Wednesday, April 7, 2010

History, science and religion

We often view these three disciplines of study as separate endeavors, each bounded by their own methods, aims and theory’s. History being an enquiry into the past, religion being a call to faith, and a provider of a set of beliefs and underlying values, and science being an ongoing investigation into how our world, and that beyond it works. What is also evident is that these three areas are all inextricably linked in more than one way. A pair of questions that demonstrate this suggestion would be:

  • How has our understanding of history and/or science affected our understanding of religion over time?
  • Conversely, how has our sense of religious boundary affected our study of history and/or science?

In regards to the first question, we must not fail to identify one important fact. Attitudes to religious practice have changed significantly over time. What caused this…our developing understanding of history and science of course. As we realize that divine/supernatural causation (in a historical or scientific mindset) can be discounted as a legitimate means of explaining creation, then our attitude towards our faith changes. This development is demonstrated through the ages, and is evident in the changing methods of historians over time, from Herodotus to Thucydides to more modern historical enquirers, with an increasing emphasis being placed on scientific truth rather than religious truth. In this sense, context is the key. Ancient historians legitimately felt that supernatural causation was in fact a true method of creation, as their contextual society tells them this. As we progressed, and science became a more prominent endeavor, this continued, until the present day, where we discount religious truth in historical/scientific investigations, and vice versa.

As we know also, our sense of religious boundary has also affected our study of the histories and sciences. I’m sure people like Galileo, persecuted for developing (as we are aware now) perfectly justifiable scientific theories, but upsetting the ruling church could tell you. I guess it is fair enough that the church becomes uneasy that people are using new historical and scientific knowledge, which directly questions what the church teaches.

All in all, while they are all linked in some way or another, I think it comes down to one thing. Faith vs. Scrutiny. Religion is there to provide us with a method of approaching life in a way that maximizes our positivity towards each other and ourselves, and is there for faith, rather than scrutiny. On the other hand, the practices of history and science are very much areas of scrutiny, and continually trying to achieve a higher sense of historical/scientific truth, without the need for faith.

A rather opinionated discussion really... But if you think I’ve missed anything of note, feel free to leave a comment, and I will do my best to treat your opinion with what it deserves =P.


  1. In terms of a perceived conflict of interests, if one is talking about the Catholic church, one must realise that this church does not agree with the concept of creationism (the 7 day approach to the origin of Earth), but seeks truth in the message outside the literal boundary. There are other variants of Christianity who still maintain this position - for this reason there has been conflict in the USA over what should be taught in schools - whether children should be exposed to this way of explaining creation.

    One must remember that the bible is to be interpreted for its profound religious truth.

    The perceived rift between science and religion ignores the fact that they can complement each other. For some, scientific discoveries (ie. amazing Hubble telescope vision into outer space) make the universe more spectacular and wondrous. Thus, a view about the creation of the universe in light of these scientific discoveries can be better appreciated as a gift to humanity. It is this wonder and awe that motivates people to be stewards to the earth and look after the natural world.

    Furthermore, in complementing each other (faith, history and science), humans can find answers to the questions which needs to be asked. Religion answers questions which science cannot answer. Science answers questions which religion does not address. But a balanced, open-minded view, accepting both is a powerful tool for understanding the world and the place of humanity.

  2. joe why are you following the blog secretly? hahah

    u shld just follow it publicly no?

    like your comments tho. always intriguing to see what u have to say hahah

  3. i don't mind giving my two cents worth

  4. I think this entire arguement is fundamentally about power. The church (or whatever religious institution) has held onto this power for centuries. They are threatened by the science because they know that scientific advances and knowledge decrease the power of the church. Knowledge is power, right? If man understands why the natural world works the way it does, he doesn't need the church to explain it to him. The church looses power.

    But now, we have science as the new bully in town. Centuries ago, science and scientists searched for truth. They admitted failure and used that to help them discover truth. It doesn't work that way anymore. We develop a hypothesis, and soon it is just accepted as truth, and any attempt to deny it as truth is met with harsh criticism and sometimes banishment from the scientific community.

    And history is just the rope being tugged between the two. We can never know the truth about history because it is generally the winners who decide what is to be taught in history classes. Again it all boils down to power.

    Just my thoughts on the subject =).

  5. A very complex subject, which I think you've summarized very well. The crux of the debate, in my opinion, is 'knowledge'. What is it, and how is it used?

    If you're interested, I discussed the relationship between science and religion at length in the following post:

  6. Elani and Dennis. thank you for your thoughts. and yes, it is very much an issue of a vast power struggle between a range of schools of thought and study. A VERY complex subject, and the range of individual interpretation at work makes it impossible to pinpoint the exact crossover points between the 3.

    If you guys wish to follow the blog, i'll be posting a number of discussions of issues similar to this one. hope you enjoy it anyway.

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