On Science, Religion, Atheism and Spirituality

Sergiu Vidican

Written by Sergiu Vidican
Posted in: Science
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The conflict between science and religion is very old, and in the majority of the cases, it is believe that a religion person can not believe in God.

That is not the case, as it seems that religion and science can go hand in hand, in a certain manner, that is. The researchers interviewed 257 elite scientists. Not all of them were atheists, and even the ones that were atheists declared that they are spiritual, and that they believe in something, but not in God. Elaine Howard Ecklund, a sociologist at Rice University, said that these spiritual atheist scientists want to find the truth through the spirituality, but in collaboration with their science work. Ecklund said that these people saw both science and spirituality as a quest for meaning which does not involve faith. They said that spirituality is different than religion, because religion does not require evidence, but only belief, and because of that it is incompatible with the science. However, spirituality is also present in the religious people, not only in the atheists.

This means that the scientists and the atheists are also concerned about questions such as “why we are here?”, “what is our purpose?”, and so on. It has also been stated that religion is something communal, whereas spirituality is something personal. However, regardless of this, it seems that the scientists are not 100 percent at ease with religion. The two have been in conflict for hundreds of years now, Galileo Galilei being killed 400 years ago by the Inquisitors, because of his works. In schools, the children learn about evolution, and about the scientific way in which the planet was created. However, the creationists are trying to change things, and they have demanded numerous times for religion to be included in schools. Numerous politicians, scientists, are against the change, and their opinions have caused lots of conflicts and arguments.

The researchers have reached to the conclusion that the reason why we can not combine the two is because we consider them to be 100 percent opposite especially when it comes to the beginning of the universe and of life in general. However, there are doubts about the origins of these beliefs, as it is unknown if things were always like this, or if we have these beliefs because of the social and cultural constraints. Jesse Preston of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her colleague Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago performed various experiments in order to prove that the beliefs are inborn.  The two discovered that people can not agree to both of the theories regarding the creation of this universe: either God created it, or it was created by the Big Bang.

They conducted an experiment in which they asked 129 people to read a paper about the Big Bang theory and another one about the Primordial Soup Hypothesis which is a different scientific theory about the origins of life. Then half of the ones who read the papers were told that the papers have been concerned by data. The other half were told that the theories raised more questioned than they answered. Then all of them were asked to categorize various words as being positive or negative. The words “God”, “science” and a control word were flashed before each of the words appeared on the screen. For example science or God appeared for 15 milliseconds on the screen prior to the word wonderful. The researchers said that even if the volunteers could not see the words, they were recorded unconsciously.

This experiment was conducted in order to see the automatic and the latent attitudes toward the priming word, which was either God or science. The faster responses indicated the fact that there was a closer association between the concepts, for example between science and wonderful. The two researchers discovered that the people who were told that the theories were backed up by data, made the association between the word science and various positive words much faster than the ones who were told that the theories were weak. In the same time, the ones who were told that the theories were weak had a more difficult time to make the association between God and the negative words than the ones who were told that the scientific theories were backed-up by data. Preston said that the experiment proves the fact that we can not have a dual belief system. For example we can not believe that evolution created this Universe and that God now runs it. It is either one or the other. She believes that even the people who are working in a scientific domain and who believe in God, believe in these two ideas at different moments. Preston is 100 percent convinced that a religious scientist can not believe in both religion and science when it comes to the big questions: “how was the Universe created?”, and “how was life created?”

Salman Hameed, who is a Hampshire College science historian, said that the two researchers did not take in consideration the “conflict thesis”. He says that there are cases when religion and science can not mix, but he also stated that there are many individuals who believe in both of them, even when it comes to the big questions. He said that Sir Isaac Newton is the best example in this case, as he stated on numerous occasions that he believes in both science and religion. Hameed does not believe that we are born with these beliefs, but that the society makes us to think in this manner. He said that the media and the society love these types of stories and would make anything in order to create a conflict between them. He said that culture dictates lots of things in our lives, from our customs and traditions to our ideas and knowledge regarding certain subjects. He said that we are programmed by the society to think in this manner, even though we do not want to think like this.

Many historians believe that the conflict between religion and science is an old one and that the biggest proof is the fact that Galileo was killed for his science theories. However, even that story is somewhat ambiguous, as it is said that this wasn’t the reason why they killed him. It has been stated that the reason why he was killed is because he did not want to apologize for the things he wrote, and that the Church did not have an accurate idea about what was written in his papers.11

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