The Harmony of Science and Religion

Religion that opposes science tends to look ridiculous. Baha'i teachings offer a solution

BY: Dale E. Lehman

 

In the very early '70s, when I was in junior high school, my parents bought me a transistor radio. I didn't spend much time listening to that radio, but sometimes I would flip through the stations. One day I came across what sounded like a cosmology lecture. As astronomy had always been my favorite subject, I stopped to listen but quickly realized that the speaker was no scientist. In vivid but inaccurate terms he gave an overview of the Big Bang theory, denounced its ridiculousness, and then made the astounding statement, "All science is contrary to the Bible."

If the speaker (the Texas-based evangelist Garner Ted Armstrong) was aware of the irony of that pronouncement, he didn't let on. In delivering his voice to the world, he was making use of electromagnetic radiation, the laws of which were first described in the 1800s by physicist James C. Maxwell. Moreover, the transistors inside my radio were a marvel of applied science. Invented in 1948, by the end of the '60s they had virtually eliminated the TV repairman who carried a case full of vacuum tubes.

Unfortunately for those who take Mr. Armstrong's position, science works. It is neither omniscient nor infallible, but it produces results that on the whole work quite well as descriptions of how the universe is constructed and how it behaves. Religion that opposes science looks ridiculous. Worse, predicating religion on statements contrary to science can demolish it.

For their part, being human, scientists often seek deeper meanings in the results of their work, and frequently conclude that either the meaning is that there is no meaning, or that meaning must be manufactured. But this extends the scientific method into a realm where it has no license. As powerful a tool as it is, science can only address the material realm in which objective observations and measurements can be made. Religion proposes another kind of existence: a spiritual one that can neither be measured nor objectively observed, the realm of meaning, value, and the essence of humanity.

No wonder many believe that science and religion are incompatible, and that scientific findings contradict some aspects of religion and vice versa. Some have attempted to forge a peace between the two through artificial means, such as redefining religion in naturalist terms. A simpler solution was offered by Bahá'u'lláh, the prophet-founder of the Bahá'í faith, who established the harmony of science and religion as one of the principles of his religion:

"Knowledge is as wings to man's life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone. The knowledge of such sciences, however, should be acquired as can profit the peoples of the earth, and not those which begin with words and end with words. Great indeed is the claim of scientists and craftsmen on the peoples of the world.... In truth, knowledge is a veritable treasure for man, and a source of glory, of bounty, of joy, of exaltation, of cheer and gladness unto him" (Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 51-2).

Bahá'u'lláh's son 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote, "[A]mong the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is that religion must be in conformity with science and reason, so that it may influence the hearts of men."

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