Science and Religion

Science and Religion (SRP 420) Science and Religion–two disciplines that at first glance seem to be completely separate modes of thought. After more careful examination one comes to realize that they bump into each other often. Indeed, science and religion seem to have a complex history involving both conflict and resolution. Many theologians, philosophers, and scientists have developed theories on how science and religion can coexist. One such man is John Polkinghorne a scientist and philosopher; he has developed his own theory on the relationship between science and religion.

In the first chapter of his book Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity Polkinghorne lays out his theory for the coexistence of science and religion. He begins by discussing the impressiveness of science and its many accomplishments. Next he goes on to discuss the truth of religion and challenges the claim that religion is simply a personal truth or an opinion, while science is fact. He quickly claims this statement is false, because making this conclusion would be a, “fundamental mistake of the most disastrous kind” (Polkinghorne, 2).

This faulty conclusion about the integration of science and religion, according to Polkinghorne, has is often made because of two mistakes: about the basis of scientific knowledge and the other about religious belief. The general mistake that has been made about science is that it is a simple process in which a prediction is formulated, an experiment is performed, and presto a new discovery is made. In actuality there is much more involved in the art of scientific discovery. For instance, scientists often do not have pure facts, but rather they are dealing with knowledge that they must interpret for themselves.

To interpret knowledge, according to Polkinghorne, is often quite difficult and requires one to formulate a point of view or an opinion in order to reach a conclusion. Choosing a point of view or having an opinion requires people to be bold and brave because they are betting things happen in a certain way. Therefore in science fact and opinion are constantly mixed up with one another. The major mistake people make in religion is that is that it involves a kind of “leap into the dark” (Polkinghorne, 10). While religion does involve faith and faith does sometimes require a leap, it is in no way a leap into the dark.

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Polkinghorne criticizes this theory by asking a variety of questions such as: what would be the purpose of religion if this were true? Why would anyone be religious if it involved such blind trust? (Polkinghorne, 2) Therefore, he concludes religion must be a leap of faith, but it is a leap into the light. The main point Polkinghorne is making here is that religion can only be of real value if it is actually true, otherwise he claims religion would simply only be a, “technique for whistling in the dark to keep our spirits up” (Polkinghorne, 14).

The conclusion reached at the end of the argument is that science and religion are “intellectual cousins,” (Polkinghorne, 11) in that they are both searching for truth, but neither can say that they have achieved it and each must base its conclusions on an interaction between interpretation, experience, and opinion. They both also must always be open to corrections if mistakes are found, because they are part of a kind of wonderful human journey to understand and be in sync with the physical and spiritual world around us.

Nevertheless, there are major differences between science and religion that cannot be overlooked, and Polikinghorne points out these differences. Essentially science is dealing with a physical world that we are able to poke and prod even if we cannot always see exactly what is happening. However, religion cannot be put to an experimental test in the same way that science can. Although science and religion are different in this way they are still both attempts to understand even if they go about in different ways. Overall, I think Polkinghorne offered a solid argument for the coexistence of science and religion.

As a science major I really appreciate the fact that Polkinghorne is an inhabitant of both the scientific and religious community. Like Polkinghorne I agree with the argument that neither science nor religion can offer an ultimate understanding of the world around us, but if they work together in harmony it is possible that they will eventually be able to achieve a greater understanding. In considering science and religion one must understand that neither can tell you everything and believing that one form of knowing can tell you everything forces a person to take a very diminished view of life.

In conclusion, Polkinghorne offers a simple and straightforward argument for how science and religion can exist together without contradiction. While the argument if fairly simple it is also effective and the main point is that science and religion are just different attempts to answer the same questions. Neither can answer these questions on their own to achieve greater understanding of the physical and spiritual world around us, both science and religion must be considered. Works Cited Polikinghorne, John. Quarks, Chaos, & Christianity. NY: Crossroads, 1994.

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