empirical sense, there is some value in theory. The empirical can give us results about cause and effect for a specific experiment, while theory allows us to create predictions based on these results for future experiments that could not be ascertained from the empirical evidence itself.
COMPATIBILITY OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION
Science is not the only way of knowing and understanding. But science is a way of knowing that differs from other ways in its dependence on empirical evidence and testable explanations. Because biological evolution accounts for events that are also central concerns of religion — including the origins of biological diversity and especially the origins of humans — evolution has been a contentious idea within society since it was first articulated by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace in 1858.
Acceptance of the evidence for evolution can be compatible with religious faith. Today, many religious denominations accept that biological evolution has produced the diversity of living things over billions of years of Earth’s history. Many have issued statements observing that evolution and the tenets of their faiths are compatible. Scientists and theologians have written eloquently about their awe and wonder at the history of the universe and of life on this planet, explaining that they see no conflict between their faith in God and the evidence for evolution. Religious denominations that do not accept the occurrence of evolution tend to be those that believe in strictly literal interpretations of religious texts.
Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.
UNCERTAINTY IN BOTH REALMS
Both science and religion have evolved and changed over time. Many years ago science involved a great deal of guesswork, supposition, and superstition. Religion has also changed its tactics: In the past religion was forced violently upon people, often in conflict with the philosophies of the original founders. Secondly, both science and religion disagree within themselves: Scientists argue interpretation of data much as religious people argue interpretations of ancient texts. Finally, both fields have fringe proponents that damage their credibility. Certain vocal individuals misinterpret and misrepresent science, presenting “pseudoscience” as fact when it is mostly conjecture and opinion. Likewise, tenets of faith can be distorted, as did the terrorists who used the peaceful religion of Islam to justify attacking our country on 9/11.
Some religious groups view science as a threat to their beliefs. They fear that science is attempting to disprove the existence of the supernatural, thus destroying the basis of their morality. Some scientists treat religious followers with disdain and view religion as nonsense because it cannot be discreetly measured or understood, thus the societal constraints imposed by religion are foolish and should be eliminated. Even worse, some individuals deliberately muddle the two in an attempt to further some personal agenda, for example,
politicians who campaign against stem-cell research because it is “immoral.” By clearly defining the role of science and the role of religion, and by removing personal bias, most individuals would see that science and religion are compatible, and that, in fact, embracing both ideologies allows a full understanding and appreciation of the world we live in and the quality of life we experience. Thus the conflict between science and religion is only in the minds of those who do not understand the aims of these venerable establishments. Commonalities exist between the two, but, in essence, they are separate. Each represents a way to look at the world, but choosing one exclusively will not give a holistic view. Science and religion are compatible because they address different aspects of our lives, and, therefore, cannot be in conflict with one another.