Faith and Science

The relationship of science and faith can be studied at various levels of thought. Philosophers have a tough time in this field. The most ‘fascinating and charming” facet of this relationship is the influence of beliefs held by scientists on science, writes ATHAR IDREES.

“In Physics, too, the proposition holds true that man cannot find salvation without faith; at least faith in a certain reality outside ourselves.” ~ Max Planck.

Faith can be defined as “unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence”. While as Science is defined as “knowledge about the structure and behaviour of the natural and physical world based on facts that you can prove” and hence the way of thinking i.e., to prove using the facts. How can the two antagonistic ways of perception synchronize?

Human is the practitioner of both these ways. It is very weird indeed to see the human boasting of reason and logic on one side and a follower of superstitious belief on the other side. When it comes to the question of his/ her personal necessities, he can become very dogmatic, irrational and unrealistic. Instead of using that gift of nature that has made him/ her superior to other creatures, he uses methods that are against the very basic of human psyche, physiology and human perception. The examples in this arena of life abound ranging from the drinking “sulphonated” water as a panacea for all physiological problems extracted near a religious place to those of seeking “aashirvad” of an idol for the flight of a space vehicle by placing a replica of the rocket at the feet of a popular deity prior to its launch.

The relationship of science and faith can be studied at various levels of thought. Philosophers have a tough time in this field. The most ‘fascinating and charming” facet of this relationship is the influence of beliefs held by scientists on science. Let us examine it a bit in detail.

Physicists devote their entire lives for understanding the nature and natural processes. They yearn to know “why is universe the way it is at the most fundamental level?” They have to think of problems – physical involving mathematics round the clock and this is what distinguishes them from the common lot. However this task is subject to human frailties and the onerous task involves a lot of emotional stress and isolation from the mundane chores of life. Under such circumstances a strong motivation force coupled with the basic beliefs has to be in the scientist’s and particularly physicist’s mind.

Opinion about one’s subject of investigation influences one’s work as “your point of view determines your reality – the crude gist of theory of relativity”. There could be different opinions about the universe in the physicist’s mind. It therefore should be kept in mind that universe does not imply the stars, galaxies etc. rather what is outside the human mind and is perceived by us. These beliefs are:

  1. In the mere existence of the Universe:

In this belief the physicist has a pure understanding of the experimental realities of universe. That is he believes only in those facts, which are proved by experiment at all times. It is essential to think that universe is not an illusion. Some futile philosophies believe that universe is the projection of mind. This could be detrimental to physicists thinking. Rather the laws of nature are independent of his mental state.

This thinking can lead to belief in the coincidences or chances happenings in the universe. The scientist does not believe in any purpose for universe to exist and hence it can lead to serious consequences. Under such conditions scientists look for “fame and fortune” and leads to the ethically, intellectually wrong practices. People can tamper with the scientific data to produce scientific sensations, which turn out to be hoaxes. The recent example of South Korean biologist Hwang Suu Wuk – a stem cell researcher, who forced his laboratory assistant to donate the human eggs and claimed to have produce stem cells through cloning and produced a sensation or the work of an Indo–American physicist who claimed to have produced fusion by ‘sono – luminescence’ although others failed to get the same results even in the same laboratory.

  1. The Universe has a purpose:

In this belief the physicist tries to seek out the “pre–established harmony”. The belief is that universe could be understood through logic and reason and the universe is there to be understood. Their belief leads to an unquenching thirst to understand the true purpose of universe. This belief has an attraction and calms the emotional turbulences of a physicist. Galileo Galilee – the revolutionary and courageous physicist had a firm faith that universe can be understood and it can be done mathematically. He wrote in Saggiatore (1623).

“Philosophy is written in this grand book – I mean the universe – which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric  figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it.”

Albert Einstein wrote: “The most beautiful feeling that we can have is that of mysterious. It is the cradle of all human art and science.’’

It was this feeling that universe has a purpose and there is symmetry in laws of nature that led intuitionally the father of modern physics – James Clerk Maxwell to the discovery of “displacement current” and hence to the discovery of elm waves and so on. The axiom that universe has a purpose is an invigorating stimulus to the scientist who toils to search for it and thus gives meaning to his life.

Advanced technologies are obtained through the application of basic laws of Science. The basic laws are found by scientists with a deep conviction and faith in the symmetry and harmony of the universe. Maxwell’s discovery was the precursor of all the electronics revolution. Economic prosperity and respect in the world community are achieved through the mastery of technology.

Where does the scientist get beliefs? Obviously the set up where they grow has a part. If the intellectual set up is irrational and contrary to what is found in the empirical world one has to shun the belief e.g., the role of Indian scientists in banning astrology-teaching in Indian universities when they found the evidence against it.

  1. Philosophy plays a crucial role in shaping up of beliefs:

The influence of Immanuel Kant and Spinoza on Albert Einstein can hardly be underestimated. However if the beliefs are false dogmas, the self–correcting mechanism of science corrects them.

Fourteen Centuries ago a Divine Revelation (the Holy Qur’an) clearly enunciated, “Not for Idle Sport did We create the heavens, earth and all that is between” (21: 16), and gave rise to a civilization, which produced people who shifted Physics from being a philosophical activity to that of an experimental science (Ibn Haitham – Alhazen); changed the static view of classical mathematics into dynamic enterprise which in turn would be a representation of dynamic universe (Al Khwarizmi).

All these people were driven by beliefs that were in consonance with both the rational as well as the empirical world. Why did this civilization lose the trajectory at a certain point of time?

Back of the envelope calculations on the ‘motion in a field” show that the particle moving in the field loses trajectory when either the field is removed or it breaks into several sub–fragments – the center of mass will move in that trajectory but alas that center of mass turns out to be only mathematical construction in my abstraction only.

May these broken fragments join again? May the glory of our ancestors rise again like a phoenix from the ashes?

Will my prayer be answered?


Athar Idrees is a student of Physical Sciences. He can be mailed at

About YMD

Past Issues