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From common beginnings to separation

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HOW DID RELIGION originate? We have all learned that religion arose from the fear of danger, particularly natural dangers, such as lightning, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and so on. These dangers have threatened human beings throughout the ages.

pic_20.gif (14464 bytes) In ancient times men didn't understand the workings of nature and were ignorant of the causes of these phenomena. Terrified at the threat of these natural forces, mankind began to search for answers. This quest precipitated an interest in the nature that surrounded him, and a desire to find some way to deal with it. This is an important point, because this is the common origin of both religion and science. Religion was born from a desire to escape danger, whereas science, as we have already mentioned, was born from a desire to know the truth of nature.

In the case of religion, the desire for security was the incentive. Danger exists in the natural world, so humanity turned to nature for a practical answer. At the same time, there was a sense of wonder at the marvels of nature, from which arose the desire to know its truths. This was no idle curiosity: human beings were forced into finding out about nature in order to address the dangers which threatened them.

From the aspiration to be free of danger, which was based on fear, also arose the desire to know the truths of nature. At this point we can see a common source for science and religion: religion arose first, at the fear of danger, while the desire to know the truths of nature, which was science, followed.

As far as we know, the earliest forms of Scientific research in fact arose from religion. The people who looked for scientific knowledge in Egypt, Mesopotamia and other ancient cultures were from religious circles. These were the first people to take an interest in studying nature and devoting time to finding solutions to the dangers that threatened them. This indicates that science and religion originated together. pic_22.gif (19304 bytes)

This initial common origin of Science and religion is also the point at which they parted. Why did they part? The answer to this lies within the nature of truth itself.

The natural dangers which threaten humanity are immediate concerns, matters of life and death. The threat is immediate, here, right in front of us. Do what you will, we must have an answer right now. And all people are faced equally with the same dangers. The answer must be relevant to the group, to the whole of society. In such a situation, it is necessary to come up with an answer that can be acted on immediately, something which puts an end to these urgent demands. When an answer appears that is acceptable, it is institutionalized as religion.

flower10.gif (7337 bytes) The practical answers thus provided may take forms, such as mystic ceremonies, which to the modern eye would seem absurd, but even so, they are something which can be acted upon immediately. For the mainstream of society, this is what becomes religion.

Now there is another group, which might have arisen from the first group, but at a time when the immediate threat has passed and there is time to gradually collect the facts, to analyse and experiment. This group of people arrives at a different set of answers, answer which have resulted from observation and experiment. This is what became known as 'science', the knowledge that comes from gradual and systematic observation.

This is the point of divergence between religion and science. The answer which served as a remedy for an immediate need, for the masses, lacked Systematic observation, and relied heavily on faith and belief. This was religion. Religion, then, is tied to faith.

Science, on the other hand, is a discipline of gradual and systematic investigation. It was not concerned with finding immediate answers, and was available only to the few who were so inclined, not for the whole of society. For this reason, there were individuals or groups who carried on this systematic observation, using methods that were verifiable, and this became known as ‘science'.

At this juncture we have one clear distinction between religion and science: religion is for the masses, for whole societies or groups, whereas science is for a more limited number of people. Now, the problem that arises here is, how does religion maintain uniformity in the letter and the practice of its teaching? This is achieved through faith. Religion has its roots in faith, and utilizes faith to preserve its essence, providing an unchanging belief system which must be adhered to and upheld, one that is unquestionable. In the West this is called dogma.

Science is limited to the people to whom it communicates, the thinkers. They preserve the essence of science through verifiable truths, using valid methods of experimentation. Science thus preserves and propagates its truths through wisdom, or, to be more specific, scientific method.

Religion seeks to convey an all-embracing, absolute truth, an answer which addresses an immediate need. It would probably be more accurate to say, rather than religion provides this answer, that the answer thus provided is what became known as religion. It's not that there is an institution called religion already existing, which comes up with these answers, but rather that these answers, proposed by humanity, have become institutionalized as religion. The answer is proposed by people, or a person, and as time goes on these people are joined by others and an institution forms, serving to preserve the teaching. Thus we have the institutional forms of religion such as mendicants, priests, monks and so on.

Looked at in one sense, religion seeks to provide one absolute answer, an answer to the fundamental questions of life, covering everything, from the highest to the lowest.

Science, on the other hand, attempts to observe truth from its individual manifestations, piece by piece. It is a collection of piecemeal, partial truths, which attempts to gradually work toward an overall picture.

Even though science, too, wants a general principle, its general principle, is conditional, confined to specific situations and conditions, and is only part of the overall or fundamental truth. To use a teasing phrase, we could say that religion gives a total answer, science a piecemeal one.

At this point I would like to add that, owing to the limitations of religion and science, there arose a third group who was dissatisfied with both of them. This group also wanted an answer to the fundamental questions of life and the universe, an absolute answer, but they were dissatisfied with religion because, although it gave such an answer, it was not one that appealed to reason. It appealed to faith. But when they turned around and looked at science, although it gave answers that were verifiable and appealed to reason, those answers were not absolute. Research had still not reached the fundamental level of reality.

This group did not want to wait for science's answers, so they attempted to find an answer to those fundamental questions through reasoned consideration, without the need for verification. This system of thought became another science, known as ‘philosophy’.

We could compare these three disciplines, with the fundamental questions of nature as a measuring stick, in this way:

images(8).gif (515 bytes) Science: Is still in the process of verification and observation and is yet to come up with an answer.
images(8).gif (515 bytes) Philosophy: Attempts to give an answer in lieu of verification by using the tool of reasoned analysis.
images(8).gif (515 bytes) Religion: Provides a total answer which needs no verification.

Both science and philosophy appeared after religion, and both attempt to give answers that are clearer than religion's. However, both of them fail to give answers that are satisfactory and fulfilling on an overall basis, which is why religion still exists and still provides an answer based on faith.

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