The Roles of Science and Religion


“Science today is as much a natural product of history as any religious system.”

The term ‘natural product of history’ is coined from the idea of beliefs, practices and objects being changed through time and inevitably, the process of creating these products, somehow or rather, tend to involve human activity. The effects and suggestions to the statement “Science today is as much a natural product of history as any religious system.”as related to the study of science and religion will be discussed further in this essay.

The study of religion attempts to recognize the different aspects of religion through the use of intellectual disciplines. There are various reasons as to why a student chooses to study religion. Possible reasons could be the impact of religion upon global politics, the claim that religions convey truths by which human beings should live, to understand the influence of religion upon other disciplines of high historical values such as art and music, and could also be to find a religion in which to believe in. To be a good student of religion, one has to practice open-mindedness and learn to co-exist with another individual with a different religious belief. Putting own practices and assumptions aside, a good student of religion detaches himself from his own religion and is able to typify religions like how objects are typified. In short, the way to study religion is to be an outsider.

In the study by Eileen Barker on Transcendental Meditation, or TM as it is widely known, Barker, an expert on new religious movements, took an approach as an outsider and discussed on the status of TM. Analyzing the practices and beliefs of TM compared to common religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, Barker felt that TM is not a religion, but a religious movement. Of course, to provide such a definition or rather explanation as to whether a discipline is a religion or otherwise, careful analysis has to be made. To aid such analysis, students of religions made use of different methodologies in identifying a religion from another. A student could use definitions of religions in his analysis of a religion. There are two types of definitions which a scholar can use to distinguish the characteristics of religions – Functional and Substantive Definitions. While using substantive definition is found to be narrow, many scholars favor using functional definition. A functional definition concentrates not on what religion is but on what these beliefs and practices do for the individual or social group. One approach to functional definition would be using Ninian Smart’s 7-dimensional model of religion. Smart’s model is found to be flexible and is designed to be specific. It studies religion from an objective point of view. However, in any study models, there are sure to have weaknesses. Therefore, it is essential for a scholar to be practical and explicit in their search for evidence. A dimensional model of religion, on its own, is probably insufficient. A better approach to define religions would then be using both functional and substantive definitions and models in combination.

The history of man has shown the constant influences of religion, and so the study of religion, involving the effort to recognize its significance, its origins, and its countless forms, has become progressively more important in this modern time.
Scientific discoveries and systems began to challenge religious beliefs. Known scientists like Galileo and Newton all played considerable roles in challenging the standard views at their time.
While science is based on observation, religion makes point of view analytical in nature and requires some unquestioned faith. In spite of leading human through somewhat different course, both try to uncover the basic. Thus, the goal, in both cases, is to establish the elements of what shape the reality.

Science is always based on evidence, trial-and-error, about observation and investigations, while religion is neither. Science is governed by natural laws and understandable in mathematical and physical terms. Many people trust the information science offers rather than religion because the facts that science offers seem to be more trustworthy. No matter how true these facts are, one still has to go back to the initial point before making any judgements.

Let us now return to the underlying principles that govern the study of science and religion. The two principles, namely naturalism and symmetry are highly observed by historians of science. In the case study of Christian dogma in Baur and the Tubingen School, the approach to the analysis is considered symmetrical. This refers to the knowledge and claims on all sides that is explained symmetrically, without respect to who was or is now though to be right or wrong. On the other hand, the approach to naturalism is to treat religious or scientific ideas with natural explanations rather than supernatural. An example would be the products of ordinary historical causes and effects. This is more likely to be used by outsiders of religions.
Just as the study of religion has their method to help students understand its process and history, Science historians too adopt their own methodologies. The two-track method and contextualist method both have their own strengths. Whichever methods one choose to use, the important things to ensure are there should not be any personal involvements in beliefs and one has to objective in his/her understanding the boundaries between science and religion.

Both science and religion have parts to play in the creation of the universe but they just convey themselves in different forms. Neither science nor religion is an infallible method to move towards the nature of reality but when working together they can provide both a question and an answer, just in different ways.

(1000 words)

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