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

The relationship between religion and science takes many forms as the two fields are both extremely broad. They employ different methods and address different questions. The scientific method relies on an objective approach to measure, calculate, and describe the natural/physical/material universe. Religious methods are more subjective (or intersubjective in community), relying on varying notions of authority, ideas believed to have been revealed, intuition, belief in the supernatural, individual experience, "reasoned" observations about life or the universe or a combination of these to understand the universe. Science attempts to answer the "how" and "what" questions of observable and verifiable phenomena; religion attempts to answer the "why" questions of value, morals and spirituality. However, some science also attempts to explain such "why" questions,[How to reference and link to summary or text] and some religious authority also extends to "how" and "what" questions regarding the natural world, creating the potential for conflict.


Historically, science has had a complex relationship with religion; religious doctrines and motivations have sometimes influenced scientific development, while scientific knowledge has had effects on religious beliefs. A common 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.[1] Another view known as the conflict thesis, which has fallen from favor amongst historians but retains popular appeal, holds that science and religion inevitably compete for authority over the nature of reality, so that religion has been gradually losing a war with science as scientific explanations become more powerful and widespread.[2] This view was popularized in the 19th century by John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White. However, neither of these views adequately accounts for the variety of interactions between science and religion (both historically and today), ranging from antagonism to separation to close collaboration.[3]

The kinds of interactions that might arise between science and religion have been classified by John Polkinghorne FRS[4] as:

  1. Conflict when either discipline threatens to take over the legitimate concerns of the 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.

Polkinghorne further suggests that 3 and 4 can be classified in terms of:

a. Consonance The two fields retain due autonomies, but the statements they make must be capable of appropriate reconciliation with each other without strain

b. Assimilation An attempt at the maximum possible conceptual meeting. Neither is absorbed totally by the other, but they are brought closely together.

Richard Dawkins asserts that religions make predictions about the real world which makes them testable scientific theories. The argument is that gods and deities that answer prayers inevitably require an overlap with the natural world and thus become observable and testable:[5]

The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice — or not yet — a decided one. [...] The moment religion steps on science's turf and starts to meddle in the real world with miracles, it ceases to be religion in the sense Gould is defending, and his amicabilis concordia is broken. Note, however, that the miracle-free religion defended by Gould would not be recognized by most practising theists in the pew or on the prayer mat.

The attitudes of religion towards science

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.

Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all developed many centuries prior to the modern era; their classical works show an appreciation of the natural world, but most of them express little or no interest in any systematic investigation of it for its own sake. However, Buddhism's investigation of Dharma precludes the use of numerous non-systematic methods and sources, including authority, common sense, opinions, tradition, and scripture.[6] Some early historical scientific texts have been preserved by religious groups, notably Islam collected scientific texts originating in various countries and Christianity brought them to Europe during the renaissance.

Historical Judeo-Christian-Islamic view

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In the Medieval era some leading thinkers in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, undertook a project of synthesis between religion, philosophy, and natural sciences. For example, the Jewish philosopher Maimonides, like the Christian philosopher Augustine of Hippo, 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. The best knowledge of the cosmos was seen as an important part of arriving at a better understanding of the Bible.

This approach has continued down to the present day; Henry Drummond, for example, was a 19th century Scot who wrote many articles, some of which drew on scientific knowledge to tease out and illustrate Christian ideas.

By the 1400s, however, scientific methods were being applied to domains such as planetary orbits, with results which threatened the church's sacred dogma. Christianity asserted religious certainty at the expense of scientific knowledge, by giving more explicit sanction to officially correct views of nature and scripture. Similar developments occurred in other religions. This approach, while it tended to temporarily stabilize doctrine, was also inclined toward making philosophical and scientific orthodoxy less open to correction, as accepted philosophy became the religiously sanctioned science. Observation and theory became subordinate to dogma. Islam took an even harder line, canonizing Medieval science and effectively bringing an end to further scientific advance in the Muslim world. In Europe, scientists and scholars of the Enlightenment responded to such restrictions with increasing skepticism.

Religious fundamentalism and scientific enlightenment

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The phenomenon of religious fundamentalism, especially Protestant, Christian fundamentalism which has arisen predominantly in the United States, has been characterized by some historians as originating in the reaction of the conservative Enlightenment against the liberal Enlightenment. In these terms, the scientific community is entirely committed to the skeptical Enlightenment, and has incorporated, into its understanding of the scientific method, an antipathy toward all interference of religion at any point of the scientific enterprise, and especially in the development of theory. While many popularizers of science rely heavily on religious allusions and metaphors in their books and articles, there is absolutely no orthodoxy in such matters, other than the literary value of eclecticism, and the dictates of the marketplace. Typically, fundamentalists are considerably less open to compromise and harmonization schemes than their forebears. They are far more inclined to make strict identification between religiously sanctioned science, and religious orthodoxy; and yet, they share with their early Enlightenment forebears the same optimism that religion is ultimately in harmony with "true" science. They typically favor a cautious empiricism over imaginative and probabilistic theories.[How to reference and link to summary or text] This is reflected also in their historical-grammatical approach to scripture and tradition, which they increasingly view as a source of scientific and religious certainty. Most significantly, they are openly hostile to the scientific community as a whole, and to what they call "scientific materialism".

The fundamentalist approach to modernity has also been adopted by the Islamic movements among Sunni and Shi'a Muslims across the world, and by some Orthodox Jews. For example, an Enlightenment view of the cosmos is accepted as fact, and read back into ancient texts and traditions, as though they were originally intended to be read this way. Fundamentalists often make claims that issues of modern interest, such as psychology, nutrition, genetics, physics and space travel, are spoken to directly by their ancient traditions, "foretold", in a sense, by their religion's sacred texts. For example, some Jewish fundamentalists and Muslims claim that quantum mechanics and relativity were predicted in the Torah or Qur'an, respectively.

In response to the freethought encouraged by Enlightenment thinkers over the last two centuries, many people have left organized religion altogether.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Many people became atheists and agnostics, with no formal affiliation with any religious organization. Many others joined Secular Humanism or the Society for Ethical Culture: non-religious organizations that have a social role similar to that which religion often plays; others joined non-creedal religious organizations, such as Unitarian Universalism. People in these groups no longer accept any religious doctrine or perspective which rests solely on dogmatic authority.

Non-fundamentalist religious views

In between these positions lies that of non-fundamentalist religious believers. A great many Christians and Jews still accept some or many traditional religious beliefs taught in their respective faith communities, but they no longer accept their tradition's teachings as unquestionable and infallible (indeed this is a basic tenet of mainstream Protestant Christian thought and of other faith perspectives open to dialogue with science). Liberal religious believers do believe in god(s), and believe that in some way their god(s) revealed their will to humanity. They differ from religious fundamentalists in that they accept that even if their religious texts were divinely inspired, they are also human documents which reflect the cultural and historic limitations and biases of their authors. Such believers are often comfortable with the findings of archaeological and linguistic research and historical-critical study. They will often make use of literary and historical analysis of religious texts to understand how they developed, and to see how they might be applied in our own day. This approach developed among Protestant scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries, and is now to found among other Christians, Liberal Jewish communities and others.

Some religious approaches acknowledge the historical relationship between modern science and ancient doctrines. For example, 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".[7] This statement would reflect the views of many non-Catholic Christians as well. An example of this kind of thinking is Theistic evolution.

Bahá'í view

In the Bahá'í Faith, the harmony of science and religion is a central tenet. The principle states that truth is one, and therefore true science and true religion must be in harmony, thus rejecting the view that science and religion are in conflict.[8] `Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the religion, asserted that science and religion cannot be opposed because they are aspects of the same truth; he also affirmed that reasoning powers are required to understand the truths of religion and that religious teachings which are at variance with science should not be accepted; he explained that religion has to be reasonable since God endowed humankind with reason so that they can discover truth.[9] Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, described science and religion as "the two most potent forces in human life."[10]

Science and religion, in the Bahá'í writings, are compared to the two wings of a bird upon which a person's intelligence can increase, and upon which a person's soul can progress. Furthermore, the Bahá'í writings state that science without religion would lead to a person becoming totally materialistic, and religion without science would lead to a person falling into superstitious practices.[8]

Hindu view

Proponents of Hinduism claim that Hinduism is not afraid of scientific explorations, nor of the technological progress of mankind.Template:Weal According to them, there is a comprehensive scope and opportunity for Hinduism to mold itself according to the demands and aspirations of the modern world; it has the ability to align itself with both science and spiritualism.Template:Weal This religion uses some modern examples to explain its ancient theories and reinforce its own beliefs.[How to reference and link to summary or text] For example, some Hindu thinkers have used the terminology of quantum physics to explain some basic concepts of Hinduism such as maya, the illusory and impermanent nature of our existence.Template:Weal

The attitudes of scientists towards religion

According to a 1996 survey, belief in a god that is "in intellectual and affective communication with humankind" and belief in "personal immortality" are most popular among mathematicians and least popular among biologists. In total, about 60% of scientists in the United States expressed disbelief or doubt in such a god[11]. This compared with 58% in 1914 and 67% in 1933. Among leading scientists defined as members of the National Academy of Sciences, 72.2% expressed disbelief and 93% - disbelief or doubt in the existence of a personal god in 1998.[12]

A recent survey conducted by Elaine Ecklund of Rice University found that approximately 38% of scientists do not believe in God. This survey was conducted in 2004 and is on-going. [13]

Scientific study of religion

Main article: religious studies

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 levels and religiosity[14] suggests a correlation between low serotonin levels 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.[15] An analysis of over 200 social studies 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"[16] and 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,[17] [18] Surveys suggest a strong link between faith and altruism.[19] Extensive studies show that there is little or no evidence that religion ever causes mental disorders[20] and that overall religion is a positive contributor to mental health[21]

Some historians, philosophers and scientists hope that the theory of memetics, reminiscent of the theory of genetics, will allow the modeling of the evolution of human culture, including philosophy and religion. Daniel Dennett's book Breaking the Spell attempts to begin such an analysis of modern religions. The idea that evolutionary processes are involved in the development of human culture and religion is not particularly controversial among scientists; however, memetics itself has produced few new results to date and many fear that it draws too heavily on models from genetics which do not apply to culture. Other approaches based on social sciences such as anthropology, psychology, sociology and economics have wider academic support and enormous published literature[22].

Philosophy of science

Since the era of logical positivism, the philosophy of science has shifted away from scientific realism towards instrumentalism and confirmation holism, both of which weigh in significantly on the relationship of science and religion.

Instrumentalism postulates that concepts and theories are merely useful instruments whose worth is measured not by whether the concepts and theories are true or false (or correctly depict reality), but by how effective they are in explaining and predicting phenomena. As such, religion plays little or no role.

Confirmation holism instead focuses upon avoiding dangerous confirmation bias effects, which scientists are supposed to avoid, but which are present in some religious arguments.

See also

  • American Scientific Affiliation
  • Bahá'í Faith and science
  • Beyond Belief conference
  • Birth cries of atoms
  • Boyle Lectures
  • Buddhism and science
  • Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences
  • Conflict thesis
  • Creation-evolution controversy
  • Deep ecology
  • Faith and rationality
  • Galileo affair
  • Gifford Lectures
  • Great chain of being
  • Intelligent design
  • List of Christian thinkers in science
  • Merton thesis
  • Natural theology
  • Religious perspectives on dinosaurs
  • Science and Religion in Czechia and Slovakia
  • Scopes trial
  • Templeton Prize
  • Theistic evolution
  • Continuity thesis


  1. Stephen Jay Gould. Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the fullness of life. Ballantine Books, 1999.
  2. Gary Ferngren (editor). Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. pp ix-xiv, 3-29. ISBN 0-8018-7038-0
  3. Gary Ferngren (editor). Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8018-7038-0
  4. John Polkinghorne Science and Theology SPCK/Fortress Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8006-3153-6 pp20-22, following Ian Barbour
  5. Dawkins, Richard [2006] (January 2007). "2 The God hypothesis" The God Delusion, tpb, pp. 58-60, Bantam Press.
  6. Kalama Sutta
  7. Pope John Paul II, 3 October 1981 to the Pontifical Academy of Science, "Cosmology and Fundamental Physics"
  8. 8.0 8.1 Esslemont, J.E. (1980). Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, 5th ed., Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-160-4.
  9. `Abdu'l-Bahá [1912] (1982). The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Hardcover, Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-172-8.
  10. Effendi, Shoghi (1938). The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-231-7.
  11. As Alister McGrath points out in The God Delusion this defintion would exclude Deists and people like Einstein who believe(d) "in Spinoza's God"
  12. Larson and Witham, 1998 "Leading Scientists Still Reject God"
  13. Ref to survey at Livescience article from
  14. Dr. Lars Farde Ph.D, professor of psychiatry at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden 2003, the study and a vulgarized article
  15. Is Religion Dangerous? p156, citing David Myers The Science of Subjective Well-Being Guilford Press 2007
  16. Smith,Timothy, Michael McCullough, and Justin Poll. 2003: “Religiousness and Depression: Evidence for a Main Effect and Moderating Influence of Stressful Life Events.” Psychological Bulletin 129(4):614–36.
  17. Bryan Johnson & colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania (2002)
  18. Is Religion Dangerous? cites similar results from the Handbook of Religion and Mental Health Harold Koenig (ed.) ISBN 978-0124176454
  19. eg a survey by Robert Putnam showing that membership of religious groups was positively correllated with membership of voluntary organisations
  20. quoting Michael Argyle and others
  21. Is Religion Dangerous? Ch 9.
  22. see eg Alister McGrath Dawkins God: Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life


  • Barbour, Ian. When Science Meets Religion. SanFrancisco: Harper, 2000.
  • Barbour, Ian. Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues. SanFrancisco: Harper, 1997. ISBN 0-06-060938-9
  • Drummond, Henry. Natural Law in the Spiritual World. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 29th Edition, 1890 [1]
  • Haught, John F. Science & Religion: From Conflict to Conversation. Paulist Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8091-3606-6
  • Larson, Edward J. and Larry Witham. "Leading scientists still reject God," Nature, Vol. 394, No. 6691 (1998), p. 313. online version
  • Einstein on Religion and Science from Ideas and Opinions (1954), Crown Publishers, ISBN 0-517-00393-7

Additional reading

  • Brooke, John H., Margaret Osler, and Jitse M. van der Meer, editors. "Science in Theistic Contexts: Cognitive Dimensions," Osiris, 2nd ser., vol. 16(2001), ISBN 0-226-07565-6.
  • Haisch, Bernard. The God Theory: Universes, Zero-point Fields, and What's Behind It All (Preface), Red Wheel/Weiser, 2006, ISBN 1-57863-374-5
  • Oord,Thomas Jay - Science of Love: The Wisdom of Well-Being, Templeton, 2003, ISBN 1-932031-70-7
  • Richardson, Mark - Wesley Wildman (ed.), Religion & Science: History, Method, Dialogue, Routledge, 1996, ISBN 0-415-91667-4
  • Van Huyssteen, J. Wentzel (editor), Encyclopedia of Science and Religion, MacMillan, 2003, ISBN 0-02-865704-7
  • Wilber, Ken, The Marriage of Sense and Soul : Integrating Science and Religion, Broadway; Reprint edition, 1999, ISBN 0-7679-0343-9
  • Walsh, James J., The Popes and Science; the History of the Papal Relations to Science During the Middle Ages and Down to Our Own Time, Kessinger Publishing, 1908, reprinted 2003. ISBN 0-7661-3646-9 from WorldCat [2] Review excerpts:
  • John Polkinghorne, Science and Theology SPCK/Fortress Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8006-3153-6

External links

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he:תורה ומדע
fi:Tieteen ja uskonnon välinen suhde
sv:Vetenskap och religion
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