Science, Religion and Human Interest

  • post Type / Young Humanists International
  • Date / 3 March 2009

Religion could be a cog in the wheel of progress of science. This is especially so where religion set-aside certain areas as “no-go areas” for science. This attempt, by religion, to control and overbearingly lord over situations could lead, and indeed has led, to the placement of unnecessary limitations to the waters in which science could fish. At a time when the Church controlled all realms of knowledge in the world, for instance, science was subservient to religion and any “radical” profession of scientific knowledge was seen as heresy. For merely saying that the world is round, for example, Galileo paid the ultimate price for rejecting the common knowledge of his day.

It is this kind of tension that has led to the debate about what should constitute the proper kind of relationship that should hold between religion and science. This debate can in the main be divided into about four schools of thought viz:

a.    conflict school of thought, which holds the view that both could threaten each areas of concern;
b.    independence school, which argues that both have separate areas of concern and requires that both be treated as distinct realms of enquiry;
c.    integration school, which seeks to integrate both areas and;  
d.    dialogue school of thought, which is the view that each field has things to learn from the other as regards phenomena in which their interests overlap.

“Should there be a separation between religion and science?” we may ask.

The answer proffered to this question will ultimately depend on what one considers the subject of concern of the two fields. However, the answers to the question may not differ essentially from the ones that have been provided by the schools of thought identified above, with or without some little shade of differences. Irrespective of the class that anyone may belong to however, it is clear that all will have to agree that these two- science and religion- exist for the promotion of the human interest. For these two to have their practices justified in a human society both must be geared towards the enhancement of the well-being of people and the improvement of the quality of human life. Where any of them steps outside of this boundary, then it becomes glaring that such has out stepped its usefulness and calls out that it be discarded forthwith!

Religion is only useful in as much as it upholds certain values we cherish as humans. Wherever and whenever, revelation suggests otherwise then the religion and the god(s) it adores should be asked as Joshua did ask the angel “are you for us or against us?” Certainly it is against us where it promotes values, or better still vices, which will surely lead to our extinction as humans. Then such religion should be done away with without hesitation.

Likewise, the researches going on in the various arms of science will also have to be guided by the promotion of human wellbeing and quality of life. No research work is justified or justifiable on the basis of the right to freedom if it will ultimately lead to the extinction of the human race or diminish the happiness it enjoys. Whether a scientific research work will achieve this or not is not to be determined based on the immediate relief it brings to the human race, but by the long term threat it portends to the human race. It is not only the end that matters, the means employed matter as well. No human demeaning means justifies any research work with a good end. An ethical balance must therefore be sought between the means and ends of scientific researches to ensure that indeed human interest is held paramount in all ramifications.

What is inferable from our arguments is essentially that both science and religion are products of human innate desire to develop (while one appreciate the spiritual, the other prefers the physical), hence both need to serve an end that will not seek the end of the other. So, their mutual compatibility will solely rest on how far they could both co-exist to promote human interest.

Temidayo Oladipo, doctoral candidate, department of Philosophy, University of Ibadan, is ex-officio, Young Humanistas Network, Nigeria

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