Religion and science have been pitched against each other since time immemorial. There are enough vocal supporters on each side of the debate to call it a contentious issue, not to mention an annoying thorn in the side of many. This article presents a 3rd alternative — one that rests in the mutual respect of both sides and on the premise that the religion vs. science debate is inherently and ideologically flawed. It is flawed because such a debate goes against the essence of both science and religion. But more on that in just a bit. First we must do a quick recap.
The world as we know it, has seen a gradual progression towards the scientific mindset during the past few hundred years. Man has started to have unprecedented control over his environment. He can predict weather, arrange for continuous provision of vital resources, water his fields on time and take pleasure in a significantly increased yield.
What science brought into the mix was a deeper understanding of the factors controlling the environment. Answers like what caused the rains, what could be done to increase yield in the fields, how to predict weather more accurately and how to fight diseases. Science provided the much needed rationale for changing man’s outlook of his world, but it alone could not do the job. It needed the tools of technological innovation through which societies could be transformed. Be it the introduction of the horse collar in medieval Europe or the harnessing of power through water and wind mills, technological advancement has been the tool through which man has taken greater control of his environment and prospered from it.
To put the effects of religion and science in perspective, the basic insecurity in man which paved the way for a belief in the divine, has been somewhat curtailed in recent times due to the advancement in science and technology. Whereas science provides an ideological basis for man to challenge his environment, technology gives him the necessary tools to do so.
So we arrive at the present day where we observe, for the most part in societies of the developed countries, a state of equilibrium between the effects of the religious and scientific message. The beliefs of the masses, having been exposed to both concepts at length, will now be swayed more by secondary socio-economic factors than the original message alone. In recent times there have been a number of cases where men of science have drawn daggers at the religious minded. The accusations vary from one of outright
insanity to that of complacent negligence, for following a deity that has never revealed itself. The fact is that science has done its part vis-à-vis changing the people’s mindset but yet a significant number of the faithful remain. More than 80% people in the United States and 50% in Europe still believe in a higher being. So when non-believers brandish their views in front of the faithful, it begs an important question. Are such hostilities justified given that science has had its chance to assert its views and religion still remains a force to be reckoned with?
Having looked into both science and religion as separate entities, we come to the third alternative. One that rests in the premise that pitching science and religion against each other violates their essence. To see this, we must first describe their essence.
Science is based on a set of theories about the world. These theories attempt to explain the natural phenomenon as accurately as possible but are never considered to be absolute or constituting the ultimate truth. Inherent to science is the idea that there is a better theory out that that can more accurately explain the natural phenomenon. So in essence science thrives in the belief that there is a better theory out there and that the ultimate truth is not known. If it were to be complacent and for a while and believe that it had reached the ultimate truth, it would risk its own death as search for a better theory would no longer be necessary and science can pack its bags.
Religion on the other hand believes that it already has the final solution. It is a set of theories believed to be ultimate and true. There is no room for doubt or improvement and therefore the essence of religion is constancy, a perpetual stalemate if you will.
Here we can assert, in light of our discussion above, that science and religion are diametrically opposite in essence and should not be pitched against each other. If we look at history we see that both science and religion, at some point in the past, have held an apologetic stance towards each other. When religion was king, scientists were careful not to outright denounce religious doctrines and sought to assimilate their finding with religion. Similarly in present day, people of faith attempt to gain legitimacy by finding parallels between faith and science. All such attempts are inherently and ideologically flawed. As an example, if religion tries to assert that the origin of the universe was eluded to in the sacred texts, then this is essentially equating the constancy of religion with the flexibility of science. Such an act results in religion losing its claim on knowing the ultimate truth. This is because if tomorrow the theory of origin of universe is changed by the scientific community, religion would be left dangling and scouring for legitimacy. On the other hand if science is equated to religion, as was done in the early days of science, it too goes against its own essence of never arriving at the ultimate truth. In that equation is the unforeseen consequence that science has reached its destination and can therefore be laid to rest. The unintended demise is brought about by an overzealous eagerness for legitimacy.
So what can be said about other debates, ones that don’t have the apologetic tone and leave no stone unturned in decrying the other? The matter basically comes down to apples and oranges — the essence of each being inherently different means that they are different entities altogether. One is at the finite end of the spectrum while the other is in the infinite realm. They are different species and as such provide no basis for comparison. On the contrary a deeper understanding and respect is required, one which is rooted in the historical facts and in figures of statistical significance, which realizes each of them as a force to be reckoned with.