The river Ganges, flowing from the heartland of the Himalayas across the plains of northern India, provides numerous places of pilgrimage for India’s religious population. Indeed, one can become ‘purified’ by a mere dip in her waters. Of equal sanctity are the cows that roam freely, grazing by her banks. They are considered pure in all respects; even their dung and urine are valued for their prophylactic quality. Householders living on the gangetic planes since ancient times have worshipped the Ganges and the cows, but when the British became rulers they viewed such Hindu traditions with skepticism. Yet much to their surprise they found that only Ganges water remained potable during the six-week ocean passage from India to Britain. Equally astonishing were the powers of the cow wastes: the stool, spread in a thin layer across the floor of a home and allowed to dry, formed a powdery ‘carpet’ on which no fly or unwanted pest would land; while the cow’s urine was a cure for various dangerous diseases. Though they were not induced to acknowledge it, India’s new rulers found some of her ancient religious belief suprisingly scientific. It would have been no surprise to an enlighten thinker like Albert Einstein who once remarked, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” [Out of My Later Years, 1956, p.26]
Just how do scientific explanations compare to religious explanations? Are these conflicting approaches to the same subject matter, or complementary approaches to distinct subject matters? Can scientific explanations and religious beliefs be reconciled? Let us take the help of Michael Peterson, et al in Chapter Eleven of Reason and Religious Belief as we compare and contrast the views that science and religion are in conflict, are compartmentalized, or are complementary. Afterwards we shall examine the so-called split between the natural sciences and the social sciences (sometimes called the “human sciences”), and discern what bearing, if any, this debate has on religion. Finally, we shall investigate the science/religion dialectic from the Vedic world-view perspective.
Defining and distinguishing branches of intellectual activity such as science and religion falls in the realm of philosophy. Intellectual disciplines can be analyzed according to certain general features: their objects, aims, and methods. When there is a similarity in the evaluation of religion and science according to these three, the potential for conflict arises.