Why There Are Conflicts Between Science and Religion

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.

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4 Responses to Why There Are Conflicts Between Science and Religion

  1. rogerdhansen says:

    Hi Allen, I don’t believe in the bifurcation of science and religion. There are scientists who are religionists (think Henry Eyring). I think you need to say that scientists, who are also religionists, when it comes to religion, don’t use the scientific method to define their belief system. For example, I don’t think it is necessary that we use the scientific method to prove the existence of God. But maybe it doesn’t matter if God exists, but it does matter how we treat our fellowmen and how we treat the Earth.

    I personally have trouble with many aspects of Christianity. For example, I have a rough time understanding the need for an atonement. As a religious belief, it seems barbaric. What I do understand about the message of Christ is the need and the importance of “loving our neighbors.” And I use neighbor in the broadest sense of the word . . . anyone on the Earth.

    Thus I see religion as putting a soul in science. For example, it is great to get smarter, but that knowledge must serve all of mankind not just a select few.

    The problem that I have with transhumanism and other isms is they are essentially egotistical. The majority of adherents to beliefs like transhumanism and techno-progressism are atheists and there is not enough emphasis on the potential equalitarian goals of science and technology.

    Institutional religion is too, way too, centered on self preservation and bizarre institutional goals, and not enough on Christianity’s core mission: LOVE THY NEIGHBOR.

    I know you are Mormon. How much of LDS Church activities is wasted on meaningless meetings and repetitive doctrinal teachings. If the leadership were to mobilize the membership, just think of how much good the LDS Church could do for world. They do some now, but not nearly enough. Roger

    • Allen says:

      Thank you, Roger, for your thoughtful and insightful comments.

      Concerning the atonement. The atonement, I think, involves two things. the overcoming of death through the resurrection, and the forgiveness of sin through Christ’s suffering. The atonement does not directly involve Christ’s teaching that we love our neighbor. That teaching is part of our following Christ and obtaining the peace that comes from him. Other LDS might have a different view of the atonement, for example, considering everything Christ did and taught as part of the atonement, and that is fine.

      • rogerdhansen says:

        Sorry, I guess my comment was a little confusing. I didn’t mean to equate the atonement with “loving your neighbor.” I meant that I relate to the commandment to “love your neighbor” more than I relate to some of the more out-there aspects of Christianity.
        And my bottom line was to highlight that religion, if not too dogmatic, can help instill a soul in scientists and science.

  2. Allen says:

    I really like your sentence that you see “religion as putting a soul in science”.

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