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Are Science and Religion in Conflict

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However, some agnostics would argue that science and religion are totally unrelated; as such, they believe that science is increasingly treading on theological turf. British evolutionary biologist and writer Richard Dawkins, well-known for his fervent opposition to religion, thinks that, “Science... has many of religion's virtues; it has none of its vices. Science is based upon verifiable evidence. Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops”. In addition, Dawkins decidedly states that there is a conflict between science and religion: “Religions have historically always attempted to answer the questions that properly belong to science”.

He thinks that open confrontation is inevitable and “religions should not be allowed now to retreat away from the ground upon which they have traditionally attempted to fight. They do offer both a cosmology and a biology; however, in both cases it is false”.

Basing on this last thought that religious books cannot be an authority on scientific questions, there have been attempts to prove that descriptions of natural phenomena, as found in the Bible or the Quran, are actually wrong. This is how one critic refutes Quranic embryological insights: “Quran’s assertion on Clot (alaqa) is completely wrong about human development, since there is absolutely no stage during which the embryo consists of a clot”. He proceeds to argue that the only possibility for an embryo to appear like a clot would be in case of a miscarriage, when the clotted blood is solidified, and the embryo itself is no longer alive, becoming but “a dead mass of bloody miscarrying flesh”.

There are, however, some faults to be found with these statements, and there are certain factors that were not taken into account either by this second critic, or by Richard Dawkins. Let us first consider the allegation that an embryo does not in any way resemble a “clot”. Collins Dictionary defines a “clot” as “a soft thick lump or mass” (Collins, 2006), and a picture of an unformed human embryo would prove it to be quite similar to a clot, indeed “clinging” (alaq) to the umbilical cord.

It is also important to remember that the Quran is, among other things, a work of art, employing numerous poetic devices, such as similes, to inspire admiration and devotion in the reader or listener. As can be seen from Surah 2:26, the Quran itself acknowledges this use: “Allah disdains not to use the similitude of things lowest as well as highest”. Of course, an embryo is not simply a clot of blood, but there still is a striking visual resemblance between the two. To return to a quotation made earlier in this paper, “this leech-like clot clinging to the side of the uterus... is an accurate description of what it looks like under a microscope” (my italics).

Now let us turn to Richard Dawkins’s statement that, “religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops”. This thesis about incompatibility of non-evidential faith and evidence-dependent science is disproved by the fact that some of the most important scientists throughout history have been attested to believe in God, thus proving religion and science to be fully compatible. Such famous Eastern polymaths as Averroes, Avicenna and Omar Khayyam were all of Muslim faith, belonging to an enlightened epoch of scientific and cultural growth known as Islamic Golden Age. This fact alone should suffice to refute any statement about the impossibility to reconcile science and religious conviction.

Having considered the arguments for and against the original thesis that religion and science are not in conflict, I have found it to be true, and the evidence against the possibility of peaceful coexistence to be lacking and easily refutable by counter-arguments. In addition, upon examining the Quranic foreshadowing of the theory of expanding universe, embryogenesis and the water cycle, we have found that religion can actually be a valuable complement, and not a hindrance, to scientific progress. As a number of Muslim scholars are convinced, “rationalist scientific thought combined with Islam would lead to social reform and progress” (McAuliffe, 2007, p. 280).

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