Hardly anyone would argue with the fact that science now occupies a special place in society. This is evident from a great number of facts, among which is the dependence of modern production on the science, representation of science in the education system, and its penetration into the daily life of almost everyone. It serves as a measure of knowledge about reality and expresses the degree of mastering the forces of nature. At the same time, the involvement of science in a variety of social life components is perceived quite casually.
Providing a transformative impact on all spheres of society, science becomes popular among religious figures as well. This largely determines the specificity of religion in the 20th-21st centuries that is manifested, in particular, in the appearance of such forms of religious life, in which religion and science are intertwined to a certain degree. Their mutual penetration is sometimes so deep that it is difficult to draw the boundary line between them. This essay will attempt to draw this line and determine the degree of science and religion mutual relations.
The miraculous events recorded in the sacred texts have not only theological interpretation but also a scientific one. The encrypted meaning of religious images and concepts is disclosed with the help of research procedures. Rituals and ceremonies of a particular religion are subjected to examination in order to determine their rational value and practical content. There is a tendency of “dressing up” religious values in the pseudo-scientific “clothes”. Sometimes, the desire to expose sacred meaning by means of the scientific analysis turns into religious creativity. Its results significantly differ from the precepts of traditional religions and from the provisions of academic science. Nevertheless, the very attempt to establish a connection between “scientific” and “religious” shows the transformation of these social phenomena and their change in terms of public perception, and it requires a special study of the determinants, which ultimately led to this synthesis.
History knows the relationship between religion and science on the parity basis and on the basis of their mutual dependence. The Ancient World and the Middle Ages gave us many examples of the close relationship between scientific and religious components of society. It is known that the priestly caste of the first countries accumulated knowledge in the field of medicine, mathematics, and astronomy (Beit-Hallahmi, 2014). The first philosophers often blended a rational approach to understanding the world with a strong and sometimes distinctive religiosity. It should be mentioned that the culture of the Ancient World and the Middle Ages practically did not know science as an independent phenomenon (Beit-Hallahmi, 2014). Elements that make up the content of scientific knowledge today operated under the philosophy and religion as their organic components.
The institutionalization of science and its branching into the independent sphere of spiritual life took place not so long ago and was caused by a combination of two main components: the mathematical explanations and quantitative observations. Since then, the scientific worldview started to contrast with the religion one. At first, the biblical texts were declared allegories or metaphors. Then, Protestants moved the center of religion from the church to the Bible and then from the Bible to the individual human soul. Further progress of science deployed a process of desacralization, which led to the “disenchantment” of the world (Beit-Hallahmi, 2014). Thus, many years ago, a man started to connect science with expectations of gaining material wealth and with the rational organization of life.
To a large extent, the development of science occurred due to the conquering of the living space of religion. This fact ultimately undermined religious dominance in the public sphere and often in individual existential experiences. It seems that the scientific interpretation of the phenomena of reality finally came to replace religious mystical interpretations. In a certain sense, religion and science changed places: since science has recently overtaken some positions of religion, which had monopoly power in society, then there comes a time when religion seeks to preserve its legitimacy in the shadow of the new social dominance – Science.
Initially, it succeeded. Thus, according to Newton, the motion of the planets was launched by the “hand of God”, and everything that happened after was explained by the law of gravity (Russel, 2012). According to Bertrand Russell, the 18th century took characteristic pietism exactly from Newton. In the pietism, God is the lawmaker who at first created the world, and then the rules that govern all further events in order to deliver Him from the necessity of special intervention (Russel, 2012).
Examples of the peaceful coexistence of science and religion became increasingly rare over time. In general, the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century was marked with their implacable opposition. There was a revision of the place of religion in society, which was expressed in the theoretical and practical justification of religion’s insolvency in comparison with science. The concepts of psychoanalysis and the theory of evolution were interpreted in an anti-religious way. In philosophical and materialistic variations, religion was unmasked as a converted form of consciousness, illusion, and collective self-deception (Beit-Hallahmi, 2014).
What is the position of religion today? According to the observations of researchers, religion has lost a number of important positions and ceased to be an essential component of everyday social communication. According to J?rgen Habermas (2014), today, citizens are suspicious of violations of the boundary between politics and religion. Peter Berger notes that contemporary businessman or politician can be sincerely committed to religious norms in family life, and, at the same time, act in the public sphere without any reference to religious values (Berger, 2008).
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During the 19th-20th centuries, there was not simply a “disenchantment” of the world, but a “desacralization” of the sacred, which resulted in the fact that sacred texts and religious elements are subjected to secular interpretation just as the artifacts of history. Experiments aimed at creating a society without religion are conducted on entire countries. The statistics provide a basis for suggesting the thesis about the irreligiousness of modern society (Zuckerman, 2011). The idea of the crisis of religion is becoming commonplace in many modern studies.
Religion today is indeed in a critical situation, but this fact implicitly assumes its new development opportunities. Indeed, one can point to a fairly wide range of specialists who are ready to argue about the “death” of religion. They note that many high-tech East Asian countries have not lost their own cultural and ideological identity based on religion. They also state that the desecularization of the world is one of the dominant social phenomena of the end of the 20th century and that the rise of religious moods in a number of states is interpreted as “the revenge of God”. The problem of the formation of post-secular society as a society that has survived the lowest point of the recession of religious activity is actively discussed (Beit-Hallahmi, 2014).
It seems that the postulation of the fact about the return of lost positions by religion is of premature character. There should be more correct and careful wording. Apparently, one should say that although the position of religion in society has changed significantly, the potential of religious activity is far from being exhausted. So, what factors contribute to the transformation of religion?
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The next reasons for the change in the dynamics of religious life are of particular importance. Firstly, it is modernization that opened the way to the formation of science and laid the foundation of scientific and technical progress. Precisely this factor has led to the elimination of religion from many important areas of public life. Secondly, it is globalization has made the interpenetration of cultures possible. This fact has led to a blurring of the boundaries of identity, the guardian of which religion has always been. Finally, it is a secular society in which the equality of religions and freedom of religion contributed to the formation of a kind of “market of religions” (Zuckerman, 2011). In this market, the possibility of religious creativity is implemented in accordance with the social order of spiritual goods, which are not constrained by frameworks of religious tradition. These shifts have given wide freedom to religion and have increased the possibility of its expansion (Zuckerman, 2011). In other words, religious activities have become optional; it is only one of many options for structuring the living space and one component of a wide range of consumption objects. One can observe quite a paradoxical situation. Religion, which is not denied today by anyone or anything, still loses a solid foundation of its existence. Scientific and technological progress deprives religious dogmas of necessary reliability and versatility.
Despite this, the attractiveness of religion is preserved since it is the supernatural area, with the presence of which the modern skeptical man connects answers with important questions of his life. Moreover, the very formulation of these questions is still admissible only in correlation with the possibility of the existence of the sacred sphere. According to the observations of Alvin Toffler, the most sought-after commodity nowadays that can be offered by religion is the sense. However, religion is often not able to realize this function independently, especially when it comes to traditional faiths limited by the rigid framework of dogma and cult (Toffler & Toffler, 2006). According to Slavoj ?i?ek (2012), today, we are dealing with a “suspended” faith, which is possible only when one does not confess in public and keeps this faith as a sort of obscene secret. This statement shows a gap between the official religious institutions accepted by the public only as a part of their own culture, and intimate religious impulses, which sometimes are very far from the traditional forms. In other words, a modern man is inclined to perceive religious practice only as a cultural heritage. At the same time, people keep an abiding faith in a higher power deep down without seeking to penetrate into its contents.
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Thus, the crisis of religion can be defined as painful attempts to integrate it into the modern system of social relations and to restore largely lost connection with the religiosity of the individual. People need an outlet for religious feelings, but they cannot find it in the system of religious channels laid earlier and greatly discredited by secular criticism.
In parallel with the modifications undergone by religion, there is a transformation in the perception of the status of science. This started with the revolutionary discoveries of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which completely changed an established scientific picture of the world. The provisions of nonclassical science, and then postclassical science demanded a radical correction of human representation of reality. There is an opinion that nature’s answers to people’s questions depend not only on the apparatus of nature but also on the way people raise these questions (Russell, 2012).
This leads to a revision of the methodological foundations of scientific knowledge. In the concept of post-positivism, there is a rejection of verification as a criterion of scientific statements. There is a belief that any scientific theory, in fact, is essentially hypothetical and subjective (Russell, 2012). Its explanatory potential will be exhausted sooner or later, and then, the old theory will be replaced with a new one. Science itself is qualified by individual critics as a “myth of modernity” or another ideology, which forcibly imposes certain ideas and values on a man. According to Paul Feyerabend (2001), science dominates not because of the virtue of its comparative advantages, but due to organized propagandistic and advertising actions. This is how the debunking of the claims of science to create a coherent and stable picture of the world happened. Religion also experienced something like that one time.
All these considerations represent an explicit or indirect statement of limited possibilities of science in the interpretation of the phenomena of reality. The second half of the 20th century was marked by the increase in the critique of scientism as a program of social development and ideological platform (Feyerabend, 2001). Conclusions of many experts reject the absolute role of science as contrary to humanitarian principles and as the one that ignores the variety of forms of human perceptual experience and the relationship with the world (Russell, 2012).
Rethinking the social status of science has become a part of large-scale social and cultural transformations that accompanied the transition from the modern era with its positivist settings to postmodernism, which led to a total skepticism of its founding principle. Adoption of postmodernism as the dominant cultural trend marked the crisis of rationality in society, which is seen as an element of the human civilization crisis, and by some estimates mainly of the “western” one (Russell, 2012).
One consequence of the change of epochs was the view that science is experiencing a decline, having exhausted its potential for development (Feyerabend, 2001). In the public mind, and epistemic uncertainty and distrust of the view of the world based on scientific data is formed. There is also a loss of integrity in the perception of self and reality.
So, how justified these negative assessments of the possibilities of science are? After all, doubt about the reliability of scientific interpretations is specific, and the “downgrade” of the social status of science does not lead to a massive rejection of its achievements. Moreover, there is an increase in the growth of society in the technosphere. Scientific activity has ceased to be a lot of few and has become one of the professions, means of livelihood, routine work, and sometimes even the hobby.
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Nevertheless, modern philosophical interpretations of changing scientific world picture form the perception of science as one of the many worldview perspectives. Science today is not knowledge in its pure form, but in a certain sense, is one of the ideological systems, which claims to be an authority in the interpretation of the phenomena of reality and in the organization of the life experience of the individuals. It may compete with or connect to other equally possible interpretations of reality. Thus, there is a belief that science is only one of many languages of “reading” the reality.
Historical destinies of science and religion are not only closely intertwined, but also duplicate each other to some extent. Occupying a unique position in society, they are becoming the object of a critical review of their social status. Interpretation of them as phenomena devoid of universality, unquestioned credibility, and ontological representation comes in place of the image of religion and then science as the ultimate truth. There are prerequisites for removing the fundamental opposition between science and religion. The motivation for arbitrarily combining religious and scientific sense is formed. In this process, the science acts as a tool of understanding the religious sense, as the material needed for the formation of a new religious doctrine, or as a method of achieving the goals set by religious belief.