Science and Religion: Mutual interplay instead of opposition

Nicholas Spencer, in his book ‘Magisteria,’ provides an arresting history of the relationship between science and religion. According to Spencer, the mainstream understanding that has been promoted by Richard Dawkins and others, that science and religion are strongly antithetical, is misleading. Science and religion have been ‘endlessly and fascinatingly entangled’ for centuries.

Spencer provides an example from the notable contribution of Maimonides, an illustrious Jewish thinker of the 12th century, on the interface between science and religion. In his work ‘Guide for the Perplexed,’ Maimonides argued that one could not go from the idea of causation to the idea of God. Rather, one must first know that all things are interconnected, and then, ‘if you wait and watch and listen, you will detect the idea of God as the final cause of all these connections and interrelationships, in a very general way.’

Instead of trying to prove or disprove the existence of God, Maimonides argued that theology should help human beings to ‘understand their connection to the world around them and thereby receive a glimpse of God’s knowledge and might.’ In this context, Maimonides stated that: ‘If something is a property of a body, there is no need to refer to an incorporeal thing in order to explain how it is a property of that body.’

The book’s main points are that the relationship between science and religion is complex and intertwined and that science and religion are not mutually exclusive. Proposals include that mutual hostility between science and religion has risen in recent decades, and that humans should be able to tolerate complexity without declaring war.