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The relationship between religion and science has been a subject of study since antiquity, addressed by philosophers, theologians, scientists, and others. Perspectives from different geographical regions, cultures and historical epochs are diverse, with some characterizing the relationship as one of conflict, others describing it as one of harmony, and others proposing little interaction. The extent to which science and religion may attempt to understand and describe similar phenomena is sometimes referred to as a part of the demarcation problem.

Science and religion generally pursue knowledge of the universe using different methodologies. Science acknowledges reason, empiricism and evidence, while religions include revelation, faith and sacredness.  Despite these differences, most scientific and technical innovations prior to the scientific revolution were achieved by societies organized by religious traditions. Much of the scientific method was pioneered first by Islamic scholars, and later by Christians. Hinduism has historically embraced reason and empiricism, holding that science brings legitimate, but incomplete knowledge of the world. Confucian thought has held different views of science over time. Most Buddhists today view science as complementary to their beliefs.

An interesting thought to ponder:   Physicians in the United States, by contrast, are much more religious than scientists, with 76% stating a belief in God.  How true is it though?

Many theologians, philosophers and scientists in history have found no conflict between their faith and science.  Scientists and some theologians hold that religion and science are non-overlapping magisteria, addressing fundamentally separate forms of knowledge and aspects of life.  Public acceptance of scientific facts may be influenced by religion; many in the United States reject the idea of evolution by natural selection, especially regarding human beings. Nevertheless, the American National Academy of Sciences has written that “the evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith,” a view officially endorsed by many religious denominations globally.

The kinds of interactions that might arise between science and religion have been categorized, according to theologian, are: 1) conflict between the disciplines, 2) independence of the disciplines, 3) dialogue between the disciplines where they overlap, and 4) integration of both into one field…

There are those whose views on evolution and levels of religiosity in some countries, along with the existence of books explaining reconciliation between evolution and religion, indicate that people have trouble in believing both at the same time, thus implying incompatibility. Compatibility or incompatibility is a theological concern, not a scientific concern. Questions of incompatibility or otherwise are not answerable since by accepting revelations one is abandoning rules of logic which are needed to identify if there are indeed contradictions between holding certain beliefs.  Some hold that incompatibility exists because religion is not problematic to a certain point before it collapses into a number of excuses for keeping certain beliefs, in light of evolutionary implications.

The central difference between the nature of science and religion is that the claims of science rely on experimental verification, while the claims of religions rely on faith, and these are irreconcilable approaches to knowing.    Because of this, both are incompatible as currently practiced and the debate of compatibility or incompatibility will be eternal.  There are views that science and religion are incompatible due to conflicts between approaches of knowing and the availability of alternative plausible natural explanations for phenomena that is usually explained in religious contexts.  Yet there are others that view science and religion as being in competition, with religion now “losing the argument with modernity”.  Hence, there is a possibility for debate and one could argue that it is very easy for people to reconcile science and religion because some things are above strict reason; scientific expertise or domains do not spill over to religious expertise or domains necessarily, and mentions “There simply IS no conflict between religion and science.”

There are those who argue for compatibility since they do not agree that science is incompatible with religion and vice versa. They argue that science provides many opportunities to look for and find God in nature and to reflect on their beliefs.  I found that there are some that might argue that since significant portions of scientists are religious and the proportion of Americans believing in evolution is much higher, it implies that both are indeed compatible.  When  discussing compatibility, some scientific intellectuals often ignore the viewpoints of intellectual leaders in theology and instead argue against less informed masses, thereby, defining religion by non-intellectuals and slanting the debate unjustly. Leaders in science sometimes trump older scientific baggage and that leaders in theology do the same, so once theological intellectuals are taken into account, people who represent extreme positions.  The conflict thesis holds that religion and science have been in conflict continuously throughout history, was popularized in the 19th century.  Most contemporary historians of science now reject the conflict thesis in its original form and no longer support it.    Instead, it has been superseded by subsequent historical research which has resulted in a more nuanced understanding.

A modern view 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.  It can be felt that science and religion, when each is viewed in its own domain, are both consistent and complete. The National Academy of Science supports the view that science and religion are independent.     Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.

Scientific and theological perspectives often coexist peacefully. Christians and some Non-Christian religions 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, as well as 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.   From  a historical perspective this points out that much of the current-day clashes occur between limited extremists—both religious and scientific fundamentalists—over a very few topics, and that the movement of ideas back and forth between scientific and theological thought has been more usual.   This perspective could point to the fundamentally common respect for written learning in religious traditions of rabbinical literature. Christian theology and the Islamic Golden Age, including a Transmission of the Classics from Greek to Islamic to Christian traditions which helped spark the Renaissance.  Religions have also given key participation in development of modern universities and libraries; centers of learning & scholarship were coincident with religious institutions – whether pagan, Muslim, or Christian.

A fundamental principle of the Baha’i Faith is the harmony of religion and science. Baha’i scripture asserts that true science and true religion can never be in conflict.  Abdu’l-Baha, 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.

Theories of Buddhism and science have been regarded to compatible by numerous sources.   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)—the principal object of study being oneself. A reliance on causality, philosophical principles are shared between Buddhism and science. However, Buddhism doesn’t focus on materialism.

Tenzin Gvatso, the 14th Dali 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.”

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 held a generally negative opinion of Greek philosophy, while Origen regarded it much more favorably and required his students to read nearly every work available to them and Thomas Aquinas 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.  The sense that God created the world as a self-operating system is what motivated many Christians throughout the Middle Ages to investigate nature.

 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 St. 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.”

During the Enlightenment, a period “characterized by dramatic revolutions in science” and the rise of Protestant challenges to the authority of the Catholic Church via individual liberty, the authority of Christian scriptures became strongly challenged. As science advanced, acceptance of a literal version of the Bible became “increasingly untenable” and some in that period presented ways of interpreting scripture according to its spirit on its authority and truth. Many well-known historical figures who influenced Western science considered themselves Christian such as Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton and Boyle, although Newton would rather fit the term “heretic”.

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

 Kathy Kiefer



    sandy saitta said:
    February 10, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    I am fascinated by how scientists view God. After all science is fact, while religion is faith. After studying the universe, especially the stars, many are believers. How could the universe, so perfect be a random act?
    As a Christian I believe God created the universe. However, I do believe that evolution is a logical rationale. For me there is no conflict, as God is the source of all things in nature…and hence, evolution. Many people have a big problem with this and are troubled by the “choice” of believing the bible and believing science. If you believe in a supreme being, than it is not so hard a concept. God was responsible for evolution, part of his plan so to speak. I think the problem comes from the literal interpretation of the bible. The bible is filled with light and love, truly in fear and adoration for God. From my point of view, the bible is the essence of God’s love and plan for us. I dont think you can take a literal point of view from a source written over 2000 years ago. But such is faith…

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