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Juxtaposing Religion & Science

ashley's picture

Ashley Navarro
Evolution, Stories, Diversity
Anne Dalke
February 11, 2011

                                                                          Juxtaposing Religion & Science

    During my third year at Bryn Mawr College I entered into a class that crosses the observed boundaries between educational focuses. English is separated from Biology. History is separated from Science. Psychology is separated from Math. But not in this class. Here we encounter an interweaving of Biology and English, evolution and literature. As made explicit by our professors, the course deals with “the story of evolution and the evolution of stories.” Just as that first part of the statement claims, we have been discussing Darwin’s Origin of Species, complicating that which he tells us and juxtaposing his ideas with those of creationism. We are continually asking, which one of the two should be taught? Which one should be believed? Is there one truth?

    The many discussions, the questioning and the jumble of responses encountered from classmates have all made me wonder; what is this necessity to choose one sole foundational story and to close one’s mind off to any and all other possibilities? This raises the question of, can both notions, evolutionism and creationism, coexist peacefully? Are they capable of being viewed together in society and being viewed together in a single individual’s mind? I say yes. I think it is very possible for this to occur. From what I found, I am not the only one who thinks this way.
    Religion and science can be viewed together in different lights and to different degrees. One way would be to see the faith found behind religion to be a driving force in science. We can also see them as completing each others’ sentences. What one cannot define or answer, the other can step in and provide a response. Or, my own personal view, it could be seen that an individual is capable of code-switching between both realms, where one does not affect the other but both can exist in close proximity. We can see each of these as lying on a spectrum, with different degrees of accepting the two spheres together.

    I found that Albert Einstein could be placed on this spectrum which I have created. He states that “science without religion is lame; [and] religion without science is blind”, and while he himself was not a devout person he recognized the importance of one within the other. A couple of  the aforementioned ways of viewing the simultaneity of religion and science seem to fit in with Einstein’s line of thinking. In one sense, Einstein sees “the cosmic religious feeling [as] the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research”, which follows with the first view of how the two can interrelate.
    Another view that Albert Einstein has in regards to this topic depicts how “science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be…religion, on the other hand, deals…with evaluations of human thought and action: it cannot…speak of facts and relationships between facts.” In this sense, we see how religion and science correlate with one another and build off of the prior knowledge each has constructed. It ties back into the formation of one complete story when both realms are included as part of the foundational story.

    A more current scientist holds a similar view, expressing it in the article God and Evolution can Co-exist, Scientist Says by Robin Lloyd. Through this article we meet Karl W. Giberson who is a physics professor at Eastern Nazarene College in Massachusetts. We find that Giberson has “staked out a middle ground when it comes to the battle between Christians and Darwinists, stating that they can be reconciled with one another.” This notion of pinning one up against the other is not one which this scientist would agree with. Rather, he is convinced by his own viewpoint, where “…he thinks one can be a Christian and accept evolution”, also claiming that “these two sets of knowledge don’t make as much contact with each other as other people think” (Lloyd, 2008), which is an argument that I would make. It seems to be this fear of crossing into the confines of one realm that causes a clash to occur between the two. It seems to be that when individuals place all their belief into one explanation, into one foundational story, they will listen to nothing else and argue when they become offended and feel personally attacked. Releasing this narrow scope allows one to respect the views that others have while keeping our own intact.

    A third source, an online article from National Geographic, Evolution and Religion can Coexist, Scientists Say, expresses similar beliefs held by other scientists. These scientists claim that Darwin never mentioned God, insinuating that it would be “logical to think that a divine being used evolution as a method to create the world” ( This notion would seem to fit the second view that I mentioned, in which science and religion can be seen as completing each others’ sentences and eliminating any blanks in the big picture. The article claims that each of the two serve different purposes and each has their strong points and their weak points in responding to inquiries. It is stated that “science is very good at answering the ‘how’ questions…But it is woefully inadequate in addressing the ‘why’ questions…These are the meaning questions, which many people think religion is particularly good at dealing with.” With using the two, religion and science, side by side we are provided with one complete story, with an answer to every question.

    Through each of these examples we can see how the varying stances, all of which were accepting of religion and science together, are capable of coexisting with one another without clashing. It indeed is not absolutely necessary to side with one over the other when they can work well jointly.

    As we have seen, it is possible to hold both foundational stories, a scientific one and a religious one, in mind and to perceive both as adequate in telling their story. In effect, they can even come to compliment one another. Depending on where an individual stands on the spectrum, which I have constructed to mark the relationship between evolutionism and creationism - science and religion, dictates which view they are most likely to hold. Religion can propel science, they can combine to provide a complete story, or they can simply exist in one’s mind while not affecting one another. One question that this might raise, if science can work so closely with religion, can it then be considered a religion of its own? I’ll leave us with this thought from Albert Einstein:
While it is true that scientific results are entirely independent from religious or moral considerations, those individuals to whom we owe the great creative achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to the rational striving for knowledge.


Evolution and religion can coexist, scientists say. (2010, October 28). Retrieved from          <>.

Einstein, Albert. Ideas and Opinions. Crown Publishers, Inc. 1954, pp 36 - 49.

 Lloyd, R. (2008, November 18). God and evolution can co-exist, scientist says. Retrieved from  <>.    



Anne Dalke's picture

On Being Bilingual

I was so struck when you spoke last week about "being bilingual" as facilitating "code-switching": being knowledgeable in various languages, and so able to easily go from speaking and writing in one to another.

I see this paper as a further exploration of this possibility. How useful might it be to think of science and religion as two languages, and of ourselves as public intellectuals and citizens who can translate between them? Are they "two sets of knowledge," or two different takes on knowledge--"what is and what should be"? Does science address the "how," while religion tackles the "why"? (Cf. the evolutionary thinker Ernst Mayr, who said that "every problem in biology comes in two parts, the how and the why, the proximate explanation and the ultimate one"). Is faith a driving force in science, and science a way of putting a "capstone" on, or offering an explanation for, religious belief? Can each be "foundational," but in a realm separate from the other?

I share your interest in building bridges between these two realms, and a number of years ago I created a website on Serendip with a colleague in Chemistry who, like me, sees her religious life as entirely congruent with her intellectual work as a college professor and researcher. It's called Science and Spirit,  and begins with this claim:

The exploratory seeking that Quakers call "continuing revelation," the process of constantly "testing" in a social context, against what others know, what one knows oneself, against new experience and new information...are activities that, ideally, can be practiced in both the religious and the intellectual realms.

It also seems very important to you that these two sets of ideas not "clash." Can you say more about that--this presumption of the need not to disagree, that seems to undergird this paper? I'm also noting that in her paper on The How and the Why of our World, Organized Khaos comes to a very different conclusion, that religion and science provide "a constant clash of taste that will continue to satisfy intellectuals who enjoy thinking outside the box and challenging the norm." As I said to her, I think the two of you should talk! (with a nudge that your talking here, on Serendip, would be of interest and use to us all....)

And here's a third potential correspondent for you both, vlopez, the author of The Quest for Truth: Science & Religion.

One of the important dimensions of your paper, I think, is your observation that "when individuals place all their belief into one explanation, into one foundational story, they will listen to nothing else." I see you trying to get folks of different stripes (and beliefs) to listen to one another. Some of my colleagues and I spend a lot of time working on forms of dialogue, in classrooms and elsewhere, where that sort of listening can happen; if you want to learn more about this, check out  On Dialogue, Culture and Organizational Learning. My favorite part of this essay is the way it calls for "suspension"--not confronting a situation immediately (and so polarizing the discussion) but rather choosing to "suspend", letting our perceptions rest for a while to see what more will come up, both from ourselves and from others. Doing so creates a space for some real dialogue (as opposed to a debate, and the inevitable stand-off) to arise. That's the sort of conversation I see you encouraging here--for which thanks!

Oh, and one last thing strikes me here: that you begin with your own experience, in our class, but you end by giving Einstein the last word. What would happen if the paper circled back around to you, and you gave yourself the last word? What would you say? ;)