Indiana University Bloomington

Science and Religion: Working Together

Mariela Miranda Molina, human biology

Written for COLL-C103: Word Hard, Pray Hard

Instructor: Prof. Sonia Velazquez


It is a popular belief that science and religion do not work together, in fact most of the time, science is believed to work to disprove religion. The contrast is often times based on the argument that science involves facts and evidence, while religion involves only beliefs and emotions. The negative connotation is thus placed on the religious ideology due to the lack of rational evidence supporting religions in contrast to scientific evidence. The difference is not only remarkable in the social environment, nut also in the respective definitions of the words. Oxford dictionary defines religion as the “belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods” (Oxford). Science, on the other hand, is defined to be the general study of structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment (Oxford). Based on the culturally accepted definitions and implications of the two, it may seem impossible for science and religion to work together. It may seem obvious that science can only work to disprove religion because any physical scientific proof is contradicting of the spiritual world. Nevertheless, upon closer examination, one is able to understand the full meaning of religion, which encompasses an endless amount of topics, contrary to popular belief. The clarification of the implications of the two is crucial because it can change the perspective on science’s work involving religion drastically. Roman Catholicism will be discussed throughout the paper for the purpose of efficiency and clarity. Through the use of saints and miracles, the positive relationship between religion and science will be demonstrated. Science’s role in religion is therefore to push those in doubt further into their faith.

In today’s society the idea of religion and science going hand in hand is not easy to see. Younger generations, especially, have a negative perception of religion through the media. Media, like tv shows and movies generally portray religion as several extremely conservative ideas that may not make sense and that serve the purpose of comedy. In contrast, science is usually portrayed as a means of progress and ideas for the future. An example of how religion and science are portrayed as contrasting views in current media, can be seen in Parks and Recreation, where the main character, Leslie Knope, a council woman, constantly has to battle with a married Christian couple whose religious ideals are always radical and serve as merely a means of comedy. In this example of the use of religion for comedy purposes, Christianity is also seen as an obstacle in the way of accomplishing what the audience is led to believe is truly right. On the same show however, technology is seen as progressive, and when the show ends, it also foreshadows an even bigger technology takeover. Parks and Recreation is only one simple example of how religion or people who express their religious beliefs are not usually taken as seriously in today’s society. According to Thavis, in the Vatican Prophecies, when disproving religious ideas, scientists that are actively involved in their faith are often seen as biased and not taken seriously (Thavis, p.110). Often times, the media’s role in society’s perspective of religion is underestimated. However, when audience or readers or users of any type of media are faced with real life examples of how science may have disproved a religious belief wrong, they miss the whole picture.

An example of how science has previously disproved a religious belief could be the Shroud of Turin. The Shroud, was believed to be the cloth that Jesus was covered in when he was buried after the cruxifiction. Initially, science was not developed enough to be able to disprove the age of the Shroud. However, a few recent science tests performed on what was believed to be a holy artifact, showed that the Shroud was not old enough to have been Christ’s. In this case, science directly worked to effectively disprove a religious belief. Even though there the Shroud remains to be a mystery in certain aspects, and religious theories remain to exist, most chose to find the Shroud irrelevant (Thavis, p.109). To those whose judgments have been clouded with the media’s ideas of a comedic religion, the disproval of the Shroud of Turin as a holy artifact might have seemed like evidence enough to believe that Catholicism is not to be taken seriously and that science, in turn can only work against it. Religious stereotypes can be rather be damaging to the belief of whether science works against religion as well as the perceived credibility of a religion (Blumenfeld).

Religious misconceptions can be formed by people who take religious satire the wrong way. In the mentioned examples, a common thread has been the uneducated prejudice of religion and what exactly it is that Catholicism entails. The catholic faith entails the belief that Jesus Christ was both a man and a God and catholics strive to live a life that in they deem worthy of God (Pope Benedict). The catholic church encourages believers to not only go to church but to also live their faith in a daily life. Thus, the catholic religion is not only a religion but also a way of life. In this sense, Catholicism encompasses the spiritual and the physical nature of human life. As mentioned before, the common misconception about Catholicism is that it involves ideas about the spiritual nature of humanity that have no evidence whatsoever that supports them. However, Catholicism is much more than that; seeing that the Bible plays such a crucial part in the faith, the interpretation of the text is rather endless. Because the bible has so many interpretations, its applications to human life are never ending. While, granted, some would argue there are certain aspects of the spirituality of the faith that cannot be physically proven, others would disagree. Saint Paul of the Gentiles makes the a good point to claim that since the creation of the world is factually nonexistent, everything that came after the creation the world is proof enough of the existence of God as a spiritual being (Catechism). Therefore, the catholic church encourages its followers to research and become as informed of the world as they possibly can because the church believes that science can push people further into the faith and even grants science the power of conversion into catholicism.

A current example of how the catholic church encourages scientific research could be the sainthood process. The process of sainthood is a long and tedious one, it is made up of several stages. First there has to be a request for the Vatican to review the candidate, then the actual review, then, if a miracle is approved, is beatification, and finally is canonization after a second miracle is approved (Cotter). The main reason why the process is so long and difficult is because of all of the scientific research that goes into attempting to disprove miracles. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints is the one in charge of approving and disproving the many miracles that get sent in. Since 90% of the miracles that the Vatican receives, are medical, an interviewing process is carried out in which several doctors, and experts, are asked for their opinions. If no science is able to come up with an explanation for the instantaneous cure of the patient, then the miracle is approved (Thavis, p.192). In this sense it may seem like science works against religion however, upon closer inspection one is able to notice that even if science is able to identify a reason to disprove a miracle, science doesn’t work against the faith as a whole.

The church is weary of new miraculous claims because they represent a danger to its followers (Thavis, p.72). The Vatican does not center itself on miracles or saints because they do not bring anything new to the faith. Catholics are not required or pushed to believe in miracles or saints because they are only examples of what the faith itself entails. The purpose of miracles and saints in the catholic religion is to give a source of hope and help believers be able to relate to someone and ask for their intercession when asking for God’s help. However, even when the purpose is a different one, there are followers of miracles and saints whose faith is borderline superstitious, which is exactly the reason why the Vatican church would rather not be involved in the proving or disproving of miracles (Thavis, p.24). Scientific research not only helps the religious make sense of their own faith and the world around them, it also serves a way to balance the spiritual implications of the faith with the physical implications of it. Pascal, a christian and scientist, once said that “miracles and truth are necessary, because it is necessary to convince the entire man, in body and soul” (Pascal). He goes back to the point that, while science encompasses reason, leaving out faith and consciousness, that is not all that makes up humanity. Therefore, even if all evidence were to prove the Shroud of Turin as a false item, catholics would still believe in the dead and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The general idea of Pope Francis’ encyclical was that balance in life is key (Pope Francis). Even though Catholicism places a central focus on the spiritual, such as God, and the holy spirit, etc., science serves to provide the physical proof of their existence at all. This is because while science has its boundaries within the natural and physical world, Catholicism has no boundaries. The balance of the two in the faith not only allows believers to have a better grasp of their own faith, but it also helps the faith to be reasonable to the outsiders and maybe even help convert the skeptics. To clarify the need of science to balance the Pope Francis encyclical draws from religious texts and claims as well as research and science in order to make his most compelling claim dealing with the care of the earth. Through a balance of religious beliefs and scientific evidence the Pope draws in the attention of not only catholics but everyone else as well (Pope Francis). Thus, increasing his credibility and his possibility at touching the hearts and reason of humanity.

Though religions and science may not support each other directly, the two of them can coexist. There is a harmonious space between the faith and facts where scientific evidence may explain something that the Bible does not, and where the Bible has explanations for things that no science has been able to explain. The popular notion that science works to disprove religion would be impossible. It is easier to disprove a miracle than to disprove the entire faith. This is because even if a miracle is proved to be otherwise, since it does not add anything to the faith and people aren’t required to believe in them, faith remains stable. Miracles are all about perspective, just like how even the most religious of people cannot ever be certain of their religion, yet they choose to believe. All in all, even though is science can disprove miracles and small religious claims, the disproval of such actually works with the catholic faith as a whole to improve individual’s faith and its impact on others.References

Blumenfeld, Warren J. “Religious Stereotyping Is Bullying.” The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

Catechism of the Catholic Church – Man’s Capacity for God.” Catechism of the Catholic Church. Web. 12 Dec. 2016

Cotter, Kevin. “How Does Someone Become a Saint? A 5-Step Process.” FOCUS. 08 July 2013. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

Cusworth, P. “Pope Francis’s Comments on the Big Bang Are Not Revolutionary. Catholic Teaching Has Long Professed the Likelihood of Human Evolution.” Catholic Herald. 31 Oct. 2014. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

“₦airaland Forum.” Christianity: A Religion Or A ‘Way Of Life’? – Religion – Nigeria. Web. 12 Dec. 2016

Pascal, Blaise. “Section XIII. The Miracles.” Pascal, Blaise. 190914. Thoughts. Vol. 48, Part 1. The Harvard Classics. The Harvard Classic. Web. 12 Dec. 2016

Pope Benedict XVI in the United Kingdom.” The Catholic Faith. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

Pope Francis. On Care for Our Common Home: Laudato Si’: Encyclical Letter. Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2015. Print.

Thavis, John. “The Vatican Prophecies: Investigating Supernatural Signs, Apparitions, and Miracles in the Modern Age.” NY, NY: Viking, 2015. Print.

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