Voices of Faith: Does religion undermine reason?

Voices of Faith offers perspectives from religion columnists. This week’s question: Does religion undermine reason?

Tolerating free thought

Dev Maulik, professor, UMKC School of Medicine: Religion and reason coexist in Hinduism, which at its highest level believes that God, who is the Supreme Consciousness, is the source of our intellect.

Our most sacred book, the Vedas, proclaimed this truth thousands of years ago, and its most sacred prayer (Gayatri) seeks enlightenment of our intellect from the Divine Light. Another hymn proclaims that the power of God is within us as our intelligence. We are, therefore, expected to use discernment and reasoning to conduct our life.

Despite a strong heritage of ritualistic worship and various acts of faith, Hinduism cultivates a deep reverence for knowledge and rational thinking and does not enforce blind faith. Debate and reasoning have been a central part of Indian heritage, and formalized discipline of logic has been one of the main schools of Hindu philosophy.

Indian spirituality contains many streams of religious and spiritual paths. Inherent in this tradition is the tolerance for free thought. A remarkable example is an ancient school of materialistic philosophy that rejected the existence of God, life after death, scriptural authority and validity of all rituals, yet flourished for more than a thousand years.

Recent Hindu philosophers and scientists have found little conflict between the core truths of Hinduism and the tenets of modern science. God’s earthly incarnations follow a pattern similar to the path of evolution; the origin of the universe expanding from a singular point source of energy (Bindu) brings to mind the big bang theory.

In Hinduism, religion can be a dynamic path that can not only foster scientific reasoning but also help account for the gaps in our understanding that could never be reconciled within the limitations of scientific method.

Science, religion coexist

Syed E. Hasan, Ph.D., Midland Islamic Council: One of the main requirements of all revealed religions is the concept of belief in realities that are not amenable to our known senses of perception. Islam is no different in this regard but what is exceptional about this religion is its unique balance of faith and reason.

Beyond some basic articles of belief – such as oneness of Allah, prophethood of Muhammad (peace be on him) and those who came before him, along with the divine messages that were revealed to them, accountability and life in the hereafter – Islam places a great deal of importance on reason and logic. It implores Muslims to observe, contemplate, reflect, make inferences and formulate ideas and concepts to understand the natural phenomena.

The faith that Qur'an instills in its followers is not arbitrary but reinforced by these dictates, which revolutionized our understanding of natural phenomena in all fields of human endeavors for well over 800 years.

At a time when the Western world was in its Dark Ages, Muslim scientists and scholars were making discoveries and inventions that transformed civilization.

The famous British philosopher Bertrand Russell acknowledged this: “Credit must be given to the Quran which first kindled the spark of inquiry and revolutionized the mentality of the believers in less than two centuries. From simple, boorish, uncouth, and unlettered Bedouins, the Arabs became leaders of the world in arts and sciences. That was a great revolution and a great achievement.”

Recognizing the shortcomings of human nature and the fact that scientific achievements alone cannot ensure peace and establish a just world order, the Qur'an gave humanity the golden principle of “perpetuating the good and forbidding the evil.”

Albert Einstein expressed the same idea thus: “Religion without science is blind; while science without religion is lame.”