Religion and Science Are Often Placed Term Paper

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Religion and Science are often placed in conflict because they seem to be at odds over certain key questions about the nature of the universe and the relationship of the human community to that universe. Human beings have from the beginning tried to discover the relationship between themselves and the universe in which they live. They noted the life cycle of birth, life, and death and wondered if there was something more beyond, and this is a question that has been addressed by religion and philosophy ever since. Religion simply accepts a belief in the immortality of the soul as a matter of faith, while philosophy seeks a logical proof of immortality. Millions believe in the reality of the soul and continue to ask questions about what it is, where it is found, and whether it survives death, seeing emotions as an expression of the soul, while many scientists see emotions as another biological process. Philosophy is closer to science than religion and indeed would be the source for the scientific method that would eventually separate science from philosophy, placing science even.

Alister E. McGrath finds that both science and religion make use of "models" or "analogies" to depict complex entities. Each uses these "visual aids" in different ways. McGrath also cites Pilkington to the effect that both disciplines often speak of entities which are not directly observable and the use these analogies to create a useful picture of them (McGrath 144).

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In the natural sciences, the models are used to represent complex systems. Once such a model has been constructed, it can be used to include certain more complex features of the system that were initially ignored in making the model. The model can be represented by one or more formulas and may indicate expected outcomes from different types of observation. A simple model might not include all the possible outcomes, but a more complex model can be developed to include more data and more outcomes.

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Models are also used to represent ideas in religion. The use of the principle of analogy in religion was started by Thomas Aquinas, who saw in the fact that God had created the world an "analogy of being" between God and the world:

There is a continuity between God and the world on account of the expression of the being of God in the being of the world. For this reason, it is legitimate to use entities within the created order as analogies to God. (McGrath 150)

Other ideas about God and His relation to the world and to the human being are also expressed in analogous form in order to help the believer visualize the relationship and to understand it as he or she would understand the relationship in the real world that is being used for the analogy.

The stories or models created in religion can take the form of myths, seen by Eliade as something that is living and so "supplies models for human behavior and, by that very fact, gives meaning and value to life" (Eliade 2). Much of what Eliade says refers to primitive mythologies which have a very direct influence on behavior and belief systems, but it is true that these myths have power in more advanced societies as well and much of the same effect in deciding how human should behave and even why they behave as they do.

The most prevalent model for religion is faith, meaning that knowledge is to be accepted because it is part of the doctrine of the church. The prevailing model in science is the scientific method, which follows certain steps in order to identify knowledge and separate knowledge from myth. The first step is observation and a description of the phenomenon that is being observed. This sets the parameters for a given inquiry and provides the question to be explored and the context in which it is found. Based on these observations, a hypothesis is formulated for the second step, a hypothesis that explains the phenomenon described. The third step is to make use of the hypothesis in order to predict the existence of other phenomena or the results of new observations, results that can be quantified. The fourth step is to perform experimental tests of these predictions, using several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments to produce a conclusion that either supports or refutes the hypothesis.

The observation stage can take several forms, and the observer identifies variables that seem to have an influence on some behavior. A variable is any quantity that can take on two or more values. Identifying these variables provides a set of values to be explored in later stages.

The next step then is to formulate tentative explanations showing how the variables are thought to influence the behavior. These are tentative explanations forming hypotheses to be tested. The hypothesis links two variables using a statement showing the expected relationship between them.

The third stage is that of further observation and experimentation. This is the essence of the scientific method, the use of research to test the hypotheses that have been developed before. The researcher devises a test that will enable him or her to see how the variables affect the behavior, usually to quantify the reaction so that there is data for others to test in order to prove the thesis valid or show where the experiment has gone awry.

The last step is refining and retesting these explanations, though this is rarely the last step but only the beginning of further observations, new hypotheses, and new tests. The scientific method provides evidence of the testing of hypotheses that can be replicated by others and that can contribute to the development of new hypotheses, so it is an ongoing process and not a closed process.

Religious faith does not follow any of these steps, and indeed observation is not even part of the process. Religious faith is gained not through observation but revelation, meaning the truth is revealed in the religious texts produced through time. Even those texts are gained from some spiritual insight or direct contact with a spiritual being and not on the basis of observation and testing. The model is based on the belief that the truth has already been revealed in the doctrines of the church and can be rediscovered again and again by those who will accept this model and live it.

The scientific approach does not make this assumption, and in fact is based on the idea that even accepted knowledge should be tested again and again to assure that it remains valid and that later knowledge has not altered its effectiveness. The scientific method is based on asking questions and then testing to see how valid the questions are. Good research questions make clear the variables that are being linked and what sort of data will either prove or disprove the hypotheses involved. In order to create a valid test, the question must address the issues and variables found by observation and do so in a way that provides meaningful data. The questions must be answerable, but they need to be more. The issue being investigated should be important and so worth the time and effort that must be put into testing and proving it. The question can be considered important if it can clarify relationships among variables known to affect the system studied. A question may also be important because it supports only one of several competing hypotheses, allowing the researcher to hone in on the most proper interpretation of the data. A question may also be important if it leads to a practical application, but the fact that there is no practical application does not negate its importance. Theoretical knowledge is also vitally important and may lead to practical applications sometime in the future.

A question can be considered unimportant if it would provide an answer that is already firmly established, meaning that the results have been replicated by other scientists who agree that the finding does take place under the stated circumstances. If there is any dispute, of course, the question may need further investigation. A question can be important if it would lead to new information about an accepted theory, or move an issue in a new direction.

A good research question is one that addresses the area of research. It need not be unique, but it needs to fulfill the other requirements. The question should also pose a challenge to assumptions about an issue. The question must be such that it can be researched. This means that it is possible to collect evidence that could answer the question, in whatever form that evidence might take. Some questiosn cannot be answered either because they are too broad or because they would require a type of evidence that cannot now be gathered. The question therefore also has to be something that can be tested in the given time and with the existing resources, otherwise it is a question that may have to be… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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