Are religion, science contradictory?

Flora Teckie A Bahá’í Perspective
A great many problems we are facing in the world today exist because we either use religion without science, or science without religion.

In fact, for many centuries there has been conflict between advocates of science and those of religion.

There has been a belief that scientific truth contradicts religion and one was obliged to choose between being a religious person and follow God’s teachings, or a scientist and be a follower of reason.

In reality, there is no conflict between science and religion. On the contrary, the two actually need each other. From the Bahá’í perspective “religion and science are the two indispensable knowledge systems through which the potentialities of consciousness develop. Far from being in conflict with one another, these fundamental modes of the mind’s exploration of reality are mutually dependent and have been most productive in those rare but happy periods of history when their complementary nature has been recognised and they have been able to work together.”

Science and religion are like

two wings of A bird

Science and religion are like two wings of a bird complementing each other and the advantages of both need to be used together if we are to build a progressive and peaceful society.

Scientific method is our tool for understanding the physical side of the universe and is the key to new technologies. It is this knowledge system, which studies the material universe and teaches us how to generate material means for the advancement of humanity. Religion is the knowledge system that studies the powers of the human spirit and is concerned with the demands and the desires of the higher nature of the human being. It is the fruit of the creative Word of God, which transforms human thought and action. God’s teachings offer to humanity a basis for values and provide answers to moral questions, human purpose, and our relationship to God that science cannot provide.

If we look at the religion in its purest form (the way it was revealed through God’s Messengers) it is not opposed to scientific facts. God, Who has given us the gift of the intellect, does not expect us to lay it aside when investigating religious truth. In the Bahá’í view, “there is no credible replacement for religious belief as a force capable of generating self-discipline and restoring commitment to moral behaviour”.

Scientific knowledge, for example, helps us to analyse the physical and social implications of a technological proposal — say, its environmental impact—and spiritual insight gives rise to moral aspects that result in social harmony and ensure that technology is serving the common good.

Therefore, these two sources of knowledge — science and religion — are mutually dependant. Religion, without science, degenerates into superstition and fanaticism, while science without religion becomes merely the instrument of crude materialism.

According to the Universal House of Justice, the governing council of the Bahá’í International Community: “The insights and skills generated by scientific advance will have always to look to the guidance of spiritual and moral commitment to ensure their appropriate application; religious convictions, no matter how cherished they may be, must submit, willingly and gratefully, to impartial testing by scientific methods.”

Interaction between

science and religion

Scientific knowledge and reason make an essential contribution to understanding of the Scriptures. “The principle of the harmony of science and religion” advocated in the Bahá’í Writings “means not only that religious teachings should be studied with the light of reason and evidence as well as of faith and inspiration, but also that everything in this creation, all aspects of human life and knowledge, should be studied in the light of revelation as well as in that of purely rational investigation.” Science provides us with tools and means, and religion teaches us how to use them to the best advantage of all humanity. For example, a knife is a useful tool, but it can also be used to kill someone. Religion teaches us to put this tool to good use and not to use it to hurt anyone. Atomic energy is useful, but without God’s guidance it can become one of the most destructive forces produced by science.

According to a statement of the Bahá’í International Community: “In the quest for truth, science and religion — the two systems of knowledge available to humankind — must closely and continuously interact. The insights and skills that represent scientific accomplishment must look to the force of spiritual commitment and moral principle to ensure their appropriate application”.

The independent investigation of reality, whether scientific or religious, is strongly encouraged in Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings. Individuals should strive, He said, to free themselves from prejudices and preconceptions.

The Bahá’í Writings state: “. . . in the search for truth man must weigh religious questions in the balance of science and reason. God has given us rational minds for this purpose, to penetrate all things, to find truth”. At the same time “. . . the principle of harmony between religion and science, while it enables us, with the help of reason, to see through the falsity of superstitions, does not imply that truth is limited to what can be explained by current scientific concepts”.

Knowledge is a great gift of God. Science is important for our welfare and well-being. However, only by the spiritual transformation of human beings can life be filled with moral purpose. It is only through spiritual transformation that a high ideal such as the unity of humanity can become a practical objective.

As stated in the Bahá’í Writings: “Put all your beliefs into harmony with science; there can be no opposition, for truth is one. When religion, shorn of its superstitions, traditions, and unintelligent dogmas, shows its conformity with science, then will there be a great unifying, cleansing force in the world which will sweep before it all wars, disagreements, discords and struggles — and then will mankind be united in the power of the Love of God.”

Science and religion together help build progressive and peaceful societies

In order to build a progressive and peaceful society, science and religion must be used together. “Science and religion are both attributes of our rational soul. They both rely on the spiritual core of human nature that prevails over the influence of other.”

Our major task today is to create a global civilization which embodies and incorporates both the spiritual and material dimensions of life. This will depend on a progressive interaction between the truths and principles of religion and the discoveries and insights of scientific inquiry.

According to a statement of the Bahá’í International Community: “. . . intensive dialogue between the two systems of knowledge available to humankind — science and religion — will facilitate the emergence of peace and justice throughout the world.”

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