St. George's Parish Church,
All rights reserved © St. George's Church, Littleport
This is an occasional series of topics that you may find interesting
If you wish to find out more about any of the above, please use the Contact Us page.
HOW AND WHY
written by Paul Cooper
SCIENCE AND RELIGION
written by David Blackmore
About 50 years ago I had my first science lesson. I was 11, just starting secondary school. And in our very first lesson, the teacher emphasized one thing about science. He said, “Science never asks “Why?” - it always asks “How?””. At the time I was too young to really understand what he was saying! But after many years as both a scientist and a Christian, I have come to appreciate this teaching. You see, “How” and “Why” are at the heart of the interaction between science and religion. It isn't science OR religion - it's science AND religion.
Most of the apparent tension between science and religion is because people don't really understand what science and religion are about, and think that they both offer complete answers to the questions posed by the world about us. They think that science can answer questions about “Why” and religion can answer questions about “How”. This couldn't be further from the truth, as I'll try and explain.
Science is about statements that can be tested. So, for example, “The Moon is made of Cheese” is a testable statement. If we go to the Moon and find that it is NOT made of cheese, then the statement is proved wrong. Now, barring Wallace and Gromit on their Grand Day Out, all the astronauts who have been to the Moon have reported that it isn't made of cheese, but of various kinds of rock. And they brought samples of the rock home, so that we can all see them. So, the statement “The Moon is made of Cheese” has been tested and it isn’t true, so we have to think again and make another statement that fits the observations such as “The Moon is made of various kinds of rock”.
And that's how science works. The complete process is that we look at the world around us, we think about how the things we see appear to fit together, we devise statements about the world around us, and we then test the statement by doing experiments or by making further observations guided by the statement we are testing. It is very good at finding out about the material world, and we have learnt a very great deal by using this scientific technique. Sometimes the tests have shown up things about the universe that we couldn't have imagined, when statements that seem to be “obviously” true have turned out to be false!
Religion - and I'm using the term in its broadest sense - is about things that we can't subject to tests. Religion is about how we treat others, how we relate to the world we observe. It's about questions like “Who am I?”, “Where am I going?” and “What is my purpose?” Science has no answer to questions like that - they can't be turned into testable statements, so science can't handle them. But religion offers answers to these questions, based on subjective experience that can't be tested in the scientific way. Why do I believe? Because my personal and unrepeatable experience tells me that it works as a way of running my life. But I couldn't have found out that it works without committing to it in the first place.
Religions offer an organized body of beliefs, often in the form of written records of people's experience of interacting with God through religion. These scriptures tell us a lot about God and how we relate to God. They aren't about how the world works. That's where religious people have often gone wrong - they thought that statements about the world around us in the scriptures should be treated in the same way as statements about God. But, in the 16th century, Caesar Baronius, a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, said “"The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." This was during the debate between Galileo and the Pope, one of the first clashes between modern science and religion, and it is a very wise insight. For example, the first chapter of Genesis tells us a lot about the nature of God as Creator - but it is framed according to the creation mythology of the time of the author, perhaps 3000 years ago. A modern author might write a very different account of how the universe came to be, but the account of God's part in creation and his supremacy in Creation would remain unchanged!
Science and religion should never be opposed; both are about truth, but truth of different kinds, in different areas of human experience. When they are opposed, it is usually because one or the other is trying to answer the wrong kind of question. That isn't to say that science can't give insights into religion, or religion into science! Indeed, many great scientists have been inspired in their thinking by their religious beliefs, and of course greater understanding of the Universe we live in gives us a greater appreciation of the glory and greatness of God.
Wikipedia states that the relationship between science and religion has been a subject of study since classical antiquity addressed by philosophers, theologians, scientists and others.
Perspectives are different between differing parts of the world, differing cultures and historical epochs. Some characterise the relationship as one of conflict, others describe it as harmony, and others proposing little interaction.
As Paul Cooper has indicated, the differences lie in the different methodologies used by both. Namely, scientists ask the question HOW and the theologians WHY.
It is of interest that for all the scientists that ever lived, over 80% are currently alive. So science is relatively new and finding its place as a role in our existence. Much of the scientific method was pioneered first by Islamic scholars and later by Christians. Hinduism has historically embraced reason and empiricism, holding that science brings legitimate but incomplete knowledge of the world. Confucian thought held different views of science over time. Most Buddhists today view science as complimentary to their beliefs.
There is an argument that can be traced to medieval Muslim thinkers, but most directly Islamic theologians of the Sunni tradition, called the “Kalam cosmological argument”. In its simplest form it states:-
‘Every being which begins has a cause for its beginning, now the world is a being, therefore it possesses a cause for its beginning’.
Which presumably is an ultimate force which we call God.
One might wonder why, if at all, these differences exist and why the media has insisted that there is a battle between the two.
As humans on this planet since the beginning of records many millennium ago, there has been a need for some form of worship of an ultimate deity, force or being that seems to be needed for existence: from Totem poles to relics and idols.
It would appear therefore that part of each of us has a ‘spiritual being’ that is frequently overlooked. Biologically for the survival of our species this would seem to be of limited importance since our function is to reproduce. Nevertheless over 80% of the worlds’ population has some form of belief and relationship with a religion. Therefore the need to address the spiritual part of our bodies becomes important.