Are Religion and Science Conflicting or Complementary?

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    Belief in Dialogue based at Cambridge University has organised an online Interfaith Forum on Creation, Religion and Science at 7 pm on Sunday 21st January 2024. I will be presenting this talk. Please join me and share the event with your friends and family, click HERE to register.

    Is scientific research relevant to religious faith and practice?

    Faith in God – the Absolute Controller, the Sovereign whose creative power is all around, the dazzling sun, the surging oceans, and the snowcapped mountains – means belief in Him and being His representative, Khalifah, an exhilarating and awesome feeling. A powerful experience that keeps humans sane, stops anxiety and ends distress.

    The faithful’s testimony “I wholeheartedly believe in the Almighty Lord, I depend on Him, He is my focus, the centre of my gravity. I belong to Him; I am sustained by Him, enlightened by Him, and ruled by Him. So, I submit to Him”. This is Islam, a complete commitment to Him. This is faith that must be translated into practice; worship, and being socially responsible, pure living characterised by sexual decency, simplicity, and frugality.

    Rapid advances in science and technology are leading to many exciting new findings that shed light on faith and religious practices. It’s been shown that faith and its practices like prayer, fasting, charity and moral values have beneficial social and health effects.

    Is faith in a supernatural Creator an encouragement or a hindrance to the pursuit of scientific truth?

    Science is a system of knowledge that is concerned with the physical world and its events. It’s based on observations and experiments that aim to discover truths and gain insights into the operations of natural laws. Professor Bruno Guiderdoni explored science’s relationship to Islam and said:

    • Spiritual tenets and intellectual resources of the Islamic faith prompted early Muslims to search for knowledge. The Majestic Quran repeatedly invites its readers to observe, contemplate and experience nature to celebrate God’s glory. This understanding requires the use of reason encapsulated by intuition. The Quran prescribes ‘worship your lord till certainty’ and many Prophetic sayings strongly recommend the pursuit of knowledge as a religious duty.
    • Muslim scholars throughout the centuries, believed ‘reason is God’s gift to the human being, and God declares its worth’. Historians of science claim that Muslim scientists were the founders of modern science.
    • The purpose of human beings is to be the ‘garden keeper’ – to look after the garden and other residents. The metaphor of the garden keeper has a strong echo today, with the climate crisis, the share of natural resources and the preservation of biodiversity. “The power that science has given us must be accompanied by a greater sense of the ethic that is necessary to use this power with discernment”. Religion provides those safeguards and boundaries that can stop humans from transgressing.

    Has science successfully disproved religious truth claims? Is that even possible?

    The scientific method at best is limited to the physical. It cannot be used to answer the ‘why’ questions. Read any scientific paper and it will have a disclaimer ‘limitations/ weaknesses’. Furthermore, the concept of ‘truth in science’ is contested. There are many different interpretations of what ‘truth’ is, it is contextual and differs between scientific disciplines.

    From the works of Karl Popper – The best that science can offer is for a theory to be subject to a ‘test’ and then to try to falsify a hypothesis. Science is not in the business of disproving religion. Its remit is to understand physical laws and explore the world around it. Recently there has been a new line of scientific research, which examines the impact of spiritual, moral and social values on health benefits. Thus, showing that religious teachings have sound scientific bases. This is an example of the complementary nature of religion and science.

    Is science more objective than faith? If so, does this make it superior?

    The research into Neuroscience is now proving that there is something else besides reason: “Intuition comes first, strategic reasoning second”, said Prof Jon Haidt. He believes “Morality doesn’t come primarily from reasoning; it is a combination of innateness and social learning. We are born to be righteous, but we must learn, what exactly and how we should be righteous” (The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt).

    Islam teaches moral values of truthfulness, forgiveness, gratitude, patience and generosity. This is what makes good caring citizens. On the other hand, it forbids anger, arrogance, greed and jealousy, the vices that stoke hatred of others that lead to conflict and war. Religion by promoting moral values and forbidding moral vices creates the optimal state of heart and mind. Professor Danielle Goleman said: “Social responsibility begins here when we act in ways that help create optimal states in others, from those we encounter casually to those we love and care about most dearly”.

    Conclusion

    We could have asked the question differently ‘In what ways are religion and science complementary and conflicting?’. This would be a nuanced debate. So, the instances where they are complementary i.e. in passages about embryonic development, the cosmos, the water cycle etc and others where they are conflicting e.g. evolution of humans from apes.
    Religion and science can learn from each other; Scientists can learn humility, respect and responsibility towards nature.

    Religious scholars can learn to observe nature as an open book. They will see the wonders of the universe revealed by science. Science offers rational arguments whilst religion offers intuition. They are complimentary, not conflicting. Science for the believer is an aid, a support that provides strategic reasoning endorsing intuition, giving rational proof for scriptural teachings.