Editorial: Journal: Science Religion Discourse
This long essay is written by my teacher. I liked the Aristotelian methods he employed in this to prove his points. Hopefully this will help you.give it a reading.
FALSIFIABILITY OF SCIENCE AND TRANSCENDENTALISM OF RELIGION
Jamil Asghar Jami
Today we are living in an age of science which has a profound effect on our thinking and behavior. Almost every sphere of our life and thinking has been conditioned by science. Today so deep-rooted this influence has become that we have developed a mistrust of all that which does not fall in the purview of science. Scientific spirit has come to characterize and determine our thinking, attitudes and ideas. Under this overwhelming influence of science, it was but natural for the modern man to judge the validity of all that he considers true against the touchstone of science. More recently, the word scientific has become a blanket term to denote accuracy and correctness. Unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) the adjective scientific is equated with true and perhaps the only true. Today, more than ever, the religious scholars and theists are desperately striving to reconcile religion with the advancements and discoveries of science. Scholars belonging to different religions are taking great pride in exhibiting and establishing the so-called scientific character of their religions without knowing that science itself is much given to change and revision. In this apologetic attitude there has been a tacit acknowledgment that perhaps truth is an exclusive monopoly of science and anything not confirmed by the empirical investigations of science is doomed to be untrue. We do not, at this moment, seem to realize that this attitude is not doing any service to religion and, more precisely, by vindicating religion through science we are not founding religion on a very strong basis. This study proposes to analyze whether this meaning of the word scientific is correct and really reflect the claim made by science. This paper will demonstrate that science, by nature, is falsifiable and changeable whereas religion is always above and beyond the vicissitudes and mutations of time and discovery. The study also proposes to demonstrate that science is not without its inherent limitations and contradictions and its much-celebrated accuracy and consistency is little more than an illusion. Much of science is based upon relativities and contingencies and any attempt to confront science with religion does good neither to science nor to religion.
I. The Scientific Factor
Herbert Butterfield (1900—1979), an eminent Cambridge historian, once said that the Scientific Revolution reduced the Renaissance and the Reformation “to the rank of mere episodes,” and that it marked “the real origin both of the modern world and of the modern mentality.” (1) Given the overwhelming importance of science and the scientific world-view in the modern world it is easy to see what he meant. Today science figures very prominently in our everyday discourse and it has pervaded the entire fabric of human existence. From mythic and ritualistic beginnings, it has developed into one of the greatest and most influential fields of human empirical endeavor. Numerous branches of science investigate almost everything that can be observed or detected, and science as a whole shapes the way we understand the universe, our planet, ourselves, and other living things. The so-called Scientific Revolution of our time took the world by surprise and relegated all that was unscientific to the realm of skepticism and superstition. This onslaught of science tended to equate religious teachings with false fears and ornamentation of life of no intellectual value. Science began to explain religion as a way of responding psychologically to pressures in society. Belief in miracles and other supernatural forces was considered as a function of fantasy. Two factors, in particular, intensified the confrontation between science and religion. The first was the Industrial Revolution. Never has science been as pervasive and influential as it has been after the Industrial Revolution. David Burnie says:
For a large part of recorded history, science had little bearing on people's everyday lives. Scientific knowledge was gathered for its own sake, and it had few practical applications. However, with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, this rapidly changed. Today, science has a profound effect on the way we live, largely through technology—the use of scientific knowledge for practical purposes. (2)
The second factor was the publication of Darwin’s treatise On the Origin of Species in 1859—often referred to as the “book that shook the world.” In this book the origin of humanity, crucially attributed to an omnipotent Creator, was explained by scientific principles according to the theory of evolution, where only those species survive that best fit the environment. The weak and defenseless are weeded out in this relentless process of Natural Selection. We are not here interested in discussing the implications of this theory for religion as our task is to refute this very confrontation of science and religion.
II. A Fundamental Difference
We have an inborn desire to be abreast of time both ideally and practically. At no time do we like to be knowingly out of tune with time. There are, of course, periods of regressions and retrogression but they are more of an exception than rule and as a whole the march of life is onward and progressive. This urge to be modern (and in our time postmodern) gives us a sense of relevance. But in the face of this desire of relevance we are likely to lose sight of certain institutions whose very merit lies in the fact that they are perennial and timeless such as religion and morality. We are likely to forget that fundamental values and teachings propounded by these intuitions are always relevant and the revisionism of time cannot render them anachronistic. Science may pass through countless vicissitudes of time and passages of experience and in every age may be clothed in new grabs but these institutions are not to be affected by its discoveries. The propositions of morality or the teachings and beliefs of religion are immune from the changes which have so frequently come to characterize science. Khalifa Abdul Hakim, a prominent scholar from Pakistan and the founder of Institute of Islamic Culture, Lahore (d.1957), shows the timeless relevance of morality and religion:
Can the essentials of morality be successfully contradicted even by the apparent relativity of morals and manners ?…Can it ever become irrational to believe that the gradations of existence extend above the material, vital the mental level? Can it ever be demonstrated that soul is a product and an attribute of the body and perishes with it? Can it ever be demonstrated that our spatial and temporal existence is co-extensive with entire being ? (3)
Taha Hussein (1889—1973), Egyptian intellectual, social reformer, and professor of Arabic literature at the University of Cairo, is another intellectual who is critical of reason in the matter of religion. Reason, he maintains, is really one of the many faculties given to man and it shares all the weaknesses inherent in other faculties. To him religion is a knowledge from God which knows no limits while modern knowledge, like ancient knowledge, is limited by limitations of human reason.
Now the question arises why science with all its astonishing discoveries and modern inventions cannot invalidate the propositions and tenets of religion. The answer lies in understanding a crucial difference between not only their natures but their functions as well. Science is the analytic and inductive study of the phenomenon. It does not explore the values and ideal possibilities of things. It only shows their present and apparent actuality and operation. The matter exhibits regularities of behavior and these regularities enable a scientist to predict different effects but this too with no degree of finality. To a scientist only the empirical and inductive reasoning of these disciplines yields genuine knowledge. Primarily science is an experimental investigation into a physical phenomenon, where precise observations can be made and measurements taken, where experiments are repeatable and universally testable. Science does not claim to have any knowledge of metaphysical and supra-phenomenal realms of existence. Anything lying outside the purview of nature is summarily excluded from the domain of science.
Religion, on the other hand concerns itself with the question of ideal conduct and belief in the Unseen. This belief in the Unseen guides and prescribes human behavior in its totality. Being a manifestation and expression of God’s infinite wisdom, religious tenets and principles have been set in the light of eternity. Empirical investigation and inductive reasoning is of little use here. Religion is concerned with value judgments whereas science is concerned with only one value—the value of phenomenal truth, the discovery of laws and uniformities. Religion is concerned with the spiritual, the immeasurable, and the uniquely individual. It is concerned with an infinite spiritual reality where God is not just a probable hypothesis, but a living and experienced fact of life. Professor Stephen Jay Gould demonstrates the difference:
Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings, and values. (4)
Although we are not obliged to subscribe to Professor Gould’s view in its entirety (as who is to deal with the factual character of the non-natural, supernatural world?), yet the difference shown here is quite significant. Today, however, this fundamental difference between the nature and temperament of religion and science has been blurred. The theists are busy in showing the scientific disposition of religion without knowing that religion is primarily a matter of faith and belief. Men of science have also gone berserk in a futile enterprise to criticize religion on the bases of their inductive reasoning forgetting that science neither claims nor has absolute or permanent truth. If the modern man happens to come across the sentence, “It is a scientific statement”, he is likely to infer:
· It is a true statement.
· Any statement running counter to it must be untrue.
Or some people might qualify their judgment and give a somewhat delimited view:
· A scientific statement, when hypothesis, can be disproved. But once established empirically, it cannot be disproved.
Though much more circumscribed, even the latter view is not correct and is alien to the established spirit of scientific investigation. To say that established scientific principles have come to stay is to exhibit ignorance about the nature of working of science. A by-product of this so-called objective attitude is a pronounced contempt for all those religious tenets and precepts which according to this attitude are unscientific and hence untrue.
III. Revisionism of Science
First we shall see how science has shifted its grounds from time to time. A cursory chronological survey of science will make it abundantly clear that science has never been static and changeless. Abdul Hakim, has rightly observed:
Has not the progress of Science been from error to error or if you please from lesser truth to greater truth? (5)
He further maintains:
Who can say that Science even at present is completely free of myths and mysteries? With all the limitations of human knowledge and experience, the hypothesis of pure mechanical naturalism is now being gradually superseded. The great biologists say that life cannot be explained in terms of purposeless mechanism; it has a causation sui generis. Psychologists like William James came to the conclusion that mind is more than mere biological life; mental causation and the relation of body to mind cannot be explained in merely biological terms. This may be called either the Retreat of Science or the Advance of Science; it all depends on how you view it. (6)
Some people may argue that the basic postulates and principles of science do not change but other less central and peripheral theories and concepts can be revised or improved upon. But this is just a convenient explanation. The fact of the matter is every breakthrough in science every time changed the very basic principles and postulates. From Ptolemaic to Copernican system, from Newtonian Physics to Einstein’s Relativity, from Determinism of Classical Physics to the Uncertainty Principle, from Euclidean Geometry to non-Euclidean Geometry the change has always been about the basics and fundamentals. Modern science does not leave any possibility, even theoretical, for rigid determinism of the classical physics. In physics, the concept of force is well-established. Any influence that accelerates an object is called force. Force is a vector, which means that it has both direction and magnitude. The force acting on an object, the object's mass, and the acceleration of the object are all related to each other by Newton's second law of motion. But Einstein denies this very concept of force. Razi-ud-din Siddiqi (1908–1998), an eminent Pakistani mathematician, philosopher and founding vice-chancellor of Quaid-e-Azam University, significantly remarked:
As a matter of fact Einstein has demonstrated by a detailed analysis that it is entirely unnecessary and superfluous to introduce the concept of force in science. There is no such thing as force. Bodies move not because they are pulled or pushed, or because there is a gravitational, electrical or magnetic attraction, but because the space-time continuum is of such a nature that bodies are obliged to move in their apparent orbits. (7)
Next point where Einstein made a radical departure from traditional physics was the gravitation. Gravitation is the force of attraction between all objects that tends to pull them toward one another. It is a universal force, affecting the largest and smallest objects, all forms of matter, and energy. Newton was the first to develop a quantitative theory of gravitation, holding that the force of attraction between two bodies is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Einstein proposed a wholly new concept of gravitation involving the four-dimensional continuum of space-time which is curved by the presence of matter. In his general theory of relativity, he showed that a body undergoing uniform acceleration is indistinguishable from one that is stationary in a gravitational field. Thus the Newtonian concept of gravitation gave way to Einstein’s space-time curvature.
Auguste Comte (1798—1857) was a 19th-century French mathematician and philosopher who inaugurated the era of Positivism. Positivism is a system of philosophy based on experience and empirical knowledge of natural phenomena, in which metaphysics and theology are regarded as inadequate and imperfect systems of knowledge. Comte chose the word positivism on the ground that it indicated the “reality” that he claimed for the theoretical aspect of the doctrine. He was, in the main, interested in a reorganization of social life for the good of humanity through scientific knowledge. He propounded a religion, in which humanity was the object of worship. A number of Comte's disciples refused, however, to accept this religious development of his philosophy, because it seemed to contradict the original positivist philosophy. During the early 20th century a group of philosophers rejected the traditional positivist ideas that held personal experience to be the basis of true knowledge and emphasized the importance of scientific verification. This group came to be known as logical positivists, and it included Ludwig Wittgenstein , Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore. It was Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-philosophicus (1921) that proved to be of decisive influence in the rejection of metaphysical doctrines for their meaninglessness and the acceptance of empiricism as a matter of logical necessity. The positivists today, who have rejected this so-called Vienna School of Philosophy, prefer to call themselves Logical Empiricists in order to dissociate themselves from the emphasis of the earlier thinkers on scientific verification. They maintain that the verification principle itself is philosophically unverifiable. These are some of the turns and twists of reason to reject religion, construct it again by an act of pseudo-divine creation, reject it again, and finally rejecting the very notion of verifiability. How easily human reason can lose direction and, like the fictional knight, go galloping off in all directions, can be seen from Comte’s religion of humanity to the unverifiability principle of logical empiricists. How drastic the effects of illusions can be!
Sir Karl Raimund Popper (1902—1994) was an Austrian-born British philosopher of science. He is known for his theory of scientific method and for his criticism of historical determinism. Popper holds an extremely prestigious place among the philosopher of science. Sir Peter Medawar (1915—1987), Nobel laureate in physiology and medicine, has called him ‘incomparably the greatest philosopher of science that has ever been’. In 1934 Popper wrote The Logic of Scientific Discovery in which he criticized the prevailing view that science is fundamentally inductive in nature. Proposing a criterion of falsifiability for scientific validity, Popper emphasized the hypothetico-deductive character of science. Scientific theories are hypotheses from which can be deduced statements testable by observation. If the appropriate experimental observations falsify these statements, the hypothesis is refuted. If a hypothesis survives efforts to falsify it, it may be tentatively accepted. No scientific theory, however, can be conclusively established. Thus by rejecting the traditional concept of induction, which held that a scientific hypothesis may be verified through the accumulation of confirming observations, he argued instead that scientific hypotheses can at best only be falsified. Since Popper, the principle of falsifiability has come to be accepted as a vital component of scientific investigation. Any principle which is not falsifiable is not scientific. Thus if a proposition wants to qualify for being scientific it must be falsifiable. Bartley W. W. III is a professor of philosophy at The Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author of The Philosophy of Karl Popper (3 parts), Philosophia. He illustrates Popper’s position:
An ardent advocate of reason and the scientific spirit, Popper nonetheless denied the very existence of scientific induction, argued that probability (in the sense of the probability calculus) could not be used to evaluate universal scientific theories, disputed the importance of the verification (as opposed to falsification) of hypotheses, denied the importance of meaning analysis in most branches of philosophy and in science, and introduced his famous falsifiability criterion of demarcation to distinguish science from ideology and metaphysics. (8)
Now our men of religion should pause and think. Are they going to prove the scriptural realities through something which is falsifiable in its very nature? Is it of any good to religion to be proved through something in which falsifiability has precedence over verifiability? These questions sufficiently illustrate the fact that vindication of religion through science is insecure and shallow. Scientific argument in favour of religion is much more of a problem than a help.
Mathematics is often called the mother of all sciences and sometimes the language of science. But we should always bear in mind that even mathematics is not without inconsistencies and problems. The person who undertook a serious critique of consistency and completeness of mathematics was Kurt Gödel (1906—1978), an American logician, known primarily for his research in philosophy and mathematics. He proved that a mathematical system always contains statements that can be neither proved nor disproved within the system. In simpler words, as a science, mathematics can never be totally consistent and totally complete in itself. His theorem can be illustrated as follows:
Gödel used an ingenious numbering system to translate statements about a mathematical theorem T into numerical statements within T. Then he used many applications of the rules of logic (called a proof) to show that a theorem could not be proven to be consistent or complete. To understand how Gödel's proof works, imagine a numerical statement within T that means “this statement has no proof in T.” Call this statement S and treat it like any other statement in T. If this particular statement S is provable in T, then S is false, which would make T inconsistent. Therefore, S must be unprovable and thus true. If S is true, then the negation of S (not S)—”this statement has proof in T”—must be unprovable; otherwise S would be false. Because neither S or not S is unprovable, T is incomplete. If we try to prove that T is consistent, we prove S, which is impossible. Therefore, T cannot be proven to be consistent or complete. (9)
Here it is interesting to note that Gödel published his theorem in 1931. This was the time when the German mathematician David Hilbert (1862—1963), leading the formalism movement, proposed that every mathematical theory should be given firm logical foundations. Formalism aimed at establishing the completeness and consistency of each theory. Gödel proved the formalists' position in establishing completeness and consistency untenable. Thus the proverbial accuracy and consistency of mathematics, the mother of all sciences, was brought into question. What to speak of the postulates and premises of other natural sciences?
Next comes causality. The principle of causality is of cardinal importance for the empirical investigations of science. Testability and repeatability of scientific experiments owes much to the validity of this principle. What is causality? Causality is a relationship of a cause to its effect. When we say that fire causes smoke, we mean that fire is a cause and smoke is an effect. How much this principle of causality is crucial to science can be seen from the following opinion:
The ultimate test of the validity of a scientific hypothesis is its consistency with the totality of other aspects of the scientific framework. This inner consistency constitutes the basis for the concept of causality in science, according to which every effect is assumed to be linked with a cause. (10)
This means any invalidation or suspension of causality can have consequences for scientific consistency and accuracy. But today a serious critique of causality is already in our midst and laws of causality are being challenged The French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes believed that a cause must contain the qualities of the effect. The physical scientists of the 17th and 18th centuries often had a mechanical view of causality. They reduced cause to a motion or change followed by other motion or change with a mathematical equality between measures of motion. The British philosopher David Hume went one step ahead and said that causality is not a real relation, but a fiction of the mind. Hume divided all knowledge into two kinds: knowledge of relations of ideas—that is, the knowledge found in mathematics and logic, which is exact and certain but provides no information about the world; and knowledge of matters of fact—that is, the knowledge derived from sense perception. Hume argued that most knowledge of matters of fact depends upon cause and effect, and since no logical connection exists between any given cause and its effect, one cannot hope to know any future matter of fact with certainty. Thus, the most reliable laws of science might not remain true—a conclusion that had a revolutionary impact on the philosophy of science. Because of this, the rigid determinism of classical physics has lost much of its validity. To quote Hakim:
But Naturalism itself having accomplished its task began to deteriorate from within. Its view of Nature and human Reason was too narrow and one-sided; so was its view of causation. What is called the law of causality was really the regularity of inter-phenomenal uniformities and these regularities differed form sphere to sphere of existence. The causation that worked in matter was transformed when matter was organized into life or life assimilated matter and changed it according to its own requirements. The mistake of Naturalism lay in its limited and defective view of causation. Frantic attempts were made to explain the organism and its workings on mechanistic principles. (11)
Russell has also criticized the rigid relation of cause to effect:
The text-books say that A is the cause of B if A is ‘necessarily’ followed by B. This notion of ‘necessity’ seems to be purely anthropomorphic, and not based upon anything that is a discoverable feature of the world…We must not have any notion of ‘compulsion’, as if the cause forced the effect to happen…The notion of compulsion is just as little applicable to effects as to causes. To say that causes compel effects is as misleading as to say that effects compel causes. (12)
Another problem which at times muddles our understanding is the hubristic concept of modernity. Modernity has always been the illusion and monopoly of haughty minds. In every age, man called himself modern and arrogated to himself a considerable degree of finality in his endeavors to understand Nature and ours is an age which is sometimes called postmodern (another elusive and self-contradictory term). Given the arrogance and pride of man, today we think that now mankind has entered the golden age where things have been finally settled. Today amidst the triumphs of technology, we are very likely to think that modern science has reached the final phase of its postulates and fundamentals. But modernity is a continuous and open-ended process and our scientific theories need to be constantly tested and re-adjusted to an ever-accommodating configuration:
Now it is claimed that Science has finally found its ultimate postulates; the scientific outlook and the scientific method are established once for all. After this there may be new discoveries and new orientations but the fundamental thesis of an ordered Nature amenable to the causal category and mathematical reasoning would not change. An Einstein may alter the view of time and space and may replace Newtonian physics with some more satisfactory explanation; he may replace absolutism by relativity but even the law of relativity is a law subject to causation and mathematical reasoning and hence absolute, because it is the very nature of law to be absolute. Science would go on advancing indefinitely and as the infinity of Nature is inexhaustible so will be the increasing discovery of its secrets. (13)
Huston Smith (1919—) is a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He is widely regarded as one of the most learned and literary cotemporary writers on the history of religion. In his book Religion: Significance and Meaning in an Age of Disbelief (2002) he draws upon the insights from comparative religions, theology, philosophy, science, and history. The book is a magnificent study of the subject and helps restore an undeniable primacy of religion. Smith imagines a time when humans will go beyond the present materialistic and relativistic understanding of existence and recognize that consciousness and not matter is the ultimate foundation of the universe. About the revisionism of science, too, he has made an eloquent analysis:
For the knowledge class in our industrialized Western civilization, it has come to seem self-evident that the scientific account of the world gives us its full story and that the supposed transcendent realities of which religions speak are at best doubtful. If in any way our hopes, dreams, intuitions, glimpses of transcendence, intimations of immortality, and mystical experiences break step with this view of things, they are overshadowed by the scientific account. Yet history is a graveyard for outlooks that were once taken for granted. Today’s common sense becomes tomorrow’s laughingstock; time makes ancient truth uncouth. Einstein defined common sense as what we are taught by the age of six, or perhaps fourteen in the case of complex ideas. Wisdom begins with the recognition that our presuppositions are options that can be examined and replaced if found wanting. (14)
In the light of all this we can say that the revisionism of science is a historical fact and at no stage can we have claim to irrevocable modernity. We cannot say that any of our discoveries or inventions has come to stay. Our world is too unstable and the foundation of science too precarious. Lest we err and overrate our achievements, we should confine our embrace to our reach beyond which lies nothing but sheer chaos and much confusion.
IV. Epistemological Debate of the 20th Century
Having discussed the development of science form lesser truth to greater truth, now let us have a quick glance at the chronology of epistemological debate. This will give us a fairly reasonable idea that how fickle and uncertain human knowledge is and there is no general agreement as to its nature, scope and validity. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that addresses the philosophical problems surrounding the theory of knowledge. It studies origin, nature, and limits of human knowledge. Some important issues in epistemology are:
· whether knowledge of any kind is possible, and if so of what kind;
· whether some human knowledge is innate or instead all significant knowledge is acquired through experience;
· whether knowledge is inherently a mental state;
· whether certainty is a form of knowledge; and
· Whether the primary task of epistemology is to provide justifications for broad categories of knowledge claim or merely to describe what kinds of things are known and how that knowledge is acquired.
Although epistemology dates back to the Greek period, we have deliberately confined our study to the 20th century in order to retain relevance and focus. Modern era proved to be a tumultuous period for the theories of knowledge. Subtle shades of difference grew into rival schools of thought and challenged the very basic postulates of epistemology. A clear distinction was emphasized between:
· The act of perceiving something.
· The object being perceived.
· The thing that can be said to be known as a result of the perception.
Based upon this distinction many schools of thought emerged and suggested new theories. Among them the following merit the mention:
1. The phenomenalists argued that the objects of knowledge are the same as the objects perceived.
2. The neorealists contended that one has direct perceptions of physical objects or parts of physical objects, rather than of one's own mental states.
3. The critical realists held that although one perceives only sensory data these stand for physical objects and provide knowledge thereof.
4. The phenomenologists distinguished the way things appear to be from the way one thinks they really are, thus gaining a more precise understanding of the conceptual foundations of knowledge.
5. The logical empiricists insisted that there is only one kind of knowledge: scientific knowledge; that any valid knowledge claim must be verifiable in experience; and hence that much that had passed for philosophy was neither true nor false but literally meaningless.
This brief survey illustrates the diversity and disagreement of opinion within span of a century. Epistemologists never found themselves with a single workable theory which could transcend the differences in order to say something definitive about the scope and nature of human knowledge. It shows that what we perceive and observe and what conclusions we draw form our observation and perception are not always corresponding with each other. So with all its tools and instruments, mankind is still ill-equipped to make proud prophesies and sweeping claims. Many of our contemporary concepts should be qualified in order to accommodate future ingenuity. What lies beyond tomorrow is a matter of guess, belief and sheer conjecture but not of certitude.
V. Is Science Immune from Belief?
Immanuel Kant (1724—1804) was a German philosopher and a foremost thinker of the Enlightenment. Kant was distrustful of human knowledge in the domain of religion and metaphysics and in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781) he demonstrated the impossibility of knowledge in metaphysics as it was traditionally conceived. He further argued in the same book that morality could not exist without recourse to a belief in the existence of God:
…faith must be put beyond the reach or realm of reason. But therefore the moral basis of religion must be absolute, not derived from questionable sense-experience or precarious inference; not corrupted by the admixture of fallible reason; it must be derived from the inner self by direct perception and intuition. (15)
It was deep sense of modesty0 10and humility in Kant which made him confess, “Two things always filled me with awe: the starry heaven above and the moral law within”. But at times our men of science in their sunny confidence overestimate the competence of their beakers and telescopes and make a headlong attack on faith and belief. The sheer size of our universe boggles our minds and precludes any possibility of human mastery over the cosmic realm. Billions of stars are scattered through nothingness in a disk-like shape. The thickness of the disk is a thousand light-years and its diameter one hundred thousand, with each light-year six trillion miles. Far beyond our circumambient ribbon of star-dust are other extra-galactic nebulae. They consist of other billions of suns, some of which—who knows?—may also have planets and sustain life. Beyond these are still other “universes’, faintly visible in our scientists’ telescopes. The whole system is rotating sluggishly round an axis. Luckily now gradually we are coming to realize the inherent insignificance of our exaggerated talent and our position in the scheme of this overwhelming totality. Wasn’t Kant rightly awed at the spectacle of starry heavens?
How many times have the men of religion been accused of being the followers of faith? Is science free of all faiths and beliefs? Can a scientist, no matter how objective, be without any faith? Science itself requires a leap of faith that is at least as strong as religious commitment. As a matter of fact, even science is not without its faiths and beliefs. All science is based upon axioms and postulates and a priori premises which themselves are the statements whose truthfulness is taken for granted without any proof. Woe to him who belies the fact. Even the whole edifice of science rests upon a faith. Huxley has rightly said:
All science is based upon an act of faith—faith in the validity of the mind’s logical processes, faith in the ultimate explicability of the world, faith that the laws of thought are laws of things. (16)
If men of religion believes in the Unseen, scientist are also obliged to have some notion of a belief in the Unseen. All of the paraphernalia of scientific knowledge and investigation is not observable. A great deal of unobservable and indemonstrable lies in its fold:
All science is a study of the Seen on the basis of certain beliefs based on the Unseen. The Law of Causation or the Uniformity of Nature is the fundamental axiom of all science. The scientist starts with the belief that there is a universe subject to a reign of law in every aspect and every detail. But the universe as seen and experienced is an infinitesimally small part of the totality of existence. How does a scientist assert about an Infinite Whole what he experiences only in a very finite part? Every scientist must believe that the Unseen is immensely greater than the Seen…It has become customary to compare and contrast religion with philosophy on the one hand and science on the other, and asserting in a very shallow manner that religion compels you to believe in the Unseen while science deals only with perceptible and verifiable realities and philosophy deals with only logically demonstrable reasoning or speculative thinking. We have seen above how all the three are constructed on the foundations of Belief in the Unseen. Reason itself is founded on the belief in the rationality of existence which is again a belief in the Unseen because the rationality of the totality of existence could never become a perceptible or a demonstrable face. (17)
Sometimes people talk of apparent contradictions found in religious scriptures. Even if we find any apparent contradiction, it cannot impair the veracity of that text. But we must understand whether contradictions are against the temperament of science and whether they always invalidate the truth. Before we could talk of contradictions, we must understand the metaphorical and metaphysical nature of scriptural text. Moreover no account of any discipline of knowledge can be given without encountering some contradictions. As it has already been shown that even mathematics and natural sciences are not without contradiction, it will be repetitious to resort to that again. Huxley has made the point clear:
According to a well-known saying of Emerson, contradiction is a bogey of petty minds only, who close their eyes to many an important fact of life from the fear of logical contradictions. No great thinker was ever frightened by logical contradictions. The deepest teachings of religion can only be stated in contradictions. The ultimate problems of metaphysics often become involved in verbal inconsistencies which, however, cause no embarrassment to any great philosopher. Even modern physics has arrived at a conception of matter which involves contradiction viz., that it is mere essence and also mere energy, that an atom is a particle as well as a current of energy! (18)
At times our minds are likely to get upset due to the complexities and apparent inconsistencies of religious tenets. It is not due to any actual problem with religion as such. In fact it is the result of our long term conditioning with the spirit of science. Popper has said, “Science may be described as the art of systematic over-simplification.” Science always reduces every complex problem to its bare essential hence the analytic nature of science whereas religion is not given to any such inductive analysis. We are so much in love with simplification and identity that anything involving complexity and multiplicity seem to us absurd. How many times in our life do we demand, “Tell me in plain words?” This bid for simplicity is an indicative of human hunger for singularity and unity in the midst of overwhelming diversity:
Science, in Meyerson’s phrase, is the reduction of diversity to identity. The diverse, the brute irrational fact, is given by our senses. But we are not content to accept diversity as so given. We have a hunger and thirst for explanation and, for the human mind, explanation consists in the discovery of identity behind diversity. Any theory which postulates the existence of identities behind diversities strikes us as being intrinsically plausible. (19)
To say that religion is not and has never been threatened by the discoveries and theories of science is not to say anything disputable. In fact men of science have no obligation of, much less capacity for, refuting religion. The transcendental and supra-phenomenal character of religion precludes any such eventuality. Huxley again:
In the arts, in philosophy, in religion men are trying—doubtless, without complete success—to describe and explain the non-measurable, purely qualitative aspects of reality. Since the time of Galileo, scientists have admitted, sometimes explicitly, but much more often by implication, that they are incompetent to discuss such matters. (20)
So let us frankly acknowledge our limitations and deficiencies. No amount of discovery can, at any time, enable us to bedevil and berate the belief in the Unseen. In the face of these boundless reaches of our universe, men of science cannot claim any finality of information or authenticity. More so when men of science themselves are not without their faiths and beliefs. What lies before the birth and after the death for each and all of us can be a matter of faith, never of inductive reasoning or robust empiricism.
Men of science should remember that a useful abstraction from reality is not reality itself and here lies the crucial difference which could solve our problem. Men of religion are also responsible for this needless confrontation. At the outset they should have reiterated the super-phenomenal, metaphorical and metaphysical character of religion. Religion always talks of ultimate and final truths which may not be perceived (what to speak of ascertaining) by science. And these truths are not likely to come under empirical investigation of science. It is not a question of time; it is a question of a fundamental difference which sets them eternally apart. Citing general scriptural statements backed by equally general scientific principles is not a conciliation of science and religion or, to be more precise, a confirmation of religion. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that confirmation is taken from some superior sources. By proving religion through science, the religious scholars unwittingly acknowledge the superiority of science. It is, however, not to say that religion cannot be proved by science. Instead, it was maintained that it is not required because essential principle of religion is the belief in the Unseen. This belief in the Unseen is an intuitive understanding and is in no need of any empirical evidence. Another problem is that religious tenants are timeless. They neither age nor expire. No human agency can revise them. Believing in religion, man acknowledges the faulty nature of human senses and wholeheartedly embraces the entire corpus of divine command and prescription. He knows in his heart that whatever God has revealed is beyond any revision or change. Science, after all, is naïve. It supposes that it is dealing with things in themselves; poetry is, perhaps, a little more sophisticated, and realizes that the whole material of science consists of sensations, perceptions, and conceptions, rather than of things. Iqbal contrasts reason with love (Ishq), and says that the certitude and faith which are indispensable for action can come through the latter only:
Reason is ruthless; love is even more
Purer, nimbler and more unafraid.
Lost in the maize of cause and effect
Is reason; love strikes boldly in the field
Of Action. Crafty reason sets a snare;
Love overthrows the prey with strong right arm,
Reason is rich in fear and doubt, but love
Has firm resolve, faith indissoluble. (21)
Ironically a great number of great scientists have always maintained a revered posture to religion and most of them never overrated the abilities of science. Newton is reported to have said, “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” Religious faith is a matter of vision and commitment, not of speculative theories. The history of science is the history of revision. At no stage of its evolutionary march, science could have claimed finality. Even today the most fundamental postulates of science are standing on the brink of revision and in the broader perspective of tomorrow an Einstein here or a Copernicus there may come up and make a radical departure from the current status of science.