Friday, March 30, 2018

Can religion and science coexist?

Yesterday, when I logged into Twitter, I found a tweet on my home timeline:

Yesterday, there was also a news item that 1,24,144 students in Kerala preferred not to state their religion and caste while filling application forms for admission to schools, ranging from Std I to Std XII.

There is not enough statistics to make any deductions as to whether children are losing their belief in religion or they are turning agnostic. It's also not possible to determine the significance of that number for the state of Kerala, where there is a history of communist movement which purportedly abjures belief in god and religion.

Nevertheless, there is a perception that the more educated people are, they become more scientific in their attitude to life, and parallelly they begin losing their belief in god and religion.

What does it mean to be scientific?

It can mean that you believe in principles of science. It can also mean, in a figurative sense, that you are methodical, analytical, and you base your beliefs in evidences that are objective.

Scientific theories and principles are confirmed only when experiments come up with consistent results irrespective of who do them or where they are done.

Scientific experiments have given us reasons why certain things happen the way they actually do. So, we know that water boils at 100 degree Celsius. Or, that condensation of water vapour brings rain.

We also practise many things in our daily lives, based on scientific principles. So, we have healthy nutritional habits, or we drive with care in order to avoid accidents; or doctors conduct surgeries in a particular manner for it to be successful.

Generally, education is meant to foster in children scientific attitudes; so that they are able to find reasons for problems that people face, and also find solutions to them.

What does it mean to be religious?

It means you believe in superhuman powers; you worship god, and you have faith in certain rituals and traditions. These could be based on sound reasons or it can be just a blind faith, as in a superstition. You could be also religious based on your belief in some tenets that have come down generations.   

But the crucial point here is one person's religiosity is different from another person's religiosity. But, scientific principles are the same for everyone.

You could also have beliefs irrespective of whether you are religious or you believe in god.

We all repose our faith and trust -- in people, things and/or god. We decide to take a flight because we have faith in the pilot (whom we don't know) and/ or in the flight infrastructure. We listen to our friend because we believe in what she says, at least till some point of time, when our belief is questioned and replaced by something else.

In a very loose sense, we are all "religious" in some way, believing in our own "religion". That "religion" could be one of those well-known ones like Hinduism, Christianity or Islam etc. Or that "religion" could also be something we have devised on our own. It's a very personal thing. It's better we don't try to probe other people's "religious" beliefs.

Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius whether you boil it or I boil it. Scientific experiments in the same condition produce the same result irrespective of who do them.

All doctors will do a particular surgery in a particular way for it to be successful. But some doctors might also practise a particular personal belief, for the operation to be successful. A particular doctor might wear a cream-coloured shirt for every surgery in order to bring about a positive outcome (for whatever reason). That need not be true for every doctor.

What makes one scientific and religious?

Education is thought to make one scientific. But, life's experiences make one religious.

Can religious and scientific beliefs coexist?     

They can. Why? Because, beyond a certain point, there are imponderables that make actions based scientific principles difficult to predict. Cause-and-effect relationships are based on scientific theories only up to a point. Beyond that point, there are factors which are difficult to assess or understand, that influence the result of one's actions.

Our daily lives are full of examples of this. There are people who are extremely careful when they drive, but have been involved in accidents because of the carelessness of someone else. There are also people who drive recklessly all the time, and they never ever get involved in accidents.

The application or practice of a scientific principle or theory will be same for everyone. How much religious one is, can vary from person to person. It all depends on their individual and personal experiences in their lives.

Therefore, students, engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers -- all of us, actually -- can believe in and practise scientific principles, as well as be religious in a unique and personal way.

(You may also like to read: It is faith that keeps us all going)


  1. I agree with you 100%. Religious and scientific beliefs can certainly coexist. If you cannot see, that does not mean it is not there. Even astronauts go to church and pray before blast off into the space.

    A famous writer once said vishwaroopam is not what you see but how you feel.

    Famous Tamil poet Kannadasan (an atheist who converted to a strong believer in God) wrote “I was an atheist but He was not afraid of me. I became a believer but I cannot find Him”.

    1. Indeed, not everything in our lives are in our control. Thanks, SG.

  2. A beautiful write up that is atonce balanced and logical.The summation in the last para is unexceptionable. Science ends where faith begins. There still many things beyond the ken of human understanding.As SG put it science and religion go exist

    1. "Science ends where faith begins." You said it. Thanks, KP.