Is there a conflict between religion and science?
Seeing religion and science or scientific studies as two conflicting disciplines
is a product of the Western attitude towards religion and science. In order
to understand the background of the historical conflicts between science and
Christianity in the West, we should first discuss the main reasons why sciences
have developed in the West in recent centuries.
● What are the main reasons why sciences have developed
in the West in recent centuries?
While studying the reasons why sciences have developed in the West in recent
centuries, we should not forget that the main reason is the influence of the
Islamic civilization. Since this is a known fact and has already been mentioned
above, in the lines to come, we will concentrate upon three of the other factors�namely,
changing Western way of thinking, Protestanism and geogragphical discoveries
Christianity and changing Western way of thinking
When, after years of struggle and the lives of thousands of martyrs, Christianity
became the state religion of the Roman Empire, it found itself in a climate
where Epicurean and naturalistic attitudes prevailed and human knowledge was
The teaching of Jesus, which would later be called Christianity, won the
victory in its struggle with the Roman Empire but unfortunately at the expense
of losing its original identity and purity. Besides, deviating from being a
middle way as a God-revealed religion, theoretically it restricted itself to
love and condemned nature as a veil separating man from God. Also, influenced
by Near Eastern religions like Mithraism and Manichaism, it tended to become
a completely mystical religion. However, the earth or nature is seen in Islam
and, of course, in God-revealed religions, as a realm where God�s Most Beautiful
Names are manifested, a realm on which minds should reflect in order to reach
God Almighty, and which is itself a reflection of Paradise.
Certainly, it was the Church which, having announced itself as the body of
Christ enjoying his authority, shaped Christianity in the mould explained above
and later campaigned to seize, besides its spiritual, the worldly power also.
In the centuries during which the West was under the dominion of the Church,
a magnificent civilization flourished in the Muslim East. As a result of the
West�s contact with this civilization through the Crusades and by way of Andalusia,
the West had also the opportunity to learn about antiquity. Greek philosophy,
especially Aristotelianism, Roman naturalism and also Greek Epicurism and hedonism
found their way into Western thinking. When this Western awakening to antiquity
through the translations from Arabic and by way of the Muslim centers of learning
in Andalusia and Sicily, was united with Western envy of the prosperity of the
Muslim East, the ground was prepared for the Renaissance.
Western ways of thinking changed greatly. The �iron wall� between Western
attitudes and Islam which the Church had built up over centuries, caused this
change to evolve against religion. Having feared that it would lose its worldly
power, the Church severely resisted this change. The corrupted Bible was no
longer able to answer the questions that arose in inquiring minds about creation
and the order of the universe. The Old Testament had been lost long centuries
before during the Assyrian invasion of Jerusalem. The texts to hand were written
down by Jewish scholars, who certainly had in mind the problems of the Jewish
community at that time. None of the Gospels, which had been chosen out of hundreds
and accepted as canonical, was the original one which God sent to Jesus, upon
him be peace. Besides, none of them was written by the apostles or disciples
of Jesus. So, the symbolical language of Divine Scriptures�symbolical because
they addressed every level of understanding at all times and in all places�was
lost. As a result, for example, in the description of creation, the Old Testament
mentions seven days like the days of the world. It says: �And there was evening,
and there was morning�the first day.� Whereas, the conception of a day of morning
and evening belongs to us, who live on earth. The Qur�an also mentions days
and that God created the universe in six days. But it never mentions mornings
and evenings and presents �day� as a relative period whose measure is not known
to us. For example, in the verses: The angels and spirit ascend to Him in a
day whereof the span is fifty thousand years (70.4), and They will bid you hasten
on the Doom, and God fails not His promise, but a day with God is a thousand
years of what you reckon (22.47), and He directs the affair from the heaven
unto the earth; then it ascends unto Him in a Day, whereof the measure is a
thousand years of what you reckon (32.5).
The failure of Christianity and the Bible to answer the questions put by
inquiring Western minds caused the direction of scientific developments to be
opposed to religion. However, the great scientists such as Galileo or Bacon
and others were not irreligious at all. They favoured a new interpretation of
the Bible. Certain scientists and theologians tried to do that. For example,
Roger Bacon was in favour of experimental methods in scientific investigations
but he also defended the notion that one could attain knowledge of heavenly
things through spiritual experience. Thomas Aquinas, whom some introduce as
the Christian counterpart of Imam Ghazzali of the Muslim East, tried to reconcile
Christianity with Aristotelianism. Another theologian, Nicolas de Cusa, opposed
the astronomy of Ptolemy but emphasized the profound meaning of the limitless
universe whose center is everywhere and peripheries nowhere. Nevertheless, the
efforts of such theologians and scientists to reconcile Christianity with science
were not enough to prevent science finally breaking with religion. This was
partly due to the severe opposition of the Church to scientific developments
for fear of losing its power, and partly because of the Western awakening to
a material life.
Truly, as Professor Tawney says, quoted Erich Fromm in Escape from Freedom
(Turkish translation, 1982, pp. 70�1), in the medieval period, people usually
aimed at eternal happiness through economic activities and enterprises. They
feared economic motives that appeared in the form of strong desires. A man had
the right to gain enough money to lead a life according to his social status
but to try to gain more meant greed for money and was a grave sin. Wealth and
property had to be obtained through lawful ways and circulate among as many
people as possible. However, the Renaissance changed social or even moral standards
prevalent in the Middle Ages, or, we might say, changes in those standards gave
birth to the Renaissance. Even a superficial glance at the arts of the period
suffices to reveal this fundamental change from the moral and spiritual to the
material. For example, sculpture�in the view of Sokorin, the product of the
desire to escape death and the mental �disease� of representing mortals in the
shape of young, immortal deities�used the female body to model passionate desires
and pleasures, deceit, sexuality and physical beauty. In Renaissance art, the
Virgin Mary was no longer an image of modesty and chastity, inspiring respect
and compassion; instead, she began to be painted as a woman with physical charms.
The David of Michelangelo is a powerful, muscular youth, an image representing
The man of the Renaissance desired to be like Odysseus, well-built, comely,
intelligent, powerful and skilful in oratory. He was convinced that to become
like Odysseus was possible through knowledge. Nevertheless, as will be seen
in the following verses, �God� of the Bible was jealous of man and had forbidden
him to eat of the fruit of knowledge:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and
take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, �You are free to eat from
any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge
of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.� (Genesis, 2.15�7)
And the Lord God said, �[by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil], the man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must
not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and
eat, and live for ever.� So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden
to work the ground from which he had been taken. (Genesis, 3.22�3)
These verses of the Bible would certainly be antipathetic to the feelings
of a typical man of the Renaissance and remind him of the Greek deities who
forbade man the sacred fire. Therefore, what fired the imagination of the Renaissance
man was to become a Prometheus, who rebelled against the gods and stole the
sacred fire from them. This change of attitude towards religion and life is
one of the foremost points to emphasize if we are to understand the conflict
between science and religion in the West.
According to Max Weber, the development of science and technology in the
West was not independent of religion. He maintains that Protestanism was one
of the main factors behind scientific developments in the West. As everybody
knows, Protestanism developed against the authority of the Catholic Church,
although it has not any radical difference from Catholicism.
According to Weber, Protestanism is fatalistic in its attitude towards history
and man�s destiny. Everybody is born stained with original sin and no one can
be saved from eternal condemnation by his own acts. Both Luther and Calvin were
of the opinion that whatever man does, he cannot be saved unless he is among
those whom God pre-determined to be chosen and saved from eternal punishment.
But the sign of one�s being chosen and saved is that one works tirelessly and
is continuously active to overcome one�s feeling of weakness and helplesness.
The more one earns and the more successful, the more he means to be loved by
God. Weber asserts that the grudge of the middle classes against the rich and
aristocracy roused them to further and further earning and accumulation of wealth.
Earning incited consumption, consumption caused the rise of endless needs and
needs stimulated further work. According to Weber, this never-ending spiral
played an important role in the development of sciences and technology. However,
it is also behind the egotism, individualism and self-centeredness of modern
Geographical discoveries and colonialism
United with the authority of the Church, the despotism of kings and feudal
lords suffocated people. Besides, the continent no longer seemed to meet their
increasing needs and the seas surrounding it invited them to overseas adventures.
Needs urge people to investigate and learn new things, and the abundance of
natural ways of transportation like rivers and seas as against the smallness
of the land enable them to make frequent contact with both surrounding and overseas
areas. The Europeans of the Renaissance period made much use of this privilege
they had to increase their knowledge and reach remote lands.
The Europeans went in pursuit of gold in remote parts of the world. Finding
gold only increased them in avarice which made them cruel and opened the way
to a ruthless colonialism. The slave trade and the eradication of the native
peoples in continents like America and Australia became the trade mark of the
rising capitalism and colonialism. It was only after the transportation of the
treasures of the newly invaded countries to the West that the industrial revolution
became realized. All historians are agreed that James Watt invented the steamship
after the coals of Bengal in India were carried to England after the Battle
of Plassey. The invention of steamship marked the start of the industrial revolution.
Today, the USA, whose population forms only 6 per cent of the world population,
consume 40 per cent of the paper pulp, 36 per cent of the coal, 25 per cent
of the steel, and 20 per cent of the cotton, produced in the whole of the world.
The developed countries together form only 16 per cent of the world population
but consume 80 per cent of world resources.
In sum, it should not be forgotten that a ruthless colonialism and geographical
discoveries are two of the main factors behind the scientific and technological
advances in Europe in recent centuries.