There will be always be room for wonder

If we want to know how the universe works, we have to ask! It means to theorise an idea and to test it, via thorough experiments, observations, and measurements. Human attempts “to formulate an idea, to infer and calculate what the physical implications of that idea are, to gather data that tests those implications, and to then draw conclusions is the hallmark of scientific thinking.”

The scientific method insists on taking these steps in a rigorous, repeatable fashion, and teaches us the scientific answer to any question we’re clever enough to ask. Science is both the method of investigation and the full suite of knowledge we gain from asking such questions, with the joys and wonder of discovery open to everyone, writes well known astrophysicist and author of Beyond the Galaxy, Ethan Siegel, in Forbes Magazine.

“Despite the widespread perception that science and religion conflict with each other, the overwhelming majority of people experience no such conflict. Anyone can learn how to investigate the world like a scientist, and a scientist can belong to any religion,” Siegel writes.

Around the globe, this is exactly what the data shows. Siegel quotes a scientific study, which says that 79 per cent of Indian scientists, 57 per cent of Italian 36 per cent  of US scientists believe in god.  The number of believing scientists correspond to the number of the larger population in that country that believes.

Unfortunately, there is still a public perception harmful to everyone: that science is hostile to faith, and that religious people aren't interested in science. “Yet this is not what the data shows at all. While there certainly exist scientists that are elitist and antagonistic towards religion, the vast majority of scientists share the same levels and types of religiosity as the other members of their country’s culture,” asserts Siegel.

According to another  study on scientists and society, of the people in the United States who identify as religious, 87 per cent of them are “very interested” or “moderately interested” in new scientific discoveries. So Siegal is emphatic: “To push the viewpoint that religion and science are inherently at odds not only does a great deal of damage to the integrity of both, it runs contrary to people’s actual, lived experiences.”

He elaborates: While there are elements of society that are quick to brand anything religious as “anti-science” or anything scientific as a “threat to your religion,” the truth is that people of all different religious beliefs and upbringings grow up to be outstanding scientists.

The truth is that there are certain unknowables in this universe; “certain questions that even if we gathered all the data we could ever gather, we’d be unable to answer.” The amount of information we have access to is enormous,  not finite. “There will always be room for wonder, and there will always be questions beyond humanity's capabilities of drawing robust scientific conclusions.” He adds further:  “Most importantly, there will be differences in what each of us determines is the “most likely” or “most logical” possibility in the absence of certainty, and that we must treat one another with respect, even when we reach different conclusions.”

Thus science and religion are neither fundamentally incompatible, nor are they mutually exclusive. “Knowledge, education, self-improvement, and the bettering of our shared world are endeavors that are open to everyone. We don’t have to (and likely won’t) always agree with one another, but we can always work to understand a perspective that differs from our own. Perhaps, someday in the near future, that will be the story that makes headlines, rather than attempts to sow discord between two of the most influential forces for good in our world.” Such a way of life is true science and genuine religion!

(The writer is professor of science, religion and philosophy and author of Gratefully and Gracefully)