Beliefnet
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."

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.

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