What Science Can Learn From Religion

Source: The New York Times

By David DeSteno, professor of psychology at Northeastern University, is the author of “Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.”

Hostility toward spiritual traditions may be hampering empirical inquiry.

Science and religion seem to be getting ever more tribal in their mutual recriminations, at least among hard-line advocates. While fundamentalist faiths cast science as a misguided or even malicious source of information, polemicizing scientists argue that religion isn’t just wrong or meaningless but also dangerous.

I am no apologist for religion. As a psychologist, I believe that the scientific method provides the best tools with which to unlock the secrets of human nature. But after decades spent trying to understand how our minds work, I’ve begun to worry that the divide between religious and scientific communities might not only be stoking needless hostility; it might also be slowing the process of scientific discovery itself.

Religious traditions offer a rich store of ideas about what human beings are like and how they can satisfy their deepest moral and social needs. For thousands of years, people have turned to spiritual leaders and religious communities for guidance about how to conduct themselves, how to coexist with other people, how to live meaningful and fulfilled lives — and how to accomplish this in the face of the many obstacles to doing so. The biologist Richard Dawkins, a vocal critic of religion, has said that in listening to and debating theologians, he has “never heard them say anything of the smallest use.” Yet it is hubristic to assume that religious thinkers who have grappled for centuries with the workings of the human mind have never discovered anything of interest to scientists studying human behavior.

Just as ancient doesn’t always mean wise, it doesn’t always mean foolish. The only way to determine which is the case is to put an idea — a hypothesis — to an empirical test. In my own work, I have repeatedly done so. I have found that religious ideas about human behavior and how to influence it, though never worthy of blind embrace, are sometimes vindicated by scientific examination.


Consider the challenge of getting people to act in virtuous ways. Every religion has its tools for doing this. Meditation, for example, is a Buddhist technique created to reduce suffering and enhance ethical behavior. Research from my own and others’ labs confirms that it does just that, even when meditation is taught and performed in a completely secular context, leading research participants to exhibit greater compassion in the face of suffering and to forgo vengeance in the face of insult.

Another religious tool is ritual, often characterized by the rigid following of repetitive actions or by engagement with others in synchronous movement or song. Here, too, an emerging body of research shows that ritualistic actions, even when stripped from a religious context, produce effects on the mind ranging from increased self-control to greater feelings of affiliation and empathy.

Read further

Suggested reading and the Muslim Times’ Chief Editor’s comment

I agree with almost every thing said in the above article. However, those are not the only truths on the theme of religion and science, for a more comprehensive view, let me suggest the following articles as well.  The cumulative view will give you a much better metaphysics:

Science: The Only Present Day Arbiter Between Religions?

Intelligent Design Movement: Where have they gone wrong?

A History of Warfare of Science with theology in Christendom

How Beauty Is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution

Lecture: Noah’s Ark, Christian Creationist theories and Evolution: Dogmatism and Fundamentalism

Science in the Service of the Scriptures

Yes, there is a war between science and religion

2 replies

  1. God is needed for several reasons, for example, for hope at the time of our death and to feel comfortable that people like President Trump don’t get away with murder, as he himself claimed that he could kill someone on the Fifth Ave …

    Dogmatic thinking or black and white thinking seems to be the worst enemy of knowledge. Let us learn from both religious people and scientist, whether religious, agnostic or atheist. Let us seek the Truth and not just confirmation of our ideology.

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