The relation between science and religion has been tumultuous throughout history. However, some great scientific discoveries were inspired by faith or leaded by religious scientists. What is the actual conflict between these two cultural aspects of human beings, since both aim the understanding of Nature and the meaning of life? Before trying to answer this question, one must define science, religion and their main differences, if any.
Let’s turn our attention to cosmology, the science that study the evolution and structure of the universe as a whole. In 1915, Albert Einstein, in his major work, described the laws of gravity on which modern cosmology is based. Later, he considered the structure of the universe in the framework of his new theory. A new science was born, and many theories regarding the structure and evolution of the universe started to rise, yet no evidence in favor or against any of them would be available until 1965. For this period, even though cosmology was considered science, it was discredited by many “true” scientists. We then ask ourselves what is the nature of science? Is it an explanation of how Nature works regardless if it is true or not? It was taught by Galileo Galilei and it is now common sense that a scientific theory must be empirically tested. Our belief in a theory must not be an act of faith. Can we then point this as the main difference between science and religion? However, explaining Nature by means of empirically adequate theories do not mean they are the true laws of nature. Is the aim of science to produce true theories? How could we distinguish the true theory from two theories observationally equivalent? The Big Bang model, proposed initially by the Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre, is empirically supported by the discovery, in 1965, that our universe is filled by radiation, called the cosmic microwave background (CMB). According to the Big Bang model, considered the standard model of cosmology, the CMB is a relic of the primordial universe. The standard cosmological model has had an unprecedented success in describing the observations, yet the nature of roughly 95% of the universe is still unexplained. Therefore, cosmology, as a science in the XXI century, is based on an empirically adequate theory full of unexplained variables that is far from being a final and true theory of nature.
According to estimates published in the 2012 report “The Global Religious Landscape” by the Pew Researcher Center, 83.7% of the world population are affiliated to some kind of religious group; Christians and Muslims summing up together more than half of this number. These theistic religions believe in the personification of good, by the name of God, who has created the universe and everything in it, including us, and to whom we own obedience. However, there are religions where the existence of God is not a necessary condition. So, what is the nature of religion? Is it an explanation for unsolved problems in science, always in the limit of human knowledge, whether it is true or not? Ancient greeks personified many unexplained forces of Nature by the name of gods, to whom they also owed allegiance. We know that religious beliefs changed throughout human history from ancient to modern times, and the holy books were reinterpreted to adjust to scientific discoveries. Religious beliefs and affiliations are based on faith and cultural influences rather than on empirical evidence. The greatest contributions for the understanding of the cosmos came from religious scientists, including Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileu Galilei and Isaac Newton, besides the already mentioned Georges Lemaitre. Religion without science would be blind and recent history shows that religious institutions have supported the scientific progress, including the Catholic church that starred great battles with science in the past.
In a world where the great majority of people have some kind of religious belief and where the progress provided by science in modern society is unquestionable, both science and religion should coexist. Can they coexist? Is cosmology in conflict with religious faith? Or is it a way to understand reality, which theists know by the name of God?