Copyright 2013 by The Institute on Religion in an Age of Science
Religion in an Age of Science
The benefits that humanity has derived from scientific knowledge and its applications range from the eradication of dark-age superstitions and effective cure for diseases to never-before-imagined creature-comforts and ease of communication and travel. With all that, science’s framework is neither appreciated nor embraced whole-heartedly by the general public. Instead, there are doubts about science’s capacity for objective knowledge, suspicions about its goals, and charges to the effect that it has landed us in life-threatening environmental predicaments. There are deep concerns about its sweeping epistemology that forecloses important dimensions of traditional religious worldviews.
It is also a historical fact that many creative thinkers and scientists in all cultures have been religious. So a group of scientists and scholars founded The Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS) in 1954. One purpose of IRAS is “to formulate dynamic and positive relationships between the concepts developed by science and the goals and hopes of humanity expressed through religion.” Another is to foster values that have universal and cross-cultural validity.
What the founders wisely realized was that religions play important roles in human culture, and that unless they are informed and transformed by science they could stagnate and become anachronistic. The less desirable aspects of religion have provoked the New Atheist movement, while the actualization of some of the catastrophic potential of technology and the faith-devaluing proclamations of some scientists have pushed many to the fundamentalist wings of religion.
Religions are coming back to the public arena with a zest that is heartening to their followers. But some of their expressions are disturbing, such as the anti- science stance of those who, for example, call for the teaching of ancient worldviews on cosmogenesis, anthropogenesis, astrology, and the like in schools. The resurgence of religions is also of concern to many because some of its expressions are associated with bigotry, hate, and intolerance. But it would be rash to conclude from all this that religions are intrinsically maleficent enterprises. It cannot be denied that religions have been the source of wisdom and some enlightened ethics, and have contributed abundantly to art and architecture, music, poetry and sophisticated philosophy. They also give meaning to individual lives, and comfort from convictions on matters relating to the Ultimate.
There is a crying need to bridge the chasms between the opposing forces that keep us in tension everywhere. The metaphor of the bridge is to remind us that though the chasms cannot be wished away we should never forget we are interconnected, and that we can visit the islands of separation for better mutual understanding.
Adopting the ethical framework of the humanist movement without subscribing to an anti-religion stance, IRAS strives to bring out the best in religious visions, such as sanctity that transcends reason, reverence for the natural world, gratitude for the human experience for a brief bracket in temporal infinity, as well as the love, care, and compassion that go beyond self-centered living. IRAS celebrates science’s unrelenting pursuit to unravel every observed aspect of perceived reality, its countless contributions to human knowledge and health, and its efforts to grasp the natural world in a framework of reason and coherence.
Its individual members hold different views on the need for traditional religions, or their irrelevance in the modern world. IRAS as an organization respects enlightened religious worldviews. The human experience is complex, colored and enriched by history and culture. It is not easy, and may not be helpful, to break links with traditions and sacred texts altogether, for these have been bringing meaning and purpose to life to countless millions over the ages. The human spirit continues to be awed by the unfathomable mystery of the why and the wherefore for all of existence.
IRAS acknowledges the wisdom of past generations as reflected in John Andrew Storey’s line “We (are) the heirs of many ages, with the wise to guide our way, (and we) honor all earth's seers.” It adds that we also honor the science of today. Thus, IRAS welcomes people from all faiths and traditions, from all strata of society, from academic ivory towers to religious establishments of all denominations. Being a project by people of goodwill to bring more light and peace to the human condition, IRAS welcomes theists and non-theists of all shades, atheists, agnostics and all, to its fold.