Visualising the relationship between science and religion
#1
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This note forms the basis of a session in my “Science and Religion” course as presented at Bahá'í residentials. The session is very consultative as we examine models that will address the relationship - I shall mention some of the outcomes at the end.

In his book Rocks of Ages (1999) the paleontologist and science writer Stephen Jay Gould set out what he described as "a blessedly simple and entirely conventional resolution to ... the supposed conflict between science and religion." He defines the term magisterium as "a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution" and described the NOMA (Non-Overlapping Magisteria) principle in which  "the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty)."
 
In Gould’s view, "Science and religion do not glower at each other... [but] interdigitate in patterns of complex fingering” and “NOMA enjoys strong and fully explicit support, even from the primary cultural stereotypes of hard-line traditionalism" and that it is "a sound position of general consensus, established by long struggle among people of goodwill in both magisteria."
 
In that same year, the National Academy of Sciences in the US adopted a similar stance. Its publication ‘Science and Creationism’ stated that "Scientists, like many others, are touched with awe at the order and complexity of nature. Indeed, many scientists are deeply religious. But science and religion occupy two separate realms of human experience. Demanding that they be combined detracts from the glory of each."
 
At first sight, NOMA is an appealing concept, a positive way of avoiding friction between the claims of religion and the claims of science (provided these are kept within their proper magisteria). But can they be so easily separated? Does it really boil down to a “sharks and tigers don’t fight” scenario?
 
Richard Dawkins has criticized the NOMA principle on the grounds that religion does not, and cannot, steer clear of the material scientific matters that Gould considers outside religion's scope. Dawkins argues that "[a] universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without. [...] Religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims.”.
 
I think Dawkins is more in line with Bahá’í beliefs. We do accept the occasional irruption of the religious into the physical world – when it happens we call it a miracle – and we also accept that prayer can bring results in this world without violation of physical laws and not just through positive empowerment of the person praying. (How? That’s a subject for another article.)
 
So how to visualise the relationship, if indeed we can visualise it in simple terms? At this point, the group starts to play with diagrams – the science box fully inside the religion box (traditional religion?), science and religion as a Venn diagram with some overlap (acknowledging Dawkins’ objection but not really showing unity) and more. On the last occasion, I presented this course a science-trained participant came up with the best idea so far: a 3D model shaped like a thick coin, with the edge marked Truth and with faces marked Science and Religion. It would be interesting to hear the ideas of others.
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#2
The Universal House of Justice, the governing body of the Baha'i Faith, wrote:
"Just as there are laws governing our physical lives, requiring that we must supply our bodies with certain foods, maintain them within a certain range of temperatures, and so forth, if we wish to avoid physical disabilities, so also there are laws governing our spiritual lives. These laws are revealed to mankind in each age by the Manifestation of God, and obedience to them is of vital importance if each human being, and mankind in general, is to develop properly and harmoniously. Moreover, these various aspects are interdependent. If an individual violates the spiritual laws for his own development he will cause injury not only to himself but to the society in which he lives. Similarly, the condition of society has a direct effect on the individuals who must live within it."
(Letter from the Universal House of Justice, dated February 6, 1973, to all National Spiritual Assemblies, in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986: The Third Epoch of the Formative Age, par. 126.)

It also wrote:
"Religion is religion, as science is science. The one discerns and articulates the values unfolding progressively through Divine revelation; the other is the instrumentality through which the human mind explores and is able to exert its influence ever more precisely over the phenomenal world. The one defines goals that serve the evolutionary process; the other assists in their attainment. Together, they constitute the dual knowledge system impelling the advance of civilization. Each is hailed by the Master as an "'effulgence of the Sun of Truth'".
(The Universal House of Justice - One Common Faith)

Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith and one its divinely appointed interpreters, has stated that the Faith is "scientific in its method."

From these three statements, we can discern two fundamental concepts in the harmony of science and religion, first that both the physical and spiritual realms are governed by laws, and second that the goals of science and religion are complementary but distinct to some degree. In other words, the Baha'i view supports a more relaxed version of NOMA, overlap being in method of inquiry and the foundational belief that both the spiritual and physical domains are governed by law rather than being chaotic.
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