The clash between science and religion

Lubna Abdel-Aziz, Sunday 7 Jun 2020


Now the days of Ramadan have dwindled down, over one billion Muslims have celebrated the breaking of the fast under dire circumstances.

Throughout the dark days and nights of these evil times, Muslims continued to pray, alone, isolated, unable to perform traditional Ramadan rituals.

They knelt down on their knees and prayed, more than their usual prayers. They prayed for the end of the suffering and loss of life, caused by the deadly coronavirus that has disrupted the rhythm of life around the globe.

Time fails us to recall how long it has been since we have endured this painful solitude, from a natural or manufactured agent.

As the holy month draws to an end, restrictions forced by the contagious virus were eased. The intensity began to diminish: doors were opened of shops, restaurants, malls, beaches and sidewalks. Once again, we could feel the sunrays, gaze at the sky, the stars, and even re-unite with friends, wearing masks of course. Hearts are beating with joy again.

Could it be that our prayers were answered?

Not so fast, cry some scientist. It is due to our care, our methods of self-distancing, hand-washing, quarantines, masks, ventilators that have caused the slowdown of the virus, not your prayers.

What? A whole winter season with no cure, no pill, no medication, no vaccine — not even a coherent explanation, they have no right to boast.

There is no proof for either claims. The faithful believe in spiritual forces. Most scientists do not believe in faith —they need proof, facts, evidence. Science explains all mysteries by empirical inquiry, leaving blind faith behind.

Religion is about belief, teaching us its own facts without evidence.

Science teaches the truth based on observation, experiment and evidence. How can you reconcile both?

The most common area of conflict centres on the teachings of creation and evolution. In short, life was either created or evolved.

Are we the children of Adam and Eve as we learn from the holy books of Islam and Christianity, or are we the descendants of monkeys and apes?

“Correction,” say the scientists, “we are their cousins.”

Albert Einstein, the greatest scientist of our time, remarks: “Science is the century-old endeavour to bring together by means of supernatural thought the perceptible phenomenon of this world into as thorough an association as possible.”

“As possible” is a very broad term.

In any war, there is a winner and a loser, can we afford to lose one or the other?

Science proves success after success in understanding the universe, while the method of using faith has led to no proof of the divine. Scientists ask: “Is there an after-life? Can you prove it?” and many more such questions to which there is no answer. All is a mystery. All rests on faith, for faith is a virtue. Can you convince a die-hard scientist of that?

In science, faith without evidence is a vice, which in religion is a virtue. They represent different concepts of viewing the world.

In our modern world religion emerged in the 17th century in the midst of globalisation, civilisation, and reformation. The term was never used before. Mediaeval authors like Aquinas used religio, meaning piety or worship. Religion obtained its current meaning through the works of anthropologist E B Tyler in 1871.

The term “science” also became currently used two centuries later. Prior to the 19th century it was referred to as “natural philosophy”.

No doubt that Charles Darwin with his theory of “Origins of the Species”, rekindled the fire between science and religion and divided the world into two camps. Yet he himself believed in God. If he was able to reconcile both theories, we too should be able to do that. Why can we not revere science, despite the coronavirus crisis, while maintaining the value of religious beliefs?

The “Trial of the Century” as it was called, was the “Scopes Trial” in 1925 which was transformed into a stage play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee. “Inherit the Wind” was later made into a classic masterpiece of a film starring Spencer Tracy and Frederic March in 1961. It pitted evolutionists against creationist and has been adapted for TV and the theatre again and again with such names as George C Scott, Jack Lemmon, Kirk Douglas, Gene Kelly. Paul Muni among others. Although it mocked theism and religion it has remained one of the most successful and longest running drama in American history.

Although it was believed that religion would fade from relevance as science advances and the world’s population plays with its tech games, religion retains a powerful hold. All the sci-fi movies, books and games are replete with the forces of good and evil. Think of Spiderman and co, Star Trek, or even Star Wars. Who is the “force”?

“Is god dead,” asked Time Magazine in 1966, and the answer is a resounding no.

It is predicted that by 2050 there will be more religious people than there are today. Hopefully, some scientists will be included.

Islam will increase twice as fast as the overall world population, but Christianity will remain the dominant religion.

All you believers take heart. Faith is on the rise.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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