How do religion and science interact, and how might we think about their relationship?
Participants discussed these questions in the latest session of Everyday Religion in a World of Many Faiths, a free, online class offered by the Ansari Institute.
Special guest Alexander Hsu, adjunct assistant teaching professor at the Ansari Institute, joined this latest session, providing perspectives from some non-theistic religions as part of the larger discussion, which Professor Adnan Aslan facilitated.
“Science involves the exploration, description, explanation, and predictions of occurrences in the natural world, which can be checked and supported by empirical evidence,” Aslan said. “As it turns out, the claims made by those practicing science are sometimes at odds with religious claims. So how are science and religion to relate to each other? Various options have been proposed, and for our purposes we will narrow them on three: conflict, independence, and integration.”
The conflict model—exemplified in the evolution vs. creationism debate—posits that science and religion make opposing claims, which cannot both be true. After discussion, the class quickly reached a consensus that this model was simplistic.
Aslan noted that this model stems from a misunderstanding of the roles and constraints of both science and religion, and participants agreed. John Bosco Lugonja said science and religion are trying to accomplish different things, and Stephanie Mirza spoke similarly, saying she saw science as explaining how things happen in the natural world, and religion as explaining why things happen.
The independence model, articulated by the 20th-century Protestant thinker Karl Barth, argues that religion has nothing to say about the natural world, while science makes no cognitive claims about the religious domain.
Aslan argued that this model can also be seen as simplistic, since some religions affirm God’s involvement in creation, and people often use scientific observations to argue for God’s existence.
Finally, the integration model attempts to connect science and religion more closely. One example might be natural theology—attempting to infer the existence of God from the evidence in nature as exemplified in the fine-tuning argument.
Class participants saw some merit in this approach. Rev. Tina Velthuizen said she sees science and religion as interwoven, since together they show God’s involvement in everything, and Charly Pine said that for him, “there is much more of an integration.”
Here, Professor Hsu provided insights from non-theistic religions. He noted that some Christians see the work of astronomers and astrophysicists as supporting the idea of intelligent design. Similarly, he said, some Buddhists have pointed to scientific findings as supporting their cosmology and beliefs. When Buddhists encountered new scientific findings on the age of the earth, for instance, some looked to their scriptures to find predictions for developments like carbon dating.
Ultimately, Aslan challenged the class to think beyond any one model—conflict, independence, or integration—as fully explaining the relationship between science and religion.
“Science needs guidance,” he said. “What is going to guide science? For me, it’s religion. The guidance comes from the moral plane, and I think religion can provide the framework for that. The relationship between science and religion is very interesting to consider, but I see more of integration and independence together.”