Religion or Science: Do We Have to Choose?

Evolution or creationism? Neuroscience or spirituality? Body or soul?

Historically, the clashes between science and religion have been many. Still to this day, they are often regarded as two opposing worlds. Some of the typical incidences we remember are the medieval scientist Galileo who, to the horror of the Catholic Church, discovered that the earth revolves around the sun, and not vice-versa. Or more recently, Darwin’s theory of evolution, which in the mid-nineteenth century caused revolt among religious communities. In modern times, the opposition revolves around such hot topics as stem cell research, in-vitro fertilization and abortion.

Working and studying in the world of natural science and medicine, this opposition is not always easy to deal with. Facts and theories about the human nature are often presented without paying any attention to the spiritual/metaphysical aspect of creation. Most people, however, find it difficult to accept that we are strictly under the control of signal substances and chemical reactions. Even within the world of science, people are open to alternative theories.

An article published in “The Independent”, in October 2008, describes alterations in the conflict between science and religion, and comes to the conclusion that most people today prefer not to identify themselves with any of the extreme viewpoints. The author states:

Academic discussion on the relationship between science and religion is genuinely exploratory, not polarized.. The danger is that between the strident secularists and the fanatical fundamentalists some important middle ground is being squeezed out.

However, within previous religions it has been rare to find principles or attitudes that support modern scientific progress, hence opposition has arisen. Many recent developments in world affairs and the scientific field have put religion — and its moral and ethical standards — to the test, and meeting those demands has not been an easy task for religious communities.

The teachings of the Bahá’í-Faith on the harmony between religion and science provide a comprehensive, as well as logical, viewpoint on the relationship between the two. Abdu’l-Baha, in the early 20th century, said:

Religion and science are the two wings upon which man’s intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone! Should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism.

For me, being a part of this modern society and trying to make a career within a scientific field, having a sound attitude toward science and religion has been indispensable. Leaning on the words of Abdu’l-Baha, and studying the lessons from His great work “Some Answered Questions“, I have been able to say:

Evolution and Creationism. Neuroscience and spirituality. Body and soul.

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  1. I think most people blithely agree that science and religion should be in harmony. But the real challenge is establishing what, exactly, falls into the domain of each. There are clearly some areas that should not be governed by religion: the study of genetics, for example. And areas that should not be governed by science: say, prayer and meditation. The problems arise when matters fall into the domain of both and there is a struggle over which should apply, like the fields of bioethics and psychology (or neuroscience). Some people even say that evolution falls into this category (although Baha’is would disagree).

    There really is something to this debate, and it requires real philosophical engagement with what religion and science are. The evolution debate illustrates this — it is very different today than it was 50 years ago because far more people now accept that religious texts are not literal in all respects. We need to really investigate the nature of true religion and proper science to establish the harmony between the two.

    Thanks for the post, Negin.

  2. I guess this principle – the harmony of science and religion- the harmony of faith and reason, to some – was the clincher for me. In my heart, I KNEW there had to be an explanation of reality that satisfied both sides of the issue.
    We have dear friends who are amateur astronomers. One is a semi-fundamentalist protestant minister. I always wondered how he reconciled himself to his faith and his curiosity.

    The beauty of life on this plane is the process of discovery. A great day to be an inventor, a scientist, a farmer, a doctor- just about anything!

  3. Thank you for your responses!

    Yes, the matters – and there are many – that fall into the “domain” of both religion and science are complicated and become the cause of debate and conflict. But those are also the most beautiful matters! Both religion and science can be used to shed light upon them and, depending on which you use, a different aspect of its reality is explored. One example, that I particularly care about (!), is health; which is clearly under the influence of both physical and spiritual factors.
    As you wrote Geoff, we really need to investigate the true nature of religion and science to be able to understand the harmony between them. And even more, try to excel in both!

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