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Science and Religion

By Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee
It is generally believed that science and religion are entirely different and there is no connection between the two. Science is connected with the phenomenal world while religion is involved in the noumenal world.  Religion is very necessary for human life; it is an intrinsic element of human nature. Human beings need religion and it is an established truth. Religion implies a devotion to a Supreme Being who is supposed to be the final cause of the universe and this supreme entity gives significance and value to the fragile existence of humanity. In religion we find an emotional approach to the ultimate reality. But we cannot ignore the fact that this is an age of science and we cannot possibly accept incredible dogmas and exclusive revelations as the basis of religion. It is also an age of humanism. Hence the religions which are insensitive to human tragedies and social crimes do not appeal to modern man. Religions which make division, disord and disintegration and do not promote unity, understanding and coherence are not religions in the true sense of the term.
The general impression that the spirit of science is opposed to that of religion is unfortunate and untrue according to Radhakrishnan. He says that what is called natural theology is based on the study of the empirically observable facts and not on authoritative sources. Those who attempt to construct a theory of Ultimate Being from the assessment of the facts of nature actually adopt the scientific method. In the cosmic process of evolution it can be seen that there is a steady ascent from the inorganic to the organic, from the organic to the sentient, from the sentient to the rational life. Then the rational grows into the spiritual. The purpose of the cosmic process is to reach God, the Ultimate Being.
Science and religion are supposed to be entirely different. Science studies the facts of experience and its methods are observation and experiment. Science does not accept any spiritual Ultimate Reality which resides in a transcendental world. For philosophy the method of intuition is very necessary to reach the Supreme Reality or God. The dictionary meaning of ‘intuition’ is “immediate insight” or “understanding without conscious reasoning”. Intuition is generally regarded as opposed to reason, on which philosophic explanation is based. There are some thinkers who maintain that it is intuition that alone is competent to give us truth in its entirety and reason, which proceeds by discursive and analytic method, can give us only partial views of truth and reality. Some rationalistic thinkers state that reason alone can apprehend truth and reality. But there are some rationalists who say that there is one kind of intuition which may be called “imagination touched with conviction”. They say that this kind of intuition is responsible for the discovery of many of the philosophic and scientific truths, which are subsequently strengthened by logical and rational analysis. According to Bergson intuition is the only organ of grasping the reality which is dynamic and intellect which is discursive and dissenting in its mode of operation can give us only static aspects of it. 
It has been said that religion believes in a Supreme Reality or God, who can be known only in transcendental experience or intuition. The scientists usually do not believe in a creator or designer of the world of experience. Regarding the origin of the world we have the theory of creation and the theory of evolution. Creation of the world with all its contents is perhaps as old as human thought. The world once created was supposed to continue in the same way. But in the nineteenth century Huxley and Darwin propounded the theory of evolution, which stated the facts of process and change. Since then evolution has become a matter of primary importance. According to the theory of creation our world with all its contents was brought into existence out of nothing at a particular point of time by God and since creation, the world with all its contents has remained just the same as it was at the time of creation. But the modern scientists rejected the theory of creation and accepted in its place the theory of evolution, which is the gradual process of growth and development.
Herbert Spencer was a mechanical philosopher and he believed in the self-existence of matter, form, space, time and conservation of energy. He said that matter, life and mind are not three distinct factors in the universe, and life and mind are continuous with matter, which under the laws of evolution grow into more complex stages.
The theory of mechanical evolution states that the universe with its physical, organic and conscious contents has accidentally arrived at the present state as a result of a long course of growth and development from stage to stage and that the stuff from which it has developed consisted of gross unconscious matter. The principles which moved the entire course of development were only blind forces of nature. According to the mechanical theory of evolution, from the solar system down to the tiny flower, the entire existence is the result of a blind movement of the atoms and molecules without any meaning of their own or value for the totality of existence. The universe is moving, but nobody knows to where it is moving. A scientist would perhaps say that the universe as it is now and as it may be in future is the result of the operation of matter and force in space and time without any trace of mind or intelligence to guide it and without any end or purpose to achieve. If any conception or mind or intelligence is brought to guide the course of evolution, then it will be theology and not science.
The inadequacy of the theory of mechanical evolution to explain the nature, growth and development of the universe in all its aspects has led the idealistic philosophers to accept the Teleological theory of evolution, according to which the universe demonstrates reason and purpose. They point out that the universe, in its facts and events, exhibits design and purpose and adaptation of one to the other. Everything and every event in the universe is caused by some material and efficient cause. But the wonderful design of the world points to a supreme intelligent designer who has planned the universe and guides the course of evolution to the realization of values. Everything in the universe demonstrates the fact that there is reason and purpose behind the cosmic process. The mechanical interpretation of the universe rejects teleology, but it can be noted that teleology is not really antagonistic to the scientific and mechanical view of the world.
The idealistic philosophers, who interpret the course of the universe teleologically do not deny the material and efficient causes. They say that the Ultimate Reality of the universe is spiritual, but its nature is such that it realizes its true being through physical, organic and conscious states. Each of these states has its own laws, but all these laws only express different experiences of that totality of the Spiritual Being in which the meaning and value of all these different levels of self-expression are maintained and perfected. It follows then that matter and its laws must not be denied their operation and efficiency in the totality of existence, but they should not be allowed to usurp the meaning and value of life and mind, organization and reason. The totality of purpose unifies them all. Thus if mechanism and mechanistic explanations of the universe are exclusive and rational, the teleological explanations are inclusive and purposive.
We have to note that though science gives importance to matter and physical forces, yet they cannot possibly ignore the fact that mind is superior to matter. The spirit of science does not suggest that the ultimate reality is matter, since it is the human mind that splits the atom. So science itself demonstrates that mind is superior to the atom. The achievements of science stand as witnesses to the spirit in man. The nature of the cosmic evolution with its order and progress suggests the reality of an undying spirit. Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientists, observes in his book “The World As I See It”, that the scientist’s “religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. This feeling is the guiding principle of his life and work, in so far as he succeeds in keeping himself free from the shackles of selfish desire. It is beyond question closely akin to that which has possessed the religious geniuses of all ages”.
Radhakrishnan said, “Scientists are men dedicated, set apart. They have renounced the life of action. Their life as the pursuit of truth in the service of God, who is Truth; Satya Sarupa, Satya narayana”. Mahatma Gandhi had also said that God is Truth. Then he reversed the statement and said that “Truth is God”. He emphatically declared, “I don’t care for God, if He is anything but Truth” Erasmus delivered the great dictum: “Wherever you encounter truth, look up to it as Christianity”. Radhakrishnan had said that the dynamic character of the world does not indicate that the world is mechanistic. The continuous changes have a purpose according to him. The world is not a futile play of atoms, it is gradually proceeding towards an end. The end is the Absolute Truth.
In this sense it can be said that the goal of science and religion is the same. Both the studies try to reach the Truth. Hence there is perhaps no real difference between science and religion. The spirit of science leads to the refinement of religion. Actually religion is not magic, or witchcraft, quackery or superstition. It is not to be confused with outdated dogmas, incredible superstitions, which spoil the simplicity of spiritual life. Intellectual authority should be treated with respect and not merely as a tradition. Science requires us to adopt an empirical attitude. But experience is not limited to the data of empirical perception or introspection. It embraces para-normal phenomena and spiritual states. All religions are rooted in experience and experience includes not only phenomena, but noumena as well. The Kingdom of Heaven is the highest state attainable by man. It is within us. “He hath set eternity in the heart of man. Man stands between the visible and the invisible worlds.
Some scientists do disparage religion and they do not believe in any Spiritual Reality or God. But all scientists are not atheists. Scientists and the theologists pursue the same goal. Truth is the destination for both. They have a natural similarity, but they adopt different ways to reach the goal. But some intellectuals state that one cannot be a true scientist unless one possesses a spiritual bent of mind. Mind must have a higher state than matter and mind is spiritual which can immediately apprehend the truth with the help of intuition.
Albert Einstein has been acclaimed as one of the greatest scientists of the world. He was not a believer in the conventional sense of the term ‘Spiritualism’. But in an intricate sense he was a believer, for he did believe in an all-intelligent Being, who inscrutably designs, shapes and maintains the phenomenal world. He once observed, “God does not play dice with the universe”. He revolutionized physics and other branches of science with many of his mind-boggling discoveries. His mind was simple and intuitive, which provided him with a special privilege in his quest for truth. Perhaps going beyond the cognitive knowledge, he could form an idea about what God could do to run the universe smoothly. He had once remarked, “We are in a position of a little child entering a huge library, whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different languages. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. He does not understand the language in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only deemly suspects.”
From this statement it can be clearly understood that Einstein, the greatest scientist of the age, was a very humble person. But there are other scientists, who arrogantly deny the existence of God despite their inability to think beyond the phenomenal world. Einstein perhaps was the only scientist who admitted with humility that conceiving the ultimate power called God, from which all powers come and become operational, is an impossible task.
Transcendental knowledge comes from intuition, which is being accepted as a valid means of scientific knowledge. There are numerous hidden truths, which cannot be discovered by normal methods. Highly developed minds realize them by intuition. Their view is somewhat similar to Swami Vivekananda’s conception that “Knowledge is inherent and to know is to discover and unveil”. According to him mind accumulates tremendous power and unravels mysteries in a concentrated form. He described concentration as “the only key to the treasure house of knowledge”. To substantiate his argument, he mentioned the discovery of gravitation by Issac Newton (1642–1726) as an example. Newton instantly obtained the knowledge of gravitation from within himself with the suggestion of a falling apple. This extraordinary achievement places him in the class of intuitive scientists.

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