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Science

The Long War—and the Recent Truce—Between Science and Religion

David Langness | May 18, 2015

PART 2 IN SERIES Science and Religion

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | May 18, 2015

PART 2 IN SERIES Science and Religion

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

…a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance and loftiness of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation. They exist with the same necessity and matter-of-factness as he himself. In this sense religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals and constantly to strengthen and extend their effect. If one conceives of religion and science according to these definitions then a conflict between them appears impossible. For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary. Religion, on the other hand, deals only with evaluations of human thought and action: it cannot justifiably speak of facts and relationships between facts. According to this interpretation the well-known conflicts between religion and science in the past must all be ascribed to a misapprehension of the situation… – Albert Einstein

Stephen-Jay-Gould

Stephen Jay Gould

This quote from the great physicist neatly summarizes the modern truce between science and traditional religion. After a war of several centuries between traditional religion and emerging science, many scientists and theologians have recently agreed on a peace treaty. The philosopher and biologist Stephen Jay Gould even coined a term for the truce: “Non-Overlapping Magisteria,” otherwise known as NOMA. Gould originally launched this theory in a 1997 article in Natural History magazine, and it has received wide support from both theologians and scientists.

Gould defined “magisteria” as “a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution.” In his 1999 book Rocks of Ages, Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, he defines the separate domains of science and religion this way:

Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings, and values—subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve.

Many National Academies of Science, including the prestigious one in the United States, have agreed with this idea, saying in their official statements that religion and science are independent of one another and “are based on different aspects of human experience.”

This view, widely held now across both religion and science, probably comes closest to the Baha’i principle of the essential agreement and reciprocity between the two spheres:

We may think of science as one wing and religion as the other; a bird needs two wings for flight, one alone would be useless. Any religion that contradicts science or that is opposed to it, is only ignorance — for ignorance is the opposite of knowledge.

Religion which consists only of rites and ceremonies of prejudice is not the truth. Let us earnestly endeavour to be the means of uniting religion and science…

Whatever the intelligence of man cannot understand, religion ought not to accept. Religion and science walk hand in hand, and any religion contrary to science is not the truth. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 130.

However—the Baha’i teachings take the concept one step further than the current truce does, not just seeing no conflict between religion and science; but instead seeing a close interconnection:

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. All religions of the present day have fallen into superstitious practices, out of harmony alike with the true principles of the teaching they represent and with the scientific discoveries of the time. Many religious leaders have grown to think that the importance of religion lies mainly in the adherence to a collection of certain dogmas and the practice of rites and ceremonies! Those whose souls they profess to cure are taught to believe likewise, and these cling tenaciously to the outward forms, confusing them with the inward truth.

Now, these forms and rituals differ in the various churches and amongst the different sects, and even contradict one another; giving rise to discord, hatred, and disunion. The outcome of all this dissension is the belief of many cultured men that religion and science are contradictory terms, that religion needs no powers of reflection, and should in no wise be regulated by science, but must of necessity be opposed, the one to the other. The unfortunate effect of this is that science has drifted apart from religion, and religion has become a mere blind and more or less apathetic following of the precepts of certain religious teachers, who insist on their own favourite dogmas being accepted even when they are contrary to science. This is foolishness, for it is quite evident that science is the light, and, being so, religion truly so-called does not oppose knowledge. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 142-143.

For Baha’is, truth is one. From a Baha’i perspective, scientific truth and spiritual truth don’t just operate in separate spheres–they have the same basis, the same verity, the same substance:

There is no contradiction between true religion and science. When a religion is opposed to science it becomes mere superstition: that which is contrary to knowledge is ignorance.

How can a man believe to be a fact that which science has proved to be impossible? If he believes in spite of his reason, it is rather ignorant superstition than faith. The true principles of all religions are in conformity with the teachings of science.

The Unity of God is logical, and this idea is not antagonistic to the conclusions arrived at by scientific study. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 141.

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