Relationship between religion and science

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The relationship between religion and science has been a subject of study since Classical antiquity, addressed by philosophers, theologians, scientists, and other commentators. Perspectives from different geographical regions, cultures and historical epochs are diverse. Recent commentators have characterized the relationship as one of 4 categories: conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration. Discussions of what is science and what is not science, the demarcation problem in the philosophy of science, have intersected with discourse on religion in some instances and both have had complex relations in their historical interactions.

Some advocates of the conflict thesis have been contemporary scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Steven Weinberg. The thesis remains generally popular for the public, though most historians of science no longer support it.[1][2][3][4] Other contemporary scientists such as Stephen Jay Gould, Francisco Ayala, Kenneth R. Miller and Francis Collins hold that religion and science are non-overlapping magisteria, addressing fundamentally separate forms of knowledge and aspects of life. Some theologians or historians of science, including John Lennox, Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme and Ken Wilber propose an interconnection between them.



Medieval artistic illustration of the spherical Earth in a 13th-century copy of L'Image du monde (ca. 1246).

The kinds of interactions that might arise between science and religion have been classified using the following typology, according to physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne:[5]

  1. Conflict, stating the disciplines contradict and are incompatible with each other.
  2. Independence treating each as quite separate realms of enquiry.
  3. Dialogue suggesting that each field has things to say to each other about phenomena in which their interests overlap.
  4. Integration aiming to unify both fields into a single discourse.

This typology is similar to ones used by theologians Ian Barbour[7] and John Haught.[8] More typologies that categorize this relationship can be found among the works of other science and religion scholars such as theologian and biochemist Arthur Peacocke.[9]


Historical, philosophical, and scientific arguments have been put forth in favor of the idea that science and religion are in conflict. Historical examples of religious individuals or institutions promoting claims that contradict both contemporary and modern scientific consensus include creationism (see level of support for evolution). A number of scientists including Jerry Coyne[10] have made an argument for a philosophical incompatibility between religion and science. An argument for the conflict between religion and science that combines the historical and philosophical approaches has been presented by Neil Degrasse Tyson[11]—Tyson argues that religious scientists, such as Isaac Newton, could have achieved more had they not accepted religious answers to unresolved scientific issues.

Conflict thesis

The conflict thesis, which holds that religion and science have been in conflict continuously throughout history, was popularized in the 19th century by John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White. Most contemporary historians of science now reject the conflict thesis in its original form, arguing instead that it has been superseded by subsequent historical research indicating a more nuanced understanding:[12][13]

Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavour, while at other times the two have co-existed without either tension or attempts at harmonization. If Galileo and the Scopes trial come to mind as examples of conflict, they were the exceptions rather than the rule.

Gary Ferngren, Science & Religion[14]

Today, much of the scholarship in which the conflict thesis was originally based is considered to be inaccurate. For instance, the claim that people of the Middle Ages widely believed that the Earth was flat was first propagated in the same period that originated the conflict thesis[15] and is still very common in popular culture. Modern scholars regard this claim as mistaken, as the contemporary historians of science David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers write: "there was scarcely a Christian scholar of the Middle Ages who did not acknowledge [earth's] sphericity and even know its approximate circumference."[15][16]

Other misconceptions such as: "the Church prohibited autopsies and dissections during the Middle Ages," "the rise of Christianity killed off ancient science," and "the medieval Christian church suppressed the growth of the natural sciences," are all reported by Numbers as examples of widely popular myths that still pass as historical truth, even though they are not supported by current historical research. They help maintain the popular image of "the warfare of science and religion."[17]

While H. Floris Cohen states that most scholars reject crude articulations of the conflict thesis, such as Andrew D. White's, he also states that milder versions of this thesis still hold some sway. This is because "it remains an incontrovertible fact of history that, to say the least, the new science was accorded a less than enthusiastic acclaim by many religious authorities at the time." Cohen therefore considers it paradoxical "that the rise of early modern science was due at least in part to developments in Christian thought—in particular, to certain aspects of Protestantism" (a thesis first developed as what is now sometimes called the Merton thesis).[18] In recent years, Oxford historian Peter Harrison has further developed the idea that the Protestant Reformation had a significant and positive influence on the development of modern science.[19] A review of alternatives to the White/Draper conflict thesis has been composed by Ian G. Barbour.[20][21]

Richard H. Jones has recently proposed a "control" model that incorporates elements of both the conflict thesis and also the idea that religion can support science.[22] Under the control model, religion will provide tacit or explicit support for scientific theories and research as long as scientific findings support religious doctrines. Religion can support science by making suggestions for research and by offering a cultural "legitimation" for a theory or for science in general. But religious institutions will attempt to assert religious "control beliefs" over any scientific theories that appear to conflict with a core religious doctrine. The Galileo affair and the conflict over evolution are prime examples.


A modern view, described by Stephen Jay Gould as "non-overlapping magisteria" (NOMA), is that science and religion deal with fundamentally separate aspects of human experience and so, when each stays within its own domain, they co-exist peacefully.[23] While Gould spoke of independence from the perspective of science, W. T. Stace viewed independence from the perspective of the philosophy of religion. Stace felt that science and religion, when each is viewed in its own domain, are both consistent and complete.[24]

Both science and religion represent distinct ways of approaching experience and these differences are sources of debate.[25] Science is closely tied to mathematics—a very abstract experience, while religion is more closely tied to the ordinary experience of life.[25] As interpretations of experience, science is descriptive and religion is prescriptive.[25] For science and mathematics to concentrate on what the world ought to be like in the way that religion does can be inappropriate and may lead to improperly ascribing properties to the natural world as happened among the followers of Pythagoras in the sixth century B.C.[25] In contrast, proponents of a normative moral science take issue with the idea that science has no way of guiding "oughts".

The reverse situation, where religion attempts to be descriptive, can also lead to inappropriately assigning properties to the natural world. A notable example is the now defunct belief in the Ptolemy planetary model that held sway until changes in scientific and religious thinking were brought about by Galileo and proponents of his views.[25]

Parallels in method

Thomas S. Kuhn asserted that science is made up of paradigms that arise from cultural traditions, which is similar to the secular perspective on religion.[26]

Michael Polanyi asserted that it is merely a commitment to universality that protects against subjectivity and has nothing at all to do with personal detachment as found in many conceptions of the scientific method. Polanyi further asserted that all knowledge is personal and therefore the scientist must be performing a very personal if not necessarily subjective role when doing science.[26] Polanyi added that the scientist often merely follows intuitions of "intellectual beauty, symmetry, and 'empirical agreement'".[26] Polanyi held that science requires moral commitments similar to those found in religion.[26]

Two physicists, Charles A. Coulson and Harold K. Schilling, both claimed that "the methods of science and religion have much in common."[26] Schilling asserted that both fields—science and religion—have "a threefold structure—of experience, theoretical interpretation, and practical application."[26] Coulson asserted that science, like religion, "advances by creative imagination" and not by "mere collecting of facts," while stating that religion should and does "involve critical reflection on experience not unlike that which goes on in science."[26] Religious language and scientific language also show parallels (cf. Rhetoric of science).


Clerks studying astronomy and geometry.
France, early 15th century.

A degree of concord between science and religion can be seen in religious belief and empirical science. The belief that God created the world and therefore humans, can lead to the view that he arranged for humans to know the world. This is underwritten by the doctrine of imago dei. In the words of Thomas Aquinas, "Since human beings are said to be in the image of God in virtue of their having a nature that includes an intellect, such a nature is most in the image of God in virtue of being most able to imitate God".[27]

Many well-known historical figures who influenced Western science considered themselves Christian such as Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Boyle.

Concerns over the nature of reality

Scientific and theological perspectives often coexist peacefully. Non-Christian faiths have historically integrated well with scientific ideas, as in the ancient Egyptian technological mastery applied to monotheistic ends, the flourishing of logic and mathematics under Hinduism and Buddhism, and the scientific advances made by Muslim scholars during the Ottoman empire. Even many 19th century Christian communities welcomed scientists who claimed that science was not at all concerned with discovering the ultimate nature of reality.[25]



A fundamental principle of the Bahá'í Faith is the harmony of religion and science. Bahá'í scripture asserts that true science and true religion can never be in conflict. `Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the religion, stated that religion without science is superstition and that science without religion is materialism. He also admonished that true religion must conform to the conclusions of science.[28][29][30]


Buddhism and science have increasingly been discussed as compatible.[31] Some philosophic and psychological teachings within Buddhism share commonalities with modern Western scientific and philosophic thought. For example, Buddhism encourages the impartial investigation of nature (an activity referred to as Dhamma-Vicaya in the Pali Canon)—the principal object of study being oneself. A reliance on causality. philosophical principles shared between Buddhism and science. However, Buddhism doesn't focus on materialism.[32]

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, spends a lot of time with scientists. In his book, "The Universe in a Single Atom" he wrote, "My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science, so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation." and "If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false," he says, "then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims."[33][34]


Science and Religion are portrayed to be in harmony in the Tiffany window Education (1890).

Earlier attempts at reconciliation of Christianity with Newtonian mechanics appear quite different from later attempts at reconciliation with the newer scientific ideas of evolution or relativity.[25] Many early interpretations of evolution polarized themselves around a struggle for existence. These ideas were significantly countered by later findings of universal patterns of biological cooperation. According to John Habgood, all man really knows here is that the universe seems to be a mix of good and evil, beauty and pain, and that suffering may somehow be part of the process of creation. Habgood holds that Christians should not be surprised that suffering may be used creatively by God, given their faith in the symbol of the Cross. Habgood states that Christians have for two millennia believed in the love of God because he revealed "Himself as Love in Jesus Christ," not because the physical universe does or does not point to the value of love.[25] Robert John Russell has examined consonance and dissonance between modern physics, evolutionary biology, and Christian theology.[35][36]

Reconciliation in Britain in the early 20th century

In Reconciling Science and Religion: The Debate in Early-twentieth-century Britain, historian of biology Peter J. Bowler argues that in contrast to the conflicts between science and religion in the U.S. in the 1920s (most famously the Scopes Trial), during this period Great Britain experienced a concerted effort at reconciliation, championed by intellectually conservative scientists, supported by liberal theologians but opposed by younger scientists and secularists and conservative Christians. These attempts at reconciliation fell apart in the 1930s due to increased social tensions, moves towards neo-orthodox theology and the acceptance of the modern evolutionary synthesis.[37]

In the 20th century, several ecumenical organizations promoting a harmony between science and Christianity were founded, most notably the American Scientific Affiliation, The Biologos Foundation, Christians in Science, The Society of Ordained Scientists, and The Veritas Forum.[38]

Roman Catholicism

While refined and clarified over the centuries, the Roman Catholic position on the relationship between science and religion is one of harmony, and has maintained the teaching of natural law as set forth by Thomas Aquinas. For example, regarding scientific study such as that of evolution, the church's unofficial position is an example of theistic evolution, stating that faith and scientific findings regarding human evolution are not in conflict, though humans are regarded as a special creation, and that the existence of God is required to explain both monogenism and the spiritual component of human origins. Catholic schools have included all manners of scientific study in their curriculum for many centuries.[39]

Confucianism and traditional Chinese religion

The historical process of Confucianism has largely been antipathic towards scientific discovery. However the religio-philosophical system itself is more neutral on the subject than such an analysis might suggest. In his writings On Heaven, Xunzi espoused a proto-scientific world view.[40] However during the Han Synthesis the more anti-empirical Mencius was favored and combined with Daoist skepticism regarding the nature of reality. Likewise, during the Medieval period, Zhu Xi argued against technical investigation and specialization proposed by Chen Liang.[41] After contact with the West, scholars such as Wang Fuzhi would rely on Buddhist/Daoist skepticism to denounce all science as a subjective pursuit limited by humanity's fundamental ignorance of the true nature of the world.[42] After the May Fourth Movement, attempts to modernize Confucianism and reconcile it with scientific understanding were attempted by many scholars including Feng Youlan and Xiong Shili. Given the close relationship that Confucianism shares with Buddhism, many of the same arguments used to reconcile Buddhism with science also readily translate to Confucianism. However, modern scholars have also attempted to define the relationship between science and Confucianism on Confucianism's own terms and the results have usually led to the conclusion that Confucianism and science are fundamentally compatible.[43]


In Hinduism, the dividing line between objective sciences and spiritual knowledge (adhyatma vidya) is a linguistic paradox.[44] Hindu scholastic activities and ancient Indian scientific advancements were so interconnected that many Hindu scriptures are also ancient scientific manuals and vice-versa. Hindu sages maintained that logical argument and rational proof using Nyaya is the way to obtain correct knowledge.[44] From a Hindu perspective, modern science is a legitimate, but incomplete, step towards knowing and understanding reality. Hinduism views that science only offers a limited view of reality, but all it offers is right and correct.[45] Hinduism offers methods to correct and transform itself in course of time.

Hindu views on evolution include a range of viewpoints in regards to evolution, creationism, and the origin of life within the traditions of Hinduism.

Samkhya, the oldest school of Hindu philosophy prescribes a particular method to analyze knowledge. According to Samkhya, all knowledge is possible through three means of valid knowledge[46][47]

  1. Pratyakṣa or Dṛṣṭam – direct sense perception,
  2. Anumānalogical inference and
  3. Śabda or Āptavacana – verbal testimony.

Nyaya, the Hindu school of logic, accepts all these 3 means and in addition accepts one more - Upamāna (comparison).

The accounts of the emergence of life within the universe vary in description, but classically the deity called Brahma, from a Trimurti of three deities also including Vishnu and Shiva, is described as performing the act of 'creation', or more specifically of 'propagating life within the universe' with the other two deities being responsible for 'preservation' and 'destruction' (of the universe) respectively.[48] In this respect some Hindu schools do not treat the scriptural creation myth literally and often the creation stories themselves do not go into specific detail, thus leaving open the possibility of incorporating at least some theories in support of evolution. Some Hindus find support for, or foreshadowing of evolutionary ideas in scriptures, namely the Vedas.[49]

The incarnations of Vishnu (Dashavatara) is almost identical to the scientific explanation of the sequence of biological evolution of man and animals.[50][51][52][53] The sequence of avatars starts from an aquatic organism (Matsya), to an amphibian (Kurma), to a land-animal (Varaha), to a humanoid (Narasimha), to a dwarf human (Vamana), to 5 forms of well developed human beings (Parashurama, Rama, Balarama/Buddha, Krishna, Kalki) who showcase an increasing form of complexity (Axe-man, King, Plougher/Sage, wise Statesman, mighty Warrior).[50][53] In India, the home country of Hindus; educated Hindus widely accept the theory of biological evolution. In a survey, 77% of respondents in India agreed that enough scientific evidence exists to support Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution, and 85 per cent of God-believing people said they believe in evolution as well.[54][55]

An exception to this acceptance is the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), which includes several members who actively oppose "Darwinism" and the modern evolutionary synthesis (see Hindu Creationism).


From an Islamic standpoint, science, the study of nature, is considered to be linked to the concept of Tawhid (the Oneness of God), as are all other branches of knowledge.[56] In Islam, nature is not seen as a separate entity, but rather as an integral part of Islam's holistic outlook on God, humanity, and the world. Unlike the other Abrahamic monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity, the Islamic view of science and nature is continuous with that of religion and God. This link implies a sacred aspect to the pursuit of scientific knowledge by Muslims, as nature itself is viewed in the Qur'an as a compilation of signs pointing to the Divine.[57] It was with this understanding that science was studied and understood in Islamic civilizations, specifically during the eighth to sixteenth centuries, prior to the colonization of the Muslim world.[58]

According to most historians, the modern scientific method was first developed by Islamic scientists, pioneered by Ibn Al-Haytham, known to the west as "Alhazen".[59] Robert Briffault, in The Making of Humanity, asserts that the very existence of science, as it is understood in the modern sense, is rooted in the scientific thought and knowledge that emerged in Islamic civilizations during this time.[60]

However, the colonizing powers of the western world and their destruction of the Islamic scientific tradition forced the discourse of Islam and Science in to a new period. Institutions that had existed for centuries in the Muslim world were destroyed and replaced by new scientific institutions implemented by the colonizing powers and suiting their economic, political, and military agendas.[citation needed] This drastically changed the practice of science in the Muslim world, as Islamic scientists had to interact with the western approach to scientific learning, which was based on a philosophy of nature completely foreign to them.[56] From the time of this initial upheaval of the Islamic scientific tradition to the present day, Muslim scientists and scholars have developed a spectrum of viewpoints on the place of scientific learning within the context of Islam, none of which are universally accepted or practiced.[61] However, most maintain the view that the acquisition of knowledge and scientific pursuit in general is not in disaccord with Islamic thought and religious belief.[56][61]


Jainism does not support belief in a creator deity. According to Jain doctrine, the universe and its constituents - soul, matter, space, time, and principles of motion have always existed (a static universe similar to that of Epicureanism and steady state cosmological model). All the constituents and actions are governed by universal natural laws. It is not possible to create matter out of nothing and hence the sum total of matter in the universe remains the same (similar to law of conservation of mass). Similarly, the soul of each living being is unique and uncreated and has existed since beginningless time.[a][62]

The Jain theory of causation holds that a cause and its effect are always identical in nature and hence a conscious and immaterial entity like God cannot create a material entity like the universe. Furthermore, according to the Jain concept of divinity, any soul who destroys its karmas and desires, achieves liberation. A soul who destroys all its passions and desires has no desire to interfere in the working of the universe. Moral rewards and sufferings are not the work of a divine being, but a result of an innate moral order in the cosmos; a self-regulating mechanism whereby the individual reaps the fruits of his own actions through the workings of the karmas.

Through the ages, Jain philosophers have adamantly rejected and opposed the concept of creator and omnipotent God and this has resulted in Jainism being labeled as nastika darsana or atheist philosophy by the rival religious philosophies. The theme of non-creationism and absence of omnipotent God and divine grace runs strongly in all the philosophical dimensions of Jainism, including its cosmology, karma, moksa and its moral code of conduct. Jainism asserts a religious and virtuous life is possible without the idea of a creator god.[63]

Current scholarship

The modern dialogue between religion and science is rooted in Ian Barbour's 1966 book Issues in Science and Religion.[64] Since that time it has grown in to a serious academic field, with academic chairs in the subject area, and two dedicated academic journals, Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science and Theology and Science.[64] Articles are also sometimes found in mainstream science journals such as American Journal of Physics[65] and Science.[66][67]

Recently philosopher Alvin Plantinga has argued that there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and religion, and that there is deep conflict between science and naturalism.[68] Reviewing his book, Maartin Boudry writes that Plantinga resorts to creationism and fails to "stave off the conflict between theism and evolution."[69] Michael Ruse has said that Plantinga "really isn't a friend of science," which Plantinga "significantly" alters in "unacceptable ways;" Daniel Dennett has stated that Plantinga is "an apologist" rather than a serious philosopher.[70] Regarding Plantinga's past work, Eugenie Scott has written for the National Center for Science Education that Plantinga supports "theistic science," which invokes miracles to explain some natural phenomena and is fairly a "special form of creationism."[71]

Influence of a biblical world view on early modern science

H. Floris Cohen argued for a biblical Protestant, but not excluding Catholicism, influence on the early development of modern science.[72] Cohen presented Dutch historian R. Hooykaas' argument that a biblical world-view holds all the necessary antidotes for the hubris of Greek rationalism: a respect for manual labour, leading to experimentation and a greater level of empiricism and a supreme God that left nature "de-deified" and open to emulation and manipulation.[72] This argument gives support to the idea that the rise of early modern science was due to a unique combination of Greek and biblical thought.[73] Cohen summarised Hooykaas' conclusion as attributing the rise of modern science to the combination of the "Greek powers of abstract reasoning and of thinking up idealized constructions" in combination with "the biblical humility toward accepting the facts of nature as they are, combined with a view of man as fitted out by God with the power to take nature on".[74] Cohen also noted that Richard S. Westfall "brought out the ultimate paradox" in stating: "Despite the natural piety of the virtuosi [English 17th-century scientists], the skepticism of the Enlightenment was already present in embryo among them. To be sure, their piety kept it in check, but they were unable to banish it. ... They wrote to refute atheism, but where were the atheists? The virtuosi nourished the atheists within their own minds."

Oxford historian Peter Harrison is another who has argued that a biblical worldview was significant for the development of modern science. Harrison contends that Protestant approaches to the book of scripture had significant, if largely unintended, consequences for the interpretation of the book of nature.[75] Harrison has also suggested that literal readings of the Genesis narratives of the Creation and Fall motivated and legitimated scientific activity in seventeenth-century England. For many of its seventeenth-century practitioners, science was imagined to be a means of restoring a human dominion over nature that had been lost as a consequence of the Fall.[76]

Historian and professor of religion Eugene M. Klaaren holds that "a belief in divine creation" was central to an emergence of science in seventeenth-century England. The philosopher Michael Foster has published analytical philosophy connecting Christian doctrines of creation with empiricism. Historian William B. Ashworth has argued against the historical notion of distinctive mind-sets and the idea of Catholic and Protestant sciences.[77] Historians James R. Jacob and Margaret C. Jacob have argued for a linkage between seventeenth century Anglican intellectual transformations and influential English scientists (e.g., Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton).[78] John Dillenberger and Christopher B. Kaiser have written theological surveys, which also cover additional interactions occurring in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.[79][80]

Oxford University historian and theologian John Hedley Brooke wrote that "when natural philosophers referred to laws of nature, they were not glibly choosing that metaphor. Laws were the result of legislation by an intelligent deity. Thus the philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) insisted that he was discovering the "laws that God has put into nature." Later Newton would declare that the regulation of the solar system presupposed the "counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being."[81] Historian Ronald L. Numbers stated that this thesis "received a boost" from mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead's Science and the Modern World (1925). Numbers has also argued, "Despite the manifest shortcomings of the claim that Christianity gave birth to science—most glaringly, it ignores or minimizes the contributions of ancient Greeks and medieval Muslims—it too, refuses to succumb to the death it deserves."[82] The sociologist Rodney Stark of Baylor University, a Southern Baptist institution, argued in contrast that "Christian theology was essential for the rise of science."[83]

Perspectives of religious communities

Historical Judeo-Christian-Islamic view

Science, and particularly geometry and astronomy, was linked directly to the divine for most medieval scholars. The compass in this 13th-century manuscript is a symbol of creation.

Most sources of knowledge available to early Christians were connected to pagan world-views. There were various opinions on how Christianity should regard pagan learning, which included its ideas about nature. For instance, among early Christian teachers, Tertullian (c. 160–220) held a generally negative opinion of Greek philosophy, while Origen (c. 185–254) regarded it much more favorably and required his students to read nearly every work available to them.[84]

In the Middle Ages some leading thinkers in monotheistic religions commented on religion, philosophy, and the natural sciences. For example, the Islamic philosopher Averroes,[85] and both Christian philosophers Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and Thomas Aquinas[86] held that scriptures can have multiple interpretations on certain areas where the matters were far beyond their reach, therefore one should leave room for future findings to shed light on the meanings. The "Handmaiden" tradition, which saw secular studies of the universe as a very important and helpful part of arriving at a better understanding of scripture, was adopted throughout Christian history from early on.[87] Also the sense that God created the world as a self operating system is what motivated many Christians throughout the Middle Ages to investigate nature.[88]

Later views

Galileo once stated "The intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."[89] More recently, John Paul II, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, in 1981 spoke of the relationship this way: "The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer".[90] This statement would reflect the views of many non-Catholic Christians as well. An example of this kind of thinking is theistic evolution.

Perspectives from the scientific community


In the 17th century, founders of the Royal Society largely held conventional and orthodox religious views, and a number of them were prominent Churchmen.[91] While theological issues that had the potential to be divisive were typically excluded from formal discussions of the early Society, many of its fellows nonetheless believed that their scientific activities provided support for traditional religious belief.[92] Clerical involvement in the Royal Society remained high until the mid-nineteenth century, when science became more professionalised.[93]

Albert Einstein supported the compatibility of some interpretations of religion with science. In "Science, Philosophy and Religion, A Symposium" published by the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., New York in 1941, Einstein stated:

Accordingly, a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance and loftiness of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation. They exist with the same necessity and matter-of-factness as he himself. In this sense religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals and constantly to strengthen and extend their effect. If one conceives of religion and science according to these definitions then a conflict between them appears impossible. For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary. Religion, on the other hand, deals only with evaluations of human thought and action: it cannot justifiably speak of facts and relationships between facts. According to this interpretation the well-known conflicts between religion and science in the past must all be ascribed to a misapprehension of the situation which has been described.[94]

Einstein thus expresses views of ethical non-naturalism (contrasted to ethical naturalism).

Prominent modern scientists who are atheists include evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and Nobel prize winning physicist Stephen Weinberg. Prominent scientists advocating religious belief include Nobel prize winning physicist Charles Townes, Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and past head of the Human Genome Project, and climatologist John T. Houghton.[66]

Studies of scientists' belief in God

Many studies have been conducted in the United States and have generally found that scientists are less likely to believe in God than are the rest of the population. Precise definitions and statistics vary, but generally about 1/3 of scientists are atheists, 1/3 agnostic, and 1/3 have some belief in God (although some might be deistic, for example).[66][95][96] This is in contrast to the more than roughly 3/4 of the general population that believe in some God in the United States. Belief also varies slightly by field. Two surveys on physicists, geoscientists, biologists, mathematicians, and chemists have noted that, from those specializing in these fields, physicists had lowest percentage of belief in God (29%) while chemists had highest (41%).[97][98]

Results from a study published in 1997 matched those of a similar 1916 poll.[66][95] According to this survey of United States scientists in the fields of biology, mathematics, and physics/astronomy, belief in a god that is "in intellectual and affective communication with humankind" was most popular among mathematicians (about 45%) and least popular among physicists (about 22%). In total, about 60% of United States scientists in these fields expressed disbelief or agnosticism toward a personal god who answers prayer and personal immortality.[97] This compared with 58% in 1914 and 67% in 1933.

Among members of the National Academy of Sciences, only 7.0% expressed personal belief, while 72.2% expressed disbelief and another 20.8% were agnostic concerning the existence of a personal god who answers prayer.[99]

A survey conducted between 2005 and 2007 by Elaine Howard Ecklund of University at Buffalo, The State University of New York found that over 60% of natural and social science professors at 21 elite US research universities are atheists or agnostics. When asked whether they believed in God, nearly 34% answered "I do not believe in God" and about 30% answering "I do not know if there is a God and there is no way to find out."[96] In the same study, 28% said they believed in God and 8% believed in a higher power that was not God. [100] Ecklund stated that scientists were often able to consider themselves spiritual without religion or belief in god.[101] Ecklund and Scheitle conclude that individuals from non-religious backgrounds self-select into scientific backgrounds, rather than losing their faith after becoming scientists.[102] The authors also found little difference in religiosity between social and natural scientists.[103]

Farr Curlin, a University of Chicago Instructor in Medicine and a member of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, noted in a study that doctors tend to be science-minded religious people. He helped author a study that "found that 76 percent of doctors believe in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife." and "90 percent of doctors in the United States attend religious services at least occasionally, compared to 81 percent of all adults." He reasoned, "The responsibility to care for those who are suffering and the rewards of helping those in need resonate throughout most religious traditions."[104]

Another study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) were "much less religious than the general public," with 51% believing in some form of deity or higher power. Specifically, 33% of those polled believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power."[105] 48% say they have a religious affiliation, equal to the number who say they are not affiliated with any religious tradition. The survey also found younger scientists to be "substantially more likely than their older counterparts to say they believe in God". Among the surveyed fields, chemists were the most likely to say they believe in God.[98]

Physicians in the United States, by contrast, are much more religious than scientists, with 76% stating a belief in God.[104]

Religious beliefs of US professors were recently examined using a nationally representative sample of more than 1400 professors. They found that in the social sciences: 23.4% did not believe in God, 16% did not know if God existed, 42.5% believed God existed, and 16% believed in a higher power. Out of the natural sciences: 19.5% did not believe in God, 32.9% did not know if God existed, 43.9% believed God existed, and 3.7% believed in a higher power. (p. 117).[106]

Scientific studies on religion

Scientific studies have been done on religiosity as a social or psychological phenomenon. These include studies on the correlation between religiosity and intelligence (often IQ, but also other factors). A recent study on serotonin receptors and religiosity[107] suggests a correlation between low density of serotonin receptors and intense religious experiences. Also of popular interest are the studies regarding prayer and medicine, in particular whether there is any causal or correlative link between spiritual supplication and improvement of health. Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Centre and the Pew Organisation conclude that spiritually committed people are twice as likely to report being "very happy" than the least religiously committed people.[108] A cross-national investigation on subjective well-being has noted that, globally, religious people are usually happier than nonreligious people, though nonreligious people can also reach high levels of happiness.[109] An analysis of over 200 social studies states that "high religiousness predicts a rather lower risk of depression and drug abuse and fewer suicide attempts, and more reports of satisfaction with life and a sense of well-being."[110] A review of 498 studies published in peer-reviewed journals concluded that a large majority of these studies showed a positive correlation between religious commitment and higher levels of perceived well-being and self-esteem, and lower levels of hypertension, depression and clinical delinquency.[111][112] Surveys suggest a strong link between faith and altruism.[113] Studies by Keith Ward show that overall religion is a positive contributor to mental health.[114] Michael Argyle and others claim that there is little or no evidence that religion ever causes mental disorders.[115]

Other studies have shown that certain mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, are also associated with high levels of religiosity.[116] In addition, anti-psychotic medication, which is mainly aimed to block dopamine receptors, typically reduces religious behaviour and religious delusions.[117]

Public perceptions of science

According to a 2007 poll by the Pew Forum, Americans generally respect science, but often "reject science in favor of the teachings of their faith" when evidence contradicts their belief.[118] While the Pew Forum states that specific factual disagreements are "not common today," 74% of Americans do not accept evolution by natural selection, with the "strongest opposition" coming from "evangelical Christians."[118] Evolution is the only issue where a significant portion of the American public denies scientific consensus for religious reasons. [119] As of 2007 the United States was the most religious of advanced industrialized countries.[118]

Research on perceptions of science among the American public conclude that most religious groups see no general epistemological conflict with science and they have no differences with nonreligious groups in the propensity of seeking out scientific knowledge, although there may be subtle epistemic or moral conflicts when scientists make counterclaims to religious tenets.[120][121] Findings from the Pew Center note similar findings and also note that the majority of Americans (80-90%) show strong support for scientific research, agree that science makes society and individual's lives better, and 8 in 10 Americans would be happy if their children were to become scientists.[122] Even strict creationists tend to have very favorable views on science.[119] A study on a national sample of US college students examined whether these students viewed the science / religion relationship as reflecting primarily conflict, collaboration, or independence. The study concluded that the majority of undergraduates in both the natural and social sciences do not see conflict between science and religion. Another finding in the study was that it is more likely for students to move away from a conflict perspective to an independence or collaboration perspective than towards a conflict view.[123]

In the US, people who had no religious affiliation were no more likely than the religious population to have New Age beliefs and practices.[124]

Cross-national studies, which have pooled data on religion and science from 1981-2001, have noted that countries with high religiosity also have stronger faith in science, while less religious countries have more skepticism of the impact of science and technology.[125] The United States is noted there as distinctive because of greater faith in both God and scientific progress. Other research has also observed that it is a highly religious country compared to most advanced industrial countries, including its more favorable public attitudes towards science than Europe, Russia, and Japan despite differences in levels of religiosity in these cultures.[119]

Religion and science community

The religion and science community consists of those scholars who involve themselves with what has been called the "religion-and-science dialogue" or the "religion-and-science field."[126][127] The community belongs to neither the scientific nor the religious community, but is said to be a third overlapping community of interested and involved scientists, priests, clergymen, theologians, and engaged non-professionals.[127][not in citation given] Institutions interested in the intersection between science and religion include the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science, the Ian Ramsey Centre,[128] and the Faraday Institute. Journals addressing the relationship between science and religion include Theology and Science and Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science.

See also

By tradition:

In the US:


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    Throughout these pages we shall observe that there are at least four distinct ways in which science and religion can be related to each other: Religion in an Age of Science (1990), ISBN 0-06-060383-6

    1. Conflict — the conviction that science and religion are fundamentally irreconcilable;
    2. Contrast — the claim that there can be no genuine conflict since religion and science are each responding to radically different questions;
    3. Contact — an approach that looks for dialogue. interaction. and possible "consonance" between science and religion. and especially for ways in which science shapes religious and theological understanding.
    4. Confirmation — a somewhat quieter but extremely important perspective that highlights the ways in which, at a very deep level, religion supports and nourishes the entire scientific enterprise.
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    "...while [John] Brooke's view [of a complexity thesis rather than conflict thesis] has gained widespread acceptance among professional historians of science, the traditional view remains strong elsewhere, not least in the popular mind." (p. x)
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Further reading

External links