Science, Religion and Magick

This was the title of a lecture given by Dr Rhobert Lewis, Dean of the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Science, at the Meeting House on Thursday.
The reason for the odd spelling of ‘Magick’, he said, is that he was thinking not in the modern sense of doing tricks for entertainment but in the old sense of ‘magick’ as one of the ways in which the world could be explained and influenced. In a world in which so many things are unpredictable and unexplained, human beings find three ways of trying to cope. They can work things out for themselves by observation and experiment (science), they can relate to a God or gods (religion), or they can try to understand and experiment with unexplained forces (‘magick’).
As science became more confident and religion more dogmatic and all-embracing, ‘magick’ tended to slip into the background and become labelled as ‘superstition’, and therefore false. Science and religion remained, but these were for a long time seen as the same thing. They were both about pursuing truth, finding out about God and how God created the world.
Dr Lewis traced the process by which an apparent conflict arose between science and religion. In modern times science has achieved spectacular success in changing the world we live in, while religion has often got stuck in unbending dogma. First Galileo and then Darwin were attacked by religious people because their theories were seen as inconsistent with what it was thought God had revealed in the Bible. Today there are religious people who preach ‘creationism’ and regard ‘intelligent design’ as a theory on a par with other scientific theories, and there are scientists who claim that science is the only explanation for everything and religion is irrational superstition.
These conflicts, Dr Lewis said, are between competing dogmas rather than between science and religion as such. Science, like religion, is universal but also incomplete. There are questions that science cannot answer, such as why the laws of nature are what they are, whether anything exists completely outside the world as we can know it (such as before the Big Bang, or for us after our own death), and the question of why anything exists at all. Religion that deals with question like this is as natural and necessary as it ever was, and need not be in opposition to science or in competition with it. Even ‘magic’ in the sense of wondering at the beauty and mystery of the world, still has its place. Science and religion can both evoke this sense of wonder that goes beyond any explanation.
The lecture touched on many questions, handling them in a plain, honest way that could be understood by lay people – in both senses, scientific and religious. It was a very informative and stimulating contribution to the Chaplaincy’s series of occasional lectures.
If you have any comments or would like to discuss these questions further, please feel free to contact a Chaplain or call in at the Meeting House any time. We would also be grateful for any suggestions you may have about other topics that could be the subject of a Chaplaincy lecture.

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