Are Science and Religion Mutually Exclusive ?

By Geraldine Guilfoyle
Published: Jan.28, 2012.


Some things refuse to reveal their secrets through the application of the scientific method of scrutiny and dissection. They will yield up their constituent parts, provide cause for great speculation, but essentially keep the mystery of their essence guarded.

The recipe for life, for example, is not that complicated. Stanley Miller, a graduate student at the University of Chicago in the early 1950s, put hydrogen gas, methane, ammonia and water vapor into a beaker, approximating what the primordial atmosphere was thought to be like. He sent an electrical charge through it and voila!

He produced amino acids, the building blocks of protein. This experiment has been conducted using a variety of precursors with similar results: some form of organic chemical is produced, the basic building block of living or once living matter. Breathing actual life into it is not so easy. All life that we know of is fundamentally similar. The basic biochemical machinery of a bacterium is not far removed from the chemistry of our cells, the big difference being that the human body consists of trillions of cells that function in a coordinated manner.

It begs the big questions. Is there an origin to the universe? Or was It always there? Can absolute non-existence become existence? How did we emerge from the primordial soup, that brown goo found on Stanley’s reaction vessel, to climb to the pinnacle of creation (oops sorry), pinnacle of the evolutionary ladder?

Darwin, although his hypothesis works well for diversification and adaptation within a species, it’s a bit too much of a leap for me to go from Salmonella bacterium to pianist Glen Gould based on natural selection. Mathematically, his technique was flawless. But far greater than that was his poetic and spiritual interpretation of music. He became a medium through which freedom of the spirit was manifested. Music, what does it consist of then? A sequence of sounds in time, tones of definite pitch organized melodically. Is that all it is?

This is really the crux of things for me – it’s the arena of life that is more than its constituent parts. This is what turns me on to the concept of a Supreme Essence, a Divine Fashioner of the Universe, far beyond our ken yet somehow intimately connected to us. 

It’s the possibility of this intimate connection and of becoming fully human, of rising to the nobility and stewardship required of our evolutionary position that is so invigorating. It’s a demanding challenge.

We submerge back into a primordial state of mindlessness so easily. But then we are also capable of great art, beauty, joy, love and sacrifice. I’m not referring to the sacrifice for ‘kin’ as set forth by Richard Dawkins in his selfish gene theory that explains altruism at the individual level in nature, especially in kin relationships (when individuals sacrifices their own lives to protect the lives of kin, they are acting in the interest of their own genes).

I’m referring to the sacrifices of the likes of Gandhi and Mother Theresa. Theirs was a calling that belies such explanations, something beyond the sum of their genes. Such people call out throughout the ages from their higher nature to ours. 

Our inner reality is a demarcation line between the light and the shadow, a place where the two seas meet. Because we are capable of climbing to great heights and of sinking into the great abyss, organized religion becomes not only meaningful but imperative. It is religion not science that has provided us with a basis for moral conduct and right judgment which when acted upon promotes a healthy and just society.

Einstein makes a compelling argument for the essential unity of science and religion. 

“All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.” – Moral Decay (1937); Later published in Out of My Later Years (1950)

‘Abdu’l-Baha affirmed that religion and science are, in fact, complementary:

Religion and science are the two wings upon which man’s intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone! Should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism.

Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks (London: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1969)

Science and religion are not mutually exclusive they are the intimate companions of true civilization.

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  1. Wolfgang Wittenburg says:

    Science and religion are not mutually exclusive , but they are, as another Gould, noted evolutionary biologist and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote, “non overlapping magisteria” or short NOMA. In his words they do not “glower at each other” but each have their own paradigm within which they operate and within which they should be evaluated.