Is science based on rational faith and religion on irrational faith?

by Chaitanya Charan dasJune 16, 2014

Answer Podcast

Transcription by– Keshavgopal Das & Ambuj Gupta

Question: Is science based on rational faith and religion on irrational faith?

Answer: Not at all.

Actually rather than simplistically apportioning rationality to science and irrationality to spirituality we have to recognize that both have rational and trans-rational elements.

Off course some of the scientific theory which fall more appropriately in the arena of science fiction can be irrational also. Some of the beliefs that some people who follow certain religions may have, they may also be irrational.

But first of all with respect to science, celebrate physicist John Polkinghorne says that physics is powerless to explain its faith in the mathematical intelligibility of the universe. What he is saying over here? “The mathematical intelligibility of the universe” means that mathematics is some sort of calculation that we make. We basically think of mathematics as a tool to make calculations, to add, to subtract. Why should nature which scientist who think that there is nothing beyond matter believe that it is simply rising from fundamental particles upwards, why should that follow the laws of nature? Why should randomly moving neutrons and protons from an atom which forms covalent bonds and which form substances that follow the law F=Gm1m2/r2 or they follow the E = mc2. These are mathematically precise laws. Why does nature follow laws but not only just laws but mathematically precise laws? The mathematically intelligibility of the universe is itself a great mystery.

If we just begin with materialism itself, matter is unconscious and will just fall apart. If just keep up a pile of construction material near building site and leave it for six months then it will just get eroded or spread away by the wind and in other ways dissipated. It won’t construct itself into a building and certainly not construct itself into a precise building with perfect height, width and location of windows and certainly not at a certain time, say that at the time of the particular equinox or particular solstice, things are visible exactly like that. If you saw something like that, you know that this has to be designed by someone. If science doesn’t start with God, if science starts only with matter, than there is no rationality in the idea that matter will organize itself because matter does not have consciousness, matter does not have rationality. Then how does it organize itself? But if we does not assume that it organize itself then the result would be that we would not be able to do any scientific research. Science has that faith. One thing is there is mathematically intelligibility in the universe and second is science has that faith that we will be able to discover it. Thirdly, what is being emphasized is that physics is helpless to explain its faith in the mathematically intelligibility of the universe. Why should we believe that there has something like this?

Now physics in and of itself, being a study of matter cannot talk about God directly. That is more in the arena of metaphysics. Physics by itself cannot point to God as an explanation. When we move from physics to the philosophy of physics or science then we can posit God as a rational explanation. But in and of itself physics requires the faith that universe is mathematically intelligible. So it has mathematical order to it and we can discern that mathematical order. Where did that mathematical order come from? How their minds get the capacity to discern that mathematical order? These are things which physics cannot provide answer. Physics simply has that faith. So from the point of view of physics we could call this irrational faith. It’s not irrational in the sense that if we consider that universe is a result of a supremely rational being. That’s how there can be rationality. But from the point of view of physics if we study only matter than it is a leap of faith which physics takes and there is no reason for taking that leap of faith if we only assume matter itself to be the cause of everything. So we could say that science operates on faith that is not exactly rational, from a point view of rigid rationality that rules out anything transcendental.

Now there are many ideas within physics also, for example in quantum physics, which are not particularly rational. The idea in quantum physics that the nature of the observed reality depends on the observer. That’s a complex subject but Einstein naturally ridiculed it and he said the moon continues to exist even if I am not looking at it. So now we would say that isn’t that obvious but actually according certain interpretation quantum theory says no. Everything is just waves, so how those waves coagulate or coalesce or whatever in such a way that we get the appearance of a moon. That is difficult to explain for quantum physics. There are many aspects of string theory, M- theory which are actually more of science fiction and they are many of them are irrational. So science also has irrational elements to it or some scientific theories which have no basis they can be well classed as irrational. Science may also has some aspects which are trans rational in the sense that there may be order in it which we cannot understand right now. The notion that there is mathematically intelligible order to the universe, that is trans rational within science if we understand transcendental reality.

When we come to religion, religion is often filled with dogmas and rituals but spirituality is more a exploration of the higher dimensions of reality and it has theoretic as well as a experimental or experiential aspect to it. ________ begins with rationality. I exist, things around me exist. Where did it all come from? I see order around me in the world, Where did the order come from? I don’t want to die. I want to live forever yet everything around me is temporary. Where has my longing for everlasting existence come from? These are rational questions and these questions have rational answers is philosophy and that philosophy leads to spirituality.

In this way there is rationality even in the spiritual dimension. Off course some people may have some believes in some strange things which can be irrational and there can be something which are trans rational in the sense that, because God is omnipotent and He can do certain things which we cannot conceive with our rationality. Therefore there are trans rational aspects to it also. So essentially we understand that God has given us rationality and that rationality we can use to understand science and we can use to understand spirituality with science to explore the material dimension and spirituality explore the transcendental dimension. In both some people can come up the idea which are irrational but both involve rational aspects and then both involve leaps of faith which takes us to trans rational aspects. Now science, even by going through rational and trans rational can only point towards the eternal spiritual reality because it focus primarily on study of matter. Whereas spirituality not only give us understanding but also give us the experience by raising our consciousness and liberating us to spiritual eternal level. Thank you.

Professor Sir John Polkinghorne: “Physics is powerless to explain its faith in the mathematical intelligibility of the universe.”

About The Author
Chaitanya Charan das

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