During this Christmas season, I wish to discuss the intricate relationships between religion, faith and science. My intention is not to criticize or promote any particular religion, but to present my view objectively.
I believe the common denominator of all religions is to do good. Salvation should not depend on a particular religion, but on the character and behavior of the individual. Religion is basically an idea for various forms of worship or observance. I consider a religion being hijacked by power-hungry people if the following earthly motives are present:
*Insist that the God of my religion is the only true God.
*Emphasize indoctrination rather than enlightenment.
*Maintain a powerful hierarchy ruling over the faithful.
*Try to influence politics and control the government.
*Discredit or persecute people for speaking the truth that differs from religious doctrines.
*Insist on interpreting the scriptures literally.
Faith is a gift that is extremely valuable. There would be a run on the bank if people lost faith in the financial system. What would you do if you lost faith that you might live tomorrow? Would you stop at the red light if you lost faith that other people would follow the rule? In fact, faith keeps life going and makes everything work in an orderly fashion. All religions thrive on faith. That is why religious teachings always urge people to keep the faith.
Science is fueled by the curious mind. As long as curiosity lives, somebody will be asking questions, and will discover and invent something new. Don’t you know that science thrives on faith too? The reason is that every scientific investigation involves advancing one step further based on what has already been discovered. If scientists lose faith in previous discoveries, science cannot go forward but has to start from scratch again.
It is an irony that religion and science seem to conflict with each other even though both depend on faith to survive. Does a conflict really exist? Or is it just a human power play? Let’s investigate the sources of the conflict.
Besides faith, both science and religion share one more common denominator: truth. Science aims to find the physical truth while religion seeks the higher and more abstract spiritual truth. The rules of science exclude all non-physical things due to the impossible burden of proof. Religion would devalue itself if it tried to engage at the physical level. Religion is not about proof. It’s about faith, redemption and salvation of the soul if you want it. Therefore, both science and religion should complement each other to make life complete. But it does not happen that way.
The powerful thing about science is its reinventing capacity. Science is a competitive field where any person with the right mind can pursue scientific investigation based on the established rules of objectivity and verifiability. A scientist is not afraid to be proven wrong by its colleagues. It only means progress because something hitherto held as correct is found otherwise by employing more advanced methods and thinking. New discoveries invalidate or replace the old ones like waves coming onshore. Through science we learn that the physical world is so complex that we will never be able to fully understand it.
Unintentionally, science poses a direct challenge to the authorities of religious leaders. A religion cannot allow its doctrines to be shaken for fear of losing the faithful. Every religion has a rich history and tradition that serves as a foundation and anchor for the faithful. Science seems to be turning this ancient heritage upside down. It only appears that way if one has the wrong attitude called fortress mentality. Science only enlightens people about the complexity of the physical world. If religious leaders believe that the physical world is God’s wonderful creation, they should embrace science, too.
The religious leaders may fear that they are losing authority and power. What about the faithful? None of them seems bothered by the advancement of science. If you believe in your religion that provides you with spiritual comfort everyday, your faith will not be shaken no matter what happens in the physical world. The explosion of science in modern days has not produced a great exodus of the faithful who are free to choose what to believe. In fact, people have no problem believing in both for the benefits that science and religion bring. It’s only the fortress mentality of the religious leaders that causes the conflict. They have tried to discredit scientific discoveries up to this day, such as climate change. They even persecuted the scientists as heretics and lunatics in the old times. Their actions are not about propagating the truth, but preserving their earthly authorities and power.
Driven by passion, the scientists show no fear but to continue with their pursuits. The discovery about the physical wonders of the world does not conflict with their religious faith. During the inquisition conducted by the Catholic Church, Galileo noted that he was grossly misunderstood. He had no other purpose than trying to reveal God’s creation, that is, the planets revolving around the sun, which happened to contradict religious scriptures. To emphasize their complementary effects, Albert Einstein once said, “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind”.
The biggest contention is the theory of evolution authored by Charles Darwin. It conflicts with the words of the Christian Bible that God created man in seven days. The source of the conflict lies in the insistence of the church leaders that the Bible should be taken literally. Should the faithful obey the church leaders and disregard a brilliant theory about the miracle work of the Creator? Evolution is the ability built into all plants and animals so that they can adapt, develop, and survive in a world full of adverse conditions. This is the greatest power given by the Creator that also mirrors His own. Evolution means the inherent ability to learn and to progress that can pass from one generation to another. Can man invent anything that has evolution capability? Not a chance! Man only has the ability to see this wonder.
In view of the overwhelming evidence of evolution, the intelligentsia and the faithful have decided to follow Darwin long time ago. Not surprisingly, the conflict on evolution is still playing out in some conservative states in America where some leaders of the Protestant Church fear their loss of authority and power. The famed American Judge, Billings Hand, once offered a judicial opinion: “There is no surer way to misread a document than to read it literally.” But this is what the religious leaders want the faithful to do.
Another famous scientist, Stephen Hawking, has also created a stir and invited criticism of arrogance and atheism. Hawking spoke the truth about the universe being governed so elegantly by only four fundamental forces: gravitational, electromagnetic, weak nuclear, and strong nuclear. As a consequence, every physical phenomenon can be explained by the interactions of these four forces. This led to his saying that “God does not have many choices”. What he means is that God can take a rest because all these forces will take care of the world without the need for intervention. Hawking’s words may have angered the religious leaders and some of the followers. On the other hand, the church cannot refute the fact that the Creator is so clever to have designed only four forces to govern the entire universe, while the church leaders have invented tons of rules just to keep them in power.
In conclusion, science and religion do not conflict but complement each other. Both are grounded in truth and faith, but separated by two spheres: one physical and the other spiritual so as to make life complete. The source of the apparent conflict comes from the fortress mentality of the religious leaders who fear losing their authority and power. It’s just an earthly human power play and nothing else.
Religion should embrace science because it constantly reveals the wonders of the universe that reflects the miracle work of the Creator. Science never wants to intrude into the spiritual sphere due to the impossible burden of proof and verification. Even in the physical world, science cannot answer the ultimate question: Where do all the physical laws of the universe come from? An explanation would involve something beyond the physical world where science has happily chosen to avoid. Therefore, the world is forever waiting for religion to answer this spiritual question based on truth and faith, rather than physical proof. If you believe in spiritual things, you don’t need any proof because only people without faith need it.