Relationship Between Religion and Science
Various aspects of the relationship between religion and science have been cited by modern historians of science and religion, philosophers, theologians, scientists, and others from various geographical regions and cultures. Even though the ancient and medieval worlds did not have conceptions resembling the modern understandings of “science” and “religion“, certain elements of these modern ideas are found throughout history. It was in the 19th century when the phrases “religion and science” or “science and religion” first emerged in literature. This coincided with the refining of “science”, from the studies of “natural philosophy”, and “religion” as distinct concepts in the last few centuries partly due to professionalization of the sciences, the Protestant Reformation, colonization, and globalization. Since then, many have characterized the relationship as either conflict, harmony, complexity, or mutual independence.
Both science and religion are complex social and cultural endeavors that vary across cultures and have changed over time. Most scientific and technical innovations prior to the scientific revolution were achieved by societies organized by religious traditions. Elements of the scientific method were pioneered by ancient pagan, Islamic, and Christian scholars. Roger Bacon, who is often credited with formalizing the scientific method, was a Franciscan friar. Hinduism has historically embraced reason and empiricism, holding that science brings legitimate, but incomplete knowledge of the world and universe. Confucian thought has held different views of science over time. Most Buddhists today view science as complementary to their beliefs. While the classification of the material world by the ancient Indians and Greeks into air, earth, fire and water was more philosophical, medieval Middle Easterns used practical and experimental observation to classify materials.
Events in Europe such as the Galileo affair, associated with the scientific revolution and the Age of Enlightenment, led scholars such as John William Draper to postulate a conflict thesis, holding that religion and science have been in conflict methodologically, factually and politically throughout history. This thesis is held by some contemporary scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Peter Atkins, and Donald Prothero. The conflict thesis has lost favor among most contemporary historians of science.
Many scientists, philosophers, and theologians throughout history, such as Francisco Ayala, Kenneth R. Miller and Francis Collins, have seen compatibility or independence between religion and science. Biologist Stephen Jay Gould, other scientists, and some contemporary theologians hold that religion and science are non-overlapping magisteria, addressing fundamentally separate forms of knowledge and aspects of life. Some theologians or historians of science, including John Lennox, Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme and Ken Wilber propose an interconnection between science and religion, while others such as Ian Barbour believe there are even parallels.
Public acceptance of scientific facts may be influenced by religion; many in the United States reject evolution by natural selection, especially regarding human beings. Nevertheless, the American National Academy of Sciences has written that “the evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith”, a view officially endorsed by many religious denominations globally.
History of the concepts
The concepts of “science” and “religion” are a recent invention: “religion” emerged in the 17th century in the midst of colonization and globalization and the Protestant Reformation, “science” emerged in the 19th century in the midst of attempts to narrowly define those who studied nature. Originally what is today known as “science” was pioneered as “natural philosophy”. Furthermore, the phrase “religion and science” or “science and religion” emerged in the 19th century, not before, due to the reification of both concepts.
It was in the 19th century that the terms “Buddhism”, “Hinduism”, “Taoism”, “Confucianism” and “World Religions” first emerged. In the ancient and medieval world, the etymological Latin roots of both science (scientia) and religion (religio) were understood as inner qualities of the individual or virtues, never as doctrines, practices, or actual sources of knowledge.
It was in the 19th century that the concept of “science” received its modern shape with new titles emerging such as “biology” and “biologist”, “physics” and “physicist” among other technical fields and titles; institutions and communities were founded, and unprecedented applications to and interactions with other aspects of society and culture occurred. The term scientist was first coined by the naturalist-theologian William Whewell in 1834 and it was applied to those who sought knowledge and understanding of nature. From the ancient world, starting with Aristotle, to the 19th century, the term “natural philosophy” was the common term used to describe the practice of studying nature. Isaac Newton’s book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), whose title translates to “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”, reflects the then-current use of the words “natural philosophy”, akin to “systematic study of nature”. Even in the 19th century, a treatise by Lord Kelvin and Peter Guthrie Tait’s, which helped define much of modern physics, was titled Treatise on Natural Philosophy (1867).
It was in the 17th century that the concept of “religion” received its modern shape despite the fact that ancient texts like the Bible, the Quran, and other sacred texts did not have a concept of religion in the original languages and neither did the people or the cultures in which these sacred texts were written. In the 19th century, Max Müller noted that what is called ancient religion today, would have been called “law” in antiquity. For example, there is no precise equivalent of “religion” in Hebrew, and Judaism does not distinguish clearly between religious, national, racial, or ethnic identities. The Sanskrit word “dharma”, sometimes translated as “religion”, also means law or duty. Throughout classical South Asia, the study of law consisted of concepts such as penance through piety and ceremonial as well as practical traditions. Medieval Japan at first had a similar union between “imperial law” and universal or “Buddha law”, but these later became independent sources of power. Throughout its long history, Japan had no concept of “religion” since there was no corresponding Japanese word, nor anything close to its meaning, but when American warships appeared off the coast of Japan in 1853 and forced the Japanese government to sign treaties demanding, among other things, freedom of religion, the country had to contend with this Western idea.
Middle Ages and Renaissance
The development of sciences (especially natural philosophy) in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, has considerable foundation in the works of the Arabs who translated Greek and Latin compositions. The works of Aristotle played a major role in the institutionalization, systematization, and expansion of reason. Christianity accepted reason within the ambit of faith. In Christendom, reason was considered subordinate to revelation, which contained the ultimate truth and this truth could not be challenged. Even though the medieval Christian had the urge to use their reason, they had little on which to exercise it. In medieval universities, the faculty for natural philosophy and theology were separate, and discussions pertaining to theological issues were often not allowed to be undertaken by the faculty of philosophy.
Natural philosophy, as taught in the arts faculties of the universities, was seen as an essential area of study in its own right and was considered necessary for almost every area of study. It was an independent field, separated from theology, which enjoyed a good deal of intellectual freedom as long as it was restricted to the natural world. In general, there was religious support for natural science by the late Middle Ages and a recognition that it was an important element of learning.
The extent to which medieval science led directly to the new philosophy of the scientific revolution remains a subject for debate, but it certainly had a significant influence.
The Middle Ages laid ground for the developments that took place in science, during the Renaissance which immediately succeeded it. With significant developments taking place in science, mathematics, medicine and philosophy, the relationship between science and religion became one of curiosity and questioning. As humanism became more and more popular, people tried to understand the nature around them better, rather than turn to religious aspirations. Renaissance humanism looked to classical Greek and Roman texts to change contemporary thought, allowing for a new mindset after the Middle Ages. Renaissance readers understood these classical texts as focusing on human decisions, actions and creations, rather than blindly following the rules set forth by the Catholic Church as “God’s plan.” Though many Renaissance humanists remained religious, they believed God gave humans opportunities and it was humanity’s duty to do the “best and most moral thing”. Renaissance humanism was an “ethical theory and practice that emphasized reason, scientific inquiry and human fulfillment in the natural world,” said Abernethy. By 1630, ancient authority from classical literature and philosophy, as well as their necessity, started eroding, although scientists were still expected to be fluent in Latin, the international language of Europe’s intellectuals. With the sheer success of science and the steady advance of rationalism, the individual scientist gained prestige.
Along with the inventions of this period, especially the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg, allowed for the dissemination of the Bible in languages of the common people (languages other than Latin). This allowed more people to read and learn from the scripture, leading to the Evangelical movement. The people who spread this message, concentrated more on individual agency rather than the structures of the Church.
The kinds of interactions that might arise between science and religion have been categorized by theologian, Anglican priest, and physicist John Polkinghorne: (1) conflict between the disciplines, (2) independence of the disciplines, (3) dialogue between the disciplines where they overlap and (4) integration of both into one field.
This typology is similar to ones used by theologians Ian Barbour and John Haught. More typologies that categorize this relationship can be found among the works of other science and religion scholars such as theologian and biochemist Arthur Peacocke.
According to Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C and Avelina Espinosa, the historical conflict between evolution and religion is intrinsic to the incompatibility between scientific rationalism/empiricism and the belief in supernatural causation. According to evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, views on evolution and levels of religiosity in some countries, along with the existence of books explaining reconciliation between evolution and religion, indicate that people have trouble in believing both at the same time, thus implying incompatibility. According to physical chemist Peter Atkins, “whereas religion scorns the power of human comprehension, science respects it.” Planetary scientist Carolyn Porco describes a hope that “the confrontation between science and formal religion will come to an end when the role played by science in the lives of all people is the same played by religion today.” Geologist and paleontologist Donald Prothero has stated that religion is the reason “questions about evolution, the age of the earth, cosmology, and human evolution nearly always cause Americans to flunk science literacy tests compared to other nations.” However, Jon Miller, who studies science literacy across nations, states that Americans in general are slightly more scientifically literate than Europeans and the Japanese. According to cosmologist and astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss, compatibility or incompatibility is a theological concern, not a scientific concern. In Lisa Randall’s view, questions of incompatibility or otherwise are not answerable, since by accepting revelations one is abandoning rules of logic which are needed to identify if there are indeed contradictions between holding certain beliefs. Daniel Dennett holds that incompatibility exists because religion is not problematic to a certain point before it collapses into a number of excuses for keeping certain beliefs, in light of evolutionary implications.
According to theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg, teaching cosmology and evolution to students should decrease their self-importance in the universe, as well as their religiosity. Evolutionary developmental biologist PZ Myers’ view is that all scientists should be atheists, and that science should never accommodate any religious beliefs. Physicist Sean M. Carroll claims that since religion makes claims that are supernatural, both science and religion are incompatible.
Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is openly hostile to religion because he believes it actively debauches the scientific enterprise and education involving science. According to Dawkins, religion “subverts science and saps the intellect”. He believes that when science teachers attempt to expound on evolution, there is hostility aimed towards them by parents who are skeptical because they believe it conflicts with their own religious beliefs, and that even in some textbooks have had the word ‘evolution’ systematically removed. He has worked to argue the negative effects that he believes religion has on education of science.
According to Renny Thomas’ study on Indian scientists, atheistic scientists in India called themselves atheists even while accepting that their lifestyle is very much a part of tradition and religion. Thus, they differ from Western atheists in that for them following the lifestyle of a religion is not antithetical to atheism.
Others such as Francis Collins, George F. R. Ellis, Kenneth R. Miller, Katharine Hayhoe, George Coyne and Simon Conway Morris argue for compatibility since they do not agree that science is incompatible with religion and vice versa. They argue that science provides many opportunities to look for and find God in nature and to reflect on their beliefs. According to Kenneth Miller, he disagrees with Jerry Coyne’s assessment and argues that since significant portions of scientists are religious and the proportion of Americans believing in evolution is much higher, it implies that both are indeed compatible. Elsewhere, Miller has argued that when scientists make claims on science and theism or atheism, they are not arguing scientifically at all and are stepping beyond the scope of science into discourses of meaning and purpose. What he finds particularly odd and unjustified is in how atheists often come to invoke scientific authority on their non-scientific philosophical conclusions like there being no point or no meaning to the universe as the only viable option when the scientific method and science never have had any way of addressing questions of meaning or God in the first place. Furthermore, he notes that since evolution made the brain and since the brain can handle both religion and science, there is no natural incompatibility between the concepts at the biological level.
Karl Giberson argues that when discussing compatibility, some scientific intellectuals often ignore the viewpoints of intellectual leaders in theology and instead argue against less informed masses, thereby, defining religion by non intellectuals and slanting the debate unjustly. He argues that leaders in science sometimes trump older scientific baggage and that leaders in theology do the same, so once theological intellectuals are taken into account, people who represent extreme positions like Ken Ham and Eugenie Scott will become irrelevant. Cynthia Tolman notes that religion does not have a method per se partly because religions emerge through time from diverse cultures, but when it comes to Christian theology and ultimate truths, she notes that people often rely on scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to test and gauge what they experience and what they should believe.
Main article: The Conflict thesis
The conflict thesis, which holds that religion and science have been in conflict continuously throughout history, was popularized in the 19th century by John William Draper’s and Andrew Dickson White’s accounts. It was in the 19th century that relationship between science and religion became an actual formal topic of discourse, while before this no one had pitted science against religion or vice versa, though occasional complex interactions had been expressed before the 19th century. Most contemporary historians of science now reject the conflict thesis in its original form and no longer support it. Instead, it has been superseded by subsequent historical research which has resulted in a more nuanced understanding: Historian of science, Gary Ferngren, has stated “Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavour, while at other times the two have co-existed without either tension or attempts at harmonization. If Galileo and the Scopes trial come to mind as examples of conflict, they were the exceptions rather than the rule.”
Most historians today have moved away from a conflict model, which is based mainly on two historical episodes (Galileo and Darwin) for a “complexity” model, because religious figures were on both sides of each dispute and there was no overall aim by any party involved to discredit religion.
An often cited example of conflict, that has been clarified by historical research in the 20th century, was the Galileo affair, whereby interpretations of the Bible were used to attack ideas by Copernicus on heliocentrism. By 1616 Galileo went to Rome to try to persuade Catholic Church authorities not to ban Copernicus’ ideas. In the end, a decree of the Congregation of the Index was issued, declaring that the ideas that the Sun stood still and that the Earth moved were “false” and “altogether contrary to Holy Scripture”, and suspending Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus until it could be corrected. Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the center of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves. He was required to “abjure, curse and detest” those opinions. However, before all this, Pope Urban VIII had personally asked Galileo to give arguments for and against heliocentrism in a book, and to be careful not to advocate heliocentrism as physically proven since the scientific consensus at the time was that the evidence for heliocentrism was very weak. The Church had merely sided with the scientific consensus of the time. Pope Urban VIII asked that his own views on the matter be included in Galileo’s book. Only the latter was fulfilled by Galileo. Whether unknowingly or deliberately, Simplicio, the defender of the Aristotelian/Ptolemaic geocentric view in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was often portrayed as an unlearned fool who lacked mathematical training. Although the preface of his book claims that the character is named after a famous Aristotelian philosopher (Simplicius in Latin, Simplicio in Italian), the name “Simplicio” in Italian also has the connotation of “simpleton”. Unfortunately for his relationship with the Pope, Galileo put the words of Urban VIII into the mouth of Simplicio. Most historians agree Galileo did not act out of malice and felt blindsided by the reaction to his book. However, the Pope did not take the suspected public ridicule lightly, nor the physical Copernican advocacy. Galileo had alienated one of his biggest and most powerful supporters, the Pope, and was called to Rome to defend his writings.
The actual evidences that finally proved heliocentrism came centuries after Galileo: the stellar aberration of light by James Bradley in the 18th century, the orbital motions of binary stars by William Herschel in the 19th century, the accurate measurement of the stellar parallax in the 19th century, and Newtonian mechanics in the 17th century. According to physicist Christopher Graney, Galileo’s own observations did not actually support the Copernican view, but were more consistent with Tycho Brahe’s hybrid model where that Earth did not move and everything else circled around it and the Sun.
British philosopher A. C. Grayling, still believes there is competition between science and religions and point to the origin of the universe, the nature of human beings and the possibility of miracles
A modern view, described by Stephen Jay Gould as “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA), is that science and religion deal with fundamentally separate aspects of human experience and so, when each stays within its own domain, they co-exist peacefully. While Gould spoke of independence from the perspective of science, W. T. Stace viewed independence from the perspective of the philosophy of religion. Stace felt that science and religion, when each is viewed in its own domain, are both consistent and complete. They originate from different perceptions of reality, as Arnold O. Benz points out, but meet each other, for example, in the feeling of amazement and in ethics.
The USA’s National Academy of Science supports the view that science and religion are independent.
Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to put science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.
According to Archbishop John Habgood, both science and religion represent distinct ways of approaching experience and these differences are sources of debate. He views science as descriptive and religion as prescriptive. He stated that if science and mathematics concentrate on what the world ought to be, in the way that religion does, it may lead to improperly ascribing properties to the natural world as happened among the followers of Pythagoras in the sixth century B.C. In contrast, proponents of a normative moral science take issue with the idea that science has no way of guiding “oughts”. Habgood also stated that he believed that the reverse situation, where religion attempts to be descriptive, can also lead to inappropriately assigning properties to the natural world. A notable example is the now defunct belief in the Ptolemaic (geocentric) planetary model that held sway until changes in scientific and religious thinking were brought about by Galileo and proponents of his views.
Parallels in method
According to Ian Barbour, Thomas S. Kuhn asserted that science is made up of paradigms that arise from cultural traditions, which is similar to the secular perspective on religion.
Michael Polanyi asserted that it is merely a commitment to universality that protects against subjectivity and has nothing at all to do with personal detachment as found in many conceptions of the scientific method. Polanyi further asserted that all knowledge is personal and therefore the scientist must be performing a very personal if not necessarily subjective role when doing science. Polanyi added that the scientist often merely follows intuitions of “intellectual beauty, symmetry, and ’empirical agreement'”. Polanyi held that science requires moral commitments similar to those found in religion.
Two physicists, Charles A. Coulson and Harold K. Schilling, both claimed that “the methods of science and religion have much in common.” Schilling asserted that both fields—science and religion—have “a threefold structure—of experience, theoretical interpretation, and practical application.” Coulson asserted that science, like religion, “advances by creative imagination” and not by “mere collecting of facts,” while stating that religion should and does “involve critical reflection on experience not unlike that which goes on in science.” Religious language and scientific language also show parallels (cf. rhetoric of science).
The religion and science community consists of those scholars who involve themselves with what has been called the “religion-and-science dialogue” or the “religion-and-science field.” The community belongs to neither the scientific nor the religious community, but is said to be a third overlapping community of interested and involved scientists, priests, clergymen, theologians and engaged non-professionals. Institutions interested in the intersection between science and religion include the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science, the Ian Ramsey Centre, and the Faraday Institute. Journals addressing the relationship between science and religion include Theology and Science and Zygon. Eugenie Scott has written that the “science and religion” movement is, overall, composed mainly of theists who have a healthy respect for science and may be beneficial to the public understanding of science. She contends that the “Christian scholarship” movement is not a problem for science, but that the “Theistic Science” movement, which proposes abandoning methodological materialism, does cause problems in understanding of the nature of science. The Gifford Lectures were established in 1885 to further the discussion between “natural theology” and the scientific community. This annual series continues and has included William James, John Dewey, Carl Sagan, and many other professors from various fields.
The modern dialogue between religion and science is rooted in Ian Barbour’s 1966 book Issues in Science and Religion. Since that time it has grown into a serious academic field, with academic chairs in the subject area, and two dedicated academic journals, Zygon and Theology and Science. Articles are also sometimes found in mainstream science journals such as American Journal of Physics and Science.
Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has argued that there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and religion, and that there is deep conflict between science and naturalism. Plantinga, in his book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, heavily contests the linkage of naturalism with science, as conceived by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and like-minded thinkers; while Daniel Dennett thinks that Plantinga stretches science to an unacceptable extent. Philosopher Maarten Boudry, in reviewing the book, has commented that he resorts to creationism and fails to “stave off the conflict between theism and evolution.” Cognitive scientist Justin L. Barrett, by contrast, reviews the same book and writes that “those most needing to hear Plantinga’s message may fail to give it a fair hearing for rhetorical rather than analytical reasons.”
As a general view, this holds that while interactions are complex between influences of science, theology, politics, social, and economic concerns, the productive engagements between science and religion throughout history should be duly stressed as the norm.
Scientific and theological perspectives often coexist peacefully. Christians and some non-Christian religions have historically integrated well with scientific ideas, as in the ancient Egyptian technological mastery applied to monotheistic ends, the flourishing of logic and mathematics under Hinduism and Buddhism, and the scientific advances made by Muslim scholars during the Ottoman empire. Even many 19th-century Christian communities welcomed scientists who claimed that science was not at all concerned with discovering the ultimate nature of reality. According to Lawrence M. Principe, the Johns Hopkins University Drew Professor of the Humanities, from a historical perspective this points out that much of the current-day clashes occur between limited extremists—both religious and scientistic fundamentalists—over a very few topics, and that the movement of ideas back and forth between scientific and theological thought has been more usual. To Principe, this perspective would point to the fundamentally common respect for written learning in religious traditions of rabbinical literature, Christian theology, and the Islamic Golden Age, including a Transmission of the Classics from Greek to Islamic to Christian traditions which helped spark the Renaissance. Religions have also given key participation in development of modern universities and libraries; centers of learning & scholarship were coincident with religious institutions – whether pagan, Muslim, or Christian.
Main article: Buddhism and science
Buddhism and science have been regarded as compatible by numerous authors. Some philosophic and psychological teachings found in Buddhism share points in common with modern Western scientific and philosophic thought. For example, Buddhism encourages the impartial investigation of nature (an activity referred to as Dhamma-Vicaya in the Pali Canon)—the principal object of study being oneself. Buddhism and science both show a strong emphasis on causality. However, Buddhism doesn’t focus on materialism.
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, maintains that empirical scientific evidence supersedes the traditional teachings of Buddhism when the two are in conflict. In his book The Universe in a Single Atom he wrote, “My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science, so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation.” and “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false,” he says, “then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”
Main article: Christianity and science
Among early Christian teachers, Tertullian (c. 160–220) held a generally negative opinion of Greek philosophy, while Origen (c. 185–254) regarded it much more favorably and required his students to read nearly every work available to them.
Earlier attempts at reconciliation of Christianity with Newtonian mechanics appear quite different from later attempts at reconciliation with the newer scientific ideas of evolution or relativity. Many early interpretations of evolution polarized themselves around a struggle for existence. These ideas were significantly countered by later findings of universal patterns of biological cooperation. According to John Habgood, all man really knows here is that the universe seems to be a mix of good and evil, beauty and pain, and that suffering may somehow be part of the process of creation. Habgood holds that Christians should not be surprised that suffering may be used creatively by God, given their faith in the symbol of the Cross. Robert John Russell has examined consonance and dissonance between modern physics, evolutionary biology, and Christian theology.
Christian philosophers Augustine of Hippo (354–30) and Thomas Aquinas held that scriptures can have multiple interpretations on certain areas where the matters were far beyond their reach, therefore one should leave room for future findings to shed light on the meanings. The “Handmaiden” tradition, which saw secular studies of the universe as a very important and helpful part of arriving at a better understanding of scripture, was adopted throughout Christian history from early on. Also the sense that God created the world as a self operating system is what motivated many Christians throughout the Middle Ages to investigate nature.
Modern historians of science such as J.L. Heilbron, Alistair Cameron Crombie, David Lindberg, Edward Grant, Thomas Goldstein, and Ted Davis have reviewed the popular notion that medieval Christianity was a negative influence in the development of civilization and science. In their views, not only did the monks save and cultivate the remnants of ancient civilization during the barbarian invasions, but the medieval church promoted learning and science through its sponsorship of many universities which, under its leadership, grew rapidly in Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries. Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Church’s “model theologian”, not only argued that reason is in harmony with faith, he even recognized that reason can contribute to understanding revelation, and so encouraged intellectual development. He was not unlike other medieval theologians who sought out reason in the effort to defend his faith. Some of today’s scholars, such as Stanley Jaki, have claimed that Christianity with its particular worldview, was a crucial factor for the emergence of modern science.
David C. Lindberg states that the widespread popular belief that the Middle Ages was a time of ignorance and superstition due to the Christian church is a “caricature”. According to Lindberg, while there are some portions of the classical tradition which suggest this view, these were exceptional cases. It was common to tolerate and encourage critical thinking about the nature of the world. The relation between Christianity and science is complex and cannot be simplified to either harmony or conflict, according to Lindberg. Lindberg reports that “the late medieval scholar rarely experienced the coercive power of the church and would have regarded himself as free (particularly in the natural sciences) to follow reason and observation wherever they led. There was no warfare between science and the church.” Ted Peters in Encyclopedia of Religion writes that although there is some truth in the “Galileo’s condemnation” story but through exaggerations, it has now become “a modern myth perpetuated by those wishing to see warfare between science and religion who were allegedly persecuted by an atavistic and dogma-bound ecclesiastical authority”. In 1992, the Catholic Church’s seeming vindication of Galileo attracted much comment in the media.
A degree of concord between science and religion can be seen in religious belief and empirical science. The belief that God created the world and therefore humans, can lead to the view that he arranged for humans to know the world. This is underwritten by the doctrine of imago dei. In the words of Thomas Aquinas, “Since human beings are said to be in the image of God in virtue of their having a nature that includes an intellect, such a nature is most in the image of God in virtue of being most able to imitate God”.
During the Enlightenment, a period “characterized by dramatic revolutions in science” and the rise of Protestant challenges to the authority of the Catholic Church via individual liberty, the authority of Christian scriptures became strongly challenged. As science advanced, acceptance of a literal version of the Bible became “increasingly untenable” and some in that period presented ways of interpreting scripture according to its spirit on its authority and truth.
Perspectives on evolution
In recent history, the theory of evolution has been at the center of some controversy between Christianity and science. Christians who accept a literal interpretation of the biblical account of creation find incompatibility between Darwinian evolution and their interpretation of the Christian faith. Creation science or scientific creationism is a branch of creationism that attempts to provide scientific support for the Genesis creation narrative in the Book of Genesis and attempts to disprove generally accepted scientific facts, theories and scientific paradigms about the geological history of the Earth, cosmology of the early universe, the chemical origins of life and biological evolution. It began in the 1960s as a fundamentalist Christian effort in the United States to prove Biblical inerrancy and falsify the scientific evidence for evolution. It has since developed a sizable religious following in the United States, with creation science ministries branching worldwide. In 1925, The State of Tennessee passed the Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of the theory of evolution in all schools in the state. Later that year, a similar law was passed in Mississippi, and likewise, Arkansas in 1927. In 1968, these “anti-monkey” laws were struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States as unconstitutional, “because they established a religious doctrine violating both the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution.
Most scientists have rejected creation science for several reasons, including that its claims do not refer to natural causes and cannot be tested. In 1987, the United States Supreme Court ruled that creationism is religion, not science, and cannot be advocated in public school classrooms. In 2018, the Orlando Sentinel reported that “Some private schools in Florida that rely on public funding teach students” Creationism.
Theistic evolution attempts to reconcile Christian beliefs and science by accepting the scientific understanding of the age of the Earth and the process of evolution. It includes a range of beliefs, including views described as evolutionary creationism, which accepts some findings of modern science but also upholds classical religious teachings about God and creation in Christian context.
Reconciliation in Britain in the early 20th century
In Reconciling Science and Religion: The Debate in Early-twentieth-century Britain, historian of biology Peter J. Bowler argues that in contrast to the conflicts between science and religion in the U.S. in the 1920s (most famously the Scopes Trial), during this period Great Britain experienced a concerted effort at reconciliation, championed by intellectually conservative scientists, supported by liberal theologians but opposed by younger scientists and secularists and conservative Christians. These attempts at reconciliation fell apart in the 1930s due to increased social tensions, moves towards neo-orthodox theology and the acceptance of the modern evolutionary synthesis.
In the 20th century, several ecumenical organizations promoting a harmony between science and Christianity were founded, most notably the American Scientific Affiliation, The Biologos Foundation, Christians in Science, The Society of Ordained Scientists, and The Veritas Forum.
While refined and clarified over the centuries, the Roman Catholic position on the relationship between science and religion is one of harmony, and has maintained the teaching of natural law as set forth by Thomas Aquinas. For example, regarding scientific study such as that of evolution, the church’s unofficial position is an example of theistic evolution, stating that faith and scientific findings regarding human evolution are not in conflict, though humans are regarded as a special creation, and that the existence of God is required to explain both monogenism and the spiritual component of human origins. Catholic schools have included all manners of scientific study in their curriculum for many centuries.
Galileo once stated “The intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” In 1981 John Paul II, then pope of the Roman Catholic Church, spoke of the relationship this way: “The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer”.
Influence of a biblical world view on early modern science
According to Andrew Dickson White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom from the 19th century, a biblical world view affected negatively the progress of science through time. Dickinson also argues that immediately following the Reformation matters were even worse. The interpretations of Scripture by Luther and Calvin became as sacred to their followers as the Scripture itself. For instance, when Georg Calixtus ventured, in interpreting the Psalms, to question the accepted belief that “the waters above the heavens” were contained in a vast receptacle upheld by a solid vault, he was bitterly denounced as heretical. Today, much of the scholarship in which the conflict thesis was originally based is considered to be inaccurate. For instance, the claim that early Christians rejected scientific findings by the Greco-Romans is false, since the “handmaiden” view of secular studies was seen to shed light on theology. This view was widely adapted throughout the early medieval period and afterwards by theologians (such as Augustine) and ultimately resulted in fostering interest in knowledge about nature through time. Also, the claim that people of the Middle Ages widely believed that the Earth was flat was first propagated in the same period that originated the conflict thesis and is still very common in popular culture. Modern scholars regard this claim as mistaken, as the contemporary historians of science David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers write: “there was scarcely a Christian scholar of the Middle Ages who did not acknowledge [earth’s] sphericity and even know its approximate circumference.” From the fall of Rome to the time of Columbus, all major scholars and many vernacular writers interested in the physical shape of the earth held a spherical view with the exception of Lactantius and Cosmas.
H. Floris Cohen argued for a biblical Protestant, but not excluding Catholicism, influence on the early development of modern science. He presented Dutch historian R. Hooykaas’ argument that a biblical world-view holds all the necessary antidotes for the hubris of Greek rationalism: a respect for manual labour, leading to more experimentation and empiricism, and a supreme God that left nature open to emulation and manipulation. It supports the idea early modern science rose due to a combination of Greek and biblical thought.
Oxford historian Peter Harrison is another who has argued that a biblical worldview was significant for the development of modern science. Harrison contends that Protestant approaches to the book of scripture had significant, if largely unintended, consequences for the interpretation of the book of nature. Harrison has also suggested that literal readings of the Genesis narratives of the Creation and Fall motivated and legitimated scientific activity in seventeenth-century England. For many of its seventeenth-century practitioners, science was imagined to be a means of restoring a human dominion over nature that had been lost as a consequence of the Fall.
Historian and professor of religion Eugene M. Klaaren holds that “a belief in divine creation” was central to an emergence of science in seventeenth-century England. The philosopher Michael Foster has published analytical philosophy connecting Christian doctrines of creation with empiricism. Historian William B. Ashworth has argued against the historical notion of distinctive mind-sets and the idea of Catholic and Protestant sciences. Historians James R. Jacob and Margaret C. Jacob have argued for a linkage between seventeenth century Anglican intellectual transformations and influential English scientists (e.g., Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton). John Dillenberger and Christopher B. Kaiser have written theological surveys, which also cover additional interactions occurring in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Philosopher of Religion, Richard Jones, has written a philosophical critique of the “dependency thesis” which assumes that modern science emerged from Christian sources and doctrines. Though he acknowledges that modern science emerged in a religious framework, that Christianity greatly elevated the importance of science by sanctioning and religiously legitimizing it in the medieval period, and that Christianity created a favorable social context for it to grow; he argues that direct Christian beliefs or doctrines were not primary sources of scientific pursuits by natural philosophers, nor was Christianity, in and of itself, exclusively or directly necessary in developing or practicing modern science.
Oxford University historian and theologian John Hedley Brooke wrote that “when natural philosophers referred to laws of nature, they were not glibly choosing that metaphor. Laws were the result of legislation by an intelligent deity. Thus the philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650) insisted that he was discovering the “laws that God has put into nature.” Later Newton would declare that the regulation of the solar system presupposed the “counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” Historian Ronald L. Numbers stated that this thesis “received a boost” from mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World (1925). Numbers has also argued, “Despite the manifest shortcomings of the claim that Christianity gave birth to science—most glaringly, it ignores or minimizes the contributions of ancient Greeks and medieval Muslims—it too, refuses to succumb to the death it deserves.” The sociologist Rodney Stark of Baylor University, argued in contrast that “Christian theology was essential for the rise of science.”
Protestantism had an important influence on science. According to the Merton Thesis there was a positive correlation between the rise of Puritanism and Protestant Pietism on the one hand and early experimental science on the other.The Merton Thesis has two separate parts: Firstly, it presents a theory that science changes due to an accumulation of observations and improvement in experimental techniques and methodology; secondly, it puts forward the argument that the popularity of science in 17th-century England and the religious demography of the Royal Society (English scientists of that time were predominantly Puritans or other Protestants) can be explained by a correlation between Protestantism and the scientific values. In his theory, Robert K. Merton focused on English Puritanism and German Pietism as having been responsible for the development of the scientific revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries. Merton explained that the connection between religious affiliation and interest in science was the result of a significant synergy between the ascetic Protestant values and those of modern science. Protestant values encouraged scientific research by allowing science to study God’s influence on the world and thus providing a religious justification for scientific research.
Confucianism and traditional Chinese religion
See also: Confucianism
The historical process of Confucianism has largely been antipathic towards scientific discovery. However the religio-philosophical system itself is more neutral on the subject than such an analysis might suggest. In his writings On Heaven, Xunzi espoused a proto-scientific world view. However, during the Han Synthesis the more anti-empirical Mencius was favored and combined with Daoist skepticism regarding the nature of reality. Likewise, during the Medieval period, Zhu Xi argued against technical investigation and specialization proposed by Chen Liang. After contact with the West, scholars such as Wang Fuzhi would rely on Buddhist/Daoist skepticism to denounce all science as a subjective pursuit limited by humanity’s fundamental ignorance of the true nature of the world. After the May Fourth Movement, attempts to modernize Confucianism and reconcile it with scientific understanding were attempted by many scholars including Feng Youlan and Xiong Shili. Given the close relationship that Confucianism shares with Buddhism, many of the same arguments used to reconcile Buddhism with science also readily translate to Confucianism. However, modern scholars have also attempted to define the relationship between science and Confucianism on Confucianism’s own terms and the results have usually led to the conclusion that Confucianism and science are fundamentally compatible.
In Hinduism, the dividing line between objective sciences and spiritual knowledge (adhyatma vidya) is a linguistic paradox. Hindu scholastic activities and ancient Indian scientific advancements were so interconnected that many Hindu scriptures are also ancient scientific manuals and vice versa. In 1835, English was made the primary language for teaching in higher education in India, exposing Hindu scholars to Western secular ideas; this started a renaissance regarding religious and philosophical thought. Hindu sages maintained that logical argument and rational proof using Nyaya is the way to obtain correct knowledge. The scientific level of understanding focuses on how things work and from where they originate, while Hinduism strives to understand the ultimate purposes for the existence of living things. To obtain and broaden the knowledge of the world for spiritual perfection, many refer to the Bhāgavata for guidance because it draws upon a scientific and theological dialogue. Hinduism offers methods to correct and transform itself in course of time. For instance, Hindu views on the development of life include a range of viewpoints in regards to evolution, creationism, and the origin of life within the traditions of Hinduism. For instance, it has been suggested that Wallace-Darwininan evolutionary thought was a part of Hindu thought centuries before modern times. The Shankara and the Sāmkhya did not have a problem with the theory of evolution, but instead, argued about the existence of God and what happened after death. These two distinct groups argued among each other’s philosophies because of their sacred texts, not the idea of evolution. With the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, many Hindus were eager to connect their scriptures to Darwinism, finding similarities between Brahma’s creation, Vishnu’s incarnations, and evolution theories.
Samkhya, the oldest school of Hindu philosophy prescribes a particular method to analyze knowledge. According to Samkhya, all knowledge is possible through three means of valid knowledge
- Pratyakṣa or Dṛṣṭam – direct sense perception,
- Anumāna – logical inference and
- Śabda or Āptavacana – verbal testimony.
Nyaya, the Hindu school of logic, accepts all these 3 means and in addition accepts one more – Upamāna (comparison).
The accounts of the emergence of life within the universe vary in description, but classically the deity called Brahma, from a Trimurti of three deities also including Vishnu and Shiva, is described as performing the act of ‘creation’, or more specifically of ‘propagating life within the universe’ with the other two deities being responsible for ‘preservation’ and ‘destruction’ (of the universe) respectively. In this respect some Hindu schools do not treat the scriptural creation mythliterally and often the creation stories themselves do not go into specific detail, thus leaving open the possibility of incorporating at least some theories in support of evolution. Some Hindus find support for, or foreshadowing of evolutionary ideas in scriptures, namely the Vedas.
The incarnations of Vishnu (Dashavatara) is almost identical to the scientific explanation of the sequence of biological evolution of man and animals. The sequence of avatars starts from an aquatic organism (Matsya), to an amphibian (Kurma), to a land-animal (Varaha), to a humanoid (Narasimha), to a dwarf human (Vamana), to 5 forms of well developed human beings (Parashurama, Rama, Balarama/Buddha, Krishna, Kalki) who showcase an increasing form of complexity (Axe-man, King, Plougher/Sage, wise Statesman, mighty Warrior). In fact, many Hindu gods are represented with features of animals as well as those of humans, leading many Hindus to easily accept evolutionary links between animals and humans. In India, the home country of Hindus, educated Hindus widely accept the theory of biological evolution. In a survey of 909 people, 77% of respondents in India agreed with Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and 85 per cent of God-believing people said they believe in evolution as well.
As per Vedas, another explanation for the creation is based on the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and aether. The Hindu religion traces its beginnings to the sacred Vedas. Everything that is established in the Hindu faith such as the gods and goddesses, doctrines, chants, spiritual insights, etc. flow from the poetry of Vedic hymns. The Vedas offer an honor to the sun and moon, water and wind, and to the order in Nature that is universal. This naturalism is the beginning of what further becomes the connection between Hinduism and science.
From an Islamic standpoint, science, the study of nature, is considered to be linked to the concept of Tawhid (the Oneness of God), as are all other branches of knowledge. In Islam, nature is not seen as a separate entity, but rather as an integral part of Islam’s holistic outlook on God, humanity, and the world. The Islamic view of science and nature is continuous with that of religion and God. This link implies a sacred aspect to the pursuit of scientific knowledge by Muslims, as nature itself is viewed in the Qur’an as a compilation of signs pointing to the Divine. It was with this understanding that science was studied and understood in Islamic civilizations, specifically during the eighth to sixteenth centuries, prior to the colonization of the Muslim world. Robert Briffault, in The Making of Humanity, asserts that the very existence of science, as it is understood in the modern sense, is rooted in the scientific thought and knowledge that emerged in Islamic civilizations during this time. Ibn al-Haytham, an Arab Muslim, was an early proponent of the concept that a hypothesis must be proved by experiments based on confirmable procedures or mathematical evidence—hence understanding the scientific method 200 years before Renaissance scientists. Ibn al-Haytham described his theology:
I constantly sought knowledge and truth, and it became my belief that for gaining access to the effulgence and closeness to God, there is no better way than that of searching for truth and knowledge.
With the decline of Islamic Civilizations in the late Middle Ages and the rise of Europe, the Islamic scientific tradition shifted into a new period. Institutions that had existed for centuries in the Muslim world looked to the new scientific institutions of European powers. This changed the practice of science in the Muslim world, as Islamic scientists had to confront the western approach to scientific learning, which was based on a different philosophy of nature. From the time of this initial upheaval of the Islamic scientific tradition to the present day, Muslim scientists and scholars have developed a spectrum of viewpoints on the place of scientific learning within the context of Islam, none of which are universally accepted or practiced. However, most maintain the view that the acquisition of knowledge and scientific pursuit in general is not in disaccord with Islamic thought and religious belief.
Main article: Jainism and non-creationism
Jainism does not support belief in a creator deity. According to Jain doctrine, the universe and its constituents – soul, matter, space, time, and principles of motion have always existed (a static universe similar to that of Epicureanism and steady state cosmological model). All the constituents and actions are governed by universal natural laws. It is not possible to create matter out of nothing and hence the sum total of matter in the universe remains the same (similar to law of conservation of mass). Similarly, the soul of each living being is unique and uncreated and has existed since beginningless time.
The Jain theory of causation holds that a cause and its effect are always identical in nature and hence a conscious and immaterial entity like God cannot create a material entity like the universe. Furthermore, according to the Jain concept of divinity, any soul who destroys its karmas and desires, achieves liberation. A soul who destroys all its passions and desires has no desire to interfere in the working of the universe. Moral rewards and sufferings are not the work of a divine being, but a result of an innate moral order in the cosmos; a self-regulating mechanism whereby the individual reaps the fruits of his own actions through the workings of the karmas.
Through the ages, Jain philosophers have adamantly rejected and opposed the concept of creator and omnipotent God and this has resulted in Jainism being labeled as nastika darsana or atheist philosophy by the rival religious philosophies. The theme of non-creationism and absence of omnipotent God and divine grace runs strongly in all the philosophical dimensions of Jainism, including its cosmology, karma, moksa and its moral code of conduct. Jainism asserts a religious and virtuous life is possible without the idea of a creator god.
Perspectives from the scientific community
In the 17th century, founders of the Royal Society largely held conventional and orthodox religious views, and a number of them were prominent Churchmen. While theological issues that had the potential to be divisive were typically excluded from formal discussions of the early Society, many of its fellows nonetheless believed that their scientific activities provided support for traditional religious belief. Clerical involvement in the Royal Society remained high until the mid-nineteenth century, when science became more professionalised.
Albert Einstein supported the compatibility of some interpretations of religion with science. In “Science, Philosophy and Religion, A Symposium” published by the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., New York in 1941, Einstein stated:
Accordingly, 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 which has been described.
Einstein thus expresses views of ethical non-naturalism (contrasted to ethical naturalism).
Prominent modern scientists who are atheists include evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and Nobel Prize–winning physicist Steven Weinberg. Prominent scientists advocating religious belief include Nobel Prize–winning physicist and United Church of Christ member Charles Townes, evangelical Christian and past head of the Human Genome Project Francis Collins, and climatologist John T. Houghton.
Studies on scientists’ beliefs
In 1916, 1,000 leading American scientists were randomly chosen from American Men of Science and 42% believed God existed, 42% disbelieved, and 17% had doubts/did not know; however when the study was replicated 80 years later using American Men and Women of Science in 1996, results were very much the same with 39% believing God exists, 45% disbelieved, and 15% had doubts/did not know. In the same 1996 survey, for scientists in the fields of biology, mathematics, and physics/astronomy, belief in a god that is “in intellectual and affective communication with humankind” was most popular among mathematicians (about 45%) and least popular among physicists (about 22%). In total, in terms of belief toward a personal god and personal immortality, about 60% of United States scientists in these fields expressed either disbelief or agnosticism and about 40% expressed belief. This compared with 62.9% in 1914 and 33% in 1933.
A survey conducted between 2005 and 2007 by Elaine Howard Ecklund of University at Buffalo, The State University of New York of 1,646 natural and social science professors at 21 US research universities found that, in terms of belief in God or a higher power, more than 60% expressed either disbelief or agnosticism and more than 30% expressed belief. More specifically, nearly 34% answered “I do not believe in God” and about 30% answered “I do not know if there is a God and there is no way to find out.” In the same study, 28% said they believed in God and 8% believed in a higher power that was not God. Ecklund stated that scientists were often able to consider themselves spiritual without religion or belief in god. Ecklund and Scheitle concluded, from their study, that the individuals from non-religious backgrounds disproportionately had self-selected into scientific professions and that the assumption that becoming a scientist necessarily leads to loss of religion is untenable since the study did not strongly support the idea that scientists had dropped religious identities due to their scientific training. Instead, factors such as upbringing, age, and family size were significant influences on religious identification since those who had religious upbringing were more likely to be religious and those who had a non-religious upbringing were more likely to not be religious. The authors also found little difference in religiosity between social and natural scientists.
Since 1901–2013, 22% of all Nobel prizes have been awarded to Jews despite them being less than 1% of the world population.
Between 1901 and 2000, 654 Laureates belonged to 28 different religions. Most (65%) have identified Christianity in its various forms as their religious preference. Specifically on the science related prizes, Christians have won a total of 73% of all the Chemistry, 65% in Physics, 62% in Medicine, and 54% in all Economics awards. Jews have won 17% of the prizes in Chemistry, 26% in Medicine, and 23% in Physics. Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers have won 7% of the prizes in Chemistry, 9% in Medicine, and 5% in Physics. Muslims have won 13 prizes (three were in scientific categories).
Many studies have been conducted in the United States and have generally found that scientists are less likely to believe in God than are the rest of the population. Precise definitions and statistics vary, with some studies concluding that about 1⁄3 of scientists in the U.S. are atheists, 1⁄3 agnostic, and 1⁄3 have some belief in God (although some might be deistic, for example). This is in contrast to the more than roughly 3⁄4 of the general population that believe in some God in the United States. Other studies on scientific organizations like the AAAS show that 51% of their scientists believe in either God or a higher power and 48% having no religion. Belief also varies slightly by field. Two surveys on physicists, geoscientists, biologists, mathematicians, and chemists have noted that, from those specializing in these fields, physicists had lowest percentage of belief in God (29%) while chemists had highest (41%). Other studies show that among members of the National Academy of Sciences, concerning the existence of a personal god who answers prayer, 7% expressed belief, 72% expressed disbelief, and 21% were agnostic, however Eugenie Scott argued that there are methodological issues in the study, including ambiguity in the questions. A study with simplified wording to include impersonal or non-interventionist ideas of God concluded that 40% of leading scientists in the US scientists believe in a god.
In terms of perceptions, most social and natural scientists from 21 American universities did not perceive conflict between science and religion, while 37% did. However, in the study, scientists who had experienced limited exposure to religion tended to perceive conflict. In the same study they found that nearly one in five atheist scientists who are parents (17%) are part of religious congregations and have attended a religious service more than once in the past year. Some of the reasons for doing so are their scientific identity (wishing to expose their children to all sources of knowledge so they can make up their own minds), spousal influence, and desire for community.
A 2009 report by the Pew Research Center found that members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) were “much less religious than the general public,” with 51% believing in some form of deity or higher power. Specifically, 33% of those polled believe in God, 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power, and 41% did not believe in either God or a higher power. 48% say they have a religious affiliation, equal to the number who say they are not affiliated with any religious tradition. 17% were atheists, 11% were agnostics, 20% were nothing in particular, 8% were Jewish, 10% were Catholic, 16% were Protestant, 4% were Evangelical, 10% were other religion. The survey also found younger scientists to be “substantially more likely than their older counterparts to say they believe in God”. Among the surveyed fields, chemists were the most likely to say they believe in God.
Elaine Ecklund conducted a study from 2011 to 2014 involving the general US population, including rank and file scientists, in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The study noted that 76% of the scientists identified with a religious tradition. 85% of evangelical scientists had no doubts about the existence of God, compared to 35% of the whole scientific population. In terms of religion and science, 85% of evangelical scientists saw no conflict (73% collaboration, 12% independence), while 75% of the whole scientific population saw no conflict (40% collaboration, 35% independence).
Religious beliefs of US professors were examined using a nationally representative sample of more than 1,400 professors. They found that in the social sciences: 23% did not believe in God, 16% did not know if God existed, 43% believed God existed, and 16% believed in a higher power. Out of the natural sciences: 20% did not believe in God, 33% did not know if God existed, 44% believed God existed, and 4% believed in a higher power. Overall, out of the whole study: 10% were atheists, 13% were agnostic, 19% believe in a higher power, 4% believe in God some of the time, 17% had doubts but believed in God, 35% believed in God and had no doubts.
Farr Curlin, a University of Chicago Instructor in Medicine and a member of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, noted in a study that doctors tend to be science-minded religious people. He helped author a study that “found that 76 percent of doctors believe in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife.” Furthermore, “90 percent of doctors in the United States attend religious services at least occasionally, compared to 81 percent of all adults.” He reasoned, “The responsibility to care for those who are suffering and the rewards of helping those in need resonate throughout most religious traditions.”
Physicians in the United States, by contrast, are much more religious than scientists, with 76% stating a belief in God.
According to the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture’s report on 1,100 scientists in India: 66% are Hindu, 14% did not report a religion, 10% are atheist/no religion, 3% are Muslim, 3% are Christian, 4% are Buddhist, Sikh or other.39% have a belief in a god, 6% have belief in a god sometimes, 30% do not believe in a god but believe in a higher power, 13% do not know if there is a god, and 12% do not believe in a god. 49% believe in the efficacy of prayer, 90% strongly agree or somewhat agree with approving degrees in Ayurvedic medicine. Furthermore, the term “secularism” is understood to have diverse and simultaneous meanings among Indian scientists: 93% believe it to be tolerance of religions and philosophies, 83% see it as involving separation of church and state, 53% see it as not identifying with religious traditions, 40% see it as absence of religious beliefs, and 20% see it as atheism. Accordingly, 75% of Indian scientists had a “secular” outlook in terms of being tolerant of other religions.
According to the Religion Among Scientists in International Context (RASIC) study on 1,581 scientists from the United Kingdom and 1,763 scientists from India, along with 200 interviews: 65% of U.K. scientists identified as nonreligious and only 6% of Indian scientists identify as nonreligious, 12% of scientists in the U.K. attend religious services on a regular basis and 32% of scientists in India do. In terms of the Indian scientists, 73% of scientists responded that there are basic truths in many religions, 27% said they believe in God and 38% expressed belief in a higher power of some kind. In terms of perceptions of conflict between science and religion, less than half of both U.K. scientists (38%) and Indian scientists (18%) perceived conflict between religion and science
Over time, scientists and historians have moved away from the conflict thesis and toward compatibility theses (either the integration thesis or non-overlapping magisteria). Many experts have now adopted a “complexity thesis” that combines several other models, further at the expense of the conflict thesis.
Public perceptions of science
Global studies which have pooled data on religion and science from 1981–2001, have noted that countries with high religiosity also have stronger faith in science, while less religious countries have more skepticism of the impact of science and technology. The United States is noted there as distinctive because of greater faith in both God and scientific progress. Other research cites the National Science Foundation’s finding that America has more favorable public attitudes towards science than Europe, Russia, and Japan despite differences in levels of religiosity in these cultures.
A study conducted on adolescents from Christian schools in Northern Ireland, noted a positive relationship between attitudes towards Christianity and science once attitudes towards scientism and creationism were accounted for.
A study on people from Sweden concludes that though the Swedes are among the most non-religious, paranormal beliefs are prevalent among both the young and adult populations. This is likely due to a loss of confidence in institutions such as the Church and Science.
Concerning specific topics like creationism, it is not an exclusively American phenomenon. A poll on adult Europeans revealed that 40% believed in naturalistic evolution, 21% in theistic evolution, 20% in special creation, and 19% are undecided; with the highest concentrations of young earth creationists in Switzerland (21%), Austria (20%), Germany (18%). Other countries such as Netherlands, Britain, and Australia have experienced growth in such views as well.
According to a 2015 Pew Research Center Study on the public perceptions on science, people’s perceptions on conflict with science have more to do with their perceptions of other people’s beliefs than their own personal beliefs. For instance, the majority of people with a religious affiliation (68%) saw no conflict between their own personal religious beliefs and science while the majority of those without a religious affiliation (76%) perceived science and religion to be in conflict. The study noted that people who are not affiliated with any religion, also known as “religiously unaffiliated”, often have supernatural beliefs and spiritual practices despite them not being affiliated with any religion and also that “just one-in-six religiously unaffiliated adults (16%) say their own religious beliefs conflict with science.” Furthermore, the study observed, “The share of all adults who perceive a conflict between science and their own religious beliefs has declined somewhat in recent years, from 36% in 2009 to 30% in 2014. Among those who are affiliated with a religion, the share of people who say there is a conflict between science and their personal religious beliefs dropped from 41% to 34% during this period.”
The 2013 MIT Survey on Science, Religion and Origins examined the views of religious people in America on origins science topics like evolution, the Big Bang, and perceptions of conflicts between science and religion. It found that a large majority of religious people see no conflict between science and religion and only 11% of religious people belong to religions openly rejecting evolution. The fact that the gap between personal and official beliefs of their religions is so large suggests that part of the problem, might be defused by people learning more about their own religious doctrine and the science it endorses, thereby bridging this belief gap. The study concluded that “mainstream religion and mainstream science are neither attacking one another nor perceiving a conflict.” Furthermore, they note that this conciliatory view is shared by most leading science organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
A study collecting data from 2011 to 2014 on the general public, with focus on evangelicals and evangelical scientists was done in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Even though evangelicals only make up 26% of the US population, the found that nearly 70 percent of all evangelical Christians do not view science and religion as being in conflict with each other (48% saw them as complementary and 21% saw them as independent) while 73% of the general US population saw no conflict as well.
Other lines of research on perceptions of science among the American public conclude that most religious groups see no general epistemological conflict with science and they have no differences with nonreligious groups in the propensity of seeking out scientific knowledge, although there may be subtle epistemic or moral conflicts when scientists make counterclaims to religious tenets. Findings from the Pew Center note similar findings and also note that the majority of Americans (80–90%) show strong support for scientific research, agree that science makes society and individual’s lives better, and 8 in 10 Americans would be happy if their children were to become scientists. Even strict creationists tend to have very favorable views on science.
According to a 2007 poll by the Pew Forum, “while large majorities of Americans respect science and scientists, they are not always willing to accept scientific findings that squarely contradict their religious beliefs.” The Pew Forum states that specific factual disagreements are “not common today”, though 40% to 50% of Americans do not accept the evolution of humans and other living things, with the “strongest opposition” coming from evangelical Christians at 65% saying life did not evolve. 51% of the population believes humans and other living things evolved: 26% through natural selection only, 21% somehow guided, 4% don’t know. In the U.S., biological evolution is the only concrete example of conflict where a significant portion of the American public denies scientific consensus for religious reasons. In terms of advanced industrialized nations, the United States is the most religious.
A 2009 study from the Pew Research Center on Americans perceptions of science, showed a broad consensus that most Americans, including most religious Americans, hold scientific research and scientists themselves in high regard. The study showed that 84% of Americans say they view science as having a mostly positive impact on society. Among those who attend religious services at least once a week, the number is roughly the same at 80%. Furthermore, 70% of U.S. adults think scientists contribute “a lot” to society.
A 2011 study on a national sample of US college students examined whether these students viewed the science / religion relationship as reflecting primarily conflict, collaboration, or independence. The study concluded that the majority of undergraduates in both the natural and social sciences do not see conflict between science and religion. Another finding in the study was that it is more likely for students to move away from a conflict perspective to an independence or collaboration perspective than towards a conflict view.
In the US, people who had no religious affiliation were no more likely than the religious population to have New Age beliefs and practices.
- Harrison, Peter (2015). The Territories of Science and Religion. University of Chicago Press. ISBN978-0-226-18448-7.
- Roberts, Jon (2011). “10. Science and Religion”. In Shank, MIchael; Numbers, Ronald; Harrison, Peter. Wrestling with Nature : From Omens to Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 254–255, 259, 260. ISBN978-0226317830.
- Nongbri, Brent (2013). Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept. Yale University Press. ISBN978-0-300-15416-0.
- Cahan, David, ed. (2003). From Natural Philosophy to the Sciences: Writing the History of Nineteenth-Century Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN978-0-226-08928-7.
- Stenmark, Mikael (2004). How to Relate Science and Religion: A Multidimensional Model. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. p. 45. ISBN978-0-8028-2823-1.
Recognizing that science and religion are essentially social practices always performed by people living in certain cultural and historical situations should alert us to the fact that religion and science change over time.
- Roberts, Jon (2011). “10. Science and Religion”. In Shank, Michael; Numbers, Ronald; Harrison, Peter. Wrestling with Nature : From Omens to Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN978-0226317830.
- Lindberg, David C. (2007). “1. Science Before the Greeks (On changes in science here)”. The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450 (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 2–3. ISBN978-0226482057.
- Clegg, Brian. “The First Scientist: A Life of Roger Bacon”. Carroll and Graf Publishers, NY, 2003
- Science and Islam, Jim Al-Khalili. BBC, 2009
- Russel, C.A. (2002). Ferngren, G.B., ed. Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 7. ISBN978-0-8018-7038-5.
The conflict thesis, at least in its simple form, is now widely perceived as a wholly inadequate intellectual framework within which to construct a sensible and realistic historiography of Western science
- Shapin, S. (1996). The Scientific Revolution. University of Chicago Press. p. 195.
In the late Victorian period it was common to write about the ‘warfare between science and religion’ and to presume that the two bodies of culture must always have been in conflict. However, it is a very long time since these attitudes have been held by historians of science.
- Brooke, J. H. (1991). Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives. Cambridge University Press. p. 42.
In its traditional forms, the conflict thesis has been largely discredited.
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Throughout these pages we shall observe that there are at least four distinct ways in which science and religion can be related to each other: 1) Conflict – the conviction that science and religion are fundamentally irreconcilable; 2) Contrast – the claim that there can be no genuine conflict since religion and science are each responding to radically different questions; 3) Contact – an approach that looks for both dialogue and interaction, and possible “consonance” between science and religion, and especially for ways in which science shapes religious and theological understanding. 4) Confirmation – a somewhat quieter but extremely important perspective that highlights the ways in which, at a very deep level, religion supports and nourishes the entire scientific enterprise.
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The Incompatibility Hypothesis (IH) is an ultimate-level hypothesis. IH explains the cause of the controversy science-versus-religion, its fundamental reason. IH addresses directly the inquiry: what elicits the controversy science versus religion? And it offers an educated answer: their intrinsic and opposing approaches to assess reality, i.e. science by means of testing hypotheses, falsifying and/or testing predictions and replication of experiments; religion, in contrast, via belief in supernatural causality. Belief disrupts, distorts, delays or stops (3Ds + S) the comprehension and acceptance of scientific evidence. The authors consider the 3Ds + S to be cognitive effects of illusory thinking.
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A slightly higher proportion of American adults qualify as scientifically literate than European or Japanese adults, but the truth is that no major industrial nation in the world today has a sufficient number of scientifically literate adults.
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… while [John] Brooke’s view [of a complexity thesis rather than an historical conflict thesis] has gained widespread acceptance among professional historians of science, the traditional view remains strong elsewhere, not least in the popular mind.
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While some historians had always regarded the Draper-White thesis as oversimplifying and distorting a complex relationship, in the late twentieth century it underwent a more systematic reevaluation. The result is the growing recognition among historians of science that the relationship of religion and science has been much more positive than is sometimes thought. ” ; “… while [John Hedley] Brooke’s view [of a complexity thesis rather than an historical conflict thesis] has gained widespread acceptance among professional historians of science, the traditional view remains strong elsewhere, not least in the popular mind.
- Quotation from Ferngren’s introduction at “Gary Ferngren (editor). Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. ISBN0-8018-7038-0.”
“…while [John Hedley] Brooke’s view [of a complexity thesis rather than conflict thesis] has gained widespread acceptance among professional historians of science, the traditional view remains strong elsewhere, not least in the popular mind.” (p. x)
- Quotation from Colin A. Russell in “The Conflict Thesis” the first essay of “Gary Ferngren (editor). Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. ISBN0-8018-7038-0.”
“The conflict thesis, at least in its simple form, is now widely perceived as a wholly inadequate intellectual framework within which to construct a sensible and realistic historiography of Western science.” (p. 7, followed by a list of the basic reasons why the conflict thesis is wrong).
- Gary Ferngren (editor). Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. ISBN0-8018-7038-0. (Introduction, p. ix)
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Plantinga’s effort to stave off the conflict between theism and evolution is a failure… if the bar for rational belief is lowered to mere logical possibility, and the demand for positive evidence dropped, then no holds are barred.
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Most creationists are simply people who choose to believe that God created the world-either as described in Scripture or through evolution. Creation scientists, by contrast, strive to use legitimate scientific means both to argue against evolutionary theory and to prove the creation account as described in Scripture.
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As to specifically Christian theists, an example of continue presence would be the American Scientific Affiliation. It currently has about two thousand members, all of whom affirm the Apostles’ Creed as part of joining the association, and most of whom hold Ph.D.s in the natural sciences. Their active journal is Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. Across the Atlantic, the Society of Ordained Scientists and Christians in Science are similar affiliation in Great Britain.
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- Cohen (1994) p. 313. Hooykaas puts it more poetically: “Metaphorically speaking, whereas the bodily ingredients of science may have been Greek, its vitamins and hormones were biblical.”
- Peter Harrison, The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science(Cambridge, 1998).
- Peter Harrison, The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science (Cambridge, 2007); see also Charles Webster, The Great Instauration (London: Duckworth, 1975)
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The Hindus were Spinozaites more than two thousand years before the existence of Spinoza; and Darwinians many centuries before our time, and before any word like ‘evolution’ existed in any language of the world.
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