Religion and science

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Religion and science provide different ways of understanding and controlling the world. Religion emphasizes faith and values. Science emphasizes cause and effect, chiefly in the pursuit of discovering natural laws. While some scholars assert that they are independent and rely on entirely different and incomparable methods (e.g., cf. scientific method and prayer), others assert that there are significant parallels in method and purpose (both being pursuits of truth), though they do address different questions: religion focuses on meaning and beauty, science on the natural world. Though religion has components that have no counterpart in science, there are scholars such as Michael Polanyi who have argued that both involve a moral commitment.

Origins of the tone in modern dialgoue

The tone in modern dialogue between religion and science is both positive and negative.

Positive origins

According to the Columbia University professor Douglas M. Sloan in a section "Science and Faith" (pages 191-200) from his 1994 book Faith and Knowledge: Mainline Protestantism and American Higher Education:

Interestingly, it was not the theologians but, rather, some scientists who had been deeply touched by the theological renaissance who undertook the most thoroughgoing examination of their own field. It was among them, rather than among the humanists, that the deepest probes were made into the presuppositions of modern thought. This was one area, therefore, in which some basis was laid for work that still holds perhaps the most promising possbilities for a much-needed renewal of efforts to engage the faith-knowledge issue.[1]

Negative origins

Until recently most historians of science had tended to overlook the heated literature debates between the Cambridge University philosopher and Anglican priest William Whewell and the liberal anti-Christian founder of postivism Auguste Comte over Comte's Law of three stages.

Refutation of Laws

William Whewell wrote "[Mr.] Comte's arrangement of the progress of science as successively metaphysical and positive, is contrary to history in fact, and contrary to sound philosophy in principle." [2] The historian of science H. Floris Cohen has made a significant effort to draw the modern eye towards this first debate on the foundations of positivism.[3] In comparison to Whewell, the philosophically and theologically weaker mind of Charles Darwin wrote in one of his notebooks that "[Mr.] Comte's idea of a theological state of science [is] a grand idea." [4]

As political forces

In history and in world events the relationship between religion and science can manifest itself as political forces. In the 20th century and today, one of the most common manifestations is the question of which view should control education. And in a broader context becomes whether faith or knowledge should have the upperhand. In the increased scope of faith and knowledge as political forces, academic institutions can often be seen interfering with their employees and scholars as Princeton Theological Seminary famously did with J. Gresham Machen and other religious conservatives.

Anti-psychiatry movement

A good example of science being rightly rejected for overstepping its bounds and religion allowed its proper reign is the anti-psychiatry movement. Some of its secular figures include University of Illinois psychology professor Orval Hobart Mowrer‎, famed-psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, psychiatrist William Glasser, and psychiatrist Perry London. While the secular figures, because of a lack of community support, could only play the role of intellectual gladfly, the Christian minister Jay E. Adams, once a student of Orval Hobart Mowrer‎, was able to provide a healthy, traditional alternative to what the anti-psychiatrists believed to be a sort of iatrogenic therapy.

"... it is not the purview of mental health professionals and behavioral scientists to judge as abnormal or irrational a belief in God, or specific beliefs regarding what God has revealed."[5]


  1. Faith and Knowledge, Douglas Sloan, Westminster John Knox Press, 1994, ISBN 0664228666, ISBN 9780664228668, 272 pages, p.191
  2. p.233 of On the Philosophy of Discovery: Chapters Historical and Critical (Including completion of the third edtion of the philosophy of the inductive sciences), William Whewell, New York: Burt Franklin, 1860
  3. H. Floris Cohen, The Scientific Revolution: A Historiographical Inquiry, University of Chicago Press 1994, p.35-39
  4. N Notebook by Charles Darwin, kept autumn 1838 to summer 1839
  5. "Destructive Trends in Mental Health: The Well-Intentioned Path to Harm" - book review

Academically well-respected critics of current scientific world views

See also