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Scientific religion or Religious science? - an unusual trialogue

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

Scene Setting:

Dr. Emrite, an eminent scientist from the Scientific Research Academy, and Dr. Nivaron, a prominent Religious Philosopher from the Theological Research Institute, are arguing about the ontological, empirical and philosophical foundations of Science and Religion over a cup of hot coffee and blueberry muffins. Just as the argument was beginning to reach a stalemate their mutual friend, Xing Xang, a Zen monk, sits down and joins them.


Xing Xang: How are the coffee and muffins gentleman?


Dr. Nivaron: Scrumptious!


Dr. Emrite: This blend of coffee has a distinct European flavour and the blueberries seem perfectly ripe! But enough with the pleasantries. I need, or rather we need, Dr. Nivaron and myself, a third opinion in our debate. Would you accommodate us?


Xing Xang: Of course gentlemen, what is it that you are debating?

Dr. Emrite: We are debating the philosophical and empirical significance of Religion and Science. I argue that Science, with its methodologically, objective, empirical account of the universe is the New Religion of our modern technological age, superseding the ancient, subjective, experientialist account of the universe as preached by current Religion because of the inadequate way Religion deals with real, tangible aspects of the physical World.


Dr. Nivaron: I argue that Religion supersedes Science because the so called objective methodology of science can never truly grasp the fundamental nature of the universe; that nature being experience and oneness with a force greater than ourselves. Only with the practices of Religious experiences can one hope to achieve the attainment of truth. Science may dabble in the tangible, but it can never fathom the intangible.


Xing Xang: If I understand you both correctly, Dr. Emrite suggests that Science is greater than Religion because of its rigorous methodology of gathering objective evidence to understand the world in which we live, and Dr. Nivaron suggests that Religion is greater than Science because of its rigorous methodology of gathering subjective evidence to understand the same world.


Dr. Emrite: Simplistic in your analysis of the situation but basically correct.


Dr. Nivaron: Yes, I suppose it surmises my position.


Xing Xang: How interesting! Your debate centers around the proof of one of two possibilities, either Science is ultimately greater than Religion, or Religion is ultimately greater than Science.


Xing Xang sits back in his chair quietly for a few moments, contemplating both positions.


Xing Xang: Gentlemen, could I entertain you in a third possibility.


Dr. Emrite and Dr. Nivaron: A third?


Xing Xang: Yes, the third possibility is that Science and Religion are one in the same; striving for the same goal and employing similar methods in the commitment to their pursuit.


Dr. Emrite: Surely you don’t suggest that the empirical exactness of science is the same as the experientialist activities of Religious belief?


Xing Xang: In a sense, yes!


Dr. Nivaron: You can’t mean that the intuitive insights gained by mystics and Religious leaders could ever be compared to the “cold cut” examinations undertaken by the endeavors of Science?


Xing Xang: In a sense, yes!


Dr. Emrite: Please explain your position Xing Xang.


Dr. Nivaron: Yes, please enlighten us.


Xing Xang: Hmmm….Where shall I begin? Or is it, where shall I end? Both are means to themselves. Anyway, let me begin by asking you Dr. Emrite, what is the ultimate aim of the scientific endeavor?


Dr. Emrite: To search for fact. To separate the probable from the possible. To dismiss falsity and bring to light truth that encompasses the world in which we live.


Xing Xang: If you were to summarize your answer in one phrase, what would it be?


Dr. Emrite: Science is the search for truth.


Xing Xang: The search for “all” truth?


Dr. Emrite: Yes.


Xing Xang: Let me ask you Dr. Nivaron, what is the ultimate aim of Religion?


Dr. Nivaron: To guide those on the path to ultimate truth. To make the journey of life less burdensome by faith and surrendering oneself to a higher power.


Xing Xang: If you were to surmise your answer in one phrase, what would it be?


Dr. Nivaron: Religion is the path to truth.


Xing Xang: The path to “all” truth?


Dr. Nivaron: Yes.


Dr. Emrite: Wait a minute! I know where you’re going with this line of reasoning. You’re saying that Science and Religion both search for the same thing, “all truth.” But Science and Religion search for different truths, one of an empirical nature, and one of an experiential nature. This is not the same truth.


Dr. Nivaron: For once I agree with you Dr. Emrite!


Xing Xang: But if I understand you both correctly, doesn’t Science and Religion search for “all” truths about the world with which we live?


Dr. Emrite: Yes.


Dr. Nivaron: Yes, but what is your point?


Xing Xang: My point is that regardless of the methodology used if the ultimate goal is to obtain “all” truths, then all truths about the universe will be encompassed by the attainment of all truths. If it is not a truth it will not be encompassed. Scientific and Religious methodologies are but two sides of the same mountain. Upon reaching the summit one will have knowledge of all sides, and thus knowledge of all truths. So as I have said Religion and Science strive for the same goal. Moreover, they employ similar methods to attain this goal.


Dr. Emrite: How?


Xing Xang: Science and Religion use similar methods in which to seek these truths. Science uses measuring devices in which to observe and quantify the physical world. Religion uses subjective experience to qualify the feelings, emotions and thoughts related to the spiritual essence of being and the purposes that may entail. Science and Religion both rely on a “doctrine”, “procedure,” or “ritual” in which to execute their methodologies for perceiving and explaining the world in which we live. This then submits a “subjective interpretation” to what one has observed in relation to Science, and what one has experienced in relation to Religion. Once the interpretation has been made philosophical “discussions” and “conclusions” are then drawn to unify the findings into the “current thinking.” Underlying all of this requires a “faith” that the methodology used is correct or accurate enough to be “valid” and “reliable” for those who wish to follow the search or path to truth.

As can be seen from the words that I have used the Scientific and Religious terminology can be interchanged on the conceptual as well as semantic levels. Overall, if Science is to eventually strive to obtain explanation for the real physical world, do not thoughts, feelings, emotions, beliefs and mentality also constitute what's "real"? After all, I’m sure every sentient being can claim having real thoughts, feelings, emotions, beliefs and mentality!


If Religion is to strive to explain and soothe the troubles of the soul, even if we are mere physical manifestations of a higher being, does not the interaction of matter and force pervade and influence our every action? Would it not serve us to understand the nature of the physical to help us cope with the nature of the spiritual?


The way I see it, only with the implementation of Scientific and Religious methodologies can we ever hope to obtain truth. Only by comparison and integration of the objective and subjective, of matter and mind, of physical and mental can we ever hope to achieve truth. And only by comparison will we eventually see that two different sides of the mountain still belong to the same mountain!


Dr. Emrite: I’m sorry Xing Xang, I understand your point of view but I can’t accept it. I have and always will be a devout believer that in the end Science will shows us the true essence of the real world.


Dr. Nivaron: I’m sorry too Xing Xang, I understand your point of view but I can’t accept it either. There is thousands of years of psycho-spiritual evidence from billions of people supporting the view that Religion, the fundamental philosophy underpinning all philosophies, is the “explanator” of the real world.


Xing Xang: Gentlemen, I understand that you understand my point of view, as well as I understand yours. Therefore, I submit that we understand each other, and from that understanding we understand that we understand. And having journeyed by three different paths have we not ended up at the TRUTH!


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