Role of Science and Religion in Society Essay

Religion and Science are two important aspects of social life, of which the former has been dominant as far back as we know anything of man’s mental history, while the latter has come into prominence during the last three hundred years. Since the appearance of science there was a prolonged conflict between science and religion in which science came out victorious. In order to understand the basis of this conflict between science and religion, and to find out whether they can usefully co-operate with each other, let us examine what they stand for, and their fundamental approach to life, and methods adopted by them.

Science as Bertrand Russell has defined it is “the attempt to discover, by means of observation, and reasoning based upon it, first, particular facts about the world, and then laws connecting facts with one another and (in fortunate cases) making it possible to predict future occurrences.”. It comes to nature (including human nature) with specific questions which it tries first tentatively to answer, and then to test, in as specific a way as possible. Whether it uses the inductive of the deductive method, the main point is that it is the nature of science to be as specific as possible. To as precise questions as possible, these are formulated as precise answers, as possible, very often expressed in quantitative terms and in mathematical equations.

In the second place, scientific knowledge is public both in regard to observation and experiment on the one hand, and to theory and hypothesis on the other. Observations and experiments are devised to be such that any trained and competent person who knows what to look for may make a test for himself, and may communicate his feelings to other competent persons. Thus scientific knowledge is impersonal or detached from personal involvement. Personal relations and emotion are not essentially involved and are not wanted. It, of course, does not mean that the scientist as a human being is not involved in his life-work, that he never has any emotion about it, and that he does not care, and is a mere bloodless intellect. Neverthless the great strength of scientific knowledge is that it is striving after the objective and the personal.

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Finally, science is concerned with a matter of fact, and not essentially with values, with good or evil or beauty or the wise providence of God. Aesthetic and even religious.considerations may certainly enter into the life of the living scientists; sheer mathematical elegance may lead to a preference for one of hypothesis over another. Still, the hypothesis is not one natural science if it is not relevant to the matter of fact. And if we want to know good or evil or beauty or ugliness we should not employ scientific, but other methods.

These, ten, are four general characteristics of science to be specific, to be public, to be impersonal, to be concerned with facts. When we examine the characteristics of religion, we find that they are opposed to those of science. For example, religious experiences belong only to exceptional religious persons, who have an insight not given to common men, and thus their claims are not of the kind that can be put into abstract formulae which any competent intellectual person can comprehend or which can be verified by some sense observation which anyone can make. The most important religious claims are often exceptional and extraordinary. This does not mean, of course, that they are self-validating: perhaps extraordinary claims of religious insight are in the end only acceptable if they illuminate human experience and help other men to see relations and meanings which they had not seen before. Yet this is certainly not the kind of validation which is subject to what we commonly call ‘scientific method’. It may, for instance, be said to be characteristic of the mystic that he sees what the common eye cannot. Thus religious experiences are fundamentally different from the natural observations and experiments of science. Again, religious knowledge is involved knowledge, in which the commitment of personality, and the same feeling, is a nécessary part if the knowledge is to exist at all, and thus it is very different from impersonal scientific knowledge. Moreover, if science is a matter-of-fact, religion is not. It claims insight into good which is not human through scientific scrutiny; and it claims that in religion there is a strange and yet uniquely infinite form of the ‘thou knowledge, in which the thou of the divine being is not an object to be examined or defined. In human affairs, this I-thou relationship is in complete contrast to the attitude of science.

When we look back over the past thousand years, it is an undeniable fact; that on account of the obvious incompatibilities between religion and science, conflicts between them have arisen. Even at the present time there is still a misgiving, that there really is at bottom a certain contrariety between the declaration of religion and the results of physical inquiry; a suspicion such that, while it encourages those persons who are not over-religious to anticipate a day, when at last the difference will break out in open conflict, to the disadvantage of religion, it leads religious minds, on the other hand, who have not had the opportunity of considering accurately the state of the cause, to be jealous of researches, and prejudiced against the discoveries of Science. The consequence is, on the one side a certain contempt of religion; on the other, a disposition to undervalue, to deny, to ridicule, to discourage, and almost to denounce, the labors of the physiological, astronomical, or geological investigator.

The root of this misunderstanding is undoubtedly a lack of knowledge of theology among scientists on the one hand, and of science among theologians on the other. Rarely do they know sufficient to be able to learn from the professional writing of the other. Often the theologian’s idea of science is derived from crude little pamphlets or inaccurate newspaper reports which draw no distinction between what is observed, and what is conjectured, ar between what is established and what is hypothetical. Likewise, the scientist’s idea of religion is sometimes a compound of nursery religious stories vaguely remembered from the distant past and perhaps some sickeningly naive pious pamphlet he has encountered. So the misunderstanding between religion and science are due to mutual lack of knowledge and a tendency to go beyond what can be proved, and make a statement that is not justified by the evidence. No religious man can look back on the writings and actions of many theologians with unmitigated satisfactions, and scientists will readily admit that they have been just as guilty.

Instead of coming into conflict with each other, religion and science should co-operate and help each other. We live in an age of science, and we cannot be called upon to accept incredible religious dogmas or exclusive revelations. The general impression that the spirit of science is opposed to religious is unfortunate and untrue. In fact both can be of assistance to each other in the future. There is no doubt that most of the religious beliefs are such that science can have little effect on them. But in a more modest way science can be of some assistance to religion. For example, all religions teach that apart from Divine Revelation, we know God through created things. All things reflect in some way the perfection of God; they bear the imprint of their Maker. Now science can help us to learn more about them, and thus learn more about God. Science can also be of much assistance to religion in another way. All religions command to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty and to clothe the naked, and it is obvious that science enables us to do this much more efficiently than our forefathers could. Furthermore, modern methods of communications, from printing and the radio to films and television enable religious principles to be preached to greater audiences than could be reached before they were invented.

The main way in which religion can help science is by what it does for the individual scientist as a man, and also by providing the climate of thought necessary for its growth. During the Middle Ages, the main intellectual effort was concentrated on philosophical and theological problems, and so the development of science was rather slow. Nevertheless, many important advances were made by such men as Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, who did much to found experimental science.

As Prof. Whitehead said:

“The Middle Ages formed one long training of the intellect in the sense of order. The greatest contribution of medievalism to the formation of science was to inculcate the inexpugnable belief that every detailed occurrence can be corrected with its antecedents in a perfectly definite manner, exemplifying general principles.”

At present, it is essential that religion and science should co-operate, because neither science nor religion alone can solve modern problems. All the claims’ made on behalf of science are admitted, but no one can deny the fact that the command of Nature has been put into man’s hand before he has learned how to govern himself. At the present time such spirits of selfishness and hostility; are being shown by the two power blocs, that it is probable that the Western world along with many of its fine achievements in the domains of human culture may be consumed in the holocaust of strife and destruction. It is clear that a solution of these problems cannot be achieved by politicians, for they represent the egoism of nations or groups, and people saturated with egoistic ideals cannot look upon a problem from a higher point of view. Neither can such problems be handled by the scientist who is usually immersed in problems of their own far removed from life. Religion can come to our help, but in order that it may again become a living force, it is necessary that religious leaders should take the help of science, and study existing religious knowledge as a science. Moreover, these, studies should be supplemented by a scientific study of the problems of human life, a careful analysis of the human mind, in fact as Spinoza put it: “Not to laugh or weep over actions of men but simply to understand them, and to contemplate their affections and passions, such as love, hate, anger arrogance, pity, and all other disturbances of the soul, not as vices of human nature, but as properties belonging to it in the same way as heat, cold, storm, and thunder belonging to the atmosphere. For these, though troublesome, are yet necessary, and have certain causes through which we may come to understand them, and thus by contemplating them in their truth, gain for our minds as much pleasure as my knowledge of things that are pleasing to the sense.

It is possible that through such co-operation between religions there will emerge an ‘Evolutionary Religious System’, knowledge and practice of which can be transmitted to man just like scientific or professional knowledge for the guidance of human conduct. At the present time, the very fact that all religious systems are codified under the shelter of the divine, origin prevents their knowledge at its proper ethical value. Three centuries ago, the knowledge of the human body and of diseases and drugs was slight. Mortality and suffering due to diseases were extremely high. But owing to the progress of science and co-operative study knowledge has so far advanced that mankind is better able to take cure of its body and an ordinary medical man can better cope with diseases than Hippocrates or Galen. Rut the same cannot be said of religious discipline or experience which still remains an individualistic effort. The experience of one teacher grows and dies with him, and very – little of it is faithfully transmitted. Very often, in the hands of the followers, it degenerates into instruments of private gain. But if the study and discipline of religion can be carried on in a scientific spirit probably we may arrive at a system of knowledge which will discharge a much greater function than medical knowledge viz, a – harmonious response of the individual human mind to the large-scale phenomena of human society, and of Nature.

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