Quite a few times over the years I've considered the different roles that science and religion play. What I'm about to say about their relationship is too simplistic, but, like a good bumper sticker, it has its uses: Science can answer (at least tentatively) questions about what and how, where and when. Religion's purpose is different. It can provide possible answers to the one question science can't: ultimate purpose. Or why.
Which means that religion and science should be able to get along respectfully, each staying in its own lane, though being in healthy dialogue with one another.
And yet some people argue otherwise. Today I'm letting my childhood friend Markandey Katju (we were in school together as boys in India for a time), former justice on India's Supreme Court, make the case that science and religion are so different that they can't be reconciled in any meaningful way. I've told Markandey that I disagree with him. But he's a committed atheist who sees religion as little more than superstition.
So lend an ear to that argument and see if it holds any (holy or secular) water with you. Here's what he writes:
Perhaps what was in Mr. Farooq's mind was the recent statement of Maulvi Tariq Jameel blaming women dressed "immodestly" for the spread of COVID-19 in Pakistan.
Mr. Farooq's question creates the impression that according to him mullahs, if they so wish, or if they can be so persuaded, can stop opposing and start supporting modernity. With respect to him I submit he is laboring under an illusion.
Religion and science are diametrically opposed to each other. They are poles apart, and it is nonsense to say (as some people contend) that they complement each other. Since a mullah is a man of religion, he can obviously not support modernity, which is the product of science, and will always be a reactionary, as long as he is a mullah.
Religion says that there is a supernatural entity called God, which is immortal, permanent, all powerful, merciful, all good, etc.
Science does not believe in supernatural entities. It does not believe that anything in the universe is permanent. Everything in nature is changing and in flux, in accordance with some laws, which can be discovered by scientific research.
Science holds that there are no supernatural entities like God, angels, fairies, demons, witches or soul (and therefore there is no such thing as transmigration of the soul, or resurrection on Judgment Day), and that nothing is permanent, everything is changing.
Science holds that the only reality is matter, which is in different forms, and is in motion according to certain laws.
Some people ask: Who created matter? The answer is: There is no creator of matter. Matter came from matter, though the form keeps changing.
With every step science advances, religion recedes. Thus, people at one time thought that small pox is due to the anger of a goddess (mata
), but now we know it is because of a virus, and can be prevented by inoculation. People at one time thought that rains are caused by a rain god, Indra, and so if there is drought we have to propitiate that god in some way (many people in India still believe that). Today we know that rains are caused by the build up of low pressure areas over a heated land.
At one time people believed the sun is a god, but now we know it is a huge furnace in which nuclear reactions are taking place by the fusion process, emitting radiation energy. People at one time believed that Adam and Eve were created by God. Later Darwin, in his book Origin of the Species, proved that men evolved from the apes.
Religion relies on faith and divine revelation. Science relies on observation, experiment and reason.
Religion claims to say the final word, and cannot be changed. Thus, the Vedas, the Qu'ran, the Bible, etc., cannot be changed. In science there is no final word, and scientific theories can, and have been, regularly tested and changed.
For example, Newton said in 1666 that light traveled as particles (the corpuscular theory). But in 1678 the Dutch scientist Huygens propounded his Fresnel principle that light traveled as waves. Much later Max Planck propounded his Quantum theory which said that light traveled as discrete particles. Still later, Quantum mechanics, as propounded by De Broglie, and as developed by Heisenberg, Schrodinger, etc., said that particles can be conceived of as waves (and vice versa).
Religion says that the universe was created at a particular time by God, with all living beings. But Darwin proved by his theory of evolution, that creatures have evolved.
Religion says that there has to be a creator of the universe, which is God (the Creationist theory).
Science says that there is no such creator (the evolutionist theory). The only reality in the universe is matter (or rather matter-energy, since matter and energy are two forms of the same substance, as Einstein proved by his formula e=mc2), and matter is in motion, in accordance with certain laws, which can be discovered by scientific research.
If it is said that everything must have a creator, then that creator too must have a creator, i.e. a super creator, and that super creator too must have a creator, i.e. a super super creator, and so on. This is known as the fallacy of the infinite regress.
Religion says that God is all powerful, merciful and all good. If that is so, then why do millions of children in the world suffer from hunger, cold, etc., as the great Russian writer Dostoevsky asked in his famous novel The Brothers Karamazov? Why does God, who is said to be merciful, not have mercy on them and give them food, clothes, shelter, etc.?
Why is there so much poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, sickness, etc., in the world? If God is
powerful and merciful, why does He not abolish these and give everyone a decent life? Why does He not abolish novel coronavirus, which has spread today throughout the world and is killing so many people?
It is true that some scientists believed in God. But that only proves that scientific and unscientific ideas can co-exist in the same head, and it will take a long time, probably several generations, before unscientific ideas are altogether eliminated.
All religions are superstitions and false. The truth lies in science, which is constantly developing.
If we are to progress, we must give up religion and go over to science. No doubt science does not have the answers to all problems today, e.g., the cure of many kinds of cancers, but by scientific research the answers can be found in the future. At one time tuberculosis was regarded an incurable disease. Later, streptomycin and other antibiotics were found which could cure it. So science never claims to be final, but is always developing.
The answer to Mr. Farooq's question is in the negative. Either one can be a mullah or one can be modern. One can't be both.
So there you have Katju's rejection of almost any role for religion, a position I strongly oppose, though we remain friends. As my religion taught me should be the case. I keep thinking that the reason Markandey continues to be my friend is that I seem to confound him by being a person of faith who also thinks science is irreplaceable in the world and he won't give up on me until he convinces me otherwise. But it's my job as an opinion columnist to complicate people's thinking. Which is what I try to do for Markandey, too.
For a view quite a bit different from Katju's, here's a piece
called "Why Religion Is Not Going Away and Science Will Not Destroy It." I hope Markandey reads it, too.
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COVERING ALL THE HATRED BASES
Speaking of atheists, this RNS story says that a new study finds many atheists "face discrimination and stigma" and that they therefore often "conceal their nonreligious identities." What a world. You get smacked down sometimes not only for what you believe but even for what you don't believe. God must be so proud of humanity.