Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Religion and Science

I was reading an article in Physics Today by Pervez Hoodbhoy entitled "Science and the Islamic world" (which can be found here) that discusses why Islamic nations since about 1300 A.D. have generally not been a part of the on-going quest for scientific knowledge. The article is a very well-reasoned approach to the issue and I would recommend it to anyone who wonders why Islamic nations don't seem to embrace science the way Europe, Asia, and the Americas have. However, in that article, Dr. Hoodbhoy make the following statement:
"Science finds every soil barren in which miracles are taken literally and seriously and revelation is considered to provide authentic knowledge of the physical world."
That statement immediately made me cringe. I would consider myself one who takes miracles literally and seriously and I believe that revelation does provide the most authentic knowledge of the physical world available to humanity - yet I aspire to be a scientist. Moreover, I think most Latter-day Saint scientists feel the same way. To us, belief in miracles and revelation are not enemies of science but compatible means to truth.

Upon further review of Dr. Hoodbhoy's quote, you can grant a little wiggle room for faith in miracles and revelation in his statement. For example, I don't believe that when God sent manna from heaven in the book of Exodus that He did so violating natural laws. I think that instead of violating natural laws, He, through perfect planning and the use of physical laws we may not understand at the moment, fed the children of Israel in a way that could be explained scientifically given the proper knowledge. I also believe that some of the Biblical miracles (and those in other traditions' scriptures) may not be accurately described due to errors by the writers, compilers, and translators of the text over time.

The big issue, however, is not the nuances of my faith or his statement, but rather the very common opinion in scientific circles that religious faith is bad for science. I, personally, have known of too many good scientists who were religious (Issac Newton, for example) to believe that science is damaged when one believes that miracles that science cannot currently explain and revelation that may go against current scientific understanding are authentic. In fact, I feel that science is at its best when it is practiced by one who believes that science doesn't have all the answers. Shakespeare put my view on science in more eloquent language when he wrote, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy".

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