Can Science and Religion Coexist?
Question: Can science and religion coexist?
Science and religion are generally seen as incompatible, or in conflict with one another. Some see science as a way to disprove religion while others reject science in favor of their religious or spiritual beliefs. These examples exist as completely opposite ways of thinking but is it possible to build a belief system somewhere in the middle? Is it possible for the ideas of science and religion to exist as two ends of a spectrum with room in between or are they inherently contradictory of one another?
To answer this question we must look at the answers to a few sub-questions that will help give us some perspective on the topic:
Sub-question 1: What is science?
Science can be defined as the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.
Basically, science draws conclusions about the world around us based on observations gathered through repeatable experiments. Science is the basis of much of the knowledge we tend to accept as “truth” or fact.
Sub-question 2: What is religion?
Religion can be defined as the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods or a particular system of faith and worship.
It can be argued that religion is based on belief rather than objective truth or knowledge but building on what we’ve learned from Descartes, we can’t necessarily prove anything as objective truth other than our own consciousness. If the only thing I can know for sure is that I am a thing that thinks, it is difficult to place any given body of “knowledge” or belief above another. I don’t know that science is “truer” or more credible than religion and although I can choose to believe so, it remains just that: a belief.
Sub-question 3: Are the two inherently contradictory?
Not necessarily! In the absence of concrete proof, all that we think we know is really just a collection of beliefs. The body of knowledge that science has created is essentially its own belief system. This means that science does not necessarily exist to disprove religion as science itself can only be proven to a certain extent. Looking at science as belief rather than fact helps create room for the coexistence of science and religion. If science does not claim to be the absolute truth, it does not have to exist in conflict with religion. From the other end, religion does not have to reject science as a valid way of looking at the world because to believe in science does not have to mean a person does not believe in a religion. It is possible for the two systems to work together. The reading that I chose discusses ways that scientists have rationalized religion’s support of science and empirical investigation. Various sources argue that the two fit quite neatly together, without conflict. That said, from other sources, conflict could be found but in the end it’s all a matter of perspective.
Why this topic?
I decided to explore this topic for a few reasons. First, I found it extremely interesting. There is so often a sense of animosity placed between science and religion and I’ve never understood why, especially considering how many key figures in the building of the foundation of western science were religious (Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, etc). The topic also presented an opportunity to build on past readings and discussions from this course such as Descartes’ theories on knowledge and beliefs by using them to challenge ideas such as viewing science as objective truth.
Where to next?
I plan to continue looking into this topic as I am still very curious to know where various people stand on the spectrum between science and religion and the different ways/reasons the two can justifiably coexist.