I read an article by a professor who wanted to show that science and religion are similar. I think that the support he offers for his view is simplistic and, worse, it is wrong.
The professor’s view
The professor argued that both science and religion have the same outlook and are therefore alike. Both, he wrote, marvel at the universe and enjoy what they see.
Actually, each focuses on a different thing and derives different conclusions from what they see. In addition, their conclusions lead many of their adherents to different behavior. Many, but of course not all religious people are passive in regard to improving themselves and society. They rely on God to do what needs to be done. While many science-minded people exert themselves to seek ways to improve society.
Also, contrary to the notion of the professor, some religious people curiously feel that although they argue that God created the world and formed all that is in it, they are obligated to avoid enjoying what God made for them. Hermits, for example, hide themselves away from the beauties of creation. Ultra-Orthodox Jews reject colorful attire, wear black, like the late Johnny Cash, and warn their adherents not to use scientific inventions such as TV and the Internet.
Of course, despite the differences, one can be both religious and science-minded, Maimonides is an example.
Religion can be defined as a collection of beliefs and values based on faith and traditions, with supporting rituals and stories. Usually, but not always, religion includes a desire to do what God revealed to be required behavior. At least since the past 2,000 years, since the time of Paul, after the death of Jesus, the main ingredient of religion is faith. Faith is the acceptance as true ideas that are contrary to science, the senses, and logic. An example, is the idea invented by Saint Augustine (354-430), an idea that did not exist before he invented it, that God punished all of Adam and Eve’s innocent descendant with “sin,” contrary to the opening chapter of Genesis which states that what God created was good because the first couple ate a forbidden fruit. This Augustinian faith is called “original sin.”
I heard a rabbi give his congregation a sermon that if you fall over a cliff many dozens of feet from the ground below, and are holding a branch, let go and have faith that God will save you despite the hazardous fall. No rational person would accept this idea of faith.
Scientists and science-minded people do not accept faith, the basic element of many religions. They search for the truth and seek to prove what is true, contrary to the religious people that accept their ideas because of unproven ancient traditions or because their religious leader tells them to do so.
Scientists use the “hypothesis testing method.” A hypothesis is a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. Scientists then test their hypothesis to see if it is correct. A current example are the many tests that scientists are using to determine if a vaccine for Covid 19 will work safely.
In a book on Medicine, Maimonides stated that although the tradition for many centuries declared that the aphorisms of the physician Hippocrates (c. 460 BCE – c.375 BGE), his advice on how to treat various ailments, were considered correct and virtually sacrosanct, one should not rely on traditions in medicine. To do so is dangerous and life threatening. Maimonides wrote that he disagreed with the second famous ancient physician Galen (c. 129 CE – c. 210 CE) who felt that “under no circumstances does he consider any statement of Hippocrates to be erroneous.” And Maimonides went a step further and said we should not rely on traditions for anything. In saying this, Maimonides was articulating the view of science, not the popular view of religion, which is entirely opposite.
In short, it is a mistake to argue like the professor that there is no disagreement between science and religion. The proper approach is to accept science and if you want to also be religious, be like Maimonides and only accept those tenets of religion that are rational.