Science Versus/And Religion

Why we need to open-minded enough to learn from both science and religion

I know. I probably shouldn’t write about a topic like this, it’ll only bring out the extremists and end up stirring up trouble. But here’s the thing: the issue of science and religion is too important a conversation to be left in the hands of the fundamentalists on both sides of the divide. We need more moderate voices to speak up and, in turn, empower others to speak up.

This is my attempt to speak, as a more moderately minded human, into this vital subject. My thoughts are triggered by a conversation on Twitter that I participated in on Tuesday. This started out with a “letter” that was doing the rounds:

Dear Religion,

This week I safely dropped a human being from space while you shot a 14 year old girl in the head for wanting to go to school.

I kinda feel like you need a better hobby,

Yours,

Science.

I totally understand that things like this are just a bit of fun. But, that said, it connects with a very dangerous viewpoint. And that is that all religion is evil.

Now, to be clear, I am not writing this to defend any of the terrible atrocities that have been done in the name of religion. Far from it. My point is simply that, throughout their history, both science and religion have done things that epitomise both the best and worse of humanity.

What Science And Religion Have In Common

Science and religion both have something in common: humans. And human beings are flawed creatures with capacities to do both good and evil. It is both naive and without intellectual credibility to argue that there’s nothing good about religion. The same goes for the religious fundamentalists who see science as the enemy.

We simply have to avoid a future that turns science and religion into arch rivals. They both have something to offer humanity. More than that, they both have something vital to offer humanity. But let’s not pretend they’re addressing the same questions. This is where so many problems and fallouts stem from.

Christian fundamentalists, for example, try and insist that Genesis 1 is a literal, scientific take on the creation on the world. It isn’t. The writer wasn’t trying to address the scientific questions of how the world was formed. He was answering very different questions from a very different audience. We have to avoid trying to turn the Bible into something that it isn’t.

Likewise, secular scientific fundamentalists, seem to think that there is no need for anything other than science. They basically blinker themselves to anything that goes beyond the realm of science. They become as closed-minded as a religious fundamentalist.

I’ve come to realise, and I don’t say this in any arrogant kind of way, that I’m one of the most open-minded people I know! I am truly open-minded to everything that science can show us, and teach us, and explain to us. I love the exploration and discovery that scientists of all varieties do. Humanity has progressed so much due to science and I’m truly grateful for everything that we now know about ourselves and our world thanks to the unending curiosity of scientists.

On top of this, I’m truly open-minded to the possibilities that there are dimensions to our world and our universe that transcend the realm of scientific discovery (for now at least). I choose not to limit my worldview to a merely scientific one. There are some questions that science simply cannot answer. It’s not designed to.

Personally, I do believe in there being a God who is the source behind all that is. Regardless of that though, whether theist, atheist, or agnostic, there is so much that we can all learn from religion about living together as a human race. To say that religion has nothing to offer is an incredibly short-sighted viewpoint to hold. Sure terrible things have been done in the name of religion, but that is a result of flawed human beings abusing religious teaching for their own ends. Religion has also been the trigger for so, so much good in the world. Far more good than evil, I would suggest.

I want to be someone who learns from both science and religion. I want to embrace the best of both and learn from both in doing my utmost to be the best possible human being I can. To only ‘side’ with one or the other seems to run the risk of us becoming lesser human beings who are closed-minded, arrogant, and lacking benevolence.

I must add that in saying that we should all learn from religion, I’m not saying we all have to believe in God! No, I’m simply saying that there are things that religion can teach us about being human that we’d be foolish to ignore.

A Challenge

Let me finish this off with a challenge. If you are someone who is more science orientated that religious, why don’t you pick up a religious text with a view to learning something from it? The goal wouldn’t be to critique, or to analyse scientifically, it would simply to look for something to learn from about how you could be a better human. Alternatively - and this might be even better - go and spend some time with a religious person. Get to know them. Ask questions. Listen and learn.

Similarly, if you are more religious orientated, take some time to find an area of science that interests you and explore it. I’ve loved reading an array of books recently about the mind and brain, learning about how it works and influences us. Do something similar. Explore, learn, discover. And if you know people who work in particular scientific fields, see if you can spend time with them, get to know them and their subject area.

I think if all of us would take the time to truly get to know the ‘other’, we’d find ourselves becoming much more open-minded and gracious people. Who’s up for the challenge?!

In closing out this article, I should add that there’s no doubt plenty of ways in which this could be picked apart if you’re so minded. I’m ok with that. But I hope you’ll be gracious enough to also see through any flaws in my argument to grasp the spirit of what I’m saying. Thanks in advance!


First published October 17, 2012

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