The long-standing debate between science and religion pits the rational intellect with its demand for facts, proof, and logical inference, along with rigorous testing to achieve reproducible results to dispel doubt against the religious conviction based on faith. Science looks down on faith as not being fact-based or provable, while religion dismisses science as limited within an artificial framework that does not, in fact, fully understand the creation or its meaning, and which therefore misunderstands and misinterprets what it is seeing and inferring. If we dig deep enough, we can even find that much of the scientific approach starts from faith and only later develops the facts and systems needed to validate that faith.
In the early 20th Century, the standard for electrical generation and transmission in the United States was based on “direct current” and supported by Thomas Edison. Nikola Tesla had an intuition or a vision of the ability to generate and transmit electricity more safely and efficiently using “alternating current”. Tesla’s vision was derided as being not based in fact, as being unfounded and as being a dangerous attempt. Of course, over the long-term, as we look back, we see that Tesla’s faith was rewarded and alternating current became the standard in the society for electricity.
Today we see that what we perceive is not always accurate, and thus, the logical inference we draw from those perceptions turns out to be inaccurate. “Seeing is believing” is an outmoded concept in the world of digital manipulation, but even prior to that our “seeing” frequently got things wrong. For instance, much of humanity believed the sun revolved around the earth and that the earth was flat. Science eventually corrected these misperceptions, although these things had become by that time a matter of faith in the nature and order of the universe with man at the center, so that it became (unfortunately) part of the argument of science versus religion.
Faith and reason need not be in opposition to each other, if faith is based on an intuition of something that is not yet fully visible or embodied. Faith that simply tries to hold onto the status quo at all costs in opposition to facts, developments and scientific verifiable methodology is what we may call ignorant faith. Luminous faith need not oppose itself to science, but can push science forward toward new frontiers as it intuits what has not yet come to pass. In an evolutionary world, it is certain that changes will come about that are not yet foreseen nor supported by actual facts.
All of the miracles of modern science, wireless communication, harnessing of electricity, air travel, travel to the moon or other planets, vaccines to overcome the scourge of viruses or bacteria all represent advances that relied on faith as there was no “fact based” process upon which these things were envisioned before they were built. Why then should science have any reason to deny an enlightened faith that sees the future evolutionary steps and focuses the awareness and attention to help bring it to fruition?
Sri Aurobindo observes: “Faith is a thing that precedes knowledge, not comes after knowledge. It is a glimpse of a truth which the mind has not yet seized as knowledge. … The faith in spiritual things that is asked of the sadhak is not an ignorant but a luminous faith, a faith in light and not in darkness. It is called blind by the sceptical intellect because it refuses to be guided by outer appearances or seeming facts, — for it looks for the truth behind, — and because it does not walk on the crutches of proof and evidence. it is an intuition, an intuition not only waiting for experience to justify it, but leading towards experience. If I believe in self-healing, I shall after a time find out the way to heal myself. If I have a faith in transformation, I can end by laying my hand on and unravelling the process of transformation. But if I begin with doubt and go on with more doubt, how far am I likely to go on the journey?”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 5 Bases of Yoga, Faith, pp. 110-112