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Religion vs. science

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AUGUST 14, 2015

Over the years, I’ve tried to balance my personal values and beliefs with Islam, but I’ve been mostly unsuccessful. It’s hard enough to balance feminism and faith, but even if I ignore the fact that Islam can be quite sexist and homophobic, I am still left trying to reconcile religion and science.

Although I crave a spiritual connection, I’m also extremely skeptical. I don’t like believing in anything without evidence. I’m the type of person who asks constant questions, I like facts and figures, and I want to explore all options before I reach a conclusion. And I feel like this is the very mindset that makes it difficult to believe in God.

Faith in God is blind faith. It can’t be proven — there is no empirical evidence for it. A number of religious people I know claim that the sheer beauty of the universe is enough proof that God exists and that he created everything, but I don’t consider that to be a valid argument. It doesn’t tell us who created God — it just conveniently offers an explanation for the existence of the universe that is not backed by any evidence at all.

That’s what I find problematic about religion. There’s never any evidence, unless you consider religious books to be the actual word of God and then consider that to be all the proof you need to believe in something. Science is constantly evolving: It is open to change and rigorous testing, and a concept is only regarded as true if there is considerable empirical evidence in its favor. Science is also OK with having unanswered questions. Religion is the opposite: It resists change even in light of differing evidence, and its principles are based on belief and not reason.

It’s problematic when religious people refuse to change their stance on issues even when there is overwhelming proof otherwise. Creationists, for example, are so adamant about upholding their belief about the origin of life that they will either ignore all evidence that goes against their views or reinterpret it so that it serves their theory. Some people still believe that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

Religion doesn’t have to necessarily inhibit science, though. The early Muslims were pioneers in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, science and medicine. The Quran mentions many scientific discoveries, such as embryonic growth and the water cycle, but unlike a lot of Muslims, I don’t think that the inclusion of such discoveries ultimately proves the divinity of the Quran.

Years ago, when I was trying to connect to a higher being, I would look at nature as something that could help me draw closer to God. I thought that by observing natural phenomena and reflecting on its beauty, I would be able to appreciate God’s doing. Islam instructs believers to reflect on all the signs that God has left, but ultimately, reflecting on the structure of the universe doesn’t necessarily mean that some perfect deity created all of this.

A lot of “miracles” don’t require spiritual explanations anymore because we now have scientific explanations for them. Folklore and myths suggest that the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights, was a collection of ghosts of slain enemies or the spirits of children who died at birth. Then, people explained natural phenomena using spirituality and religion. But now science is able to explain how the Northern Lights, among other phenomena, are formed. Understanding the science behind these wonders doesn’t take away from their beauty.

Religion and science offer two very different truths about the world. The way they approach questions about our existence is fundamentally different. Science answers a lot of the “what” and “how” questions, such as how the universe came into existence, what the atmosphere consists of, how Homo sapiens evolved, etc. But it doesn’t tell us why we exist or what our purpose is. That is something we answer for ourselves — either with religion or without it.

Science is true whether or not you believe in it. It’s objective and doesn’t require that someone believe in it first in order for it to exist. The laws of nature will affect you impartially, regardless of your faith in them.

But when it comes to religion, people can still claim to hold on to a more personal truth. There is no scientific proof for God, but ultimately I feel that people who want to believe can consider that to be their reality. God exists for them, and it’s fine for them to seek comfort in this. It doesn’t matter if you believe in Allah, Yahweh, earth goddesses or the Flying Spaghetti Monster — that is your personal conviction.

There are things that I believe in that aren’t always supported by science, but I have experienced them firsthand, and they are true for me, personally. Although most scientists claim that alternative medicine is pseudo-scientific, I have found remedies such as homeopathy and meditation to be more beneficial than any allopathic drug, and I consider them right for me.

I know many people who try to harmonize science and religion even though it can be quite contradictory (for example, believing in the Bible and evolution at the same time). I feel that science should provide the ultimate framework for how we view and understand this world because it provides a more objective truth. Personally, I look up to the scientific method, but every now and then I experience something that can’t be explained by science. I consider these moments to be experiences of personal truth.

Shanzeh Khurram writes the Friday blog on feminism and religion. You can contact her at [email protected].

AUGUST 16, 2015