Moving Beyond Science vs. Religion

Ignorance underlies most claims about the conflict between science and religion

Christians are against evolution, scientists are against God (or gods), and the worlds of science and religion are locked in battle. Right? Wrong. 

Even a small bit of homework shows that there is no inherent conflict between most religions and science, but that does not stop some people from promoting this fight. 

Take for example the famous case in North America regarding Christianity and evolution. Ignorance of both what evolutions is (what the science tells us) and what actual Christian theology reflects (what the faith tell us) drives this conflict. 

There are some factions of Christianity whose leaders (and thus their followers) express adamant opposition to “evolution” and this is often used as the key example in the science vs. religion conflict. It is due to this practice that much of the population of the USA superficially, and ignorantly, holds an opposition to evolution (including a large percentage of major politicians). But opposition to evolutionary processes is not the position of the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or most Protestant churches and other Christian denominations (or most world religions- see here). So why do many American Christians hold such a belief? It comes from ignorance about evolution promoted by some churches, and vocal individuals, who claim to “speak” for Christianity and target “evolution” as the enemy.

There are also some in the scientific community who deride all of Christianity (and religion for that matter) for being “anti-evolution” and thus anti-science. One prominent such individual recently claimed “I don’t give a damn if people find religious belief comfortable or meaningful. I only care whether it’s true.” However, he failed to mention that the existence of God (or gods) is not testable via scientific methods, thus he cannot know whether religious belief it is true or not. He can however, believe that it is true or not. Another example of ignorance.

On both sides promoters of this debate use ignorance as their key weapon…but to dispel this ignorance is not difficult. While an anti-evolution slant is held by some denominations it is a misguided reading of what Christian theology implies (good essay on that here). 

Evolution is the understanding that life on earth has changed over time, and that all living forms on the planet share some degree of common ancestry (as seen in shared DNA). Evolution is a fact and anyone who states otherwise is ignorant of the data (see here and here). Most people in the USA simply do not know what evolution is, but have no problem with the concept of DNA and what it does (which actually means that they accept evolution without realizing it).

Christian theology holds that God is the creator of all and as such is part of everything, including all processes on earth (such as evolution and DNA)—so the scientific discoveries of how life changes over time on this planet (evolution) are not at all in conflict with this point (see here and here). When a Christian thinks about the world God is present in all processes and for the non-religious person God is not: the processes themselves do not change dependent on one’s belief, but aspects of the underlying causality and meaning do….that is how faith works.

Majority Christian theology has no stake in challenging the natural sciences. Again, this is not to say that over history religious institutions, for political reasons, have not attempted to suppress scientific research (they have). Science, as a process, has nothing to say about the existence of God (or gods). One cannot materially prove or disprove the existence of God…that is what faith is all about. People can disagree as to whether God (or gods) is at play in the world, but that is not a debate about science, it is a debate about belief.

There is little theological and no scientific basis for a grudge match between Jesus and Darwin. So anyone, religious believer or scientist (or neither) who claims that there is, is promoting ignorance and making life more difficult than it need be.

For people of faith, being told there is a problem with the science that they rely on day in and day out is potentially damaging…and it can cause undue stress as they try to negotiate this divide. Telling those who are not religious that those who are religious–which includes many (most?) of their friends — are opposed to science and knowledge drives a wedge between people, adding to the already heightened potentials for conflict in the modern world. This is not healthy.

Again, I stress that this is not to say that many religious institutions, and many more specific people claiming to speak for religions, don’t argue against, and try to suppress, the immense body of knowledge we have developed via science. There’s a robust record of various religious sects actively discriminating, or attacking, concepts and datasets that emerged via scientific discovery. But it is not even close to a majority of religious believers who act and think this way. People use the results of scientific discovery every day and in many ways, fully accepting that things in our daily lives work because of what we know from scientific research (think antibiotics, combustion engines, electricity, cellular signals, and refrigeration, for example). Most everyone relies on the results of scientific discovery every day without conflict with their faiths.

It is also true that some scientists, or rather individuals claiming to speak for “science,” spend a lot of their time deriding people’s beliefs, faiths and practices as silly, “made-up” or even dangerous. These folks deride believers as gullible, religions as only about control, and faith practices as damaging to human freedom. But these assertions are not from the majority of scientists nor from the outcomes of scientific research, they arise from the biases of the individuals asserting them. No scientific test can assess the validity of the metaphysical, so anyone who tells you that “science” disproves the existence of God (or gods) is lying about what science is and does.

Pushing the idea of substantial conflict between science and faith does not accurately represent what the majority of people, religious, scientist, both, or neither, believe, do or want.

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