Science and religion sometimes have one thing in common – blindness! There are people who have a blind faith in their religion. Like the fundamental Christians who believe in creationism, saying that the earth was made in just seven days. A point of view held in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.
At the same time materialist science assumes that nothing supernatural can ever be proved to exist. This is a world view that stops one from considering all sorts of less tangible phenomena – those that involve subjectivity and cannot be seen with any kind of precision, prediction or control.
So, is science and religion at odds with each other? Alternatively, could they at least potentially be compatible? Both science and religion seek what they believe to be the truth. Here we look at some phenomena to see if the objective truth of science provides sufficient explanation.
Healing & science and religion
The British Medical Journal December 1983 reported on a study of ‘inexplicable spontaneous healing’. It found staggering examples of unexpected improvement or cure in patients suffering disease. Dr Rex Gardner conducted the research. He was then a consultant gynaecologist from Sunderland. The study was done by him following up a number of contemporary cases of spontaneous remission. He either exchanged letters with the physician concerned or he himself examined the patient.
It seems that the body heals itself. When a virus invades it, the invader is repelled and, after illness, recovery sets in. Scientific medicine and other therapies can help this healing process.
This way of thinking lines up with a religious perspective of ‘God’s healing energy’.
Personal choice & science and religion
You make a personal choice about what radio station to listen to or what person to share your life with. The science of psychology does not allow for free-will in this decision. Instead, it thinks decision-making comes from inherited motives e.g. for shelter, food, or affiliation etc, moderated by your experience of social learning.
Science assumes everything is determined by some measurable entity: like what is seen or heard, the chemical state of one’s brain or one’s genetic makeup. No room in this approach for the notion free will – an idea which comes from religion.
Consciousness & science and religion
Consciousness clearly needs the functioning brain. When receiving a blow to the head, you can suffer concussion. This adversely affects external awareness for a while. After a serious stroke that damages part of the brain, one may not be able to speak fluently or understand writing.
With advances in brain scanning equipment, scientists can now observe human consciousness. They see what the brain is doing when the person is aware of remembering, imagining, feeling, thinking and even making choices. It has been found that intense or mystical experiences run in parallel with co-ordinated activity in certain areas of the brain and absence of activity in other parts.
So, does neuroscience fully account for the conscious mind? Does it completely explain how something physical, such as brain tissues with their electrical impulses, have a rich subjective awareness?
One religious writer, Emanuel Swedenborg, wrote that being human, gives us access to rational thoughts coming from a different degree of reality to that of the material plane. For him this higher dimension gives us the quality of subjective experience, with its property of continuity together with a sense of self who is conscious.
Human origins & science and religion
Science declares that it will trace all species of life on earth back through their pedigrees to the simplest forms in which life initially appeared. Human beings appeared later than less complex forms of life.
Modern evolution theory says all this happened through natural variability and chance genetic mutations. The features of the offspring of the successful parents will differ in a tiny way from the characteristics of the previous generation. Over a long time, due to survival of the fittest, this results in the gradual evolution of plant and animal species.
One troubling point, about the scientific account of our origins, is the way the notion of randomness keeps cropping up – random selection of genes in offspring, randomness of genetic mutation, and random changes in the environment conducive to survival. So life, according to science is basically an accident.
Perhaps this is not surprising. All science tends to avoid any account of purpose. However, from a religious angle, Divine Providence foresees and invisibly inflows into the general things of order in the universe including the development of the human race. Not only into what is general but also into the smallest details. If so, then nothing occurs by chance.
Psi & science and religion
Parapsychological research findings are weird. Those few scientists working in this field say they have clearly shown the reality of mind-to mind connections (telepathy). They also say perceiving distant objects or events (clairvoyance) is possible. Astonishingly, perceiving future events (pre-cognition) and even mind-matter interactions (psychokenesis) have been shown.
For example numerous studies demonstrate a consistent – albeit small – effect of mental influence on dice throwing. In his book Entangled Minds, Dean Radin academic parapsychologist talks about sceptical debunkers within mainstream science. They claim these results are due to either chance, sloppy work, selective reporting or fraud. But he says these suggestions can’t actually explain away the results.
There are numerous reports of witnesses testifying to anomalous noises, sudden wild movements, breakage of household items or other unaccountable movement of objects. All these through means other than physical force.
Two British parapsychologists compiled a monumental collection of 500 ‘poltergeist’ cases. One of the authors was Alan Gauld who taught psychology at the University of Nottingham. There are even films of such phenomena.
If scientists believe that only randomness or physical substance is needed to explain reality then science and religion cannot be compatible. However, when they acknowledge they cannot fully account for some important phenomena, then perhaps the religious perspective has something to offer as well. If so, then science and religion might be more compatible than is often assumed.
The founder of the Bahá’í religion said that religion without science is superstition and that science without religion is materialism.