Why do religious people distrust science?
There was once a thriving culture of reason and scientific thought in medieval Arabia. It was a region where religion was taken very seriously, however, science still flourished and took root. Many of the modern day scientific and technological advances can be traced back to that part of the world.
This article, however, is not about glorifying the past. It is an attempt to deconstruct the reason behind why modern day religious people, specifically Muslims, have a deep-rooted distrust for science, given that the Muslims from medieval Arabia were seemingly more open towards it.
The answer may be a bit complicated, but not totally elusive. If one looks back at history before the 12th century CE, science was advancing in the Arabian region during the Middle Ages.
From the 12 century CE onwards, however, due to religious intrusions and/or wars, the Islamic world started shifting from a society of reason and intellect to one of dogma and vagary. As we know, when dogma takes the steering wheel, reason takes a back seat and eventually gets thrown out of the car.
Even with all the dogmatism and declining reason, science as a subject matter, didn’t lose all its popularity in the Muslim world until the 18th century. However, some historians have a different take on history from that realm.
According to them, Islam had nothing to do with the Arab and Persian scientists of medieval Arabia; they were scientists who just happened to be Muslims, not that they were scientists ‘because’ they were Muslims.
Another historian George Saliba claims that Mu’tazilites were the ones who sowed the seed of reason in medieval Arabia. Since Mu’tazilites gave preference to reason over dogma, they were not liked by the traditionalist Muslims and were even called heretics by some Muslim clerics.
Although from the 13th century onwards, the popularity of science has declined to a point of non-existence in the Islamic world, other major religions were still tolerant towards it. By the end of 19th century, however, the remaining popularity of science started receding from rest of the Abrahamic-religious world as well.
Arguably, almost all-modern scientific progress can be attributed to the 19th century. For the first half of that century, science wasn’t vehemently opposed by any major religions.
However, one scientific theory based on research and evidence, shook the foundation of religious dogma like never before. In1859, a naturalist came along and wrote a book based on his research and findings about the natural order of life and its progression. The book was called The Origin of Species and the notorious (in religious sense) naturalist was Charles Darwin.
Darwin theorised that all life, including that of humans’, evolved from common simple organisms via the process of natural selection. Natural selection, in very basic terms, is a process of selection of traits that enables organisms to adapt to their environment in order to increase their chances of survival.
Since this theory questioned the core belief of creationism (albeit mostly in Christendom) and also challenged the belief of an exalted place for humans in the world, the devoutly religious got offended. They started discarding the theory without studying or researching what the theory actually postulated.
Furthermore, in the 20th century, other advances in sciences especially in astrophysics, genetic and molecular biology, palaeontology, evolutionary anthropology, etc. have caused a great deal of cognitive dissonance among the religious hardliners. Since modern scientific discoveries question or challenge the dearly held dogmas and beliefs of the religious, they will never trust science.
Moreover, we know religion is completely based on faith and does not require any empirical evidence. Many ultra religious, albeit due to no fault of their own, don’t even know what empirical evidence actually is, simply because they never had to deal with evidence to believe in the first place.
Therefore, when evidence is collected by the scientists through hours of research and analysis proving or supporting a scientific theory, are presented to them, they trash them or simply ignore them. If one asks them to provide counter evidence or a counter theory, they come up blank.
So to answer the question, why are the devoutly religious people distrustful towards science, the answer could be as simple as these famous words: ignorance is bliss.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.