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Religion and open doors to science

Opinion Piece

Lately here some have said that religion and science are incompatible. It seems a shame to me that many think this way.

From challenges since, I've admitted I feel comfortable attending church while believing in evolution; I believe humans are animals; and feel free to accept or reject religious information as it suits me.

I add that Christianity and Islam are not attempting to shut down science . . . . In fact, we should praise religions for opening doors to new knowledge with the many higher-learning institutions they have provided through the ages.

Resistance comes mainly from dogmatic fundamentalism. It seems this has always been the case.

But please don't get the idea that anti-science views belong solely to faith-bound fundamentalists. They can be seen in many of the anti-climate change responses directed at me.

Natural philosophy was science when fifth century North African Christian Bishop St Augustine of Hippo proclaimed Genesis was written for the people of the day and there was a fuller meaning to the words of the bible.

Nowadays Roman Catholics and mainstream denominations preach that there is no conflict with science.

Hindus believe in evolution and science.

Sikh Gurus preach that devotion must be rooted in thought, contemplation and knowledge, otherwise it leads to blind faith, superstitions and hypocrisy.

Baha'i Faith scripture asserts that true science and true religion can never be in conflict. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá said religion without science was superstition, and science without religion was materialism.

Buddhism encourages the impartial investigation of nature.

Traditional Chinese: Confucianism and science are fundamentally compatible.

Islam from the 9th-12th century saw a renaissance in science, known as the Islamic Golden Age. The study of nature is linked to the concept of Tawhid (the Oneness of God).

In Judaism, questioning is encouraged. In fact, Jewish scholars have the greatest percentage of science-based Nobel prize winners of all peoples.

It is sadly true that in the early Middle Ages science progress stalled in Christian Europe for a few centuries, but that was more than compensated by the growth of Islam spawning a golden age of science in the 7th century. There were great advances in mathematics, astronomy and other sciences thanks to Moslem culture.

Then the 13th century came and science began to filter back into Western Europe.

Dominican scholar Thomas Aquinas famously reopened the question of the relationship between faith, reason and truth. There were also the great scientists Bishop Robert Grosseteste, Franciscan monk Roger Bacon, and many others.

Even the unjust purges and infamous inquisition of early 17th-century Europe couldn't halt the progress of science.

Nicholas Copernicus and Galileo Galilei had books printed — later banned, but never lost.

Right until the eighteenth century, scientists of deep religious faith as well as learning kept the science ball rolling.

The 17th century produced Isaac Newton, a key figure of the Scientific Revolution who was deeply religious.

In the 19th century Augustinian friar Gregor Mendel hit on the mechanism of heredity that had eluded Charles Darwin. It was found later that both works complemented each other.

Last century, Belgian Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre formulated the modern Big Bang theory.

This century Christianity has former science student Pope Francis urging all of humanity to embrace science in his 2015 environment encyclical insisting all humanity protect nature and act aggressively on climate change.

“The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.” — Thomas H. Huxley

However, I believe also that humanity has in recent times used science badly, bringing many problems upon ourselves and the world. I'll save that for a later column.

  1. Tony Lee says:

    Bob, here’s a quote from Bertrand Russell, “The immense majority of intellectually eminent men disbelieve in Christian religion, but they conceal the fact in public, because they are afraid of losing their incomes.” I’m quite the fan of Richard Dawkins’ writings. In an interview with James Watson (with Francis Crick proposed the double helix structure of the DNA molecule, founder of the Human Genome Project, Nobel laureate), Dawkins asked whether he knew many religious scientists today. “Virtually none,” was the reply, going on to say that he was a bit embarrassed because he can’t accept that anyone accepts truth by revelation.

    Religious people can talk about religion. Scientists can talk as scientists. In my opinion religious scientists need to take care when talking about science-about religion they should keep quiet; and of course the converse is also appropriate,

  2. Bob Hughes says:

    The truth is the truth, no matter who seeks it and finds answers.
    Tony tells us Richard Dawkins knows “virtually none” of today’s scientists who are religious.
    Yet only this month Richard himself took part in a Has Science Buried God debate with famous Christian scientist John Lennox.
    Lennox is a Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy of Science
    and has written a series of books exploring the relationship between science and Christianity. He dispels intellectual misconceptions and shows that science and God are not opposed and that they can and do co-exist.
    I only mentioned a few of a great many scientists who were deeply religious.
    I am sure Richard Dawkins would have known of all these scientists as well.
    I conclude Tony Lee has produced nothing here to counter my findings that science and religion are quite compatible.

  3. Bob Hughes says:

    Some more on Richard Dawkins and John Lennox knowing each other.
    I may be mistaken on Richard Dawkins being there this month while Lennox was promoting his books
    But the two had been in touch and debated several times since 2008 on God and science issues. easy to find.
    So the answer to whether Dawkins knew many religious scientists today cannot possibly be, “Virtually none,”
    But I forgive Tony for his errors. It is so easy to get things wrong when one is on unfamiliar ground.

    1. Tony Lee says:

      You misread, it was James Watson that said virtually none. I will state again: when talking as a scientist, be silent about religion; when talking about religious belief, be silent about science.
      Religion’s basis is belief without evidence. The basis of science is observation, experiment and the development of theory that successfully makes predictions about the universe. Science does not explain everything – a quantum theory of gravitation to lead to a unifying TOE, for example. However, it is just plain laziness and infantile to fill the gap in understanding with the supernatural.

    2. Tony Lee says:

      BTW Bob, I had thought you were above using snide comments like: “But I forgive Tony for his errors. It is so easy to get things wrong when one is on unfamiliar ground.”
      I would never cast your errors with such disrespect.

  4. Bob Hughes says:

    Yes, Tony I really did get the wrong end of the stick on Richard Dawkins not knowing Christian scientists didn’t I. I am awfully sorry for any disrespect of tone. My turn to ask for forgiveness.
    Yes, I too liked Bertram Russel. He was an honest straight shooter.
    In 1946 Russell also said philosophy was not simply a theoretical exercise, he wanted the religious to think more objectively about emotive issues.
    By the change of tone in the mainstream church services I attend three-quarters of a century later, it seems he has got his wish.
    It is so obvious now that most of mainstream Christianity has embraced science.
    Again, I apologise for what I got wrong.
    With respect, I hope Tony will find some truths in the rest of what I have written.