Science and Religion

On a list I subscribed to someone posed the question:
So how can we achieve the harmony of science and religion? Is science infallible or what?

I wrote (quickly and off-the-cuff): Science is fallible because it ultimately depends on instruments of measurement or instruments that enhance physical observation. There are physical limits to how good those instruments can be. The rest is theory. For example, between 70% and 90% of the physical universe is undetectable except by its influence on other bodies such as the movement of galaxies. The theory scientists have proposed is called Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Whatever it is may never be completely physically measurable or visible. Nobody knows yet its existence is real and not doubted. Scientists say that dark energy is responsible for the increasing acceleration of the universe. No instrument will ever be sensitive enough to see or measure the entire universe. That’s why scientists think the universe is only 14 billion years old; they haven’t measured anything farther than that yet in light years. We know from the Bahá’í Writings that God’s creation is infinite and has always existed.

Quantum Mechanics theory acknowledges the fallibility of science in interesting and intelligent ways. It asserts that merely observing a phenomenon actually changes it and, in fact, certain events on the subatomic level wouldn’t occur at all if there wasn’t someone to observe them. Quantum Physics theorizes (proves?) that atomic particles can influence the vibration of related particles even at unimaginable distances (i.e. vastly faster than light speed). Physical senses are limited and that’s what science depends on. The Bahá’i faith has a different and vastly broader definition of Reality.

“As to thy question whether the physical world is subject to any limitations, know thou that the comprehension of this matter dependeth upon the observer himself. In one sense, it is limited; in another, it is exalted beyond all limitations. The one true God hath everlastingly existed, and will everlastingly continue to exist. His creation, likewise, hath had no beginning, and will have no end. All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause. This fact, in itself, establisheth, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the unity of the Creator.”
(Bahá’ulláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’ulláh, p. 162)

The spiritual world can only be ‘detected’ by its influence on the material world. Scientists can’t view or measure it so many doubt its existence. Another reason why some scientists are agnostic or atheist is because a great many Christians have ignorant beliefs about the physical world such as very literal creationism (we physically resemble God; He physically incarnated in a specific human being; the earth is less than 10,000 years old; because Jesus walked on the earth no other place in the entire universe supports life, etc.). If the scientists were exposed to such ancient and superstitious beliefs they would necessarily doubt their literal veracity and probably confuse that with all religious views. The Christian Intelligent Design movement cherry picks from science only those observations that support its underlying fundamentalist theology. They seek to prove not only their individual interpretations of their denominations but also the literal veracity of some Bronze Age myths rather than the symbolic spiritual truths underlying them. Intelligent Design is basically a clever marketing term.

A high school Creationist text Called Biology: God’s Living Creation states that a literal account of Noah’s Ark is what really happened (which is ridiculous and utterly unprovable as all geological and archaeological evidence has only found localized periodic floods) and further states that evolutionary theory is in the realm of fancy. It’s really unfortunate that many scientists think that represents the view of most religionists and not just the fundamentalists.

The only rational explanations of physical and metaphysical phenomena are given by Bahá’u’lláh throughout his writings. Suggested reading: Close Connections by John Hatcher.

Th October 2007 issue of Scientific American has a short article about Big Bang Theory. Many scientists are expanding on it and now have divergent views. They think that there was something in existence before the big bang though they have no idea of how to describe it or what it may have been. Some theorize that it wasn’t a singularity after all but something unimaginably vast and powerful.
See Scientific American, October 2007, p. 26, “New Beginnings: Ideas for a time before the big bang–which might be testable.”

“However, the substance and essence of the subject is this, that there can be no doubt that from everlasting God hath been invested with the independent sovereignty of His exalted Being, and unto everlasting He will remain inaccessible in the transcendent majesty of His holy Essence. No creature hath ever recognized Him as befitteth His recognition, nor hath any created being ever praised Him as is worthy of His praise. He is exalted above every name, and is sanctified from every comparison. Through Him all things are made known, while too lofty is His reality to be known through anyone but Him. The process of His creation hath had no beginning and can have no end, otherwise it would necessitate the cessation of His celestial grace. God hath raised up Prophets and revealed Books as numerous as the creatures of the world, and will continue to do so to everlasting.”
(The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 125)

Science is constantly revising and correcting itself because of new discoveries. It cannot be considered infallible at any point. Much of science is just theory or yet another hypothesis or mathematical model though it is usually based on physical observations and measurements.

Another scientific mystery in Bahá’u’lláh’s day was whether stars other than our own sun have planets. Bahá’u’lláh Himself was very explicit: ‘Every fixed star’, He wrote, ‘hath its own planets…’ (The traditional term ‘fixed star’ refers to self-luminous stellar bodies like our own sun, in contrast to planets that once were called ‘wandering stars’.) Throughout most of our present century astronomers insisted that planets cannot occur naturally but only as a result of some freak catastrophe such as a near- collision between stars. Not until the early 1970s did new mathematical models show that the rotation of a star necessarily spins off a disk of matter, forming rings that coalesce into orbiting bodies. According to current knowledge, then, every normal star will at some point sire planets as part of its natural life-cycle. — Gary Matthews, 221:1)

A Bahá’í point of view that could accurately be termed Intelligent Design:
http://www.planetbahai.org/cgi-bin/articles.pl?article=190

This is an excerpt:

Bahá’u’lláh also alters the traditional view of God’s act of creation. Most creation mythologies ascribe the existence of the universe to a series of explicitly divine acts. Genesis, for example, outlines a series of events over six days in which God creates the heavens and the Earth and everything therein. Bahá’u’lláh regards such stories as having symbolic rather than literal import and offers this vision of the divine process of creation:

A drop of the billowing ocean of His endless mercy hath adorned all creation with the ornament of existence, and a breath wafted from His peerless Paradise hath invested all beings with the robe of His sanctity and glory. A sprinkling from the unfathomed deep of His sovereign and all-pervasive Will hath, out of utter nothingness, called into being a creation which is infinite in its range and deathless in its duration. The wonders of His bounty can never cease, and the stream of His merciful grace can never be arrested. The process of His creation hath had no beginning, and can have no end.
(Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, XXVI, p. 61)

In this and other passages, Bahá’u’lláh alludes to creation as an ongoing process rather than a one-time act. Indeed, His view of God’s creation does not stop at the boundaries of this universe, which like this Earth had an origin and may conceivably have an end. He speaks, rather of a creation that transcends all boundaries of space and time and which is always and everywhere being created. The continual evolution of complexity in our universe is entirely consistent with that view.

Science and religion thus converge on a worldview that regards creation as an eternal process building up a universe populated by creatures who are our spiritual equals, capable of knowing and loving God, and whose societies are even more complex examples of the creative power latent within the cosmos. by Dale E. Lehman (planetbahai.com)

“The Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh are many. The precepts and teachings they contain are universal, covering every subject. He has revealed scientific explanations ranging throughout all the realms of human inquiry and investigation–astronomy, biology, medical science, etc….He wrote lengthy Tablets upon civilization, sociology and government. Every subject is considered.”
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 155)

Put all your beliefs into harmony with science; there can be no opposition, for truth is one. When religion, shorn of its superstitions, traditions, and unintelligent dogmas, shows its conformity with science, then will there be a great unifying, cleansing force in the world which will sweep before it all wars, disagreements, discords and struggles — and then will mankind be united in the power of the Love of God
(‘Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 146)

“Furthermore He [Bahá’u’lláh] proclaims that religion must be in harmony with science and reason. If it does not conform to science and reconcile with reason it is superstition. Down to the present day it has been customary for man to accept a religious teaching even though it were not in accord with human reason and judgment. The harmony of religious belief with reason is a new vista which Bahá’u’lláh has opened for the soul of man.”
(‘Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 247)

Much of the discord and disunion of the world is created by these man-made oppositions and contradictions. If religion were in harmony with science and they walked together, much of the hatred and bitterness now bringing misery to the human race would be at an end. Consider what it is that singles man out from among created beings, and makes of him a creature apart. Is it not his reasoning power, his intelligence? Shall he not make use of these in his study of religion? I say unto you: weigh carefully in the balance of reason and science everything that is presented to you as religion. If it passes this test, then accept it, for it is truth! If, however, it does not so conform, then reject it, for it is ignorance! Look around and see how the world of today is drowned in superstition and outward forms!
(‘Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 144)

“Classical Physics [my inserted note here: also classical religion] had relied for centuries on mechanical models as a supposedly all-sufficient basis for understanding the physical world. (A mechanical model is an image or replica corresponding in some objective way- not merely a metaphorical way- to the thing that it represents.) ‘Abdul-Baha stated forcefully that ‘nature… in its essence’ is utterly incompatible with mechanical models. Its deepest building blocks can no more be expressed by objective description than can such abstractions as ‘love’ or ‘truth’. Such assertions were, at that time, even more daring and radical than ‘Abdul-Baha’s rejection of material ether. Yet His insights were fully validated, more than fifty years later, by the development of quantum mechanics- the mathematical description of subatomic particles and their behaviour. The resulting collapse of mechanical models lies at the very heart of the revolution in physics which, in this century, has shaken the world, transformed every aspect of modern life, and (in the words of Sir James Jeans) made the universe appear ‘more like a great thought than like a great machine’.”
(Gary Mathews in a book addressed to Christians p245:2)

Some references on the topic of topic of Science and religion:
http://info.bahai.org/article-1-3-2-18.html
http://bahai-library.com/?file=compilation_nature_bwc.html#14
http://www.bahai9.com/Promulgation_of_Universal_Peace
The Possibility of Extraterrestrial Life
http://www.planetbahai.org/cgi-bin/linklibrary.pl?pageid=1097

God, Intelligent Design, Science, and Evolution (a better written more objective explanation than mine):
http://science201.blogspot.com/2005/10/god-intelligent-design-scienceand.html

Some quotations:

At the deepest level, as Bahá’u’lláh emphasizes, there is but one religion. Religion is religion, as science is science. The one discerns and articulates the values unfolding progressively through Divine revelation; the other is the instrumentality through which the human mind explores and is able to exert its influence ever more precisely over the phenomenal world. The one defines goals that serve the evolutionary process; the other assists in their attainment. Together, they constitute the dual knowledge system impelling the advance of civilization. Each is hailed by the Master as an “effulgence of the Sun of Truth” — Commissioned by The Universal House of Justice, One Common Faith
— Bahá’í World Centre, Haifa, Copyright (c) 2005 by the Universal House of Justice, Commissioned by The Universal House of Justice, One Common Faith

As a scientist, I feel that my role is to object when religious belief causes people to teach lies about the world. In this regard, I would argue that one should respect religious sensibilities no more or less than any other metaphysical inclinations, but in particular they should not be respected when they are wrong. By wrong, I mean beliefs that are manifestly in disagreement with empirical evidence. The earth is not 6,000 years old. The sun did not stand still in the sky. The Kennewick Man was not a Umatilla Indian. What we need to try to eradicate is not religious belief, or faith, it is ignorance. Only when faith is threatened by knowledge does it become the enemy. – Lawrence M. Krauss (an example of why some intelligent people who have been exposed to superstitious dogma and literalism become atheists).

Which of our methods of measuring could we apply to this eddying mass that is the universe? In the presence of the profundities our sole ability is to dream. Our conception, quickly winded, cannot follow creation, that vast breath. – Victor Hugo, The Toilers of the Sea

The religion that is afraid of science dishonors God and commits suicide. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The most important function of art and science is to awaken the cosmic religious feeling and keep it alive. – Albert Einstein

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. – Albert Einstein

Advertisements