RELIGION AND SCIENCE

RELIGION AND SCIENCE

“Science doesn’t require religion for its existence and religion doesn’t need science for its existence, but man needs both”.

– Fritjof Capra

Ever since the dawn of civilisation, men of wisdom – intellectuals and scholars, philosophers and politicians – were in divided camps in their contentions over the relative worth and dignity of science and religion. Now as we are in the New Millennium the debate still remains hot as ever. In the modern age, it is no exaggeration to suppose that the future course of history would depend on the method adopted by this generation to reconcile the conflict that exists between religion and science.

It is indeed difficult to integrate the views regarding the evolution of religions as they are numerous and mutually contradicting. The faculties of human mind like fear, wonder, intelligence, logic, ignorance, insight, intuition etc., had unquestionable impact on its development. In the early days, all branches of knowledge viz., religion, medicine, politics, poetics, ethics, physics and metaphysics came under the general purview of philosophy. In course of time each branch developed in its own way deviating from the mainstream, and some, for instance religion and science fell at loggerheads. In the east till the advent of western education, these developments were in harmony with religious doctrines that resulted in their symbiosis. The technological outcry against the scientific developments compelled the philosophers and scientists of the middle ages to formulate their conclusions in accordance with ecclesiastical decrees. Charles Darwin was forced to add the phrase ‘by the creator’ in the final sentence of the second edition of the The Origin of Species to conciliate the angry clerics. This unrelenting attitude of religious people virtually made the religions static compared to the dynamism of science. The result was the gradual decay of religious influence on society. Nevertheless, the scientific researches till Sir Issac Newton were more or less influenced by religious concepts.

Newton’s mechanistic model of world is an excellent example of this influence. But as science progressed step-wise at an amazing pace, the results of science and beliefs of religion came into frank disagreement. This period of history promoted the ideals of atheism, rationalism and Marxism. Anti-religious drive throughout the world was at its pinnacle during this period of history. Eminent thinker and psychologist, Sigmund Freud even went to the extent of declaring that “there is no future for the illusion called religion”. The advent of the Theory of Relativity, Uncertainty Principle and Quantum Mechanics bombarded the Newtonian determinism and revolutionised the scientific thinking to a great extent. This even created a split in the scientific fraternity. This came as a blessing in disguise for the religion as physicists like Werner Heisenberg pointed out the validity of certain religious concepts in the light of modern theories of science. The realisation that religion can’t regain its old power until it could face the ‘change’ in the same spirit as science did lead the religious intellectuals to modify their concepts in accordance with science. Though the orthodox thinkers on both sides resisted any such move, this new recognition was a welcome sign as it was a stepping stone towards the efforts that later exposed many of the similarities between religion and science.

To draw any definite conclusions concerning the challenges that confront the modern world, it is essential to understand the connection that exists between these two seemingly opposing spheres. However, it is difficult to tackle this question unless the terms under reference are defined clearly. Eminent American psychologist William James has broadly defined religion as a “belief that there is an unseen order, that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto”. The ultimate goal and the way of living towards that achievement differs considerably among various religions. These diversities prevailing in different religions made this field a free-for-all in which any word or phrase could mean anything or everything. But in spite of all the controversies, science was able to put up a united picture due to its logical methodology in accepting or rejecting a concept.

Religion is mainly a phenomenon of heart, the main weapon in its armoury is faith, while science rests totally on reason. While religion speaks in poetic-language of parables and metaphors, science puts forth its truths, concepts and formulae in clear terms. Science always tells the truth directly while religion has indirect ways of hinting at the truth. For instance, when science points out that sunlight has seven components (VIBGYOR), religion says it poetically that the Sun God travels in a chariot driven by seven horses of seven hues. Religion has been presented as a valuable tool for ordering life through right conduct. Its unrelenting attitude towards the contemplation of moral and aesthetic values and the fear it arouses in the name of God prevents an otherwise chaotic atmosphere. Though science gets the credit for whatever this generation has achieved materially, religion continues to be a ray of hope for millions. Even though religion deals with many a thing unknown to this world, people are influenced by religious doctrines than by scientific ones. The main reason for this is the ‘magic of faith’ which is an inherent tendency of human heart that doesn’t require any systematic study for its digestion. George Bernard Shaw once remarked: “Life will lose its charm when faith is replaced by cold scientific reason”. But unlike religion, science is concerned with the general conditions which regulate the physical phenomena. All material achievements that mankind has earned till date, are the gift of science. Man’s social development from the paleolithic age to this era of computers, his saga from mother earth to space, the luxuries he enjoys at present, his conquest over dreaded diseases, for each and every thing, he owes to science.

In the case of religions, however the diversities prevailing in various concepts and the selfish interests of their protagonists, they have turned out of the heavens of superstitious and unscientific traditions. Untouchability and the divisions based on one’s ancestry were promoted and were given ideological backup. Organised religions fought mammoth wars among themselves that obliterated innumerable lives which they were supposed to protect.

It is not surprising if somebody doubts whether religion had completely failed in its basic purpose of promoting universal peace.

Science also has its seemy side in both material and philosophic aspects. It has grown to such a height from where it can destroy this world in a fraction of second. Greenhouse effect, Ozone depletion, scientific warfare, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, etc. have indeed made its significance of Universal Saviour questionable. Little interest shown by the scientific community towards the philosophic aspect of life has reduced the beautiful imaginations of religious people to mere stupidity. This often made the scientific approach itself a lifeless, monotonous and inhuman adventure.

The efforts towards mutual recognition that started in the earlier part of this century aroused a series of questions, discussions, arguments and counter-arguments among the scientific and religious communities. When physicists shed their pretentious absolutism and put on the garb of relativity, their observation of Universe underwent a change and some of them could even appreciate the nascent realms of similarities in both the fields. Werner Heisenberg in his book Physics and Philosophy stretched his imagination to postulate some relations he found between science and religion during his research. Geofrey Chew, the founder of boot strap physics also found amazing points of coincidence between his theory and that of Buddhism. John Archbald Wheeler and Eugene Weigher even went to the extent of considering human consciousness as the missing link between the world of electrons and everyday reality. Few years back, famous physicist Fritjof Capra wrote the international best seller The Tao of Physics which extensively deals with the relation of modern science and eastern mysticism. The reciprocation from the side of religion was also encouraging. Religious heavyweights like Swami Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Paramahamsa, Yogananda, Falter J. Sheon, Dalai Lama, etc. also did not make remarkable contribution towards this effect.

Aurobindo influenced by Charles Darwin went on to create a religious theory of evolution of souls. At present almost all the leading religious leaders are busy in explaining the religious doctrines in accordance with scientific principles. Moreover, ancient sciences like Ayurveda, Yoga and meditation are also getting recognition from the scientific community. Recently Dr. N. Gopalakrishnan, Scientist in CSIR, published an extensive study in which he clearly pointed out the scientific insight of ancient Indian sages in biology, physics, chemistry, astronomy and mathematics. For example:

“Yojananam Sahasre dwe Dwe shathe dwe cha yojane Ekena Nimishardhena Karmamana Namosthuthe”

(Rigveda, Sayana Bhashyam)

(I salute you (light) who travels two thousand two hundred and two yojanas by half of a Nimisha) 1 Yojana = 12.11 Km

1 Nimisha = 0.18 S

By this calculation, the velocity of light will turn out to be 296291 Km/s which is approximately the same as the scientific estimation.

In spite of all these efforts, diehard traditionalists on either side are adamant in opposing all these modern views. They consider all these efforts as concerted attempts to exploit the people in the name of religion and science.

In the New Millennium, we are left with an undaunted task of utilising judiciously the benefits of both the religion and science yet avoiding their demerits. We will have to modify the existing religious beliefs in accordance with the advance in science. If religion is a sound expression of truth, this modification will only exhibit adequately the exact point which is of importance. Thus, the progress of science will result in interpreting religious thoughts to the great advantage of religion. This scientific systematisation of religion will definitely satisfy the intellectual appetite of the modern generation. Similarly, the atrocities that are being perpetrated in this world, with the help of science can definitely be reduced if the scientific outlook develops with a religious flavour. This needs unbiased and wholehearted determination from the entire scientific and religious fraternity. Thus, science and religion can complement each other, and at times each can act as a filter for the other to purge themselves. This reconciliation will definitely yield a vision, a vision for the New Millennium based on simplicity, cooperation, integrity, purity and peace.

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