It’s sad to say that science and religion haven’t been on the best of terms, and many in both camps would perhaps suggest that they cannot ever be reconciled. It’s probably true as well that it’s so often religion which has been the worst offender of the two in terms of communicating and being open to the other? Many religious people, especially of a more conservative and reactionary inclination, have decried and even rejected scientific theories such as evolution and the origins of mankind – citing a literal reading of Holy Scripture as their justification. In doing so they totally misunderstand the Bible which God never intended as a history or science text book – the Bible is His love letter to all mankind.
This enduring conflict is regrettable because both science and religion have their place and, in theory, should compliment and inform each other. While science is fundamentally rational, religion is supra-rational – not irrational. Science and its methods, like authentic religion, have a high value on truth, and all who are on the side of truth should respect and affirm that. Science inherently looks for proof whereas religion posits faith, which can be defined as being beyond human proof. Authentic faith, unlike the so-called ‘blind faith’ that so many believers have been misfed by their spiritual teachers, while being beyond proof is nonetheless corroborated by understanding the inner mysteries of the human soul and psyche.
Religion for its part has brought us good news and bad news: e.g. hope of everlasting life contrasted with moral scruples, guilt and despair. Science has also brought us many things, much good and some not so good: e.g. wonderful medicines contrasted with atomic bombs. Science and religion can and should inform each other and act as a regulating influence on the other.
I want to stress, from a religious perspective, that science has offered a great deal to religion and – if we accept it – has hugely influenced the more positive developments in theology, doctrine and religious practice in recent years.
The rise of the so-called human sciences have greatly helped all of us to better appreciate the complexities and constraints of our human nature. This knowledge has affected religious practice in many ways, from softening the harsh ‘black and white’ moralities that many of us grew up with, to improving the formation of ministers of religion, which in turn should help to reduce the lamentable sins of denominations who allowed unsuitable people to gain access to people’s intimate souls and indeed children’s hearts and minds.
Sciences such as astronomy and archaeology have also hugely contributed to a more balanced understanding of our human development and place in God’s wonderful creation. Astronomy in particular has forced many religious folk to realise that humanity is not actually the centre of the universe, but we are perched as it were on a small and relatively insignificant planet in just one small area of one of myriad galaxies in a vast and rapidly expanding universe. Our God has therefore to be at least as big as science is telling us that the cosmos is!
I always think of the wonderful words of astronomer Carl Sagan (an atheist by the way) who was instrumental in releasing the famous photo of our planet Earth – a photo known as the ‘Pale Blue Dot’. His words are moving and humbling – please google “Carl Sagan Pale Blue Dot” for his inspiring words. They should be mandatory reading for all religious folk and leaders of all kinds.
True religion has nothing whatsoever to fear and much to learn from good science, and vice versa. If I may adapt Psalm 90 verse 12: “Make us know our place in Your Creation that we may gain wisdom of heart!”