The Cultural Conflict of Science and Religion

The Cultural Conflict of Science and Religion

It is fair to say that the world today sees science in conflict with religion. These two disciplines are assumed to exist in conflict. But, as Dr Mark Harris, Senior Lecturer in Science and Religion as the University of Edinburgh has observed, this conflict may be a reflection of our culture more than a truth about science and religion. In a recent lecture, Dr. Harris concludes,

As a physicist who’s still working in the research field (although less often than I’d like since being distracted by philosophy and theology), I’m passionate about science. But I think that we need to do a lot more to think about the place of science in our culture, alongside other ways of seeking knowledge, not just the religious. I actually think that the challenges between science and religion actually concern the status and the public understanding of science. Science is not well understood in our world, sometimes even by its own practitioners, who can display a real lack of understanding of the history and philosophy of their own disciplines. Moreover, professionals working in the science and religion field, people like me, talk about other kinds of relationship between science and religion than conflict: relationships like independence, or consonance, or complementarity, even integration. All of these flavours of relationship demonstrably have an element of the truth, as much as does conflict, and it very much depends upon which scientific idea you’re looking at, which religion, which doctrine, and so on. And this is another reason why it’s a fallacy (or at least a myth) to say that science and religion are in conflict – I immediately want to come back and say well which science do you mean, which scientific theory, and which religious belief? There’s a great deal of complexity and nuance here which I simply can’t go into, but I do want to flag it up.

So, just to sum up what I’ve said. I believe that science gives us a distinct way of looking at the world and knowing about it, and one that’s of unique importance, but I regret the fact that in order for this to be self-evident to us, it needs to be supported by the spurious idea that science and religion are in conflict. I think that idea says rather more about us as a society than it does about science and religion.

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