Science and Religion

Science vs Religion. I’ve replied to a lot of posts on the subject, so I thought I would go ahead and write my own post about it.

There’s a lot of debate in our society about faith and science. What it essentially boils down to is this: are science and religion diametrically opposed, or are they really just two sides of the same coin? Can science and religion ever really be friends? It is my opinion that they are opposed to each other, and in fact are NOT two sides of the same coin.

On a very basic, superficial level, one could make an argument about how science and religion are just two ways to answer all of life’s most baffling questions: how did we get here? What’s the meaning of life? What happens when we die? Things of that nature. But beyond that, the two sides of the same coin argument really starts to fall apart.

First of all, science is a process of seeking answers, of starting from a position of ignorance and working toward an answer. Religion purports to already have all of the answers. But aside from being actual, literal opposites, let’s move on to the deeper analysis.

Religion, when boiled down to the most basic level, is really a moral code. In this sense, I make a differentiation between faith and religion. Faith is abstract–you can have faith in anything without making a moral statement. Faith can exist without religion, but religion cannot exist without faith. Back to my main point: religion tells people how to lead their lives. It’s the codification of moral values in that there are rules to follow and consequences for not following the rules. The ten commandments and the idea of Hell are prime examples of this. There are whole books of the Bible dedicated to delineating what kind of behavior is acceptable and unacceptable. You can’t have a religion without making some sort of statement about values.

Science, on the other hand, makes no moral statements or edicts. When Watson and Crick unveiled their DNA model, what was the moral implication of that? When Dr. Jonas Salk created the polio vaccine, where was the moral statement? One could argue that once science creates or discovers something, there are moral implications: nuclear weapons, firearms, chemical weapons, etc. But really, there’s nothing inherently moral or immoral about nuclear power, for example. What we humans choose to do with the information that science provides us is something totally different. That’s a transference of human values onto science; it doesn’t mean that there is anything intrinsically ethical or moral about science.

Back to the issue of faith. Some people like to say things like, “Oh, science is your religion!” So, so wrong. It all comes back to faith. I don’t require faith to practice science. Blind trust in scientific principles isn’t required because I have directly observable, testable evidence. So it’s disingenuous to say that anyone “believes in sciences.” You don’t have to believe in facts. Religion, conversely, cannot operate without faith. With no direct way to observe or interact with God/Allah/Whatever, worshipers have nothing left but a blind devotion. And I use the phrase “blind devotion” in only the most literal sense, not as a loaded statement. A Christian abides by the 10 commandments on the faith that there’s a God they cannot see/feel/hear/touch or in any other way interact with keeping track of everything and preparing to reward them in death. They have faith that when they do in fact die, they’ll go to a specified afterlife, even though you can’t see it, and nobody who’s died is going to come back to life anytime soon to tell us what happens.

Ultimately what this comes down to are what the purposes of science and religion are. Religion impels one to to make certain moral decisions; science does not. Similarly, if faced with a moral dilemma, science is utterly useless, as it has nothing to do with values or ethics. Solutions to ethical or moral dilemmas ARE found in religion, however. You see people praying for guidance all the time, but nobody has ever said anything like, “Should I cheat on my girlfriend or not? I’ll design a scientific experiment to find the answer!”

In summation, science and religion can never really mix because they were both developed to address completely different needs.

*I think it’s important to make a distinction about science and morality. Science cannot help one make a moral or ethical decision, but logic can. In regard to morality, I regard logic as the opposite of religion.

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25 thoughts on “Science and Religion

  1. Very well presented argument, and I agree with you 100%. I find one place where my thoughts deviate from your presentation, although I believe it is simply a different aspect of your ideas. Religion, I agree, claims to know the answers to life’s questions. What it does not which science does, is establish repeatable tests, and therefore solid proof, that those answers are universal. Religion brings together masses of people who are willing to be lazy in a way, agree with the answers without questioning the process the religion went through to get to those answers. If they are presented with those processes, which have no foundation besides speculation, they can only use their own personal experiences, which cannot be reproduced by others, and other answers which also have no solid proof to them.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do think that people can utilize religion for their personal betterment. It’s just when people insist that their religious beliefs are facts that are universal to everyone that I either argue until I’m blue in the face or shake my head and walk away.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I tend to agree with you about the danger of “facts” based on personal experience or anecdotal evidence. For many religious people, “fact” and “faith” are interchangeable words. Of course, that doesn’t hold true for every religious person…but I’d say more people than not are willing to place faith above scientific evidence for varying reasons.

      I could (and probably will at some point) make an entirely different argument about the psychology of religion and how dangerous it is, but I didn’t want to get too inflammatory with this post.

      1. I’ve written a few posts on religion versus faith. I have a pretty strong personal faith in god, but no religious ties. Being raised Catholic by a very VERY religious mother and a very VERY non-religious father, I ended up leaning toward my father’s outlook on life. I see this rift between faith and fact so much, it’s disheartening to see how much conflict it causes in the world, and worse still how in denial people can be about it.

      2. I’m actually planning on a post sometime in the next couple days on “Freedom of Religion” and how Christians in America have come to define it as “Freedom of Christian Religion” simply based on the original beliefs of the Founding Fathers, and not on the words alone, as they were supposed to be interpreted.

      3. And ironically, many if not most of the Founding Father’s wouldn’t even be considered Christian in today’s society (and even back then I don’t think the term really fit people like Jefferson). I look forward to reading it! 🙂

  2. It is simple, and this is not putting religion down, but religion says that god created the world in 6 days, and rested on the 7th. However where did god come from? It just seems like an easy awnser to everything. No one can answer that, and science seems to answer all the little bits inbetween.
    Our current knowledge is that everything started with a big bang, a theory we see as true today but in 200 years time that might all be wrong. So in a way religion and science are they same, some believe in science and others believe in religion.

    1. Actually, I’ve always found the whole “God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh,” thing to be kind of weird. Six days? God is omnipotent, so why couldn’t he do it instantaneously? After all, He said “let there be light,” and boom, there was light. And he rested afterward? Again, why would an omnipotent being need to rest? But thank you for the comment!

  3. I enjoyed this but I would say science does require faith as fact is only what has not been proven false…one must have faith to believe in theories like string theory or black holes because you cannot see/feel/hear/touch these things so they require faith and belief if they are to exist…and science is wrought with ethical and moral dilemma…can we clone humans, scientific technology is advancing in that direction…should we clone humans…probably not… and the reason has nothing to do with the soul but with creating a subclass (slave class) of being… I fully agree that science and religion are two completely separate entities…but they both require some form of faith and that both have their own moral code

    1. I agree that while string theory isn’t really tangible, and many aspects of theoretical physics aren’t directly observable, they do exist on paper in the form of mathematics. In that sense, It’s more like an educated guess than faith (in my opinion anyway). Thank you for the comment!

  4. This has to be one of the most cogent summaries of the similarities or lack thereof between science and religion that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. And I thoroughly enjoyed this. I do agree with TJ, though, on the faith requirement in science. I think it does take a great deal of faith, especially in one’s self, to ask questions that might go against what may be perceived to be the status quo in science. Those who regarded Einstein in his greatness, without faith in themselves and faith in the questions they thought were pertinent to the course of physics, may have given up altogether and simply left the questions alone. Many aspects of theoretical physics aren’t observable “yet”.

    What I find is the strength of your argument is regarding the moral / ethical questions: “You see people praying for guidance all the time, but nobody has ever said anything like, ‘Should I cheat on my girlfriend or not? I’ll design a scientific experiment to find the answer!’ ” Not only was that highly entertaining, but it alluded to the lack of reasoning behind any statements issued toward the morality of science. It is about the same as asking after the morality of a rogue comet due to hit the earth and wipe out all the life, or the morality of a tornado destroying the house you’ve just built.

    In short, very excellent posting, enjoyable read, thought provoke, and sound in its logic. 🙂

    1. Thank you for the kind words! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      I’m very much intrigued by your comment about how scientists must have faith in themselves in order to challenge the status quo. I hadn’t really ever thought about it from that perspective, but I suppose on some level science really does require a belief in one’s own abilities and hypotheses…(if I’m understanding you correctly).

      Excellent input! Thank you very much!

  5. I enjoyed the post as well.

    What of the position that I am the science itself and I am the religion itself?

    From this perspective and being both at the same time, then, I contradict myself.

    And until I see and know that I am both, I will continue to argue against myself.

    What of that theoretically unifying position?

  6. Great Post. I agree with your perspective entirely.

    The comments that suggest science requires faith, is to me a bit misinformed. Science does expand into areas of unobservable probabilities (black holes, string theory), but this requires not faith, but a deep understanding of physics and math, that is way over my head. I trust those with the knowledge do do the physics and math, to come to a reasonable conclusion that may well be testable in the future. Those guys and gals can work it out, and I trust in their abilities. Is that faith? I think not. That is an assumption that people way more educated than I have the faculties to do their job adequately. Indeed we know now that black holes DO exist, they were once theoretical, but no more, and we can now see how matter interacts with them. I’d call that a scientific success. Faith is more a belief in something, despite the fact that there is no evidence to support it.

    What about all the sciences such as geology, astronomy, genetics, biology, and all the rest of the “ologies”? Do they require faith? I think not. Science is a conclusion, based on observable, repeatable, verifiable, falsifiable, facts. Same can be said for atheism. Faith is for those without the reasoning skills or the desire to grasp the reality of science.

    Any attempt to reconcile one with the other, is futile. Science is grounded in reality, science has the “E” word (evidence) to back it up, and not just a little evidence, tons of it. Faith as I said before, is a belief in something despite the fact there is no evidence to support it. They are polar opposites and not compatible…unless you want to discuss cognitive dissonance and compartmentalization.

  7. Scientists act as typical hunters or soldiers trying to discover all secrets of the animals/enemies for obtaining/mastering the safest and efficient ‘technologies’. Religions represent holistic systems where scientists working in different fields of science. Beside them there are: cleaners, nurses, artists, cook, mothers, fathers ….. who together want to know clearly the purpose of their existence as of the whole world. The point is that all of them/us do not want to walk as blind/lost and … and so far only religions represent the most universal systems allowing to unite the biggest populations of people as calming down their existential uncertainty. In this perspective we can see religions as very open philosophical & practical concepts accepting scientific discoveries when at the same time promoting deeper and never ending human spiritual developments.

  8. I agree with you that science and religion are diametrically opposed. But I disagree that religion began as a way to give moral guidance but rather religion and its accompanying superstition arose out of ignorance of natural causes. That is my thought on the matter

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