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Mind the Gap: Exploring the Rift between Science and Religion

Lethologica's picture


 “The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.” These were the words that Douglas Adams used to begin his novel, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. While the world, by and large, does not, in fact, regard the creation of the universe as a ‘bad move,’ perhaps Douglas Adams presents a very valid point.  The questions surrounding the creation of the universe, and by extension the questions surrounding the concept of evolution have for many years been a sort of sticking point in the struggle between religion and science. There are those who are adamant about denying the existence of biological evolution, fanatic creationists who much prefer a solely religious take on the creation of the earth. On the other hand, there also exist individuals who completely disregard the possibility of religious aspects affecting evolution, and instead put all of their faith in hard facts, and science. While it is these two extreme stereotypes that tend to get the most attention and stand out the most, there is also a third possible stance that can be taken when regarding evolution and the creation of the universe. I believe that there is a delicate sort of balance to be had between science and religion; evolution has the potential to be the perfect bridge between the two worlds.

As Albert Einstein once said, “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” The way I see things, the best possible lens through which to view the world is one created by the merging of faith and science. I have long since decided that absolute fact does not exist, that there is no way to prove something irrefutably true. The only proofs that exist prove untruths, mistakes, and wrong hypotheses. If such is the case, does it not make perfect sense to say that science, within itself, requires some sort of faith, that in some ways science is just as uncertain as religion? Without the willingness to have faith in something without explicit, concrete proof, science, and scientists, wouldn’t be able to go on. I know that I, personally, wouldn’t be able to live my life for all of the uncertainties if I did not simply decide to believe in something every once and a while. On the other hand, religion sustains its own problems. One thing that seems to come up a lot in many organized religions is the ‘rule,’ of sorts, of unquestioning belief. This species of belief is just as dangerous, just as fatal, as no belief at all. Therefore, religion must ideally be tempered with the ability to question, rationalize and observe and draw conclusions of one’s own from those observations. I have found, as I have lived my life and observed my surroundings, that religion and science tend to cover for each other’s weaknesses rather well.  

 Disregarding the previous argument, an exceptionally stubborn individual on either side of the debate might ask: how is it even possible for science and religion to coexist when they disagree on so many things? Ambrose Bierce, the author of The Devil’s Dictionary, answers this question rather well. “There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don't know.” Any way you look at it, absolutely anything might be possible; we don’t know everything there is to know. Just because science explores, and by nature tries to disprove things, doesn’t mean that it is presently capable of completely disproving anything. Science might be able to disprove a phenomenon in one, ten, even one hundred different circumstances, but there is nothing to say that that phenomenon cannot happen within an as-of-yet undiscovered circumstance. Reversely, religion does not necessarily have to be inflexible; in fact, flexibility in anything is essential, especially if that something is to survive for any extended period of time. If religion had been unable to adapt over time, it would have died out long ago. Mainly, science and religion do not have to disagree with each other. Science and religion can meld very easily if only both parties are willing to give ground. Is it not the purpose of science to revise itself over and over again as new information is found? Is it not the nature of religion to survive, and change and grow with the needs and wants of society? If only religion were to allow itself to be revised by science, and science were to allow itself even a little faith, the combination of the two separate concepts would be nearly seamless, and the human race would be afforded what should be a clear, thoughtful view of the world.

However, this is contingent on the ideal world, and the world we live in is less than ideal. “The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos.” So said Stephen Jay Gould, the paleontologist and evolutionary biologist. While there are many people throughout the world that seem content to walk the middle ground between science and religion, in my own experience it is often the least satisfied who are the loudest. For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone, it is the fanatic, the one who stands to loose the most from such a “dethronement of human arrogance” that most resists a melding of belief systems, and as the least satisfied they would be the most heard. In such a way, those who are willing to merge the systems often fall by the wayside, while the discontented individuals rise up to become a road-block on the way to total synchronization.

To sum it up, religion and science are technically compatible, and there are points within both that explicitly cross over. It is at these points that the smoothest bridges can be built, or the roughest divides can develop. One such point is the concept of evolution. Presently, this issue in particular forms a rather violent dichotomy; the fanatics on both ends of the spectrum have long used it as a sort of battleground, as evidenced by the John Scopes Monkey Trial. But despite the potency of the arguments involved, and the stubbornness of the debaters, there is theoretically a very simple solution to the problem. The reality is that the evolutionary scientists did not, in fact, need to completely discard the basic theory of creationism and intelligent design; it would have been enough to simply apply the new findings to the theory, as is done to any scientific theory, and allow it to evolve. The only thing standing in the way is science’s apparent unwillingness to look beyond the hard fact and take belief without proof. Terry Pratchett gives one specific quote that rounds this whole argument up quite well. “Seeing, contrary to popular wisdom, isn't believing. It's where belief stops, because it isn't needed any more.” 


Works Referenced  

Adams, Douglas. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. New York: Ballantine, 2005. Print.

Boris, and Natasha. "Zee Lounge: Evolution Edition." The Motley Moose- Progress Through Politics. Web. Feb. 2011. <>. (Note: Some rather fascinating images can be found here--check them out!)

Lovgren, Stefan. "Evolution and Religion Can Coexist, Scientists Say." Daily Nature and Science News and Headlines. National Geographic News, 18 Oct. 2004. Web. Feb. 2011. <>.

Masci, David. "Darwin Debated: Religion vs. Evolution." Pew Research Center. 4 Feb. 2009. Web. Feb. 2011. <>.

The Quotations Page - Your Source for Famous Quotes. Ed. Michael Moncur. 2010. Web. Feb. 2011. <>.








Paul Grobstein's picture

Evolution as a bridge between science and religion

 Neatly argued.  For more along related lines, see Science and Spirit: Conversations on Serendip.  

"The reality is that the evolutionary scientists did not, in fact, need to completely discard the basic theory of creationism and intelligent design; it would have been enough to simply apply the new findings to the theory, as is done to any scientific theory, and allow it to evolve."

Interesting issue, the the relation between the "basic theory of creationism and intelligent design" and any "scientific theory".  Does one need to "completely discard" older theories in the process of evolving newer ones?  A contemporary evolutionary perspective would suggest not, that what has been on lives on in existing things either in modified form or in its influence on existing things.  On the other hand, the notion that complex and adaptive systems can emerge without any plan or intention (or anything/one embodying such a plan/intention) is a a pretty powerful/useful idea precisely because it discards the essence of "older theories."  Maybe "older theories" live on in the very definition of evolution/emergence?  And in more restricted applications, such as some products of humans (and perhaps some other living organisms?  Would be interesting to further develop this and other relevant ways that evolution can itself be a "bridge" between science and religion, as each is currently understood.