The Harmony of Science and Religion
Religion that opposes science tends to look ridiculous. Baha'i teachings offer a solution
BY: Dale E. Lehman
Knowledge and use of the mind, 'Abdu'l-Bahá stated elsewhere, are among the "pillars of the Faith of God." The Bahá'í faith does not accept the notion that religion is in opposition to science and reason, that it requires blind faith, or that it is predicated on a wanton disregard for the realities of the physical world. Indeed, Bahá'u'lláh exhorted people to investigate his claims and judge them honestly and fairly, stating that everyone is capable of doing so and, in time, arriving at the truth of the matter.
Is it not contradictory to claim that something not open to objective measurement and verification can nevertheless be investigated and judged? Not at all. Indeed, most of our lives are spent in making subjective determinations. It cannot be proved that a certain food tastes good, only that a certain percentage of the population finds it so. We can measure the frequency of light, but not the sensation of blue. We might plunge a thermometer into a river and discover that it is cold, but unless we put our hand into the water we won't know what cold water feels like. Nor are all areas of study so objective as we often like to think. The study of history, for example, has elements of both the objective and the subjective.
Any attempt to approach religion as though it were science would be as wrongheaded as an attempt to approach history as though it were science. Indeed, the field of religion is much more like the field of history than it is like science. If one wishes to ascertain the truth of Bahá'u'lláh's claims, for example, one would need to study Bahá'u'lláh himself: his life, writings, the effect he had on those around him, the effect of his teachings upon his followers. These are not subjects for scientific scrutiny, although there is, of course, validity in certain types of psychological or sociological analyses. Religion speaks to many kinds of questions, including the mystical (the existence and nature of God and our relationship to Him), the spiritual (our obligations to God, to ourselves, to each other), and the social (how best to organize society for the benefit of all). These questions are beyond the power of science to investigate, yet they are all valid and vital.
At the same time, attempts to predicate scientific study on religious axioms would also be wrongheaded. Science deals with the observable and the verifiable. It attempts as much as possible to dispense with axioms, making use of only those that are required. (Even then, scientists are often uncomfortable with the axioms that remain.) Experiments are performed to gather observations and measurements that describe some aspect of how the world works or is constructed. Theories are built to provide a framework for understanding those observations and measurements. They make predictions about other kinds of natural phenomena that should be observed, and more experiments are performed to determine whether or not those predictions are borne out. It is a process of asking questions of nature and seeing how nature replies. Any assertion that cannot be tested in this way is not a part of science. That is not to say that such assertions are invalid, only that they cannot play a role in a scientific description of the universe.
Thus we see that science and religion are two different subjects, addressing different but equally important aspects of reality, and utilizing different methods to arrive at the answers. They are complementary, two sides of the coin of reality. In the Bahá'í view, there is no conflict between them.