Science is a body of systematized knowledge based on observation and experimentation. Religion is a set of beliefs based on faith. Scientific propositions are falsifiable and there is no such thing as a definite truth. Religious beliefs are believed to be true and definite and are not to be subjected to empirical findings. Science is the quest to satisfy human curiosity through rational methods of gathering information. It demands that ‘all’ claims be backed by evidence and everything has to be open to criticism.
Religion is the quest to control human beings through emotional intimidation. It demands total faith without any evidence to back its claims. Nothing is open to criticism, and questioning anything is considered evil. Moreover there is broad agreement over the definition of science whereas we still do not have a definition of religion acceptable to all. Hence science and religion are two distinct areas and should not be intermingled as both deal with fundamentally separate aspects of human experience and stay peaceful when each stays within its domain. Moreover, scientific results are entirely independent of religious or moral considerations.
However, a very common trend among proponents of various religions is to assert that whatever science discovers today was already there in their religious texts hundreds of years ago.
One may ask if that was so simple, why this fact was not brought on record ‘before’ the scientific discovery and why the proponents of this view kept waiting till the empirical findings were made public. And if everything was already there in the sacred text why so much money and effort is being spent on research and development? Is it not cost effective to assemble a group of religious scholars who would simply go through the pages of the Holy Scriptures and sift out scientific knowledge out of the holy text? And if this is an ongoing process please let us know what scientific discoveries you forecast in the next five years.
This trend is common to almost all religions. Jews find ‘signs’ in the Old Testament, Christians have ‘indications’ in the New Testament while Muslims’ holy book had already predicted everything what science was to find out later in the following 1400 year period, and thereafter.
In most cases the sequence of events went like this. First, the religious orthodoxy showed its disdain and anger with the act of a ‘mortal’ man ‘meddling’ with the ‘affairs of God’. Even edicts were issued that whoever would believe in something ‘unholy’ would commit a grave sin. Gradually when things settled down and the scientific advancement was accepted by the large majority, the clergy revisited and not only owned the scientific stride but also claimed that it was something which the holy book had already predicted. They would then refer to some obscure verse or a class of unrelated verses and then try to ‘decipher’ a meaning out of the text which according to them was truly reflective of the ‘divine’ character of their system of beliefs. At the same time they would also try to reinforce the belief of the ‘followers’ by asserting that the holy text contained all the indications and should be interpreted in the true context. At times the emphasis is placed on a literal translation of the text, at another point the stress is on a figurative underlying meaning and yet on another occasion a far-fetched meaning is derived from obscure text. However, in many areas the conflict continues.
Let us take the example of evolution where religious believers see the phenomenon as a threat to their fantastic narratives of man’s creation and would not tend to believe that God would resort to a process whereby lower animals would evolve into superior human beings, as this process would degrade their status as higher-order creatures. Secondly, belief in a self-sufficient system of processes negates the presence of a God who they believe controls every conceivable phenomenon. Hence, the theory of creationism i.e. the doctrine that matter and all things were created, substantially as they now exist, by an omnipotent ‘Creator’, and did not gradually evolve is more comforting to the religious mind than the theory of evolution which attributes human evolution to self-sufficient natural processes such as natural selection and genetic drift.
However, contrary to the theory of creationism, the fossil record does not show the existence of man or even primates or even a dog in the Permian period some 250 million years ago, which supports the evolutionary theory whereas if creationism had been true the fossil record should have shown simultaneous existence of man and dinosaurs. Secondly, if the evolutionary theory is scientifically valid, animals should have vestiges of genes no longer required whereas if creationism is true only that genetic makeup would be available which is useful to the organisms only in their present form. However, supportive of the evolutionary theory we find genes in chickens for making teeth and genes in humans for making a tail; traits no longer required by the organism in its present form. Thirdly, there are no evolutionary gaps between the genetic make-up of a dinosaur and a bird as birds evolved from dinosaurs, thus verifying the evolutionary theory.
Similarly, to quote another example Judaism, Christianity and Islam had all lent support to the geocentric model, as the Bible and the Quran are explicitly geocentric. Geo-centrism holds that the Earth is the center of the universe. All the religions subscribed to this world -view because it was easier to reconcile with the central idea that humans were the crowning glory of creation.
It is also interesting to note that modern Astrology is still based on a geocentric world-view. The reasoning of its supporters has nothing to do with remaining loyal to tradition or ignoring scientific discoveries but the simple fact that human experience of the cosmos is literally geocentric – all celestial events are observed from Earth. The individual’s position is at the center of a horoscope with the planets rotating around this center.
However, in total negation of Holy Scriptures, empirical findings have established and today all scientists agree that there is no center or otherwise special position in the universe, let alone for a small planet called Earth.
A century ago, astronomers thought the universe stretched about 3,600 light years from Earth. Today, astronomers have scientific evidence that the universe is at least 13.7 billion years old and contains hundreds of billions of galaxies and is expanding outwards. The Earth is somewhere on the periphery of this expansion.
While narrating the Apollo landing on the moon in the year 1969, a religious scholar told the audience that Islam had predicted the event 1400 years ago. When asked how, the reply was ‘alif laam meem’-Apollo lands on moon!