Religion and Scientific Reasoning


Many people are under the impression that religious truths cannot be proved scientifically. But inferring truths from things, as religion does, is the very reasoning which scientists employ in their everyday deductions.

In ancient times water was just water. Then, in the 19th century, the microscope was invented. When water was looked at under a microscope, it was discovered that water was not just water; it also contained countless live bacteria. In the same way man used to think that there were no more stars in the sky than those which can be seen with the naked eye. But in modem times the sky has been examined with telescopes and many more stars than can be seen with the naked eye have been discovered.

These two examples show the difference between ancient and modem times. Modern research has shown with certainty that there are many more realities than man had previously thought when he was limited to the sphere of simple observation. But these new discoveries so excited those who were making them that they made another claim: that reality is that which can be directly observed; that which we can not experience or observe is mere hypothesis, and does not exist.

In the nineteenth century this claim was made with great enthusiasm. It was most damaging to religion. Religious creeds are based on belief in the unseen; they cannot be directly observed or experienced. For this reason many people came to think of religion as hypothetical and unreal.

Twentieth century research has completely changed this state of affairs. Advanced study has shown that there is more to life than meets the eye: all the great realities of life lie beyond our comprehension.

According to Bertrand Russell there are two forms of knowledge: “Knowledge of Things” and “Knowledge of Truths”. Only “Things” can be directly observed: “Truths” can only be understood by indirect observation, or, in other words, inference. The existence of light, gravity, magnetism and nuclear energy in the universe is an undisputed fact, but man cannot directly observe these things. He knows them only by their effects. Man discovers certain “Things” from which he infers the existence of “Truths”.

This change in the concept of knowledge which occurred in the twentieth century changed the whole situation radically. Man was forced to accept the existence of things which he could not directly see, but only indirectly experience. With this intellectual revolution the difference between seen and unseen – reality disappeared. Invisible objects became as important as visible objects. Man was compelled to accept that the indirect, or inferential argument, was academically as sound as direct argument.

This change in the concept of knowledge has, in the present age, made divine reasoning truly scientific. For instance, the greatest argument for religion is what philosophers call the argument from design. Nineteenth century scholars, in their zeal, did not accept this reasoning. To them it was an inferential argument which could not be accepted academically. But in the present age this objection has been invalidated. Nowadays man is compelled to infer the existence of a designer of the universe from the existence of a design in the universe, just as he accepts the theory of the flow of electrons from the movement of a wheel.

A statement of Bertrand Russell throws some light on this matter. In the preface to his book; “Why I Am Not a Christian” he writes: “I think all the great religions of the world-Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Communism both untrue and harmful. It is evident as a matter of logic that, since they disagree, not more than one of them can be true. With very few exceptions, the religion which a man accepts is that of the community in which he lives, which makes it obvious that the influence of environment is what has led him to accept the religion in question. It is true that Scholastics [Adhering rigidly to scholarly methods; pedantic, Characterized by a narrow, often ostentatious concern for book learning and formal rules] invented what professed to be logical arguments proving the existence of God, and that these arguments, or others of a similar tenor, have been accepted by many eminent philosophers, but the logic to which these traditional arguments appealed is of an antiquated Aristotelian sort which is now rejected by practically all logicians except such as are Catholics. There is one argument that is purely logical. I mean the argument from ‘Design’. This argument, however, was destroyed by Darwin; and in any case, could only be made logically acceptable at the cost of abandoning God’s omnipotence [Having unlimited or universal power, authority, or force; all-powerful.].”

Arguing the existence of a Designer from Design is, as Russell admits, a scientific argument in itself. It is the very argument which science uses to prove anything. Russell then rejects this argument by citing Darwin’s theory of evolution. This rejection would only be (considered) acceptable if Darwin’s theory was itself scientifically established. But scientific research has proved Darwinism to be mere hypothesis, rather than established scientific fact. [Even if hypothetically Darwin’s theory of evolution is accepted, the argument of Design is not negated, because the Evolution could be part of His Design of Creation]. Thus it is Russell’s first statement, therefore, concerning the validity of the argument from Design that must prevail. His rejection of that argument on the basis of Darwinism is groundless.

[By Maulana Waheed uddin Khan, courtesy Monthly Tazkeer, January 2009, Lahore Pakistan ]



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