Science is not a betrayal of faith

Sughra Ahmed, Yale Greenberg Fellow

It’s all too easy to consider the fields of science and faith as two foes that rarely, if ever, see eye to eye. This perception is held both by lay people and specialists of both fields and became the reason I decided to pen this piece. As a person of faith who has long been engaged in domestic and international interfaith programmes and strategies, I’m a firm believer in science. One cannot exist without the other. Aside from references in the Qur’an and other religious texts, it’s clear that without scientific discovery and advancement we would know very little about our existence on earth or the universes around us. Knowledge and understanding of that which is beyond me is incredibly powerful in understanding God.

By knowing the limitations of our human condition and the impact of modern medicine, technology and astronomy (to name a few) can have in our lives, I reflect on my world in both awe and frustration. On the one hand, what we achieve through discovery means we can cure disease and save crops around the world. On the other hand, science, won’t have the answers to all of life’s big questions, nor does theology, this is where faith and science must come together.

People of faith and science are not limited by their belief in one or the other, or both, instead they are strengthened to know that we have the capacity to expand our world by welcoming in that which has been created by God /understood by science. Simultaneously they are not discouraged by faith to discount science but to ponder over our existence and all that is around us.  It’s impossible, for me, to separate the two.

The idea of blindly following (which is different to belief in God, the unseen) a religious ideology, at the expense of rational thought and scientific discovery, is frustrating and regressive. The Qur’an encourages readers to study, learn and think about creation, to travel far and wide and appreciate the complexity of our existence. However, traditional religious narratives argue that there’s no room for science in the lives of people who are committed to their faith and that a belief in both means you are superseding the role of science above God. Consider issues like genetic engineering or the use of stem cells which directly affects cloning, or the use of surgery for sex change operations. Religious traditions struggle to appreciate this, many feel this goes against the sanctity of God who created us all in his /her wisdom, to ‘engineer’ life is to play God.

Often there will be differences that seem irreconcilable which is a healthy sign, disagreement is not off the table. I’d like to see scientific discovery take a more central stage in religious frameworks and vice versa. What I’d like to see less of though, is a narrative that pushes us to have to choose between the two, each forcibly convincing followers that belief in the other renders them mad, heathen or stupid.

Sughra Ahmed brings together a unique blend of experience in academia, policy and community activism. She is a Yale Greenberg World Fellow at Yale University, as well as a Research Associate at St Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge. Ahmed was formerly Chair of the Islamic Society of Britain, a national grassroots organisation. She specialises in interfaith relations, is a public speaker and regularly contributes to media discussions, particularly on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought for The Day’ programme.

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