The Positive Relationship Between Science and Religion

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The Positive Relationship Between Science and Religion


Throughout history we can find many instances where religion was strongly opposed to scientific research. For example, the Catholic Church’s objection to Galileo’s defense of Copernicus’ heliocentric model where he offered his observations that he felt furthered the theory that the planets revolved around the Sun. At that time, the belief that the Holy Scriptures were perhaps inaccurate was one thing, but attempting to confirm it as Galileo tried to do was a completely different issue and resulted in Galileo being forbidden by the Church to write or teach his findings. Another example is the opposition to Darwin’s theory of evolution by the majority of the Christians in America. 51% of those polled in 2005 by CBS believe God created humans exactly as they are today and reject evolution despite the evidence to the contrary. Even well-known scientists such as astronomer Allan Sandage stated his belief in creationism when he said "I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me is a mystery but is the explanation for the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing." (Willford)

Whether this belief or a combination of beliefs are correct or not is not of debate in this paper. Instead in this paper I hope to highlight some of the instances where religion and science were not at odds and, in fact, where religion encouraged the scientific thought and research of the time. I have included examples where a scientist was moved by the teachings of his religion as well as examples of a religious organization outright participating in scientific research, such as the funding of adult stem cell research by the Vatican. In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Cardinal Rigali commented on this research by saying “The Catholic Church's rich heritage of ethical teaching in the medical-moral area and her duty to transmit moral guidance provide a framework for decision-making and the understanding of stem-cell research. The church encourages the development of human understanding in this area in a manner that respects the sanctity of human life at every stage.” (Rigali)

Part 1: Applied Science – Astronomy

In the Islamic world, science was widely practiced during the mid 8th century to the mid 13th century and in many cases specific scientific applications were developed in areas such as algebra, astronomy and geology. The empirical method of research was also developed during this time which focused on experimentation and quantification to confirm scientific theories. Previous to this the Greeks tended to lean toward reason and observation to prove scientific theory. During the early middle ages, which were roughly from 400AD to 900 AD, the Western Christian experienced stagnation in the area of science, due in part to the restructuring of lands and kingdoms due to the power struggle that Western Christian nations were experiencing which unfortunately resulted in a decline in formal education outside of monasteries. James Hannan notes in his essay Medieval Science, the Church and Universities “During the Middle Ages, the education infrastructure of Europe was overseen, if not managed, by the Church. That role, which meant acting as both the guarantor of academic freedom and arbitrator of its boundaries.” In this period the Muslim world was moving forward and made great strides in the sciences compared to its Western counterparts and therefore this time period is often referred to as the Islamic Golden Age (NYC Regents).

Abū Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham is considered the father of optics although he studied multiple scientific disciplines. Ibn al-Haytham was a well educated man as well as a devout Muslim although which sect of Islam he followed is unclear. His work did not conflict with his religion on any level and in fact those who...
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