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RELIGION AND SCIENCE - Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)

Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)
<English Philosopher, Mathematician, and Essayist.>

Alfred North Whitehead believed that the future course of world history depends upon people’s decisions as to the relationship between science and religion. In fact, the force of religious intuitions and the force of scientific endeavours are the two most powerful forces in history. Whitehead’s solution to conflicts between science and religion was to suggest modifications in both science and religion, as each has been traditionally understood so that an inclusive alternative worldview might be constructed. He turned to speculative philosophy for this constructive task. Whitehead proposed that philosophy attains its chief importance by fusing religion and science into one rational scheme of thought.

Whitehead is counted among the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century. His philosophy of organisms is recognised as an outstanding contribution to Western thought. Whitehead's most complete statement of this systematic speculative philosophy appears in his Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (1929), which describes the universe as an endless series of interrelated events and views material objects as abstractions within the patio-temporal flow of occurrences. In several of his works, particularly Science and the Modern World (1925), Whitehead studied the history of science and criticised the fundamental assumptions of scientific materialism. In place of mechanistic theories, Whitehead proposed his dynamic, event-based system. A noted mathematician, Whitehead is also remembered for his fruitful collaboration with mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell on their Principia Mathematica (1910-1913).

The essay Religion and Science discuss the controversy that was found during the late 19th and early 20th century about the existence of religion and the evolution of science. The essayist is of the opinion that science and religion are not two poles though there are differences. The human mind is preoccupied with the concept that religion and science are different. One frankly disagrees with the other. People view that science deals with the physical universe whereas Theology deals with the world beyond. Science presents the gradual evolution of ideas. In the same way, religion as well shows the same nature. Religions' concepts of the present are different from that of the past. For both reasons, there has been a modification.

The writer starts his essay by making a powerful statement that we have to understand the type of connection that exists between the two spheres. He says that there was the conflict there is the conflict and there will be the conflict between science and religion. It is very common and natural for him. Since science deals with physicality and religion with spirituality, their area of study is different. He further adds that both science and religion endow (gifts) additions, modifications, changes etc. the ways and areas of knowledge are different but the essence of the study is almost the same in both. The conflict between science and religion is not destructive for the writer but it is constructive also.

Science beliefs are not constant. They go on changing. In the past, there was the geocentric concept. However, this geocentric concept changes into heliocentric (sun at the centre) concept. Now both these concepts have been modified. Similarly in the field of religion, different concepts are changed. That's why these two fields do have similarities.

The difficulty in approaching the question of the relation between Religion and Science is that its elucidation (clarification) requires that we have in our minds some clear idea of what we mean by either of the terms, 'religion' and 'science.' The conflict between religion and science is what naturally occurs in our minds when we think of this subject. It seems as though, during the last half-century, the results of science and the beliefs of religion had come into a position of frank disagreement, from which there can be no escape, except by abandoning either the clear teaching of science or the clear teaching of religion. This conclusion has been urged by controversialists on either side. Not by all controversialists, of course, but by those trenchant intellects which every controversy calls out into the open.

In the world, nothing is certified for solid reasons. There is the existence of cash and conflict. Science is concerned with physical phenomena but religion is concerned with moral and aesthetic values. Science studies what is visible and what can be perceived but religion is the fundamental experience of human beings. It is so because religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind and within things. Our desire to perceive God is our desire to surrender ourselves.

Conventionally people believe that science and religion oppose each other and they refute each other assertions. But the essayist says that there is no wide gap between science and religion. Scientific thoughts and religious thoughts are ever-changing. As both the reasons contain evolution, the writer views that they have reciprocal relationships with each other.  

Although Whitehead had chosen atheism (the doctrine or belief that there is no God) earlier in life, his stance toward God and religion changed as he attempted to construct an adequate worldview to account for science and religion. Like Aristotle twenty-three hundred years earlier, Whitehead came to demand the existence of God because he found that the general character of reality requires an all-embracing, purposive, and loving deity.

Religion and Science discuss a controversy that was particularly apparent in society since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859. The issue was relevant in the 1920s because of the celebrated Scopes “monkey Trail” in Dayton, Tennessee, which took place in 1925, testing whether or not a science teacher could teach the theory of evolution in a public school in that state. But, of course, the conflict between religion and science has a way of eruption age after age; and as Whitehead points out, the disagreements became serious as early as the seventeenth century. In the book from which the given selection is taken, Whitehead seems to be making a genuine effort to find a means of putting the conflict into perspective and of softening the disagreements. While acknowledging that religion and science appear to be in conflict, Whitehead argues that their respective truths are actually quite separate. “Science and Religion” is probably the most appreciative evaluation of religion that has been written from a non-theistic perspective.


Religion and Science discuss a controversy that appeared after the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. The subject matter of this essay is related to the compromise between science and religion. Comparison and contrast along with definition are the rhetorical strategies used by the essayist.

Whitehead compares science and religion. Once he establishes a point about religion, he moves into science. Comparison is done to establish similarities as well as differences between science and religion. He says that scientific thoughts are evolutionary and concepts can be found even in religion. In this aspect they are similar. The essayist defends the concept that "Clash of Doctrines is not a disaster". It means contrast generates new ideas refuting the precious ideas.

Comparison, contrast and definition have made the essay an effective piece. The readers familiarise themselves with the existing concept of religion and science the difference and the similarities. So, this essay is effective not only for its subject matter but for its style of presentation.


Mills, C. W. (2021). The Ideal of Craftsmanship. In S. Lohani, Visions: A Thematic Anthology (pp. 94-99). Kathmandu: Vidhyarthi Pustak Bhandar.


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