by Allen Leigh, contributor
I have a high interest in science and religion. I thought I’d talk in this post about what I think, in a general way, is the reason there are conflicts between science and religion. In a future post, I’ll discuss in detail why there are specific conflicts between science and religion.
Scientists use a technique called the scientific method to learn new truths. Scientists formulate a belief or hypothesis about some aspect of nature. Then, they conduct observations and tests to see if their hypothesis fits with nature. Another aspect of the scientific method is that if a hypothesis is true, other scientists will be able to get similar results from repeating the tests. If they don’t get similar results, the results of the original scientists are considered an anomaly. A third aspect of the scientific method is that if the hypothesis is true, events predicted by the hypothesis will occur, and the hypothesis is tested to see if the predictions are true. Scientific research is objective, in that conclusions are drawn from observations and data rather than from personal beliefs.
On the other hand, people who ascribe to religion don’t use the scientific method, or any method of inquiry that consists of tests made to determine if particular ideas agree with nature. Instead, they accept particular ideas on faith. There is thus a basic difference in how scientists and religionists pursue truth. Scientists limit their observations and conclusions to facts, while religionists limit their acceptance of ideas to faith. Because of their reliance on faith, conclusions reached by religionists are subjective.
Since scientists and religionists approach truth in different ways, there are conflicts between science and religion. Because scientists limit their observations to data obtained via testing and observations, they can not investigate the existence of God, since God, at least in the Christian world, does not dwell on this earth. Scientists are not able to investigate the existence of worlds that are not part of the physical cosmos. The best they can do is say their research found no evidence for god. Some scientists do go beyond their data and say there is no god. Those scientists are, I believe, acting as philosophers not scientists in making such statements. Because of their reliance on the scientific method and on observable data, most scientists agree on things they say. There are, of course, topics about which insufficient facts are known, and scientists have strong differences of opinion about those topics.
Religionists are able to talk about god and other worlds, such as life after death, because they accept such ideas on faith. Of course, not all religionists believe the same. In the Christian world, some religionists say there is one god. Other religionists say there are three gods. Some churches say god behaves in particular ways, while other churches say god behaves in different ways. Their reliance on faith means religionists are divided about truth in religion.
To summarize, scientists and religionists seek truth differently and we should expect conflicts between them. However, as the Lord told Joseph Smith, “And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;” (D&C 93:24) That is, truth is a knowledge of reality. This means truth in science can not disagree with truth in religion. Because there are disagreements between scientists and religionists, we can say that scientists and religionists do not have all truth. I do believe, though, that during the Millennium all truth will be given to scientists and to religionists, and these two disciplines will be in agreement. It is likely, I think, that the convergence of scientific truth and religious truth will be a gradual thing, and I thus follow science to see if science and religion are converging.