Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Religion and Science I have been reading with interest, the ongoing discussions in ‘The Island’ on science and religion and I write to add yet another perspective.

Some basic realities which we need to recognise include these facts:

1. All human beings have a core belief system. One believes that man was created and another believes that man evolved from lower forms over billions of years. One believes in God and another believes that there is no God. One believes in rebirth after death while another is convinced of "no return to this life" Most religions teach two destinations/end results in the after life naming them nirvana/sansara, heaven/hell and so on. It is due to a belief system that a human being is able to destroy himself (suicide) and others (murder) The ability to discern good and evil is a reality we all experience. Our beliefs have grown through input from education, media, experiences, books of religion like the Bible, Koran, Dhammapada, Veda and more. During the course of life, beliefs can change.

The laws governing this universe have already been there from its very beginning. Science is periodically discovering these laws which govern the physical natural realm we see around us and to which we relate through our 5 bodily sense organs. Our self awareness or personality, is the sum total of our logical and analytical thought processes leading to desires and emotions. This is called soul/mind, intellect and the seat of reason. Subjects like Physics and Mathematics and many others are the result of the discovery of what is already in existence.

Religion is associated with discovering the laws which govern the spirit realm, the workings of which are largely in the unseen but still very real. In spite of the perceived subjectivity associated with various religious expressions of man, as opposed to the objectivity and consistency of science, neither religion nor science works haphazardly. We know that the many laws which govern the universe were not a product of man’s intellect. Man is only discovering what already exists. We know that in the area called gravity, there is only one force named universal gravitation affecting all, holding even the moon in orbit. If this planet earth which has no foundation but is suspended and spinning in space, gets erratic and inconsistent, our bodies would in all probability disintegrate in outer space. Similarly, in spite of our many and varied religious beliefs, we know that only one spiritual law which is already in existence will eventually apply to all of humanity. The determining factors in this law would involve our conscience with its sense of right and wrong and morals, together with a flow of intuitive thoughts not our own, with inspiration and spiritual communion from a source outside of ourselves. Our human experience is that our rational thinking has a limit. When I need electricity or water I will connect with the Electricity Board or the Water Board. So when I need inspiration, I need to connect with that source, being fully aware that it needs to be good and not evil. A tsunami can only leave devastation behind it and not any form of order. The aftermath of evil deeds is destruction. My mind with its rationalism cannot create these qualities, but only discover them. Human reasoning alone cannot eliminate evil.

I quote from the biography of two scientists whose contributions are found in books of Physics and Mathematics and hence widely known to students. They reveal their own religious beliefs which led to scientific discovery. No doubt there are many others, and very specially in our country.

Isaac Newton saw an apple fall directly to the ground without going sideways and formulated the law of gravitation and later linked it to universal gravitation. In aerodynamics, when a force exceeds gravity, this law of thrust helps a plane to get airborne. Later on men went even to the moon. At Cambridge University by the age of 28, after dealing with planets and comets, Newton took to theological studies and concluded that "the world was created by a God that designs along rational and universal principles."

Albert Einstein, whose scientific discovery of the Theory of Relativity which gained him the Nobel prize, speaks of quantum phenomena or the energy transfer from light rays that activate electrons in a substance. We need only to stand in the sun to know that these energy jumps are real. He was lying on his back on a grassy slope, meditating on what it would be like to ride in a ray of sunlight, when the Theory of Relativity came to him intuitively and spontaneously. He later proved it with a mathematical formula. In what is called cosmic religion, he concluded that the natural and spiritual are a meaningful unity. He saw no logical way to discover elemental laws except intuition for the order lying behind the appearance.

In short, despite our many religious beliefs, only one law can apply to all of humanity and it may be called the central truth. Even here some will believe that truth is relative while others will believe that truth is absolute. Religion and the belief system operates at many different levels in the spirit, but it is our mind with its logical and analytical processing that can communicate the benefits of both science and religion. This will help us to live accordingly, since we are both spirit and mind and also body. We can have religious beliefs in the spirit, and still be scientific in our minds and thought processes, and at the same time be healthy in our bodies, but our spirits and minds are closely interwoven and affect our bodies. There will be increasingly more harmony, happiness, peace and inspiration to make value judgments within us in the spirit/mind, specially in times of stress, traumatic experience, death, natural calamities, financial collapse and disaster, if and when our core beliefs come into alignment with the one central truth that will both now and in the future apply to all human beings. When our rational thinking is guided and inspired by such beliefs, hope can be rekindled, the quality of life improved, leading to fulfilment and a sense of destiny both here and the hereafter.

Ranee Perera
Religion and science: Can they be separate? Professor Carlo Fonseka’s article on religion and science published in the Island Midweek Review of 5th November 2008 is a welcome a contribution to a much discussed issue.

Prof. Fonseka’s view is, "If science concerns itself with how nature works and religion concerns itself with why the Universe is the way it is as discovered by science, conflict can be largely avoided". Very true; especially because religion concerns the spiritual aspect of human existence.

Yet, a careful study of the two realms over the years, show when scientific discoveries were made and theories propounded on the available evidence, scientific knowledge increased and touched other areas of knowledge.

The best example is Galileo Galilei. When Galileo was experimenting with his telescope and attempted the study of the universe he had the least intention of repudiating any religious thesis. He upheld the Copernican view that the earth was not the centre of the universe. The view held about the universe at that time was that the earth was the centre and the universe was finite and unchanging. Galileo’s contradiction of this view is a clear instance of how the expansion of scientific knowledge touches religion.

Next is Isaac Newton who laid the foundation for modern physics. His contribution to the understanding of the physical world is praised by Einstein as "perhaps the greatest advance in thought that a single individual was ever privileged to make." Yet, Newton’s understanding of the physical world was influenced by his religious beliefs." In the Newtonian view, God had created in the beginning the material particles, the forces between them, and the fundamental laws of motion". Certain aspects of the physical world as the gravitational influence of the planets on each other observed by Newton were not further investigated because he believed God was always present in the universe to correct irregularities. Thus, Newton’s experiments and thinking were influenced by his religious beliefs. The world had to wait for Einstein to push Newtonian physics still further.

Another instance when science and religion can mix is not due to religious beliefs but through scientists’ efforts to relate science to religion. Fritjof Capra, a physicist was moved to explore the parallels between modern physics and eastern mysticism. This interest sparked off as a result of an experience he had while sitting by the seashore. He says he saw "cascades of energy coming down from outer space in which particles were created and destroyed in rhythmic pulses... I felt its rhythm and I heard its sound... I knew that this was the dance of Shiva, the Lord of Dances worshiped by the Hindus". With that experience he ventured to explore the connection between physics and eastern mysticism, resulting in the book, "The Tao of Physics".

In this manner, it is inevitable that science and religion tend to be interwoven.

Prem Rodrigo


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