Saturday, June 13, 2015

An Essay on Science and Religion

There can be hardly any compromise between science and religion. Science deals with the material world that we know religion is concerned with a divine order that we imagine. Science believes in things that can be proved; religion deals with ideas that cannot be proved. Science depends on reason; religion on intuition. The scientist bases himself on material facts; religion takes its stand on spiritual ideas. The scientist works in the laboratory of the material world; the religious teacher probes into the recesses of the inward mind. The goal of science is achievement; that of religion is realization. The truths of science can be proved to all; the so-called truths of religion have to be taken on trust. Hence there is bound to be hostility between the man of science and the man of religion.

Whether God exists is a proposition that is beyond proof. Writing in an age when science was already beginning to work havoc with man's traditional ideas, Tennyson plaintively said of God—

Whom we that cannot see Thy faces,
By faith and faith and faith alone embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove.
And again-
We have but faith, we cannot know,
Fol. knowledge is of things we see;
And yet we trust it comes from Thee
A beam in darkness.
Here we have in poetic language the essence of the perplexity with which we in the modern age are confronted, when dealing with the ideas of God and religion. We have to accept these ideas on trust because they are incapable of proof. Beyond the known world of life that is before us, there is the illimitable unknown world beyond death which we neither know nor can know, and yet which looms before us as something so portentous that we cannot ignore Religion therefore, is the refuge of man where science has failed to solve his doubts. And as long as this limitation on our powers of knowing will remain, there is bound to be a place for religion in human life.

But a claim is being made on behalf of religion chiefly in India—that it has its own science; that it does know that which is unknown to our senses by a sort of sixth sense. That is the claim made by the mystic and the yogi. According to them just as the scientist knows reality with the help of observation and experiments on material objects, so the mystic knows it by apprehending the non-material with the help of a mind that is sharpened preternaturally through a special process of discipline. The mystic or the yogi claims knowledge of the Godhead, and he professes to teach us the same if only we surrender to his discipline. Here we have the basis for their claim that religion is not something that deals with the unproven or un-provable.

The weakness of this claim lies in the fact that, while the truths of science can be demonstrated to all, those of religion have never been so, except to the barest few, whose word must be accepted without question. The result of this is that the rational man continues to doubt the evidence offered by a few 'esoteric minds against the overwhelming evidence of material facts. But these are deeper questions with which the average man is 'not at all concerned. He feels the need of science in the sphere of his material existence; he utilizes the knowledge which science has placed at his disposal for solving his material problems of existence. He cannot do without science. But there is the other element in his life which is no less a fact. He does not know whence he has. Come or whither he will go; the mystery of life and death baffles him and frightens him; 'the heavy and weary weight of all this unintelligible world' is for him a perpetual torment. In this mood he falls back upon the idea of God, upon the solace of religion. That is why even the scientist feels the need of religion.

It has to be admitted that if man believed in religion absolutely, it would be impossible for him to take the material world seriously, and life would cease to function. Fortunately, a compromise is made: man pays a lip-service to religion and God, and then gives himself up to worldly things. This lead, him to practice unconsciously a whole series of deceptions. He lives a kind of double life. He condemns worldly goods, and devotes himself to accumulating riches. He preaches ahiinsa and goes on making wars. He believes in immortality, yet continues to regard death as an evil. His religion teaches him to worship God within himself, yet he makes a display of it. This sort of disparity between belief and action, or theory and practice, would be unthinkable to science, and may be said to damage human character permanently.

Further though there is a fundamental opposition between science and religion, religion will be sought by men as long as there remains a feeling of helplessness before the uncertainty of an incalculable future. In his adversity, in his agony, man feels the need of turning to something for some sort of help and solace. Hence science and religion will maintain their parallel courses which however will never converge. That has been the case since man sought the ways of gaining objective knowledge. The only respect in which man has advanced or changed is this—the modern man does not persecute the man of science as his ancestors did in the past, although he may not like his materialistic gospel of life.