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The relationship between religion and science

Note: this article was formerly "Scientists' attitudes towards religion." It was renamed to provide a more balanced, complete, and nuanced account. Please contribute!

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1 References
2 External Links

The attitudes of religion towards science

Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism and Christianity all developed millennia before the existence of the scientific method; their classical works show an appreciation of the natural world, but show little or no interest in any systematic investigation of of it. Islam developed almost a thousand years before the establishment of the scientific method; its classical works also show an appreciation of the natural world, but show little or no interest in any systematic investigation of it. Nevertheless, we owe gratitude to Islam for its preservation of early scientific texts.

In the medieval era some leading thinkers in all three of these religions took what today we would view as a very pro-science view. For example, the Jewish philsosopher Maimonides held that if religious teachings were found to contradict certain direct observations about the natural world, then it would be obligatory to reinterpret religious texts to match the known facts. In this view, previous understandings of the Bible were seen as erroneous, and the modern science of his day was seen as a way to more correctly understand the Bible.

However, by the 1500s the predominant view of religious leaders, and lay people, in all these religions was to view a literal reading of their religious scripture as correct, and to subordinate observations and science to religious dogma.

Religious fundamentalism has been on the rise in the 20th and early 21st centuries, especially among Protestant Christians in the United States and the Islamist movement among Sunni Muslims across the world. Many religious fundamentalists are openly hostile to science. Other religious fundamentalists attempt to prove that all modern scientific discoveries have been "foretold" or predicted in their religion's sacred texts. For example, some Muslim fundamentalists claim that quantum mechanics and relativity have been predicted in the Quran; some Jewish fundamentalists make the same claim in regards to the Torah.

Liberal religious denominations have moved towards a very pro-science position, espcially among religiously liberal Chrisitians, religiously liberal Jews, Unitarian-Universalists and Humanists.

The attitudes of science towards religion

Scientists have many different views of religious belief.

  • Some scientists consider science and religion mutually exclusive;
  • others believe that scientific and religious belief are independent of one another
  • others believe that science and religion can and should be united or "reunited".

It has been argued that conceptions of God by scientists are generally more abstract and less personal than the Gods of common religions, and sometimes approach pantheism (as in the case of Albert Einstein). While this is undoubtedly true in many cases, no individual polling of the entire scientific community exists to date. Atheism, agnosticism and logical positivism are especially popular among people who believe that the scientific method is the best way to approximate an objective description of observable reality, although the scientific method generally deals with different sets of questions than those addressed by theology. The general question of how we acquire knowledge is addressed by the philosophical field of epistemology.

According a recent survey, belief in a God that is "in intellectual and affective communication with humankind" and in "personal immortality" is most popular among mathematicians and least popular among biologists. In total, about 60% of scientists in the United States expressed disbelief or doubt in the existence of God in 1996. This percentage has been fairly stable over the last 100 years. Among "leading" scientists (surveyed members of the National Academy of Sciences), 93% expressed disbelief or doubt in the existence of a personal God in 1998. (Larson and Witham, 1998)

The phrasing of the question can be criticized as presenting an overly narrow definition of God. The survey among NAS scientists was conducted via mail and had a low and perhaps statistically biased return rate (50%) .


General references

Ian Barbour When Science Meets Religion, 2000, Harper SanFrancisco

Ian Barbour Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues, 1997, Harper SanFrancisco.

Stephen Jay Gould Rock of Ages: Science and Religion in the fullness of life, Ballantine Books, 1999

Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham Leading scientists still reject God in Nature, Vol. 394, No. 6691 (1998), p. 313. Online at http://www.freethought-web.org/ctrl/news/file002

Jewish references

Elliot N. Dorff, Matters of Life and Death: Jewish Bio-Ethics, Jewish Publication Society, 1998

Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams In a Beginning...: Quantum Cosmology and Kabbalah, Tikkun, Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 66-73

Jeffrey H. Tigay, Genesis, Science, and "Scientific Creationism", Conservative Judaism, Vol. 40(2), Winter 1987/1988, p.20-27, The Rabbinical Assembly

External Links

  • Reasons to Believe, Dr Hugh Ross (http://www.reasons.org) is a website by a former research fellow at Caltech who believes that science and Christianity are reconcilable. However to reconcile them Dr. Ross has taken a number of scientific positions that extremely non-standard.

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