Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Lame and the Blind

The relationship between religion and science has long been a source of fascination for the scholar and the lay person alike. This month's issue of The Ahmadiyya Gazette, USA features an article by Shermeen Butt of London, UK entitled "The Correlation Between Science and Religion". It raises a number of good points and presents at the very outset the basic reasons why this topic should be reflected upon by all religious-minded individuals. I quote the following passage from the text:

"There is an extremely important factor in our daily lives that compels us to clearly understand the relationship between science and religion. With the advancements of scientific knowledge and the daily use of science and technology, innumerable issues regarding ethics and religious beliefs arise that need to be discussed. As religion plays a pivotal role in maintaining the standards of ethics and morality, scientific advancement and direction become a matter of great interest for those of us who have religious beliefs.

Whether it is genetic engineering, prolonging life through invented mechanical methods, in vitro fertilization, family planning through scientific birth control methods, or determining the genetic nature of homosexuality, aggression or criminality; and indeed there is a matter of cloning -- these and many other issues -- do fall under the domain of religion. Religion deals with human behavior. Science helps us to find not only the underlying causes of specific forms of human behavior, but it also claims the ability to 'change' certain forms of human behavior. Therefore, in the knowledge of the consequences of scientific discoveries and their implementations on human society, it is exceedingly important that we understand their mutual relationship." (p. 28).

There are indeed many ways in which our lives are affected daily by science and technology, and it behooves all of us to understand the ethical and moral obligations we have to use this knowledge and these tools wisely. In Sura Al-Rahman of the Holy Qur'an, Allah enjoins us to consider all of our means to do so with a sense of balance and measure:

"And the heaven He has raised high and set up the measure, that you may not transgress the measure. So weigh all things with justice and fall not short of the measure." (55:8-9).

An additional aspect of the relationship between science and religion is how they offer up mutually reinforcing ways in which the universe can be appreciated as a whole. The inspiration to search for truth often stems from religious belief or at the very least, a spiritual inspiration. Einstein has famously remarked:

"But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

(Ch. 13 of Science, Philosophy and Religion: A Symposium; 1941; emphasis in bold by this author).

Another node of interplay between science and religion centers around the ongoing debates about whether science can disprove the existence of God, or whether it actually reinforces God's existence in one's mind.

This and many other aspects of the science/religion dialogue will no doubt be an ongoing discussion in these postings. For now, however, one can appreciate that -- at a very basic level -- there is a need for us to understand the relationship among scientific discoveries, their translation into popular everyday technologies, and the ethical and moral consequences of using these technologies in a balanced and measured manner. I invite readers to study this month's issue of the Gazette to learn more about these and other interesting topics.

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