Philosophy, Science, and Religion

In order to more clearly conceptualize Western philosophy’s territory, let’s consider it in relation to two other powerful cultural forces with which it’s intertwined: religion and science. We may (roughly) characterize the contrast between philosophy and religion as follows: philosophy relies on reason, evidence, and experience for its truths; religion depends on faith, authority, grace and revelation for truth. Of course, any philosophical position probably contains some element of faith, inasmuch as reasoning rarely gives conclusive proof; and religious beliefs often contain some rational support, since few religious persons rely completely on faith.

The problem of the demarcation between the two is made more difficult by the fact that different philosophies and religions—and philosophers and religious persons within similar traditions—place dissimilar emphasis on the role of rational argument. For example, Eastern religions traditionally place less emphasis on the role of rational arguments than do Western religions, and in the east philosophy and religion are virtually indistinguishable. In addition, individuals in a given tradition differ in the emphasis they place on the relative importance of reason and faith. So the difference between philosophy and religion is one of emphasis and degree.

Still, we reiterate what we said above: religion is that part of the human experience whose beliefs and practices rely significantly on faith, grace, authority, or revelation. Philosophy gives little if any, place to these parts of human experience. While religion generally stresses faith and trust, philosophy honors reason and doubt.

Distinguishing philosophy from science is equally difficult because many of the questions vital to philosophers—like the cause and origin of the universe or a conception of human nature—increasingly have been taken over by cosmologists, astrophysicists, and biologists. Perhaps methodology best distinguishes the two, since philosophy relies on argument and analysis rather than empirical observation and experiment. In this way, philosophy resembles theoretical mathematics more than the natural sciences. Still, philosophers utilize evidence derived from the sciences to reformulate their theories.

Remember also that, until the nineteenth century, virtually every prominent philosopher in the history of western civilization was either a scientist or mathematician. In general, we contend that science explores areas where a generally accepted body of information and methodology directs research involved with unanswered scientific questions. Philosophers explore philosophical questions without a generally accepted body of information

Philosophical analysis also ponders the future relationship between these domains. Since the seventeenth-century scientific revolution, science has increasingly expropriated territory once the exclusive province of both philosophy and religion. Will the relentless march of science continue to fill the gaps in human knowledge, leaving less room for the poetic, the mystical, the religious, and the philosophical? Will religion and philosophy be archaic, antiquated, obsolete, and outdated? Or will there always be questions of meaning and purposes that can never be grasped by science?

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), one of the twentieth century’s greatest philosophers, elucidated the relationship between these three domains like this: “All definite knowledge … belongs to science; all dogma as to what surpasses definite knowledge belongs to theology. But between theology and science there is a no man’s land, exposed to attack from both sides; this no man’s land is philosophy.”

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8 thoughts on “Philosophy, Science, and Religion

  1. IMHO, when we mention philosophy, science and religion in the same thought or same sentence, we are thinking about the physical and metaphysical in the same moment. Traditionally, philosophy and religion are more heavily weighted to the metaphysical, while science falls into facts, figures and empirical inquiry. I could be wrong but I have never considered philosophy and science as adversarial towards one another. Not so with religion and science. Religion has viewed science as threat rather than benefit. It asks too many questions; questions too many inconsistencies. Copernicus kept his mouth shut: the Church left him alone. Galileo shared opinions, and incurred ecclesiastical wrath. Philosophy minded its’ own business mostly, the Church viewed it as vain imaginings. Today, philosophy and religious studies co-exist in university humanities departments. Some things avert entropy…others don’t.

  2. I summarize the 3 categories like this:
    – science probes how it all works
    – religion probes the First Cause of all
    – philosophy probes all, while questioning the existence and nature of any first cause

  3. philosophy is like religion in terms of some of its questions, but unlike it in terms of its methods of answering the questions. philosophy shares much of its methods with science (rational inquiry) but tends to focus on questions that science can’t or hasn’t yet answered.

  4. ‘Religion claims to have all the answers. Philosophy and science have all the questions.” (I don’t know who said this, but it seems to be correct).
    Gilbert Ryle said that unlike science, “philosophy is not informative about the world,” although it can sometimes be useful to science by clarifying concepts used by scientists in their observations and experiments. There are no philosophy laboratories.

  5. I think we tend to value science highly because it is supposed to be objective and without judgement, people do not like to be judged. Science lives safely without morality and ideology. What do you think?

    In the end, it is our minds that are behind everything. Science is an area we’ve made to better understand the world around us and our minds. As great as science can be I think it can often stray away from what truly means something and that is the treatment of the mind itself and the subjective experiences people have. What value does the numbers have in the end? The only thing that can make this experience of life better for most is when they are heard, understood, loved and appreciated. I think a philosopher should look at our condition and find in it the beauty and wonder that drives us all. Much like Viktor Frankl did in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Everyone is very capable of thinking negative thoughts, being depressed, seeing the terror. True strength is finding beauty in the misery and madness. How can we find this beauty? What philosophers truly found the beauty in life?

    Most people feel unheard, ignored and not understood. While science keeps progressing, we are growing increasingly unhappy, because technology is making us feel more isolated. We do not feel understood. We are not really connected.

    If we want revolution, great change and to develop a stable and loving civilization. I think more people need to take the responsibility of taking time to understand those around them and listen. This is the method of which we can use to develop new ideas, expand our understanding and get a deeper understanding for the human condition. We need to talk less, listen more and have more empathy towards those who feel unheard. I think it is for many difficult to be the one who listens and supports. Because everyone wants to be heard, and nobody feels heard.

    If you want to make a change today and start the revolution. Tell your closest one what you find great about them. Tell them they are enough. Listen to them and try to understand them. That is the only thing that means anything. To feel is to live, to die is to no longer feel.

    This blog is full of wisdom and I appreciate everything written here. I always gets me to stop and think.

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