On the Role of Science and Religion

There is a good deal more to science than creature comforts, computers and painless dentistry, which are all offshoots of scientific technology, like many other horrible offshoots as well..
Modern science is a profound, complex, and spiritual (i.e. lofty expression of the human spirit) enterprise. Its goal is to unravel the mystery of the physical universe in all its enormous complexity. It is completely different from other modes for cracking the mystery which were pursued in the past in the ancient world in all cultures. It is as universal as yoga and meditation and the decimal system. And it can be fully appreciated, like yoga and meditation, only by its practitioners.
The religious awakening gave humanity many meaningful insights into the nature of the human condition and many important perspectives on human consciousness which are invaluable in several contexts. But religion’s explanatory successes of natural phenomena were minimal compared to what modern science has been able to accomplish., and indeed have become obsolete to those who have been touched by the methods, insights, and knowledge of modern science. This is not to say that the pettiness of scientific chauvinism and the self-glorifying claims of priority have left the mindset of parochial thinkers. It lingers on and finds newer expressions all over the world.
The tension is not between science and spirituality, but between the scientific methodology which gives relative, but consistent, truths and the tenets of religion that are not amenable to that methodology. That tension is as much due to science’s inability to see beyind logic and explanation for every experience of life and religion’s inability to recognize that many passages of sacred scriptures are no more than ancient attempts to unravel the mysteries of natural phenomena which need to be replaced in the light of newer knowledge, deeper understandings and keener insights. Whenever they insist on offering explanations, whether for the rainbow or for the origin of life, religions become as anachronistic as slave-mongering and male-dominance.
It is sometimes said that “science cannot teach us how to live, to love or to face death with dignity.” This is may be true, but neither can soccer teach us how to appreciate music, or religion enable us to have long-distance conservation, let alone fly across continents and oceans. Perhaps science can never replace religion for giving meaning to life, or (in some instances) for fostering love, any more than that it can replace art or music or literature, or the satisfaction that comes from gourmet cooking.
To know the relevance of science and of religion is what is important, not claiming that one is better than the other, much less one usurping the role of the other, as extremists and true-believers on both sides tend to do.


About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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