The topic religion and science is one which has its roots in European history, wherein a conflict developed between the Christian church and scientific enquiry. That conflict has created in the western scientific mind a generally negative attitude towards institutionalised religion.
An attitude which people hold which is a product of this history is that science is based on facts, and religion is based on blind faith. Therefore science is something we can rely on because it has been proven and is based on facts, and religion is something which is in some ways irrational, this is the general view that is prevalent in the world today.
Now this concept, or understanding is a product of history. It is not a view which was always held, these are beliefs are products of certain developments which took place particularly in Europe where modern science as we know it evolved out of.
If we in fact go back to the history and look for the origins of the sciences we so rely on today, you will find that there origins were not so much so in the facts and the rational understanding of these facts that we would be led to believe today.
If we take the general definition of science from the merits student encyclopedia, the simple version, it reads ‘science is the sum of human knowledge of the universe.’ This definition of course includes everything, including religion because religion provides certain knowledge about the universe. As well as what we understand to be science in general, it also includes philosophy. Any field of knowledge which pertains in any way shape or form to the universe will then be classified as science under this general definition.
However the definition goes on to say ‘it deals with facts’ and here is where the scientists says well here is the difference between science and religion and philosophy, science deals with facts whilst everybody else is dealing with ideas which may be a product of human experience or human reflection. However the definition does not stop there, it goes further ‘it deals with facts and with the relationships between them.’
Here we now step into another field, first they said science deals with facts – no problem, science deals with things we observe which are measurable etc. But then it goes on to talk about the relations between them, because its not just the observation of these facts but a relation is developed between them an explanation is given to these facts, these facts are strung together to form some story, some picture which is explained; now comes philosophy.
Because facts by themselves do not tell us anything, it is when you put ideas to the facts and you string them together in a particular form and make relationships between them – only then can facts tell us something.
When you go and make that relationship, and put an idea forward to string the facts together this becomes a reflection of your philosophy. So what this is in fact telling us is that science is based on philosophy.
Religion is based on a philosophy, on an understanding and explanation but it is also is based on certain facts. There are certain facts which it strings together and with a philosophy it produces an understanding of the universe. Science has certain facts which it strings together, maybe even the same facts, and with its understanding and philosophy it gives us another picture of the universe. In this case you have your philosophy and we have ours
What has happened in history in relation to this issue is that Christianity has been the main representative of the religious philosophy but this philosophy and subsequent picture has conflicted with science. Because of this conflict, modern society has looked on religion as being irrational, un-provable and has chosen science as its new religion.
Science has become the religion of the modern man, such as yourself Rick lol it seeks to explain why man exists, how he exists, and where he is heading etc…When you look into the scientists who are delving into the secrets of the universe splitting the sub atomic particles and so on, what are they looking for? They are looking to answer these very questions; they want to discover the building blocks of nature - the origin, to be able to create and to understand ultimately. They believe that by asking the right questions, by doing the right experiments you will ultimately be able to understand everything. Man is in fact the God of this world, and he is capable of not only understanding but creating. This is the philosophy of today.
When we look in the past and the definition of science, we see it comes from the Latin word scientia which means knowledge. When we look in the past to what western science considers to be the origin of science, we see a period of time in around the 7th and 6th century before the time of Christ in Greece, where science or philosophy as it was referred to back then was geared primarily to determine the basic elements of the universe. They were asking the same questions that the scientists of today are asking, but in that time it was considered philosophy but today it is called ‘science’.
In that period, no differentiation was made between science and philosophy. Later science came to be regarded as component part of philosophy, and finally as a set of disciplines all together different from philosophy. So we can clearly see that the concept of science went through a period of evolutionary change, and it is also clear that the same questions asked today were asked by the originators of science in their philosophies of the past. The leading figures according to western science of the time such as Plato and Aristotle, they considered that it was more noble and dignified to seek answers by reasoning rather then experiments. They felt that experimentation is for the ignorant, for those who wanted to go and play with matter etc. Those who were the true scholars and the higher minds they understood things from there reasoning. They looked at the universe around them and using there minds and there logic they were able to draw conclusions, establish principles and laws governing what existed around them.
These were the beginnings of science, the philosophy from that time has not changed much today, although it has been modified however the basis of modern science today is in philosophy. What we find as we went on with the history of science, is that after the time of the Greeks in the early 100 and 200 after Christ, the Roman empire took over. It bought the Greeks under their control and with it took control of the Mediterranean area. The Romans were not as much into reasoning as the Greeks, they were more concerned with administration. Scientific enquiry therefore in this period started to decline, and something happened with the spread of Christianity. We find that around the 4th century around this period, the concept of the trinity was adopted by the holy Roman emperor Constantine and was imposed on the Christian world, as a result of the council of Nicea around 325 AD. Prior to this time the majority of Christians were Unitarians, they believed that God was one not three in one.
What we find is that after this period where the trinity was introduced around the 5th and 6th century AD all the way to the 11th century, we find Europe entering what became to be known as the dark ages in European history. This was the period of time where knowledge reached its lowest ebb, most of the literature the writing the scientific theories of the Greeks were mostly forgotten, bar a few monks on monasteries. It simply existed to serve the purpose of the church as its scholars would take some of the theories which seemed to fit or provided some scope for development of the new Christian philosophy; they had a tight reign on any kind of scientific enquiry. They established what they wanted to be the understanding of the world and they wanted no competition.
During this period, we find Islam was established in the Middle East – the 7th century AD. From there it spread to North Africa, Palestine, Spain and southern Europe. This is a time when sciences flourished; as the sciences of the Greeks were translated into Arabic and Arabic thus became the language of science. These ideas were then developed upon, and Muslim scientists developed science to a very high level establishing universities in Palestine, Baghdad, Spain, and North Africa, Morocco. During this period we also find the crusades beginning, and what happened is that towards the end of this period around the 12th century AD, we see a renaissance beginning in Europe. From European scientists going to Spain, taking information back from Palestine from the crusades we find a revival of knowledge in Europe.
It is during this time that some of the great philosophers and scientists such as Sir Thomas Aquinas and Roger Bacon put developed the theories and concepts that became the basis for modern philosophy and science. However, after an initial spurt we find that the church tried to reign things back in to get things in control. Following the bubonic plagues in Europe, the church gained control over the situation as scientists could not really explain what was happening and people once again began to rely on religion. All people or scientists who were proposing ideas that were contrary to what the church had established back in the dark ages were put under scrutiny, inquisitions were set up and those who were found to have ideas contrary to the church were executed for example one Giordano Bruno, who was executed for heresy in 1600 because he stated the universe was infinite and the earth only a small body in it.
There was also Copernicus who established a sun centered theory about the solar system, whereas prior to him it was held that the earth was the centre of the universe according to the teaching of the Greek philosophers which the church adopted. When Copernicus came to this conclusion based on his observations, he was so afraid for his life he did not publish his theory until the year that he died. Galileo who further worked on this theory was tried by the Church and told not to pursue any more knowledge in this area, but after he persisted he was convicted of preaching false teachings and made to confess the same, and also imprisoned where he eventually died.
However the contact which had been made with the Muslims continued to bear fruits and contributed to the reformation movement in Europe, where we had people like Martin Luther challenged the teachings of Rome and the catholic Christian world, and subsequently formed the protestant movement. We had scientists who took advantage of this period of break up and dissent, and started to delve into issues concerning religion in general. Atheism would therefore also be a theory which was born out of this period. It produced later the Marxist dialectical materialism which is also known as the scientific socialism model, wherein human history is reduced to an economical struggle between the haves and the have nots, and also social systems become an expression of the classes with religion being seen as a tool used by the upper class the maintain the status quo and God as a fictitious friend of the rich who predestined there rule over the poor.
On the other hand you had other bodies of scientists who developed what is known as the Darwinism theory, where human existence is determined to be the result of natural forces, there was no need to go to look into the supernatural to explain mans existence as to why he is here where he is going etc…natural selection or survival of the fittest became the principle which determines mans existence and where he is heading.
When we look into this period, we have some reasons why scientists were led to these conclusions. One of them is fundamentally based in the Trinitarian concept, where in man is required to accept God is one but also three where it is clear that the facts tell us one plus one plus one equals three, but religion is telling us from the 4th century onwards that it equals one in relationship to God. This is something which is inexplicable, and the church called a divine secret, which cannot be understood ever. This therefore goes against the nature in which God created man, to analyse things and to be logical. Scientists were bothered by this because they could not express this or test this it made no sense, even Isaac Newton rejected this theory.
Even today in the world, very few of the worlds scientists disbelieve in God. Only 10 to 15% do not believe in God, but this minority seems to be very vocal.
Anyway the point that I am trying to make is that science and religion can have a relationship, it’s not one or the other. The reasons for science looking down upon religion also has to be looked at; Christianity. Islam we feel poses no anti science agenda, and as such we feel that the two can live in harmony, with science providing the facts, and Islam providing the philosophy.