Religion and Science - Complementary Forces

Note: Every Indian school even to this day, conducts debates on the classic topic of ‘Science versus Religion’. It’s like an unwritten law of Indian schools to hold debates on this burning issue, which has now been burning for decades. My school was no exception in this regard. As a child I often used to think of religion and science as two great enemies, ready to fight and finish each other till great souls and their works illuminated my mental world. This very simple article is an attempt to close this ever-going debate in Indian schools and bring home the message that religion and science are complementary forces. 

When the world was a chaos, when disorder was the order of the day, when human animal followed no rules, when one man lived with many women and vice versa, when taking toxic substances was considered no folly, when human animal killed or hurt any of his species just for his selfish gains, some wise creatures of the breed (because human-beings were human after all and not more animals) formed a sort of a code of conduct and ordered others to follow it. To give those rules a compulsive tinge the power of the unknown was introduced. The fear of an omnipotent force was popularized so that human beings follow the code.  This set of vague rules later became an established tradition and was named as 'dharma' or religion.

Thus from time to time whenever humanity degraded itself, a wise soul rose, delivered more or less the same ideas as propagated by his worthy predecessors, commanded a following and thus gave what we now call a separate religion. If the times required saving animals, the great soul prohibited animal slaughter for food but if on the other hand, there was shortage of food grains and animals could be spared, the preachers gave the permission to kill and use animals as part of food. But all these gurus, saints, preachers never differed in the underlining message i. e. the message of love, love for the fellow beings, love for the elements, love for nature and for this whole creation. Nor ever these souls ever criticized or attacked each other.

Now in our present age with human beings again killing their fellow beings, with sexual promiscuity ever increasing (with AIDS as its gift) drug addiction reaching new heights, with marriage as an institution getting weakened day by day (with divorce as its gift), we again need to establish a disciplined society with the help of certain rules and regulations, called religion. 

Now the dictionary meaning of science is 'systematic and formulated knowledge' while technology means ' science of the industrial arts'. The validity of the topic of this essay arises from the fact that while religion demands a complete faith and an unquestionable acceptance of certain ideals, science and technology demand open, unbiased study of facts and give a right to question whatever is in our power to question. While in religion certain areas are simply sacred and are not to be touched, science and technology never accept any heard of or reported concepts. Science and technology are for what we touch and what we see. Thus the question and a genuine one at that is how in this age of ever growing science and technology, the pillars of religion can be saved from getting shaken. Our quest in this essay would be to prove that though science and technology are inevitable in the modern world, religion must be given its own way to discipline people because if this freedom of impulsive conduct is to prevail, soon this creation will be turned into a polluted hell of diseases, brutal sexuality and eventually total ruin. 

Religion needs to be understood in its true form. Scientific endeavors must go on. India must launch other Agnies, and bombs, develop supercomputers indigenously and advance magically in the field of laser technology – all this is science and technology. But the rule that the bombs and missiles must be used to prevent wars and not commence one or computers can be used to give farmers rich crops or laser beams should be used to cure diseases and not harm others – this is religion. That we have developed trains is science and technology but that trains are public property, that trains have to be kept clean or train service should be taken to the masses is religion. In fact, science and religion are two sides of the same coin.

What is religion?  It is love, cooperation and coexistence. When we install a factory, it is science and technology but when we launch Ganga pollution control drive to save the holy river from the pollution of that factory, it is religion. When we develop chemicals it is science but when we use those chemicals to kill diseases or fertilize soil or save forests it is religion. There have been worthy attempts from time to time to interpret religion in this correct perspective.

Bertrand Russell championed the cause of science and mathematics all his life but at the age of eighty the scientific soul burst forth –

"There are certain things that our age needs and certain things that it should avoid. It needs compassion and a wish that mankind should be happy, it needs the desire for knowledge and the determination to eschew pleasant myths; it needs above all, courageous hope and the impulse to creativeness. The things that it must avoid and that have brought it to the brink of catastrophe are cruelty, envy, greed, competitiveness, search for irrational subjective certainty and what Freudians call the death-wish.

The root of the matter is very simple and old-fashioned things, a thing so simple that I am almost ashamed to mention it, for fear of the derisive smile with which wise cynics will greet my words. The thing I mean - please forgive me for mentioning it - is love, Christian love or compassion. If you feel this, you have a motive for existence, a guide in action, a reason for courage, an imperative. If you feel this you have all that anybody should need in the way of religion."

One must agree with Russell that if one has that precious pearl called love, one has all religion with him, 

Thus, clearing all fog of vagueness, religion must be interpreted in the real from. One is reminded of the exotic words of Swami Vivekananda,

"To love because it is the nature of love to love is undeniably the highest and the most unselfish manifestation of love that may seem in the world. Such love, working itself out on the plane of spirituality, necessarily leads to the attainment of Para- Bhakti or Higher love."

So one who rises above him self, feels the pain of others tries to help them, think of the general goods is a religious person.

As Albert Einstein said,

"A person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts and aspirations to which he clings because of their super personal value." 

Thus a person who takes the responsibility of public immunization or who teaches the children of the maid servant is a religious person. How can such a person be any hurdle in the path of science and technology? 

The point is that religion must exist and perform its vital duties in the scientific and technological age of ours. Let it be clear for once and for all that chattering 'mantras' decorating one's forehead with vermillion, rising and sitting in different positions five times a day in order to offer 'namaz' or even the modern style of fanatically calling the name of some self ordained god, pursuing and forcing others to follow him - all this and much more has nothing to do with religion; it is anti-religion. There can be no mediatory class of priests and pundits between the individual and his God. God only loves. There is no God who punishes us with the fire of hell for our evil deeds.

If religion is to arouse fear, it is the religion for the primitive man and of course, for the primitive and savage among us, who cannot be brought under control but for the fear of the unknown.

For the sophisticated, cultured and scientific lot, religion is an urge to do good and to be good and it can never be in contradiction with science and technology. But still as most of the Indians and a large part of the world is nothing but illiterate and brute mass of people, who can cut their own brothers throats in sheer fanaticism, the primitive religion, and religion of fear with God as a punishing authority is still needed.  It is not possible to control the mammoth lot of the world if they, in the absence of a strict religion, start consuming all toxic substances (with chemical drugs easily available these days), start free sex; start killing every second fellow who ever disturbs them in any way. And, so, for them religion must exist; fear of the unknown must exist. If they act wrongly, they must feel sorry for it, as God may be angry with them, for they may have to suffer the agony of hell after death if they carry on their immoral deeds beyond a limit. 

Let us, therefore say that in this age of science and technology, the dread of venereal diseases ever increasing with new and fatal chemical drugs, with nuclear weapons threatening the existence of creation, religion with its lessons of discipline and purity has become humankind's destiny. 

All this ritualism, we must know, is not the core of religion. Religion and God are abstract ideas. For the common man, it is not possible to realize and live the abstract ideas of goodness or virtues. Thus he has evolved through the ages certain physical symbols whose presence brings to his mind all good ideas notions. Even where idolatry is prohibited, symbols and idols have slowly crept in. After all what are Lord Ram or Lord Krishna but symbols of goodness, righteousness and justice! Muslims, who do not believe in idolatry theoretically, imagine the temple of Caaba while offering 'namaz' and hold the black stone of the temple of Caaba to be specially powerful and sacred and like to drink water of the well of Zimzim just and Hindus crave for the Ganga Jal. So their Lord is the temple of Caaba, their symbol of high values, similarly, Protestants, non-idolaters theoretically, consider Church to be more sacred than other places and again yield to idolatry.

From time to time there have been movements led by exalted souls (such as Kabir) to end idolatry, rituals and symbols but all in vain. As long as humanity is what it is, a vast majority will always need something concrete to remind it of pure ideas. Thus whatever we commonly hold as religion i. e. places of worship, styles of worship, and idols of worship – all this is not religion, it is an effort to support and reflect the idea of religion. Thus a religion is the vast kingdom covering the whole range of noble thoughts, noble conduct and noble living and therefore it or its manifestations cannot go against science and technology. The only thing is that all these symbols and rituals must be limited. It must not become the whole life of the individual. The individual must know that through these outward practices, he is trying to realize an abstract idea; these rituals are means and not the end. One must grow above these materialistic levels and realize the true purpose of life. 

In the culminating years of the twentieth century one cannot help having almost a sacred trust in science and technology. An ideal picture of world can be built only with the help of science and technology. If our country is to survive and thrive, we must take the latest of our scientific and technological comforts to the masses. Above all there must be inculcated a deep scientific, rational and objective thinking among the people. And yet, at is best all this is but half of the story. Let us, for some moments be unbiased ourselves. Just as fanatics go for religion, we, the modern folk go for science and technology. Science and technology is no 'mantra' that having recited it hundred times a day, we will get a society that we desire. We must evaluate science and technology and its multiple effects critically. Let us look at the alien models – the society that the highly scientific lands like America, Japan, France or Britain have developed. There are all modern comforts available right from personal computers to supercomputers, from cycles to airplanes. It is all so glamorous, prosperity flows on the streets. Everyone has car. Houses are richly carpeted.

Yet, are these stinking rich people the model for the rest of the world? In fact, they should not be followed blindly. If the world will go their way, ultimately the world will not go in any direction at all because it will cease to exist. Affluent as they are, they are spending billions and trillions of dollars and yen and pounds on scientific defense research and modern weapons, preparing for a hypothetical war. Their strategies, moves and counter moves are all set for the highly dreamt of future war.

Are our senses dulled? Have we stopped feeling? When the larger part of humanity is hungry and naked these countries are playing with wealth, playing with the future of human race and are compelling other countries to go for more and more sophisticated weapons. Their motives are incomprehensible. Their vision is blurred. It is doubtful whether they intend to go in any positive direction. It appears that they are moving blindly, preparing for the dooms' day. A puppet it their hands, the world is helplessly dancing to their tunes.  It is perhaps the death-wish, as Freudians call it. This is the barbarous and inhuman face of science and technology. It is science devoid of religion, technology devoid of compassion. Anybody anywhere anytime can be finished by Missiles which have accurate hitting equipments that they can hit a pin's head. It is here we need the soothing, balm- like, honey like sweet melody of true religion. 

Religion is light. Religion is awakening. Religion is inspiration. Religion is that tablet which vitalizes us, refreshes us makes us act, and kindles a desire in us to serve others. Religion gives us the sense of universal brotherhood. In short, religion makes us what we proudly say we are- human beings. Here is the translation of a famous Sanskrit couplet –

“Food, sleep and sexual pleasures
– all these activities are common
among animals and human beings.
Only religion is the dividing line.
A human being devoid of religion
is nothing but an animal." 

Similarly, we have also to think about the negative impressions of science. There are serious problems that science has created like atmospheric pollution and technological waste. When a new factory is built, first there is ceremonial worshipping and then all the factory waste is continuously poured down in the life giving rivers of the land. In this jungle of concrete buildings and factories, what we need is trees and fresh air. Perhaps that is why religion asks us to worship trees and water them duly and worship rivers and keep them clean. 

Psychologically, this age of science and technology has weakened the individual and his self-confidence rather than boosting him. With the help of science, where on one hand the world has become a small village, the individual has become a non entity. One individual counts for nothing. In an office or a factory or the world as a whole, one man is not even an ant. If he wants to do something genuine or bring some changes, he finds himself helpless. In this mammoth machinery of the world, the individual has lost the sense of self dignity and importance. Them another psychological factor is the self – encasement of the modern man.
Thanks to science and technology, one neighbor does not recognize the other. Vehicles, telephones etc. have virtually killed the warm contact among human beings. Now one sees one's neighborhood on the television or on the net. Strong materialism seems to have pervaded all. Sense of loneliness and sense of insecurity loom large which no insurance company can ever compensate for. Pure Joys and simple pleasures of life seem to have no value. There is restlessness all over. It is a journey without destination: a quest without aim. Love towards nature, animals and fellow human beings seem to have become old-fashioned thought. What we are saying is that one must not go against science and technology but must be aware of the evil effect of these sensational phenomena. 

We should think what type of generations we are producing. Electronic inventions in the form of television and video have turned our homes into complete picture halls. The effects of cinema are definitely going to be disastrous. Specs-eyed generation, full of drug- addicts and AIDS patients will play the drama of final calamity. This is not an exaggeration. Slowly but surely we are moving towards final downfall. If we have any capacity to learn from others' experience, let us open our eyes wide and see what is happening across the continents. We should not aim at such a society where immorality, corruption, hatred and diseases are the dictums of the day. No science and no technology can teach us the lesson of purity, discipline and benevolence. 

It is true that religion in the modern times has been debased like anything. But from time to time we have had our Shankaracharyas and Vivekanandas who have presented religion in its true self and have explained its necessity. It is a known fact that the greatest scientists like Einstein, Newton and Ramanujan have been the greatest of theist as well. In fact almost all true scientists are deeply religious because they realize the limits of science very well. If science is energy, religion is matter. If science is soul, religion is body. All science and technology will negate its own purposes if not duly co-operated by religion. 

But these self-ordained contractors of religion, this well organized machinery of pundits and pundits must be removed. They have done their best to defame the noblest of all ideas i.e. the idea of religion. In fact, it is a profession like any other profession where bluffing and cheating are the professional arts. The way these professionals extort money from the ignorant masses will always stand a witness against the religiosity of this class. True religion never says that even if an evil soul stands or sits in different positions, drinks the so called holy water, donates money to these pundits, spreads different colored powders here or there, all his sins will be pardoned. These things must be discarded. As Koran itself states, “Every age has its book.” Being scientific we must not endure corrupt practices in the name of religion. Let us follow that religion which teaches us action, which tells us that individual is not a puppet in the hands of unknown powers but is a creator of his destiny. In Bible God commanded Adam, “In the sweat of the face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground." We also remember the well known words of Lord Krishna, “Action is thy duty, and reward is not thy concern." 

Lord Christ loved and saved a degraded woman who was going to be stoned to death- this is the spirit of religion. Prophet Mohammad said that one will receive more blessings from God if one educates the uneducated rather than offering 'namaz' –this is the spirit of religion. Guru Nanak, instead of guarding his farm, allowed the birds to eat as much crops as possible because both the farm and birds were of Ram and so there was little sense in stopping the birds from eating grains-this is the spirit of religion. One of the greatest souls ever born, Mahatma Gandhi, about whom Einstein's famous words must always be remembered ("Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.") this Gandhi, whenever entered a village or town or any other place, first rushed to the locality of the untouchables and stayed there only - this is the sprit of religion. 

We should know what the stories of reincarnations of God or sons and messengers of God signify. It is not significant whether Lord Ram really lived or not, what matters is what does the story of his life mean, what it stands for and why it has lived through ages. For instance, Lord Krishna seems to present goodness justice and love accompanied by a life of exuberance and joy. Lord Ram, on the other hand may symbolize the achievement of the very same ideals – goodness, purity, justice, public welfare and love, accomplished by a life of limits, a life demonstrating highest ideals. Similarly Lord Christ may symbolize a life of simplicity, trust and innocence embellished with the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the human race. 

Now, these ideals, if followed by and large by the masses can only boost the age of science and technology. These ideals can convert the age of science and technology into a permanent heaven. While on one hand scientific and technological forces may invent new laser techniques and superconductors, religion may tell the proper use of these means. The place of religion in the age of science and technology cannot be questioned, it is obvious. Likewise the place of science and technology in a religious society cannot be undermined. These two forces dwell deep in human consciousness. As our two legs cannot walk if they are forced to go in opposite direction, human race cannot proceed on its path of glory if these two powerful forces are separated or treated as antagonists. We must develop a life style where both science and religion form the essence of an individual's life. 

Finally one cannot give a better conclusion to this essay than given years back by the great mathematician philosopher, scientist and theist, Bertrand Russell -

"Man owed his existence to science, his glory and greatness are due to science and if he misuses this noble and sublime boon of  God, man will owe his extinction to science. But man will not act as a brute; he is a human being and shall remain so."  


More by :  Prof. Shubha Tiwari

Top | Perspective

Views: 3354      Comments: 2

Comment Religion means different things to different people. For some, it's introspection; for others doing good is religion; yet for others following rituals is religion. It depends on your taste. It's way of thinking. I don't say that ill-information fed to the illiterate is okay; what I say is that for centuries religion has existed in this form.
We live in a changed atmosphere. Today, for the enlightened, religion (dharma) is simply the correct behavior. In the Indian context, we can say that 'raj dharma' asks the government to be impartial; or it's the dharma of the student to be sincere towards his studies. So, dharma has to understood in the context iin which it is being used.

Prof. Shubha Tiwari
07-Nov-2011 23:58 PM

Comment I almost completely agree with what has been said in the comprehensive essay.
That said, allow me to me mention all that I do not concur with.
In your own words, "It is not possible to control the mammoth lot of the world if they, in the absence of a strict religion, start consuming all toxic substances (with chemical drugs easily available these days), start free sex; start killing every second fellow who ever disturbs them in any way. And, so, for them religion must exist; fear of the unknown must exist. If they act wrongly, they must feel sorry for it, as God may be angry with them, for they may have to suffer the agony of hell after death if they carry on their immoral deeds beyond a limit."
I disagree that religion must exist with its implication of fear of the unknown and repentance after death. Not for anybody under the sun. Lack of education should not be tackled with misinformation or feeding superstition to the illiterate; it must be tackled with truth; unquestionable, well-established truth. Religion must not be a temporary and part-time mumbo-jumbo fed to wrong-doers as long as they are not acquainted to the benefits of true education, not at all. I will seize the opportunity to quote Einstein in what is my personal favorite out of his bountiful sayings:

"A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death"

Bharat M.
07-Nov-2011 08:46 AM

Name *

Email ID

Comment *
Verification Code*

Can't read? Reload

Please fill the above code for verification.