THE BLOG

We Are Not so Different: Science and Religion

06/05/2015 08:39 am ET | Updated Jun 05, 2016

"I believe that spirituality and science are different but complementary investigative approaches with the same greater goal, of seeking the truth." H.H. Dalai Lama The Universe in a Single Atom

I grew up catholic and so the story of Jesus' birth and death are ones I heard year after year at Christmas and Easter, though as a child I was really more interested in Santa and the Bunny than the Christ. Religiously though, I consider myself agnostic, because as the famed ethicist Richard Dawkins stated "you could never actually prove the non-existence of anything" --and as a scientist I rely heavily on data to prove or disprove, well most things. The stark difference between science and religion was stated perfectly by Paul Kurtz in his book Science and Religion: Are They Compatable?, "This commitment to test the validity of ideas and claims, separates science from religion." Though, while science is indeed seeded in data, and religion in faith, many have been able to follow both, and in the process make discoveries that proceeded to change the world.

I am an agnostic scientist who happens to also be fascinated with the world's religions, especially the Abrahamic religions -- Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I most closely try to follow the teachings of the Buddha and very much respect His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. H.H. Dalai Lama is a very big proponent of science , and he is able to allow the data to speak for itself; if it should conflict with a story from Buddhism, well then, he claims that story must be reconsidered (see why I heart him?). It takes a very enlightened leader, in my opinion, to question religious beliefs based on scientific evidence. However, that is just one religious leader, of one relatively small religion. In the US there are approximately 2 million Buddhist, the minority of which (30-35%) are Western converts. The predominant religion in the US is Christianity (71%), in fact, the US has more Christians than any other country in the world. Non-Christian religions such as Islam or Judaism are also a small minority, 1-2% of the population, respectively. Those who consider themselves agnostic, atheist, or "nothing in particular" are on the rise, and account for about 23% of the population.

It seems that as the agnostic, atheist, or "nothing in particular" group grows, the more the debate between science and religion has crept into the mainstream, especially with science rock stars such as Neil Degrasse Tyson & Bill Nye, and religion rock stars such as Pope Francis & H.H. Dalai Lama. Neil Degrasse Tyson has taken mainstream America by storm with his primetime show Cosmos and his amazing propensity for great soundbites, famously stating "The good thing about science is that its true whether you believe it or not". The exact opposite is true for religion, as religion is built firmly on faith. Bill Nye for his part, boldly took on creationist Ken Ham in an evolution vs. creationism debate broadcast live on the internet to science and religious fanatics alike. I, like many, watched the debate and followed along on social media. I even took to social media to respond to Creationists' questions that Buzzfeed posted after the debate. During the debate, Nye questioned all of Ham's claims, asking for evidence; Ham preached faith. For me, that debate was the epitome of the perception of the relationship between science and religion in our country today. I very much enjoyed the entertainment value of it, but I am not sure any minds were changed or substantial conclusions made on either side. Another devout Christian, Republican Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum recently weighed in on the science and religion debate stating that he believes the church has been wrong on scientific issues and that the church would be "better off leaving science to the scientists...". Though, if history is any guide, that may not be entirely true. 

Depending on how one defines it, organized religion dates back approximately 5000 years, beginning with Hinduism, followed by Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity, among many others. Depending on how one defines science, traditional roots were being laid approximately 5,500 years ago, and science as we know it today, started anywhere between close to 1000 to 300 years ago (1100s to the 1800s). And in that time, the two faiths have co-existed, and there is no reason to believe they will not continue to do so. Mahatma Gandhi said it best (as he always does), "In reality there are as many religions as there are individuals,"; claiming that religion is anti-science, is the same as saying Science is anti-religion-- both are just not true. In fact 59% of scientist have stated a belief in God. Moreover, religious devotees have not only been supporting science for centuries but most original scientific methods in many of the sciences were first developed by ancient innovators from the Middle East, Asia and Europe by those who belonged to one of many religious faiths. Many of the worlds greatest STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) discoveries were pioneered by early religious followers and "natural philosophers" from religions such as Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity, etc.

Religious leaders from many Christian and non-Christian faiths alike see a complementary relationship between science and religion. Just recently, Pope Francis, the 266th Pope of the Catholic church, affirmed his belief in science, or at least one of the most controversial scientific claims, Evolution, stating "Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve." Additionally, H.H. Dalai Lama argues "...from the perspective of human well-being, science and spirituality are not unrelated. We need both, since the alleviation of suffering must take place at both the physical and the psychological levels." Indeed, there have been numerous studies showing that religion and religious affiliations can have a positive association on aspects of one's life.

The current modern schism between these two faiths (science and religion), when taken to the extreme, pin devoted individuals against devout individuals for the good of no one. I have faith though that science and religion can rise above their seeming differences to continue to complement each other for the good of all, for the data have shown this to be true!