Man, Science and Religion
By: Ayatullah Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari
The empirical method has been very useful in developing manís awareness of the precise order of creation, and, it may provide a clear and novel basis for belief in the Lord through its investigation of the order of creation, for it indicates the existence of a conscious and powerful Creator.
However, the aim and purpose of scientists in their researches and investigations into questions of nature and the mysteries of the world is generally not to perceive the Creator of existence. In the course of its continuous development at the hands of researchers, science is constantly uncovering the mysteries without the scientists emerging from the narrow and restricted knowledge given to them by the current stage of their researches. If they were to do so, they would realize the connectedness of phenomena and the subordination of all things to a given order, and thus, attaining two additional stages of knowledge and insight.
First, they would be able to correlate all their sensory, empirical data, and then they would be able to draw rational conclusions and make interpretations. Without admitting the existence of a wise Creator, it is impossible to interpret convincingly the totality of the varied data yielded by the different sciences and the connections existing among them.
Practically, however, the work and the method of scientific thought is to formulate principles and undertake research without reference to God, so that a system of thought from which God is absent becomes the axis on which scientific work turns, causing man to be alienated from whatever lies beyond the scope of that thought.
At the same time, manís practical life is inevitably connected with the sciences. The results yielded by empirical knowledge embrace all the material aspects of life, imprisoning man within their four impenetrable walls, and it is hardly possible to find any natural tool among the means of manís life. This necessarily increases manís trust in the sciences and affects his behavior, inducing in him a state of doubt and hesitation.
In addition, the beneficial nature of the phenomena investigated by empirical science is tangible and apparent to everyone, in sharp contrast to metaphysical questions. Similarly, the material phenomena investigated by empirical science are well-known, whereas the opposite is true in the case of metaphysics.
The presentation of religious questions in the incorrect method followed by the medieval church, combined with enmity to all manifestations of science, was the most important factor in making empirical science appear preferable to philosophical and metaphysical concerns. In short, science appeared to be opposed to religion, not parallel to it.
Once empirical logic succeeded in pouring all thoughts into its own mould, it colored menís outlook on the world to such a degree that they were convinced that it was the only basis for accepting the truth of a thing. They assigned it supreme authority and considered impossible to prove the existence of anything imperceptible to the senses.
So the empirical scientist, who is unaware of the method of those who know God, accepts and regards as proper, in the course of his life, whatever is compatible with scientific logic and thought. He grants himself the right to deny whatever is incompatible with his scientific method. His method is absolute trust in the experiment and regarding it as the sole proof for the correctness of any deduction.
In such a situation, when the whole basis of religious thought is ignored, the scientist finds himself without any principles for interpreting those secondary religious questions which appear in the form of commands and prohibitions.
Being totally accustomed to the language of science and dependent on formulae, he is utterly committed to his own method and imagines the binding, simple and straightforward commands of religion to be without content or value.
This manner of thought is faulty and incorrect. Although the sciences have complex and extraordinarily precise formulae, the comprehension of which requires profound and difficult study, those same formulae leave the realm of science once they enter our practical lives, distancing themselves from the technical language of the scientists. Were this not the case, they would be restricted to scientific and industrial centers, libraries and centers of research.
Everyone can make use of such facilities as the telephone and the radio. The same holds true of all scientific tools and instruments. For all their precision and complexity, a little specialized instructions will enable anyone to use them. The specialist and the expert donít pass on their mechanical, technical knowledge to the purchasers of the device; instead, they summarize in a few short sentences the result of the toils endured by the inventors.
Therefore, it is unfair and incompatible with scientific logic to attempt to force the commands of religion (which cannot be compressed into a scientific formula, being both simple and universal) into the mould of oneís own incorrect prejudice and imaginations, and then pronounce them worthless and insignificant, while ignoring their decisive role and their profound effects in our life. Practical instructions bear their fruit when they are proclaimed in a generally comprehensible language and become tangible for everyone in individual and social life.
Furthermore, if it were supposed that the commands and instructions of religions should be determined by our cognition, understanding and taste, there would be no need for revelation and prophets; we could construct our own religions.
Often man overlooks his weaknesses, preoccupied as he is with his strengths. The science worshipper of the contemporary world is so proud of his knowledge as a result of the progress that has been attained in the experimental sciences that he imagines himself to have conquered and triumphantly taken possession of the world of truth. But nobody has ever been able to claim that he has attained knowledge of all the mysteries of the universe and removed all the veils from the world of nature.
One must take a broader view of reality and realize how slight is oneís own drop of knowledge when compared to the ocean of hidden mysteries that confronts us. In the wake of every scientific discovery, a further series of unknown comes into view. Throughout the centuries that man has untiringly labored with all his resources to know the world as fully as possible, the only result of his exertions has been the discovery of a few among the many mysteries of the universe. Only a few short steps have been taken on this path, and there is a whole mass of unknown clustered around human knowledge like a cloud.
Therefore, one must assess more realistically the cognitive scope of the sensory sciences and their proper area of activity and influence. All preconceptions that are like barriers on the path to truth must be discarded in favor of a correct analysis.
Without doubt, the empirical sciences can inform us only of the external aspects of phenomena; it is only matter and material phenomena that come within the scope of their study and are susceptible to laboratory experimentation. The method of the sciences in attaining their goal, while seeking to benefit from each slight increment in knowledge, is observation and experiment. Since the fundamental concern of the empirical sciences is the investigation of the external world, in order to be sure that a certain scientific theory is correct, we must compare it with the external world to test it. If the external world effectively verifies it, we accept it; if it doesnít, we donít accept it. So considering the object and the method of the empirical sciences, we must ask whether metaphysical truths are subject to sensory test and experimentation? Does any empirical experiment have the right to intervene in matters of faith and belief? Is any part of the experimental sciences concerned with God?
To discover the correctness or incorrectness of a mater in the empirical sciences, it is necessary to make use of change and of the elimination of given factors and circumstances. This method isnít applicable to the eternal, immutable and supra-material divine existence.
Material knowledge is a lamp that can illumine certain unknown matters with its rays but it isnít a lamp that can eliminate all darkness. For the knowledge of a system is dependent on comprehension of the whole in its totality and a form of cognition that can unite all partial insights in itself, resulting in a total vision. Now, to imprison human knowledge in the narrow, restrictive confines of the sensory sciences cannot bring man to a total vision, but only to awareness of empirical phenomena combine with an unawareness of the inner dimension of being.
Whether we believe in God or not has, in fact, no connection with the empirical sciences, because since the object of their investigations is matter, the sciences that concern themselves with material phenomena donít have the right to express themselves affirmatively or negatively concerning any non-material subject.
According to the belief of religious schools of thought, God isnít a body. He cannot be perceived by the senses. He transcends time and place. He is a being Whose existence isnít subject to temporal limitation and place cannot restrict Him. Therefore, He is free of need and exalted in His essence above any kind of deficiency. He knows the inner as well as the outer aspect of the universe; the degree of every perfection and is loftier than whatever concerning ground of His essence, given the inadequacy of ourselves and of our powers, faculties and instruments of discernment.
For this reason if you study all the books of empirical sciences, you will not find the slightest mention of an experiment concerning God or any judgment offered concerning God.
Even if we do regard sense perception as the only means for discovering reality, we cannot prove, relying on sense perception, that nothing exists beyond the world of the senses. Such an assertion would, in itself, be non-empirical resting on no sensory or empirical proof.