Because “science” and “religion” defydefinition, discussing the relationship between science (in general)and religion (in general) may be meaningless. For example, Kelly Clark(2014) argues that we can only sensibly inquire into the relationshipbetween a widely accepted claim of science (such as quantum mechanicsor findings in neuroscience) and a specific claim of a particularreligion (such as Islamic understandings of divine providence orBuddhist views of the no-self).
Several typologies characterize the interaction between science andreligion. For example, Mikael Stenmark (2004) distinguishes betweenthree views: the independence view (no overlap between science andreligion), the contact view (some overlap between the fields), and aunion of the domains of science and religion; within those views herecognizes further subdivisions, e.g., the contact can be in the formof conflict or harmony. The most influential model of therelationships between science and religion remains Barbour’s(2000): conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration. Subsequentauthors, as well as Barbour himself, have refined and amended thistaxonomy. However, others (e.g., Cantor and Kenny 2001) have arguedthat it is not useful to understand past interactions between bothfields. For one thing, it focuses on the cognitive content ofreligions at the expense of other aspects, such as rituals and socialstructures. Moreover, there is no clear definition of what conflictmeans (evidential or logical). The model is not as philosophicallysophisticated as some of its successors, such as Stenmark’s(2004). Nevertheless, because of its enduring influence, it is stillworthwhile to discuss this taxonomy in detail.
From Newton to Faraday it is easy to see why science and faith walk together so naturally in the lives of many, united as they are by their unquenchable thirst for truth. Indeed, and perhaps counterintuitively to initial presumption, Faith has the advantage over science in proffering certainty, since ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (Hebrews Ch. 11, vs. 1), whereas every scientist is only too aware of the constant presence of cautionary error margins and the necessity of expressing results in terms of the often negligible accuracy that can be assumed; the very names of some scientific laws show just how nebulous our understanding can be — consider Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle! And yet the Christian is allowed that amazing privilege of certainty — it is not a cautious or timid belief, a clutching onto straws we are fervently hoping are actually there, but a firm standing upon the rock of assurance. The Christian may be assured and confident of their status before God, whilst joyfully exploring the marvellously complex and intricate world that he has bequeathed to us; science adds further joy to faith, and faith gives eternal meaning and purpose to the endeavours of science.
It is unclear whether religious and scientific thinking arecognitively incompatible. Some studies suggest that religion drawsmore upon an intuitive style of thinking, distinct from the analyticreasoning style that characterizes science (Gervais and Norenzayan2012). On the other hand, the acceptance of theological and scientificviews both rely on a trust in testimony, and cognitive scientists havefound similarities between the way children and adults understandtestimony to invisible entities in religious and scientific domains(Harris et al. 2006). Moreover, theologians such as the Church Fathersand Scholastics were deeply analytic in their writings, indicatingthat the association between intuitive and religious thinking might bea recent western bias. More research is needed to examine whetherreligious and scientific thinking styles are inherently intension.
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In the contemporary public sphere, the most prominent interactionbetween science and religion concerns evolutionary theory andcreationism/Intelligent Design. The legal battles (e.g., theKitzmiller versus Dover trial in 2005) and lobbying surrounding theteaching of evolution and creationism in American schools suggest thatreligion and science conflict. However, even if one were to focus onthe reception of evolutionary theory, the relationship betweenreligion and science is complex. For instance, in the United Kingdom,scientists, clergy, and popular writers, sought to reconcile scienceand religion during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, whereas the United States saw the rise of a fundamentalistopposition to evolutionary thinking, exemplified by the Scopes trialin 1925 (Bowler 2001, 2009).
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Others authors even go as far as to claim that Christianity was uniqueand instrumental in catalyzing the scientificrevolution—according to Rodney Stark (2004), the scientificrevolution was in fact a slow, gradual development from medievalChristian theology. Claims such as Stark’s, however, fail torecognize the legitimate contributions of Islamic and Greek scholars,to name just a few, to the development of modern science. In spite ofthese positive readings of the relationship between science andreligion in Christianity, there are sources of enduring tension. Forexample, there is (still) vocal opposition to the theory of evolutionamong Christian fundamentalists.
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A major impetus for Arabic science was the patronage of the Abbasidcaliphate (758–1258), centered in Baghdad. Early Abbasid rulers,such as Harun al-Rashid (ruled 786–809) and his successorAbū Jaʿfar Abdullāh al-Ma’mūn (ruled813–833), were significant patrons of Arabic science. The formerfounded the Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom), whichcommissioned translations of major works by Aristotle, Galen, and manyPersian and Indian scholars into Arabic. It was cosmopolitan in itsoutlook, employing astronomers, mathematicians, and physicians fromabroad, including Indian mathematicians and Nestorian (Christian)astronomers. Throughout the Arabic world, public libraries attached tomosques provided access to a vast compendium of knowledge, whichspread Islam, Greek philosophy, and Arabic science. The use of acommon language (Arabic), as well as common religious and politicalinstitutions and flourishing trade relations encouraged the spread ofscientific ideas throughout the empire. Some of this transmission wasinformal, e.g., correspondence between like-minded people (see Dhanani2002), some formal, e.g., in hospitals where students learned aboutmedicine in a practical, master-apprentice setting, and inastronomical observatories and academies. The decline and fall of theAbbasid caliphate dealt a blow to Arabic science, but it remainsunclear why it ultimately stagnated, and why it did not experiencesomething analogous to the scientific revolution in WesternEurope.