Science & Religion: Can The Relationship Work?

If Science and Religion were Facebook users, their relationship status would be set to: “It’s Complicated”.  This complication has been fueled by Friends on both ends, where some seek to widen the gap between the two, and Mutual Friends desperately try to make the relationship work.

But are the two really compatible? Or should Science and Religion simply change their status to “Single” and go on their own separate paths?

Before we make any attempts at reconciliation, it’s important to admit that both Science and Religion suffer from multiple personality disorder, and we need to address this fact upfront. Different people see both Science and Religion differently, because they are exposed to the different personalities each of them presents.

Let’s begin by exploring these personalities, then look at ways the two can come together.

The Two Faces Of Science

Since Science first set its eyes on the world it’s been experiencing an internal conflict: Should it accept the world as it is, and only make deductions based on observation, or can Science induce future behavior from these observations?

Should Science accept that there are things yet unobserved, or must we deny their existence as long as they haven’t been observed?

Is it necessary that theories to grasp reality be falsifiable, or can unfalsifiable theories still be valid in explaining how the world works?

Science, with its reverence to experimentation and observation, remains uncertain to what extent it must rely on observation to explain the world. The Mutual Friends of Science and Religion often default to an understanding of Science that’s accepting of a world beyond our material one. A Science that does not dismiss that which has yet to be proven. The Friends of Science who would never dare send a Friend Request to Religion lean towards an Empiricist understanding of Science, which denies the existence of anything beyond what we can grasp with the senses. Some go as far as denying what we observe to have a definite identity.

David Hume, for example, thought that we can’t scientifically predict what would happen if two billiard balls collided, because we can never tell how objects will behave in the future simply from the observations we have made in the past.

But these internal conflicts within Science can never be remotely as complicated as the issues Religion deals with.

The Rolodex of Religion

Religion has multiple personalities, and personalities within personalities (also known as Sects). It sometimes affirms that a single deity created the world. Other times it affirms a duality behind the contradictions in the world, or even multiple deities, each playing a unique role in the order of the universe. The morality Religion advocates is extremely fluid, having both condemned and sanctioned every crime imaginable (from murder to child molestation).

If Religion is to ever get along with Science, it needs to get a grip on its personalities, because not many of them would be compatible with Science, even in its most tolerant of attitudes.

When we say that Religion is compatible with Science, which Religion are we referring to? And which Sect from that Religion? The Friends of Religion are also divided in this respect. The Mutual Friends with Science (also known as the Rationalists) emphasize the existence of common ground and shared interests between Science and Religion. But the Dogmatists, like Science’s Empiricist friends, aren’t interested in having Religion in a relationship with Science. In fact, they worry that it may compromise Religion’s appeal to faith, and belief in the Unknown.

Science and Religion do share a lot of common interests, but their approaches are often polar opposites, which explains the struggle they’ve been experiencing.

Science, on one hand, begins with observations (facts), and tries to draw a conclusion from them. Religion, on the other hand, almost always begins with a conclusion (commonly asserted in scripture or the teachings of its founder) and searches for facts to support that conclusion, while naturally overlooking or denying any facts that conflict with that conclusion. While many Friends of Religion claim they advocate rationality in their approach to understanding the world, they are, in fact, rationalizing their existing beliefs.

The Love Triangle

So far we’ve only been talking about the relationship between Science and Religion. But what truly matters is their relationship to Reality.

Consider this thought experiment: Tell a Friend of Religion there are scientific studies which prove his beliefs. He will most likely grin with glee, without asking for any references to these studies. But tell him there are scientific studies which disprove his beliefs and he will ask to see the original scientific paper, or even conduct the experiment himself. That’s because people readily accept what aligns with their Worldview and are quick to dismiss anything that conflicts with it.

While we may claim to want the truth, but, in truth, we only seek to experience certainty. Anything that threatens our sense of certainty and gives rise to doubt we will reject, whether supported by facts or not. Both Friends of Science and of Religion often value Worldview more than they do Reality, and they make and break relationships to the extent they wish to defend their own Worldview, regardless of who else suffers the consequences of their narrow-minded devotion to their Worldview.

Will It Work Out?

It’s hard to tell how things will pan out for Science and Religion. What we do know is that they are both influenced by their Friends. Whom you friend and your contribution to the discussion about their relationship will play a big role in determining whether the relationship will fail or succeed.

Who are you friends with? And do you want the relationship to work out?



Haider Al-Mosawi is an educator, and the cofounder of startup hub Sirdab Lab and UX design firm CatalyzeCo. He’s passionate about learning broadly and deeply. And as a former religious extremist, he strongly believes in constantly questioning our assumptions and continuously revising our beliefs. 

Image Credit: Abdulaziz Al-Ameer, an Arabic calligraphy artist. Find his work on Instagram: @tua_14

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One thought on “Are Science and Religion Compatible?

  1. Dana 2 years ago

    Interesting perspective. I had never viewed it that way. To me, it has always seemed that science was an instrument of religion, one of the best instruments indeed.