by V. V. Raman
from the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science
The benefits that humanity has derived from scientific knowledge and its applications range from the eradication of dark-age superstitions and effective cure for diseases to never-before-imagined creature-comforts and ease of communication and travel. With all that, science’s framework is neither appreciated nor embraced whole-heartedly by the general public. Instead, there are doubts about science’s capacity for objective knowledge, suspicions about its goals, and charges to the effect that it has landed us in life-threatening environmental predicaments. There are deep concerns about its sweeping epistemology that forecloses important dimensions of traditional religious worldviews.
It is also a historical fact that many creative thinkers and scientists in all cultures have been religious. So a group of scientists and scholars founded The Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS) in 1954. One purpose of IRAS is “to formulate dynamic and positive relationships between the concepts developed by science and the goals and hopes of humanity expressed through religion.” Another is to foster values that have universal and cross-cultural validity.
What the founders wisely realized was that religions play important roles in human culture, and that unless they are informed and transformed by science they could stagnate and become anachronistic. The less desirable aspects of religion have provoked the New Atheist movement, while the actualization of some of the catastrophic potential of technology and the faith-devaluing proclamations of some scientists have pushed many to the fundamentalist wings of religion.
Religions are coming back to the public arena with a zest that is heartening to their followers. But some of their expressions are disturbing, such as the anti- science stance of those who, for example, call for the teaching of ancient worldviews on cosmogenesis, anthropogenesis, astrology, and the like in schools. The resurgence of religions is also of concern to many because some of its expressions are associated with bigotry, hate, and intolerance. But it would be rash to conclude from all this that religions are intrinsically maleficent enterprises. It cannot be denied that religions have been the source of wisdom and some enlightened ethics, and have contributed abundantly to art and architecture, music, poetry and sophisticated philosophy. They also give meaning to individual lives, and comfort from convictions on matters relating to the Ultimate.
There is a crying need to bridge the chasms between the opposing forces that keep us in tension everywhere. The metaphor of the bridge is to remind us that though the chasms cannot be wished away we should never forget we are interconnected, and that we can visit the islands of separation for better mutual understanding.