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The Complementarity Of Scientific And Religious Modes Of Understanding Reality

3174 words - 13 pages

Scientific and religious approaches to comprehending reality are deeply complementary. I do not use the word ‘deeply’ for emphasis alone: the qualities that science and religion hold in common are anything but obvious. Viewed on the surface, science and religion often appear to be at odds. Details and dogmas frequently conflict, and misperceptions originating on either side can lead to rejection of the unfamiliar system. At the lofty level of philosophical abstraction, a satisfying reconciliation of science and religion will likely always remain elusive. At the level of personal experience, however, incorporating scientific and religious modes of understanding is not only possible, it is profoundly enriching. The impulses, methods, and themes that define both science and religion are strikingly similar. Curiosity and an insatiable desire to make sense of the world are qualities that are innate to human life; unsurprisingly, these impulses are the driving force behind both scientific and religious explorations. The means that facilitate such explorations are fundamentally alike as well: both science and religion are system-driven, with an emphasis on unflagging action in the pursuit of greater understanding. Finally, both scientific and religious modes of understanding inexorably return to a common set of recurrent themes, emphasizing the creativity, dynamism, and unity of the world we perceive.

Curiosity is instinctive in humans. We are born knowing nothing but impatient to know all: where did we come from? Why are we here? How are we to live? Such questions represent more than a simple probing for objective "facts": they are attempts to derive meaning and order from the observed world. Responses to these questions often take the form of religious expressions. Barbour notes this natural tendency, writing, "Unique to humans is the need to live in a meaningful world. We have said that myths or sacred stories are taken as manifesting some aspect of the cosmic order. They offer people a way of understanding themselves and of ordering their experience." Long before science arose as a disciplined way of classifying observed phenomena within the context of the natural order, people developed religious frameworks to satisfy their search for meaning. The concept of a divine Absolute has proved to be remarkably consistent among religions distant in both space and time. The link that connects them has little to do with particular practices or anthropomorphized deities; instead, it is precisely the common impulse toward greater comprehension of our world that signifies the existence of an Absolute goal. Armstrong explains this idea with elegant simplicity:

The very nature of humanity, therefore, demands that we transcend ourselves and our current perceptions, and this principle indicates the presence of what has been called the divine in the very nature of serious human inquiry.

As human understanding and capabilities grew increasingly...

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