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05 May 2020

Faith In Science VS Religion

By

Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman :
Who would have thought that the Masajid-al-Haram in Makkah and Medina will be closed for believers for so long? Who would have imagined the Pope giving a lecture standing alone in St. Peter\'s Basilica or in St Peter\'s Square without any audience? Who would have expected to celebrate the Passover (Pesach) in a lockdown?
The common answer for all three questions is \"none\".
Yet those happened, much to our sorrow. Had those been due to the impartiality of the deadly virus SARS-CoV-2 causing the COVID-19 pandemic that knows no difference in race, religion or nationality? Or because everyone, irrespective of race, religion or nationality, wants to stop the spread of the deadly virus?
Unlike the previous answer, this time the common answer is affirmative - \"yes\".
The common measure to stop the spread of the virus taken by all is primarily based on pieces of evidence provided by doctors, epidemiologists, and scientists. Here, science indeed has played an important role to \"guide\" to close Masajid-al-Haram, made the Pope speak deprived of an audience, and made Jews celebrate the Passover amidst lockdown.

Does it mean science and religion are compatible?

An imperative question - do we really have to find any link or gap between science and religion? As such, that comparative \"analysis\" would do no benefit during this pandemic of COVID-19. Yet social media often is flooded with viral messages to show the supremacy of science over religion to fight COVID-19 and vice versa.

Which of those viral claims is meaningful?

Perhaps, it could be answered if the differences between science and scientists, as well as religion and believers, can be drawn.
Given the reality, we know that to a good number of believers, science and religion are compatible. While there are others who have an opposing view. Yet there are individuals who choose to maneuver the middle path.
While no one would differ in defining what \"science\" is; scientists might differ to accept what \"scientific\" is. A bit confusing statement indeed! By definition, as long as anything can be presented and proved to be rational, organized, and empirically valid - it falls under science. However, from that perspective, not everything can be accepted as scientific by all scientists.
A good example of this is the human embryonic development described in the Quran. The verses in the Quran describe the stages of embryonic development exactly in the same way as it is proven empirically. Yet mainstream scientists will never cite those Quranic verses as references in scientific articles. On the other hand, there are scientists who would advocate those verses as the \"scientific\" miracles of the Quran.
The same goes with religion. Believers are broadly divided into believing different religions. Even within the same religion, believers differ in their beliefs as well as in their practices.
In summary, science and scientists do not necessarily always speak the same language. At the same time, all believers also do not have faith in or practice their religions in the same way.
At the time, being \"scientific\", scientists can be inconsistent (or contradictory). And being \"religious\", believers too can perceive and practice their religion differently.

Let me illustrate with a few examples from scientists:

SARS-CoV-2 was initially thought to be susceptible to high temperatures and more fatal in cold temperatures. Later this view was revised. Initially, the same virus was thought to be fatal only for aged people, however, the current data shows the inconsistency in that observation. The SARS-CoV-2 was initially thought to survive outside the host, such as, on hard surfaces or in the air for not more than 72 hours. The revised version of the view says the virus can survive until 10 days outside the human host. Some have proven hydroxychloroquine to be effective to treat COVID-19, while others have rejected that view. More ironically, to some scientist lockdown is critical to control the spread and fatality of the COVID-19, while other scientists expressed their opposing views.
Such inconsistencies (or contradictions) are inevitable due to the limitations in time, ability, and resources to amass an appropriate amount of data to arrive at any conclusive observations. Added to those is the difference in opinion an perspective which is part of human nature.
Believers too have their limitations in understanding the divine commands equally. Consequently, they differ in their practices.
From the remote past until today, humans have survived/tolerated these inconsistencies, be it within and between scientific or religious perspectives.
Scientific minds with no faith in religion will confer sole credits to the knowledge and advancement in science for the understanding of the nature of a disease and in developing medicines to fight it - COVID-19 will not be an exception.
Religious minds, with or without conviction in scientific theories, will continue to acknowledge and gratify divine control over a disease and its cure.
No matter how a scientist or a believer perceives science or religion, rational thinking must be at the core of both worldviews.
A rational believer will not deny the importance of scientific efforts to prevent and cure a disease. In the same stance, a rational scientist must not invalidate the existence of divine command on natural laws that are beyond scientific observations.
A scientist can make an effective antiviral drug, but it will not work if thousands of other events inside the living cells do not coordinate and cooperate. And most of those are still beyond any scientific explanations and beyond the control of any scientist.
While a believer must have utmost faith on the divine control on \"cause and effect\"; yet must not expect that an antiviral drug will come to their hands without it being or prepared by somebody - the scientists.   
(Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman, Faculty of Dentistry, Malaya Jalan Universiti, Malaysia)