One day, a visitor to the zoo noticed that an orangutan was reading the Bible and Darwin’s Origin of Species. In surprise, the visitor asked the ape, “Why are you reading those two books?” The orangutan replied, “Well, I am trying to figure out if I am brother’s keeper, or my keeper’s brother.”
Many people are trying to figure that out as well. There is contention between religion and science which dates back hundreds of years. Sometimes the tension has been a hearty debate, sometimes a bitter argument and other times it has been life and death. Many people believe that religion and science can not exist together and represent diametrically opposing world viewpoints.
Well, I believe that science and religion can co-exist, and although, they represent different points of view, I do not think they are necessarily opposing. Religion and science are like two different witnesses viewing the same thing, but from different angles — and using different methods. Religion and science are different disciplines, but they both point to, and seek, one thing — the truth. I believe as Albert Einstein did when he said, “Science without religion is lame; and religion without science is blind.”
One of the best ways I have heard the difference described is that religion seeks to answer the “why” questions, and science seeks to answer the “how” questions. The answer to a why question is different than an answer to a how question, even though they may be an answer to the same incident , or the same subject.
Religion is subjective — science is objective. Religion works from the inside out — science works from the outside in. Religion comes from the heart — science comes from the head. Religion is poetry — science is prose. Religion and science are two sides of the same coin of truth.
I grew up with a desire to know the truth — the truth of how the world works and why the world works. I grew up with a love of science and a love of God. I never really considered that the two were separate, distinct and unreconcilable. I believed then, and I believe now, that the two inform and complement each other. I think of it like the story of the five blind men who felt different parts of an elephant, and then were asked to describe an elephant. One blind man said an elephant was like a tree trunk, the second said it was like a long hose, the third said it was like a big leaf, the fourth said it was rough and broad like a tapestry, and the fifth said it was like a wire brush.
All five men were correct in what they felt. All five men felt an elephant, but all five had a different experience of what an elephant is. I believe that science and religion are two experiences of reality — neither one is total or complete — in fact, they really need each other.
I have struggled with the tension people have expressed between science and religion. I sought to understand the conflict many people said was there. I sought out the “facts” of the argument, but something always evaded me, until one day while watching a program comparing viewpoints of Creationism and evolution, I saw that this was not an argument of apples and apples, but of apples and oranges. I realized that it is no wonder this argument just goes on and on, because religion and science have two very different approaches and very different purposes behind what they do.
Religion assumes there is a God and then seeks to answer why we have all these things that exist and why all the interactions of these things happen in the universe. Science does not assume much of anything, but rather, observes what things exist and all their interactions in the universe and attempts to describe how things exist and how they interact. You see, right there religion gets upset because science does not assume a divine being, so religion calls science “godless.” Science on the other hand does not deny God, but says that once you assume a divine being — once you come to the first mover, the first cause — the investigation ends and our learning ends.
I liken it to when a child asks a parent one of those deep probing questions such as why is the sky blue? And in our limited knowledge, we answer, “Because God made it that way, or wanted it that way.” With that, you reach the end of the inquiry — you can not go any further. But there was some scientist who was not satisfied with that answer his or her parent gave them and found out that we have blue skies because our atmosphere is mostly nitrogen and nitrogen reflects the color blue.
You see, science uses what is called the Scientific Method. The Scientific Method has four steps. 1) Observation and description of something that happens. 2) Forming an hypothesis to explain what happened. 3) Use the hypothesis to predict the existence of other such interactions, or predict the results of new observations. And 4) Perform experiments to test the predictions of the hypothesis by several independent experiments and/or experimenters to verify the results.
For science, something has be observable and quantifiable. You have to able to see it and measure it somehow. After you see it and measure it, you have to be able to do it again and again — it has be repeated over and over. So you can see how God just eludes being observed, being measured and being repeated in being observed and measured.
So let us take the latest argument going on in school boards these days about teaching Intelligent Design along with evolution. Intelligent Design is the latest attempt by conservative Christians to put God in the public school curriculum. It is not a new proof or argument, but an old one repackaged. Thomas Aquinas used this argument back in the 13th century. Intelligent Design follows many attempts to put Special Creation in the classroom. Special Creation is the belief that God created everything based on the accounts in the Bible. Special Creation proposes that the world is only 6,000 years old and that God planted dinosaur bones and other fossils that appear to be millions of years old to trick us or test our faith.
Intelligent Design states that the universe is too complex to be accounted for as coming from a random process of evolution. The complexity of the human eye is cited frequently as a proof that there needs to be an unseen intelligence and designer of the natural order. Thomas Aquinas called this the argument for God’s existence from design. But most scientists are not willing to agree. Most scientists are convinced that evolution by natural selection better explains life’s complexities and diversities. Most scientists agree that there is no scientific test for the existence of God, or that the origins of human life “demands” an intelligent designer.
If we go back to the scientific method I outlined just a while ago, we see that in the first two steps, Intelligent Design does just fine. The complexity of the universe is observed and described in step one. In step two an hypothesis is proposed to explain the complexity with an Intelligent Designer. But the hypothesis fails to predict observed natural selection, and there is no way to form an experiment to test for the existence of an “intelligent cause.”
Intelligent design — and creationism for that matter — is not science and it is not a form of science. It is a belief. Intelligent Design is really a philosophical idea dressed up as science. Intelligent Design would be appropriate in a philosophy class, or theology class, but it is not science. I can believe in Intelligent Design, but not as science. I believe that God created everything, but I do not know how.
Proponents of Intelligent Design or Creationism fear that science — especially evolution — will lead people to deny the existence of God. They fear that if God’s authority is not affirmed and declared, then people will fall away into godlessness and immorality. I doubt this. On the issue of godlessness: If a person studies science and loses their faith in God because they believe the Bible to be disproved as accurate, then I think the problem is not with science, but with that person’s original faith. Perhaps, their concept of God was so inadequate that it could be easily destroyed. I think we have all had our faith challenged, but rather than give in to the doubt, or even cling to faith without question, we would be better off to face the challenge and re-examine it and grow from it. A person who never doubts, never grows.
Have you ever believed that God would work magic for you or get you out of every jam? It is like praying to do well on a test you did not study for, and when you fail, do you abandon your faith in God? Or will you conclude that God is punishing you? You need to re-examine your belief in God as Santa Claus and realize that God gave you to ability to study for that test, and will still help you overcome the failure.
As for the issue of immorality: I have seen some agnostics and atheists show more moral integrity than many of the people who confess Christ. Some of the recent scandals of prominent religious figures shows that believing in God and the literal interpretation of the Bible is no sure protection from committing immorality. I think part of the problem lies more in their misguided worship of the Bible in place of the worship of God. The other part of the problem with immorality has more to do with people’s commitment to treat each other well, than their fear of God punishing them.
If one believes that God is the author of all truth, then the pursuit of scientific truth is not to be feared, but rather pursued with joy and delight in discoveries that will render the manifold splendor of God’s truth. Truth is truth, therefore scientific truth need not be held in opposition to revealed, or religious truth. They are different aspects of the truth which leads to God. If God created everything, then God is somehow involved in science which tries to explain everything. On the other hand, if science tries to explain everything, then it studies the ways of God who created it all.
When we look at a beautiful sunset, or simply gaze at the wonders of nature, and utter praise to the Creator of it all, we offer praise from a truth born of faith. When we exclaim, “God, what a beautiful sunset!” this is not science asserting, but rather, it is faith affirming God. Science talks the talk — it tells us how we exist — but faith walks the walk by telling us why we exist. Science can do no more and faith can do no less.
Science will never be able to tell us — based on empirical evidence (the results of experiments) — that there is a God, or there is not a God. Only faith can make such a declaration. The knowledge of God comes to us through different channels, or forms. Scientific discovery is one form, natural revelation another, and written revelation — in other words, the Word of God — yet another form.
When we offer praise for a glorious sunset, we are not wondering how it happened in that moment, but giving thanks to the Creator of such wonders. The how questions are for science, and the why questions are for religion. Science pursues the mechanics of nature, while religion purposes the meaning of life. Science seeks the hows and religion seeks the whys. Science seeks to explain how nature works, while religion seeks to explain what it means to be in a profound relationship with the Creator of all nature.
Science is trying to answer the how question — How did creation happen? Religion or theology is trying to answer the why question — Why did creation happen? that is why we teach science in the science classroom and theology in the theology church. But ultimately, there should be no conflict between science and religion, for each has its place and its purpose.
Einstein said, “Science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind.” Meaning: we need science to search for truth, wherever that may lead us, to seek the answers of “what” and “how.” And we need religion to help us choose what to do with our new found knowledge, and to help us glimpse an answer to the question of “why”? Science can teach us to split the atom. Religion will determine whether we use that knowledge to heat a city or blow it up. Religion without science may give you a flat earth, but science without religion may give you no earth at all!
In the end, the question may not be so much about the origin of the universe and human life, but our destiny. Albert Einstein, a man of science and faith, breathed a prayer when he said, “I believe in a God revealed in a harmony among all people.” That would be where I hope we are heading — to a greater openness about life, a greater acceptance of one another in all our infinite variety, to greater care and compassion for our fellow human beings, and whatever we may become. Then we may truly see the day when we will beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks — something that will take a real partnership of faith and science!
We need both the viewpoint of science and faith. We need each one to speak in its strongest, but most humble voice. One way we can do this is to cultivate a loving, accepting spirit among ourselves. In the midst of our controversies and world views in conflict, God tells us to embrace one another in love. And as the Apostle Paul wrote: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Let us keep pressing on in search of truth and salvation for all.