Iowa City Stories

May 14, 2010

Science and Religion at a Crossroads

Filed under: IC Stories: Goater, UI Majors, Iowa City Stories — claegoater @ 1:55 pm

Science and religion have long been seen as opposing forces, and there remains a lot of conflict between them today. With that in mind, how does a biology student reconcile their philosophical or religious beliefs with their chosen area of study? I asked Chris Ajluni and Asad Hashmi about the areas where science and religion intersect.

Religion Among Biology Students

Both agree that, even among people who value science very highly, there’s a wide spectrum of belief. “There are plenty of biology students who are really religious, even ones who believe in evolution,” Ajluni said.  “It doesn’t have to be one way or the other, but it does influence the way you think. {Studying biology} has definitely added to my experience. Learning more about how the world works has influenced my outlook.”

Hashmi elaborates on his own personal beliefs. “Rather than science being against religion, it’s more of an explanation. In my view, that’s all science really is. An explanation, not a challenge.”

The Dividing Line

Ajluni believes that there are some things that cannot be explained by science alone, but doesn’t know where the line should be drawn. “I don’t know what science ‘should’ explain or what religion ‘should’ explain, but they both have their place.”

Hashmi stands on similar ground, albeit better defined. “Science can explain everything to the limits of what human beings can discover. Beyond the limitations of human explanation, that’s where religion comes in. “

A Moral Compass

Their views differ somewhat in the role that religion takes in modern scientific debates. Hashmi believes that religion provides a strong and useful moral voice.  “I believe that when religious people involve themselves in scientific discussions, they’re drawing the line for human limitations. Morally, I think that when very religious people get involved, they have a very valid point to make.” According to Hashmi, sometimes the urge to be advance the frontiers of our knowledge can cloud a person’s thinking.  “With research, sometimes people forget what we’re actually physically doing, and just think about what we can achieve from it. These people aren’t asking us to stop progress, they’re just asking if there’s not a less questionable way to achieve it. “

Ajluni thinks that religion plays a more ambiguous role in current scientific discussions. “{Religious commentators} are entitled to their moral opinions on what is right, but a lot of the time, these people just don’t know what they’re talking about in terms of science. Some of them have good arguments based on good data, but a lot of them don’t. “Ajluni is more focused on the ultimate ends than the means. “I wish they would look at the results, the possible benefits of research like stem cells or cloning. But a lot of the discussion is shaped by politics, more than any real health or moral issues.”

A False Dichotomy

Maybe the conflict between science and religion is a false one. It might be necessary to recognize that there is a disconnect between the study of science or religion, and the political issues that arise from those studies. Hashmi believes that the historical conflict between religion and science is really just the byproduct of power struggles unrelated to either discipline. “I actually think the strife between science and religion is politically-based. When Galileo said that the earth wasn’t the center of the universe, it was challenging the church’s authority. Since it was against their beliefs, it discredited them. It’s about power. It’s a way of challenging power, rather than anything fundamental about science or religion.”


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