Environmentalism and the opposition ‘science versus religion’

Environmentalism and the opposition ‘science versus religion’

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

1. The earliest culture formed a uniform system where what today we define as science, magic, mythology and religion, interlaced each other and in reality formed some indivisible whole. These components of the spiritual culture were practically undistinguished especially on cognivistic level that is in aspects of description, explanation and foreseeing.   Such a system formed some kind of omniscience about the world and life gained thanks to perception and experience of phenomena occurring above all in nature. This omniscience rested on different presumptions, interpretations and descriptions won in the way of rational and extra-rational thinking.  “Beginning of religion melts with beginning of thought and intellectual activity of people(…) religion gave birth to special branches of human knowledge, exact sciences, morals, law (…)” (Reinach 1929). Various subdomains of spiritual culture become alienated only later in the evolution of civilization. Each of these subdomains developed relatively independently since the Cartesians paradigm of binarity has dominated our thinking. In this way they transformed progressively in individual spheres of spiritual culture during the modern times. 

Religion and science developed separately in all period of modern epoch in accordance with their own mechanisms and rules. They formed their own languages, and they delivered in principle different knowledge about the person and the world. The modern way of thinking submitted to the Cartesians paradigm, throughout the epoch of rationalism, Enlightenment and scientism, as well as different ideologies and philosophical doctrines have contributed to the separate development of science and religion. During this time significant scientific progress took place. In the end, science was transformed into a specific highly developed area of culture opposing religion.

The contradiction between science and religion increases proportionally to the acceleration of scientific progress. Different ideologies (liberalism and communism) and philosophical doctrines (French materialism, agnosticism, Marxism) contributed to the increase of the opposition between science and religion. Here, the laicization played a special role. It progresses with the development of the free market economy and with the acknowledgment of science (not religion) as a driving force of the social progress.

So, we came to the essential turning point when we distinguish science as specialized knowledge from religion as a complex of matters connected with the belief in God. Both areas of spiritual culture move more and more away from each other with progressing specialization of scientific knowledge, liberated from the control of religion, and with the development of religion, which aims to dominate over science. It seems that according to the ideologies of scientism and atheism science and religion aim at breaking any mutual connections. However, the absolute separation is practically impossible, because both these components of the culture – science and religion – like other components interpenetrate and interact mutually. They are correlated in the frame of the same system named “culture”. 

2. Researching the relation between science and religion or between reason and faith (they are only other articulations of the same subject) we should explain what we understand by science, and what by religion.  We have not any univocal definitions of science and of religion. Therefore, science and religion are rather intuitively understood.  Usually, these notions are differently understood and applied. One of possible definition of science and of religion is by listing their essential features. However, this is difficult, because we known not precisely what at all an “essential feature” is.   

Following features are mostly connected with religion:

  • Rituals and ceremonies (different cultural procedures which serve various individual and social aims).
  • Doctrines and dogmas (fundamental convictions characteristic for people of given religious orientation).
  • People, places and things (all objects acknowledged by people as holy or as taboo which have supernatural, mystic and magical features: relics, amulets, persons, things or places connected with special attitudes and experiences).
  • Cognitive methods, by means of which one builds and proves basic doctrines and ways of propagating desired attitudes and experiences. One appeals here to the revelation, meditation or contemplation.
  • Definite persons or other sources (oracles, holy texts etc.) that people, who accept given religion, believe to be more authoritative than other.
  • Moral code (a system of orders and of prohibitions that is obligatory for confessors of given religion). (Clements 1990)

Such definition of religion by enumerating its features would be good, if it did not appeal to already well-known and intuitive understanding from somewhere else of the word ‘religion’. Besides, it is too wide, because it permits to identify such phenomena as fascism, communism etc as ‘religions.’ For that reason it seems to be better to understand religion as generally accepted theistic word systems, as for example Hinduism, Christianity Judaism, Islam etc. The enumeration of essential features of the religion is useful for our considerations. Analogous difficulty appears when we try to answer the question: “What is science?” It is very difficult to mark a demarcation line between, what science is, and what it is not. Speaking about science we can mean:

  • Whole systematized credible knowledge (better or worse ordered system of theories and of laws, which are accepted in a given time).
  • Procedures and standards, which we use to obtain credible cognitive opinions and to submit them to critique.
  • Endeavor to objective understanding, controlling, and anticipation of occurrences taking place in the world.
  • Specific mental attitude and accepting certain presuppositions in relation to world, e.g. about recognizability, order, determinism, etc.
  • Historically determined method to attain knowledge about reality and to reflect it.

It would be best, like in case of religion, to define science as such mental activity that is currently acknowledged universally as a scientific activity.
In both cases we appeal in the last case to universally widespread opinion about religion and science, that is to say, to definite, historically and socially formed semantic conventions. Anyway in our times, we have to deal with a blurring of sharp borders between different subdomains of culture, which are formed in our consciousness thanks to tradition of Cartesian thought and related ‘binary thinking’ that leans on logical disjunction. Nowadays, it is difficult to speak what is science and what only a parascience, and about this, what is religion, and what some quasi-religion. And if so, then we can say that parascience and quasi-religion form a common domain. I’m convicted that finally there is no essential difference between parascience and quasi-religion. They are practically indistinguishable. Thus, science and religion as well as reason and faith have something common. This statement is especially important for my next reflection about science-religion relation.



Fig 1. The common areas of science and religion: parascience and quasi-religion

3. In spite of all we make a distinction between science and religion, at last on cognitive plane. We do this in logical aspect and on theoretical level, and here following relations between science and religion are possible:

  • Independence
  • Dependence
  • Coordination
  • Superiority
  • Subordination
  • Identity
  • Contradiction
  • Disjunction
  • Complementarity.

If it is so, then the opposition or the contradiction between science and religion is only one of many others alternative relations between these subdomains of culture.
At present, it points to the following main types or models of relations between science and religion. (Oliver 1978)

  1. The model of conflict.
  2. The model of separating.
  3. The model of complementarity.
  4. The model of synthesis
  5. The model of coexistence

The first model treats religion and science as two rivaling theories or ideas of the world. For example, H. H. Olivier thinks, that the model of conflict refers only to doctrinal conflicts, on the one hand between absolutistic orthodoxies that interpret nature according to Bible (or to other holy books), and on the other, between scientific explanations. Scientists and representatives of religion, which accept the theory of conflict, interpret literally statements of religion. What distinguishes them is only the problem of adequateness of statements describing a factual state of thing. Instead, T. S. Clements thinks that the theory of conflict does not have to be reduced exclusively to affirmation such difference, but that religion is discordant with science on considerably more fundamental plane than the plane of rival description of reality.



                                         Fig 2. Model of conflict

The second model of relation between religion and science is connected with the theory of separating. According to this model, science and religion are not, and even cannot be in conflict, because they refer to separate and independent spheres of our activity and of cognition. For first, science refers to sensorial (material) world, and religion – to represented world, it is to say, to spiritual (mental) reality. Secondly, scientific statements have cognitive reference, and religious ones have not. Two versions of interpretation of religious statements are here possible: an existential one and an emotional one. According to the first version, the statements about God should be interpreted as statements about man (R Bultmann), and according to the second one, the statements of religion express only people’s attitudes or feelings (J. Ayer, R. R. Braithwaite, P. von Buren). (Bultman 1966)




Fig.3. Model of separating                   

According to the third model, science and religion refer to the same cognitive sphere and deliver different, but complementary representations of reality. In other words, we have to deal here with two different, but complementary visions of world, thanks to which we can obtain richer representations or descriptions of the world.



                     Fig. 4. Model of complementarity

The model of synthesis refers to a specific synthesis of all accumulated knowledge – mystic and scientific, former and modern. (Yushenko 2003) It has in view restoring the original form of the omniscience. This purpose, maybe, would be good, if it were practically realizable. The difficulty consists in the fact that science and religion have already so developed and differentiated that one cannot put them in one bag. The union of science and religion seems to be possible at most on the base of some meta-knowledge which gives us general worldview. Such meta-knowledge could be created from meta-science and meta-religion. It forms a common field where science can be identified with religion in some degree.

In the model of coexistence, science and religion are treated as separately subdomain. They have quite different research subject and they use separatespecial languages and research methods. Consequently, we are dealingwith entirely separate and independent development of science and religion. Therefore, science should not interfere in the sphere of religion and vice versa. This model corresponds to the relation of independency. The only thing that unites sciencewith religion is that they develop parallel in the same time, that they coexist. Science and religion, each separately, seems to be already so developed, that any synthesis seems to be impossible. Thus, we can only accept their independent coexistence. In consequence, our attitude towards science and religion should be indifferent. One could agree with this, if people did not engage in the relation between science and religion. Usually, people join their interests either with science or with religion.  As we known, different conflicts can arise (and they arise in fact) in consequence of the divergence of human interests. The coexistence of science and religion is always interested and ideological. Thus, it cannot exclude possible conflicts, enmity and antagonisms.

Various terminological and essential doubts are connected with each of abovementioned models. Besides, the acceptance one of these models appears theoretically groundless and socially harmful. Opposing science against religion is socially harmful, as it causes different kind of social conflicts (often antagonistic) between the people which have different world-outlook, between believers and not believing, between theologians and scientists, and also between scientists, which present theistic and atheistic views. The history gives many examples of such antagonisms.

4. I think that both subdomain of culture – science and religion – should develop independently but they have to serve human good and safety. However, independently does no mean that I note no possibility of interactions and mutual infiltrations between science and religion as well as the cooperation. Therefore, I suggest perceiving the relation ‘science-religion’ in another view resulting from the ecological way of thinking. I deduced this new model called ‘model of compromise’ from ecophilosophy. The acceptance of the model of compromise gives a chance to return to the former unity of science and religion. Certainly, a come back to ancient unity is practically impossible at present, because the new unity differs from the former one. Formerly, people did not perceive any difference between science and religion, because they melted in an indivisible whole. At present, these differences are clearly visible. However, in principle this should not hinder searching for some unity or compromise. When I speak here about unity, I understand it rather as a functional identity between science and religion, and not as empirical or genetic identity. Science and religion, like other subdomains of the culture can be treated as identical only in regard to common functions which they have to realize in society.

Theoretically, it seems to be extremely probable that science together with religion is able and should realize some common end function of the spiritual culture. However, practically it seems to be impossible to find such common end function on the ground of the classical or traditional “binary way of thinking.” This way of thinking, which prevails since Enlightenment, caused serious social antagonisms in the past and in present time. That is well known from modern history. We do not know what we should do with these antagonisms and how to solve them. Nowadays, in result of binary thinking, science and religion are unreasonably conflicted. The model of compromise should dissolve the conflict between science and religion. One ought to indicate that we had to do with one attempt of exit from this difficult conflict situation in the case of science-religion relation. This was the proposal given by John Paul II in his Encyclical “Fides et ratio.” Nevertheless, he wanted to dissolve the conflict between science and religion by acknowledgement of priority of religion or of domination of faith over mind. In both cases, it is about subordination of science to instructions of Catholic Church. However, this is not what we mean today. The proposal included in the Encyclical is only modernized or restored, and camouflaged version of old Thomistic conception. It aims to assure the domination of faith over reason, Church over education, and theology over science. It is a specific example of “the recycling of ideas” in the history.

5. In my opinion, a common end function of science and religion should result immediately from the function which they ought to realize in the contemporary world. First of all they should serve the good of the human beings and their fundamental interest. It should be really connected with most important and existential needs of people, independently from their opinions, nationalities, and faith. Undoubtedly, the survival of individuals and of our species on the Earth is the fundamental interest and our common goal. We want to extend the duration of the human kind to a maximum. So, the guaranty of the conditions needed for our survival could be the real platform for building a compromise between science and religion as well as for their future cooperation. The unification of science with religion and the compromise between them does not need to annihilate their separateness. It is neither a form of domination of science or religion.
The true compromise between science and religion seems to be realizable on the ground of the way of thinking called “ecological way of thinking.” This is based on two fundamental premises which are obligatory in the modified version of ecophilosophy named “environmentalism”. (Sztumski 1998) These are:

  • The principle of non-antagonistic social development.
  • The principle of synergistic human activities.

According to the environmentalism, social evolution must not be inspired by antagonistic conflicts or discrepancies, and social progress must not be caused by wars or revolutions. Social conflicts in generalare generated by various differentiations in the social systems. They are inevitable. However, one should not sharpen them unnaturally in consequence of ideological interference or by intended creation of dissonances. Intensification and escalation of social antagonisms led as rule to wars or revolutions which mostly have destroyed social systems. At present, in the face of possible use of the mass extermination weapon a war in global dimension threatens not only with destruction of social systems but with extermination of human kind. For that reason, we should not sharpen or antagonize the social conflicts both in the domain of economy and in the area of the spiritual culture.

Environmentalism proclaims also the need of synergistic human activities which aims to attain suitable goals. The true social progress, no matter how we understand it, can be effectively realized by common efforts thanks to mutual supporting of human activities. This means in reference to the progress in the area of spiritual culture the necessity to enterprise common synergistic efforts in the domains of science and religion. Science and religion, scientists and priests, not only have to coexist, but also to cooperate and to support one another in realizing most important aim of mankind. This is the survival of individuals and of human kind.  
We should rememberthat since some time John Paul II began to value the significance of ecophilosophy and the important role of “ecological way of thinking” in the forming of social relations in a global scale. During meeting with Roman bishops in 2002 he called for the “ecological conversion” of mankind. Ecological thinking, holistic and prospective, does not acknowledge binary divisions which can lead to the social antagonisms and their negative consequences for furthering the social evolution. It presupposes that for every conflict we can find some compromise if only we want this. One should appeal to the attitude of tolerance which is the starting point in order to find the compromises. In religious dimension tolerance is contained in the ‘love of neighbor.’

According to the model of compromise every subdomain of spiritual culture can develop relatively independently each other. This means that they can interact and penetrate. The evolution of science and religion can and should contribute to harmonic and sustainable development of culture in whole thanks to the synergistic supporting. The necessary condition for balanced and harmonic development of culture is to reduce all social antagonisms. This refers especially to the relation between science and religion.


                                     Fig 5.  Model of compromise

Such balanced development requires equal progress of spiritual and of material culture. For that reason one should restore the reasonable balance between ‘To have” and “To be”. Here, religion could play an important role. Only a harmonious, balanced, and sustainable development of culture could help to overcome many of well known crises of the contemporary world. Moreover, it can help people in their efforts for a sustained survival. 

It is excessively difficult to achieve some compromise between science and religion in our time when they have grown apart very much from each other, when they are very conflicted, and when each of them has evolved in a highly complex system, because:

  1. The more evolved a dynamic system is (science and religion are such systems), the more independent are its components and the greater is the divergence of their goals.
  2.  The more evolved a dynamic system is, the lesser is the probability of synergistic activities of its components aimed to common realization of some end function of the system.

Nevertheless, being aware of these difficulties, we should not resign from looking for possible compromises between science and religion. Science and religion can and should aim to the compromise. The basis for reaching of such compromise can be the survival as fundamental and existential interest of mankind.

I believe there are no essential oppositions between modern science and religion, at least regarding their functions. Both have to contribute to survival of mankind in our world which is full of growing threats. Thus, they have the same mission. The difference between science and religion consists only in the starting and end points. Therefore, I agree with Max Planck’s statement: „For a religious person God stands at the beginning, for the scientist at the end of his considerations.”


Bultman R., Glauben und Verstehen. P Siebeck (Ed.), Tübingen 1966

Clements T, S., Science versus religion, Prometheus Books 1990

Oliver H. H., The complementarity of theology and cosmology, in Zygon 13, No. 1 March 1978, 20

Reinach S., Historia powszechna religii [General History of Religion] , Warsaw 1929

Sztumski W., Enwironmentalizm i cywilizacja øycia, [Environmentalism and civilization of life], Katowice 1998

Youshenko A. G., Science and Religion: Synthesis Instead of Confrontation, in: Materials of the Conference “And the Truth Will Make You Free”, Bratislava 31.1.-2.2.2003