about religion and science dates back centuries. The debate is not about a
technical matter, but about two realms of knowledge — theological and
scientific. There seems to be an epistemological clash of validity between the
two, apparently with each claiming sway over human life.
leaders or ulema, in general, boast of having a godly system, which is
eternally true, free from error and change. They underplay the hand of man in
the understanding, interpretation and application of religious dogmas.
Religious leaders are known to oppose scientific developments that they
interpret as opposing the key notions of religion due largely to the fear that
these would undermine the faith of believers. They may do it with sincerity to
religion, and presumably, to save believers from error.
to deny science are theological and based largely on discursive reason, and not
necessarily empirical evidence. They do not always have at their disposal the
modern tools of understanding religion, such as scientific history of
religions, sociology, psychology, anthropology etc. Reza Aslan’s work God: a Human
History is illuminating; it explores how the evolution of religious impulses
has taken place in the history of humankind.
on the other hand, see science as a realm of knowledge strongly reliable, based
on human reason and demonstrable empirical evidence. For them, it is a
self-corrective and evolving project, modifying itself, and following new
evidence through inductive experimentation. It is an approach to generating and
between religion and science leaves us with no common ground.
mindset on the other hand, sees this changing nature of scientific discoveries
as a weakness, boasting of perennial and unchanging ‘truths’. It prefers
stability over change; it is dogma-based. In almost all religions, historically
opposition to science and scientists has been proverbial, leading to prejudices
against, and torture of, scientists, as they are seen as ‘perverted’ souls,
hell-bent on defying religious dogmas. This happens often because they use
theological criteria to judge science; it is exactly like scientists judging
religion or spirituality based on their experimental approach.
between religion and science, put simply, leaves us with no common ground. I,
for one argue that the epistemological approaches (forms of knowing and their
validity criteria) to both religion and science need to be treated differently
as they require different ways of establishing (methodology) and judging
(criteria of truth) knowledge and truth claims. We need to be sophisticated
enough to see these differences so that we understand each through its own
perspective, avoiding one criterion for judging both.
of science requires different methodologies to study it. Similarly, within
religion each branch requires different methodologies of study such as law or
spirituality, language or ritual.
the ulema judge science using theology, they inevitably make the same mistake
as those scientists who judge religion using the scientific method. So, it is
necessary that we treat both of them differently, which means we do not
downgrade either of them, but acknowledge the unique contribution of each to
lectures and visits to international audiences, I am always asked by young
people the fashionable question: ‘What contribution has religion made to human
progress in the last 500 years?’ This is obviously done keeping the magnificent
scientific contributions at the back of their mind. I argue, ‘What
contributions could one expect from religion to make?’ Did we expect religion
to make a technological revolution?
what science does can be seen and observed; but the transformation brought
about by religion in the inner core of people is invisible. However, though
exceptional civilisational achievements might have been possible thanks to
scientists, it is impossible to ignore the religious ‘faith’ impulse within,
and the spiritual inspiration behind for example, civilisational art and
architectural marvels, and literary jewels. It is unfair to expect religion to
bring, say, a super technological revolution. The major purpose of religion is
to not to make technological advances, but to carry out ‘inner engineering’,
and transformations, and make people virtuous.
In sum, let
us avoid rejecting a scientific approach to solving human problems at the altar
of religion; nor should we reject religion because it does not work like
science. Let us celebrate both as they address different dimensions of human
yearning equally. As the Quran (2:201), says, “...Our Lord! Give us good in
this world and good in the Hereafter. ...”. So we seek the best of both
religion and science. Let the ulema become a bridge between the two.
Khaki is an educationist with an interest in the study of religion and
Source: The Dawn, Pakistan