May 20, 2009

Religion Vs. Science

Posted in Food for Thought at 5:11 pm by sonwafuthi

There is a rife and very grave undeclared war between the religious community and the scientific community, and as a spiritual young aspiring scientist I find myself caught up in-between. The war is a result of, amongst others, the conflicting ideas about the origins of humankind, and it dates back to centuries. Namely; the Evolution and Creation theory, from scientific and religious communities.

It is believed widely across religious community that the Evolution theory is an attempt by man to take God out of the “Creation Picture”.  The use of the word “theory” also casts doubt, and only fuels the conflict as it is defined in a manner that purports the idea that these are not facts but hypothesis.

This article attempts to highlight some “common ground” between the two schools of thought and harmonise the relations between them.  Hence I think the first thing to do, would be to have little look at the two theories.

Religion

Through the many definitions of religion one can find that there seems to be some common aspects, that religion is a human approach to belief in a supernatural or higher power, the Devine being.

In reference to the written records of human religious experience and ideas, religion began about 5000years ago, and its development has taken many forms in various cultures.

In pre-modern society, it is said that religion was one defining factor of ethnicity, along with language, regional customs, etc. Xenophanes commented that, “men make Gods in their own image; those of Ethiopians are black and snub-nosed, those of Thracians have blue eyes and red hair”.  This statement and the very many types of religions we have, confirm that no one holds the monopoly on religion.

The European colonisation of the 15th to the 19th century contributed extensively to the spread of the Abrahamic religions, namely Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Today about 75% of the world population adhere to classic world religions, 4% to Indigenous tribal religions, and 14% are nonreligious.

As for the creation of life and people, this is what the Christian bible has to say:

  • “In the beginning God created Heavens and Earth…”
  • And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water…”
  • And God said, “Let the water under the sky gather in one place, and let dry ground appear…”
  • Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation…”
  • And God said, “Let the be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons, days, and years…”
  • And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let the birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky…”
  • And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kind…”
  • And God said, “Let us make man in our own image, in our own likeness, and let them rule over fish of the sea, birds of the air, over livestock, over all the earth…”
  • So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

However there seems to be a certain deviation, if any, from the above “Creation theory” coming from the scientific theory.

Science

Human Evolution is the theory which states that humans developed from primates, or ape-like ancestors.  It concerns the emergence on homo-Sapiens as a distinct species from Hominans, great apes and placental mammals.  It is the subject of scientific inquiry that seeks to understand and describe how this change occurred.

The history of the theory goes back to 1856 when some workmen in Neander in Germany found a strange skull. This had little effect to the idea of human evolution; it did however form the notion that there could have been creatures that were half-human and half-ape.

This was until 1859 when Charles Darwin published his work entitled, “The Origins of Species”.  With the release of this book the theory of human evolution became a bit more believable.  The theory stated that the physical traits of an organism are selected for according to the environment it lives in.  Darwin’s book did not address the theory of human evolution; it merely said “…light would be thrown on the origin of man and his history…”

And was the light thrown.  Darwin’s theory saw scientist criss-crossing the country in search of evidence which would branch the gap between humans and apes.  In 1890 an apelike skull with humanlike thigh bone near it was found.  Other fossils began to be found which appeared to be transitional.  This includes the famous Taung child, a fossil aged 2.5 million years found in SA in 1924, which has dubbed SA as the cradle of mankind.

The theories above have been amongst the recent to be at the centre of the conflict between religion and science, and the scientific argument reaches its pinnacle when the “Big Bang” theory of how the earth and other planets formed is added.

The conflict its self dates back to the 17th century, and many theories exist as to why religion sometime seem to conflict with scientific knowledge.

Before the French revolution instituted the secularism, a constitutional declaration of the separation of church from the State, which was soon after adopted by a number of other nation States.  The Roman Catholic Church uses to reserve itself the right to decide which scientific theories were acceptable and which were not.  Galileo was tried and forced to recant the heliocentric theory (Meaning the Sun is the centre of the universe, contrary to Geocentric theory, meaning the earth is the centre of the universe) based on the church’s stance that the Greek Hellenistic system of astronomy (Geocentric) was the correct one.

But then what is theory?  What is meant by the word that is so closely associated with evolution?

The Oxford dictionary defines theory as a hypothesis, a set of ideas produced by reasoning from known facts to explain something. However, in science, a theory is an explanation that binds together various experimentally tested hypotheses to explain some fundamental aspect of nature.  For an idea to qualify as a scientific theory, it must be established on the basis of wide variety of scientific evidence. Its claim must be testable and it must proposed experiments that can be replicated by other scientists.

Richard Dawkins said, “Evolution is a theory in a special philosophical sense of science, but in terms of ordinary lay men’s use of language, it is a fact. It is a fact in the same sense that the Earth goes round the Sun.  Both these are theories, but they are theories that have never been disproved and never will be disproved”.

Scientists say it is about as sensible to doubt that evolution occurs as it is to doubt that gravity exists.  On Earth, release an apple and it will fall towards the planets.  This is a fact, and the theory that explains this phenomenon is the theory of gravity.  Similarly, all living organisms share a common ancestry. This is a fact, supporter not only by the visible similarities in body structure among organisms, but by evidence from genetics.  The theory that best explains these similarities is Evolution.

There have been efforts from both sides of the fence to try and mend the relations between the two.  Isaac Newton believed that gravity caused the planets to revolve about the Sun and he credited God for this saying, “This most beautiful system of the Sun, Planets and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being”.

Most of today’s historians are moving away from the view that the relationship between Christianity and science is one of conflict, and although controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christians to new scientific theories, studies have show that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavours.

In the Baha’i faith, an Abrahamic religion, the harmony of science and religion is the central tenet.  The principle states that the truth is one, and therefore true science and true religion must be in harmony, thus rejecting the view that science and religion are in conflict.

This means that even though they are between science and religion in areas such as the validity of Keplerian Astronomy, the theory of evolution, the method of creation of the Universe and the Earth (Big Bang theory), the origins of life etc, there are efforts being made to reconcile them.

However, on a personal note, and also taking the above in consideration. I ask you not to read the big words used in scientific theories, but to merely observe your surroundings and open your ears enough to see what is not being shown,  hear what is not being said, and understand what is being implicated.

The bible says God is the beginning and the end, and indeed he is. It goes on to praise him as the King of all Kings, God of all Gods, the creator of all the Earth and everything that walks it (including the scientists), and all the Earth’s mysteries which we often refer to as nature. It says this knowledge, and the mind to understand it is given to us accompanied by freewill to choose what we want to believe. Yes, religion is a belief, faith, and it does not exist without it. And as mentioned earlier on, no one holds a monopoly over it.

On the other hand, I have observed a number of natural phenomenons; I can’t help but agree with Sir Isaac Newton’s earlier statement. A significant number of phenomenons can be explained by scientific theories but can not be controlled nor recreated.

However the most intriguing, for me, and reaffirming in reference to the subject at hand is the evolution of a Caterpillar into a butterfly.

How, when the conditions are conducive, worms will evolve on a rotting substance and feed on it.  Worms evolve on your stomach when you are still young.  You don’t eat them, they evolve.  No one puts them in the coffin, they evolve.  There are many more examples of evolution occurring in front of us and all of them are explained by scientific theories.  And unlike religion, science is not cast in stone; it is open to scrutiny and debate.

Besides, why can’t God be the one responsible for evolution? Isn’t he the creator of all?  Why should we take the literal meaning of the bible, which was written by men?  What if God is revealing the truth to us through the discovery of theory?  Why can’t it be that God created the Earth and everything in it over a period of millions of years?  He created dinosaurs and destroyed them millions of years before us.  After all, he was, way long before us, and he will be, way long after us.

This article is released on the same week of release of a movie from the controversial Dan Brown’s book entitled “Angels and Demons”. This article is by no means serving as support for the movie nor any idea purported by it.  This is an entirely independent idea, having being conceived about two weeks before the release of the movie, long before I even heard the movie was being released.

This was just an idea to have you Thinking………………………in Ink.

Written by: S. M.

Edited by: N. D.

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1 Comment »

  1. Vuyo said,

    quite interesting though a bit long and requires a lot of research…but both science and religion represent distinct ways of approaching experience and these differences are sources of debate…


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