Does religion require faith from start to end whereas science requires faith only occasionally?

by Chaitanya CharanJune 16, 2014

Transcription by– Keshavgopal Das & Ambuj Gupta

Question: Does science require faith only occasionally whereas religion requires faith right from its beginning to the end?

Answer: Not at all.

Firstly, the word religion can mean many things and not all religions are of the same intellectual depth or of the same level of experiential potency. That means not all religions have same philosophy that is equally deep and not all religions offer systematic processes that can give experience of higher reality. We can’t make general statements about all religions but we can focus on the teachings of the Vedic wisdom tradition. We see that here the Vedic tradition doesn’t begin with faith, it begins with reason, enquiry and curiosity, athato brahma jigyasa. The phrase athato brahma jigyasa is the first verse in the Vedanta Sutra and therefore (athato), athato means we observe the world around us and we think, why do I exist? Is there any purpose beyond this world because everything in this world and I am also going to die. Brahma refers to the ultimate realities, spiritual reality. So based on reason and rational contemplation, athatho therefore brahma, is there something beyond matter, enquire (jigyasa). The Vedic tradition doesn’t begin with the call for faith. It begins a call for curiosity, brahma jigyasa. Eventually when one understands the scripture and understands the conception of God and glory of God then there is faith element. But there is also a process by which one can get perception of higher reality. The process of yoga involves disconnecting us from material things and connecting us with Krishna by which we get experience of the higher reality.

pratyakṣāvagamaṁ dharmyaṁsu-sukhaṁ kartum avyayam

(BG 9.2)

Krishna says pratyakṣāvagamaṁ dharmyaṁ, that we can get direct experience of the truth. Science, because it focus on external material things, it does experiments. Spirituality, because it focus on internal things, so there is experience. Spirituality is also scientific in the sense that it is the experiential science.

There is faith but that faith is confirmed by experience. So initially there is inquisitiveness and along with inquisitiveness there is an idea, ok, is there something beyond this world? There is some faith in that also. But it begins with more of the exploration of the world. In that sense the Vedic tradition actually appeals not just to our faith but appeals to our intelligence, our rationality, our enquiry.

Does science requires faith only occasionally? Actually science begins with faith. How is that? Paul Davies is a famous physicist and he says that actually for a scientist to function, he must adopt the theological mind set. Theological means connected with God. He doesn’t mean that every scientist has to become a theist or believer in God but has to adopt that mind set. That means science works on the faith that nature has a rationally intelligible order to it and that rationally intelligible order is accessible to our mind.

To some extent our current scientific research is that Newton found the laws of motion and as science has progressed more and more laws have been found. But as we have gone deep into the particle physics at a level of fundamental particles then instead of order we have seen chaos. The impetus for research is that underlying that chaos there is order. In fact, no scientist will not be able to do any research unless one has that faith actually there is an order in the universe. When we say Newton’s law of motion, we obviously know that it is not Newton who made the laws. He merely discovered the laws. But most importantly when he observed he had that intuitive faith that there must be some order behind it. I think Thy thoughts after Thee. So he believed that it is God who has designed the world, so he was looking at God. So he felt there is an order in the universe. The point is that if science did not begin with this faith, this faith is not necessarily faith in God. There are two distinct steps over here- first step is that science has faith that there is order in nature. Then the second question comes up that what is the source of that order. Scientists, if they are atheistic, then they may say this order has come by chance, by natural selection or whatever but the point is even atheists can do scientific research only when they assume that there is a order in the universe. This assumption is an article of faith. That’s why science begins with faith.

Paul Davies says that scientist cannot move forward without adopting theological mind set. Science in that sense as Shriniwas Ramanujan, India’s great mathematician, say that the equation for me has no meaning unless it is a thought of God. Basically what this means is that science also begins with faith and without this faith there will be no science. Not only that along with that there are many other elements of faith. There is faith that our senses give us perception of things that are factual. If our senses were considered to be unreliable then what would happen is we would not be able to measure anything. If we can’t measure properly than we will not be able to verify anything. Therefore science has faith that our senses give us actual perception of reality. Now off course as quantum physics has come up, it has challenged this faith because quantum physics holds that everything is made of waves and what we see solid particles, this not the actual nature of reality. In fact many quantum physicists has dismissed the idea that reality as we see it is naïve realism. Then how do they do further research? They just rely only on mathematics. So instead of having faith in sensory perception, they put faith in mathematical calculation. So they have to put faith somewhere and beyond that when scientists observe data then they try to discern a pattern in that data. First of all to do an experiment, scientists have to have a faith that this experiment or this observation will be able to catch or note the particles that we are trying to observe. Similarly they also have to have faith that whatever experiments they do, the data after the experiments have been done, then scientist try to make a pattern out of that. Choosing that pattern is also an act of faith.

So if there are six points, what sort of graph to draw through that points, that is a matter of choice. When one chooses one thing then one doesn’t know necessarily that it is right. So it’s an act of faith. Science also requires faith. This is not to say that science is not rational because it requires faith. It is just that every human endeavor requires faith. Just as spirituality requires faith, similarly science also requires faith. What we should recognize is that science focuses primarily on material things and spirituality focuses on spiritual things. But essentially both use rationality and both use faith. Thank you.

Physicist Paul Davies: “Science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview … even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith  the existence of a law-like order in nature that is at least in part comprehensible to us”.


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Chaitanya Charan

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