Science and religion
Not always separate fields of knowledge, today science
and religion seem to be at each other's throats.
"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is
blind." Albert Einstein, 1941.
In pre-modern societies, science, medicine and religion were
intertwined. Natural phenomena were understood in spiritual terms
and human disease and illness were seen as manifestations of the
will of spirits and gods. Understandings of illness based on nature
and the gods continued to complement one another into the modern
era and the role of priest and healer was one and the same.
At the same time, the growth of medicine often depended on the
corresponding emergence and spread of organised religions.
Christianity taught that the human body belonged to God and had to
be properly looked after. In the European 'Dark Ages' of the early
medieval period, medical knowledge and expertise was concentrated
in ecclesiastical institutions such as monasteries, which also
frequently provided healthcare to the local population. When
secular hospitals were built in later centuries, they always
The emphasis on purity and cleanliness in Hinduism, Judaism and
Islam ensured that personal care and hygiene were central to faith.
In the 800s and 900s CE, the world's most advanced hospitals were
in the cities of the Islamic world, while Greek and Roman medical
knowledge was being absorbed and developed by Islamic scholars.
Even as medical understanding grew in sophistication during the
Renaissance period, spiritual explanations for disease were still
widely believed, and spiritual remedies still sought. Jews,
Christians and Muslims all carried amulets to ward off evil
spirits. Christians directed prayers to specific saints for
specific illnesses. St Luke, author of one of the Christian
gospels, is traditionally believed to have been a physician, and
has therefore become the patron saint of physicians and surgeons -
as well as of butchers.
However, religion has often been antagonistic to the
establishment of science as a separate worldview. Galileo was tried
and sentenced to house arrest by the Roman Catholic Inquisition for
his assertion of the Copernican view that the earth rotated around
the sun, rather than the Church's orthodoxy that the earth was the
centre of the universe. In the 19th century, many Christians were
strongly opposed to Darwin's theory of evolution, and some
evangelical Christians, particularly in the USA, still reject
evolution in favour of creationism. Christian churches have also
opposed human dissection for fear of the consequences when the body
was resurrected. Today, some faith groups believe particular
medical interventions are wrong, and many Jehovah's Witnesses
reject blood transfusion. Genetic manipulation, and in particular
stem cell research continue to provoke calls for caution from
From the 1800s, as the intertwined traditions of medicine and
religion began to separate, an increasingly secular medical
establishment developed. Modern medicine and modern science appear
to be incompatible with, and even in opposition to, religion.
Religion relies on revelation and belief, while science relies on
observable, repeatable experience. Indeed Sigmund Freud considered
religion to be a form of mental illness. The most high profile
recent example of the conflict between religion and science has
focused around the writings of evolutionary biologist and 'militant
atheist' Richard Dawkins. However, there has also been growing
academic interest in the relationship between religion and health
and some studies have shown that spirituality - including prayer,
meditation and attendance at religious services - can benefit