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Has science defeated religion and spirituality?

Amir Suhail Wani

The debate about the influence of growing science and technology on religious and spiritual traditions has been going on for a long time. The general perception is that with the advancement of science-based learning, religious and spiritual teachings have lost their value making humans give up their faith. On the other hand, faith is one of the fundamentals of human civilization, and absence of religious beliefs, the ethical and moral fabric may face erosion. Life, in such cases, may become vulnerable to indecency, crime, barbarity, and dehumanization. 

It’s thus important to find out the effect of scientific thought on our belief systems of faith and how we can benefit from science without compromising our faith.

The rise of the European Enlightenment and Renaissance shook the roots of the old belief system in Europe and made way for new thought and action. With the rise of mechanical science and empiricism in philosophy, old thought systems faced strong criticism. It was in this spirit that David Hume went on to proclaim: “If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion”. 

However, this was an extremist and false stand and the philosophers forgot that mankind has lived by religious and spiritual aspirations for centuries and that the finest human characters in history have been the vanguards of this legacy. The clash of science and religion in the West was further aggravated by the stubbornness of the church. While scientists were making discoveries and opening new vistas of knowledge, the Pope and clergy opposed them without a reason. Both finally declared a truce. The fate of Tycho Brahe, Galileo, and other scientists at the hands of clergy hardened the attitude of scientists. They vehemently opposed religion and traditional values. However, this Science Versus Religion split was particularly a European phenomenon. In the East – in India and the Islamic lands – the greatest scientific feats were often performed by deeply religious men. There was no friction between their religious convictions and their scientific discoveries. Thus the East was by and large free from “Mind-Matter, Body-Spirit, Holy-Profane, Divine-Earthly’ conflicts. 

However, with the invasion of sciences into our lives, traditional values in the East have also started crumbling. In the wake of scientific materialism, people are fast giving up their age-old values to embrace a culture of profiteering and materialism. To remove this misunderstanding of religion, we must delineate the two and also seek reconciliation between science and spirituality. While doing so one needs to keep in mind the doctrine of Non-Overlapping Magestria. It maintains that while science concerns the physical universe with its factual content, the subject matter of religion is the spiritual universe with its content of values, aesthetics, morals, ethics, etc. Thus the two domains don’t overlap. While physical and religious sciences continue to operate in their respective domains, they must not trespass their boundaries and create chaos and confusion.

This can address much of the confusion in the Religion-Science conflict. Also, religious scriptures are written in symbolical and allegorical language and thus no attempt shall be made to read these literally. It is the laymen’s practice of reading scriptures literally that brings in a lot of trouble, both scientific and otherwise. It’s clear that science never claims finality; all its results are provisional and subject to change and review. Thus we can’t base our moral and ethical outlook on something shaky. Therefore it best suits the human race to stick to the systems of ethics and morality handed to us by our religious and cultural traditions for centuries.  

 These days, a new trend tries to fuse science and spirituality. Based on the works of scientists like Bohr, Pauli, Schrodinger, Frithjof Capra, Rupert Sheldrake, Deepak Chopra, Amit Goswami, and others, scientists are now exploring the parallels between science and mysticism. Recent advancements in Quantum Mechanics, String Theory, and other cosmological and elementary particle models are leading us to the same picture of the universe as has been preached by sages, saints, and mystics across ages and countries. 

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To see science going back to conclusions drawn by religion and spirituality millenniums ago is comforting to a regular believer. As advancements in science continue, not are only the teachings of Vedas and Upanishads receiving a boost, but the traditional ways of life like Yoga and Ayurveda are proving to give a competition to science-based healing systems. We are living in exciting times where science and spirituality have a lot to offer to each other and together offer a lot more to humanity. Our task is to stay open to the challenges and opportunities of the era and imbibe the best. If humanity has a future, so has religion and spirituality, but the challenge lies in approaching each system of thought dispassionately to enrich human life and experience with the best that comes along the way. Only the fusion of scientific and spiritual horizons will make the future of mankind bright, materially fulfilling, and spiritually satisfying. 

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