The Supernatural in Science and Religion
Posted by Anthony Mannucci
An important aspect of the “religion versus science debate” is the acceptance, or not, of the supernatural. A “higher being” such as God is often viewed as a manifestation of the supernatural. To those who are strongly tied to scientific reasoning, supernatural beings are a problem. They don’t exist. Therefore, according to some scientists, religion is deeply flawed.
My book “Embrace The Infinite” does not dwell on this apparent conflict regarding the supernatural. This conflict is not fundamental to religion or science. Are spirituality and religion still important and “valid” in the scientific era? The answer to this question does not depend on the existence (or lack thereof) of the supernatural.
To illustrate my thinking on this point, consider the following scenario. Suppose one day a recognizable “supernatural” being appears in the sky. Perhaps this being is large in stature (several stories tall), complete with long flowing white beard and the ability to “float in air” without the aid of modern technology. Even the most diehard scientist would concede: if there is a God, then that’s it. This being then communicates with all humans in whatever tongue they are familiar with to admonish them or guide them towards religious truth.
Even if God visited according to the above scenario, many people would nevertheless maintain their skepticism about God’s existence. A significant number of people might assume the being that appears is either an alien creature from an advanced civilization, or a hoax. A core group of individuals would not believe that God had arrived and that we should listen to His message.
Now consider another scenario. This scenario involves a group of people who practice a particular form of worship. They do not worship a supernatural being, but rather they worship principles. Their religion is built upon a specific set of principles without reference to a supernatural being who created the principles. In this religion, the supernatural is not really considered much.
Is a religion built upon the worship of principles or ideas really a religion? Whatever your answer to this question, I think you will agree that such a religion (if it is one) need not invoke a supernatural being.
I believe one can have a religion built upon principles that does not invoke the supernatural. What makes this a religion rather than a philosophy is that religions require actions such as prayer, participation in the congregation, and moral behavior. Philosophy tends to be concerned with ideas under discussion, rather than a code on how to live. If one’s worship helps fulfill one’s sense of belonging and purpose, and leads to a code of behavior and practice, then that worship is part of a religion in my opinion.
All of this provides us a new way of thinking about religion. This new way is highly compatible with science. How about giving it a try and see where it leads you? If you are interested in the topics raised here, then consider obtaining a copy of my book “Embrace the Infinite”. You might find that science and religion need not fight each other after all.