Since the dawn of man, humans have striven to explain the many mysteries of the universe, and to justify our existence in it. Throughout this journey of self-understanding, numerous standpoints on human existence have evolved and merged into a complex, abstract manifestation called religion. However, as the human race has grown and advanced itself, many ideas expressed by religion seem less and less plausible. Advances in science and technology have yielded a new breed of human thought that has disturbed and shaken the foundations of religious ideology. Our new, scientifically grounded understanding of the universe has unfolded a plethora of answers to age-old questions, which are antithetical to the explanations offered by religion. As strong scientific evidence has surfaced which is contrary to the prevailing religious view, open-minded believers have adapted their beliefs accordingly, but many fundamentalists refuse to accept scientific evidence. This is the root of the dilemma between science and religion. Many philosophers and theists have offered their views concerning the ongoing battle between science and religion.
Reconciliation between science and religion is impossible, because the claims made by religion and the evidence provided by science are so extraordinarily different. The advance of science has caused many theists to compromise traditional religious beliefs in order to facilitate scientific evidence, thus proving that scientific explanations of the universe are more plausible than the rationales offered by religion. An excellent example of this can be seen in the question of the age of the planet Earth. According to religious theology, the Earth is less than ten thousand years old. However, there is an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that proves the Earth to be many billions of years old. Many religious thinkers have responded to this evidence, by claiming that the methods used to ascertain the Earth’s age are inaccurate. They argue that radioactive dating; a widely accepted method of determining the age of rocks, is inaccurate because there is no available rock sample of a known age, which the method can be calibrated to. However, this argument is obsolete, because the only calibration required to find the age of a rock is the measurement of decay rates, which can be found in the laboratory in a controlled experiment (Badash 90).
Because of the evidence provided by scientific research, many religious thinkers have been forced to compromise their position, and have attempted to blend scientific fact with biblical accounts of the age of the earth. Many theists contend that the words of the bible are metaphorical, and can be interpreted in a way that reconciles the biblical account of the Earth’s age with scientific fact. According to Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, the earth was created in six days: “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day” Genesis 1:31 (Catholic Information Network Online). They argue that other passages in the book of Genesis can be interpreted to mean that a day to God can be thousands of years, and because of this, the Earth could have been created over a much longer timeframe than six days, and can thus be as old as science proves it to be. However, this seems to be a weak point in the argument on behalf of the biblical age of Earth. In questioning the validity of the Bible as a literal work, it opens up the possibility that Christianity may be wrong. When religious thinkers accept scientific fact and try to harmonize it with the bible, the validity of the entire faith has been undermined, and this puts any biblical based argument on shaky ground. Another quandary sought to be resolved by both religion and science, is the question of mankind’s origin.
Modern science has provided many explanations concerning the origin of man, which contradict the traditional idea of creation. The best known of these explanations is the theory of biological evolution. Simply stated, biological evolution encompasses the changes experienced by a particular species over thousands and millions of generations as it reproduces varying offspring, more of which are generally better suited to survive in their environment than the generation before (Britannica Encyclopedia Online). Evidence for biological evolution can be seen in the diversity of life that surrounds us. It is estimated that there are over two million species on Earth, all of which have similar defining characteristics. Every living organism on Earth has basic structural units called cells. This simple fact alone is key evidence that all species on Earth have common ancestry. Furthermore, the history of life recorded by fossils presents compelling evidence of evolution. The fossil record shows that the first complex life, jellyfish and worms, appeared on earth about six hundred and eighty million years ago (Britannica Encyclopedia Online). As the fossil record is evaluated further, it can be shown that these life forms evolved into more complex life-forms, and those life-forms into more complex ones, and so on. Because evolution can be clearly seen in fossil records, it is highly probable that evolution is responsible for our species’ coming to being. Despite the overwhelming evidence in favor of evolution, theists still champion the idea of creationism.
Creationism holds that god created the earth and all of its species, and that the Book of Genesis gives an accurate account of creation. There are many schools of thought concerning creationism. Biblical creationists believe that the scientific explanations of the creation of the universe contradict the words of the bible. However, another school of thought, scientific creationism, believes that scientific explanations of the origin of the universe do not necessarily contradict the words of the bible. Creation science tries to blend science with religion, and uses scientific knowledge as an aid in their argument. An example of this can be seen with Genesis’ account of the origin of the universe. According to the book of Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light” Genesis 1:1-3 (Catholic Information Network Online). Creation science posits that this can be a biblical explanation for the “big bang theory”. According to the big bang theory, the universe began as the result of an explosion about 10 billion to 20 billion years ago. Immediately after the explosion, the universe consisted chiefly of strong radiation, which formed an expanding primordial fireball. After some time, some of the energy of the fireball was converted into matter, chiefly in the form of hydrogen. From this giant fireball, particles of light emerged for the first time (Britannica Encyclopedia Online). Creation science contends that the big bang theory bears striking resemblance to the Genesis account. I believe that this standpoint does not hold much ground, because the words of the bible are not being taken literally. The words of Genesis are taken metaphorically and stretched in order to fit the scientific model of the origin of the universe. Accepting scientific fact and using the bible to try to explain it undermines the validity of the entire faith.
Creation science has also tried to provide a biblical account for the earth’s geology. It argues that the Earth’s geology is a result of a worldwide flood, as described by the book of Genesis. However, this assertion does not hold as science. According to William R. Overton, in his opinion in the case McLean vs. Arkansas Board of Education, “any kind of Genesis Flood depends upon supernatural intervention. A worldwide flood as an explanation of the world’s geology is not the product of natural law, nor can its occurrence be explained by natural law” (292). Another example of the shortcomings of creation science can be seen in their claims that the mathematical probability of a chance chemical combination resulting in life from non-life is very remote. Creation science argues that these mathematical facts are scientific evidences that life is the product of a creator. However, these statistics do nothing to prove creation. According to Judge Overton, “While the statistical figures may be impressive evidence against the theory of chance chemical combinations as an explanation of origins, it requires a leap of faith to interpret those figures so as to support a complex doctrine which includes a sudden creation from nothing, a worldwide flood, separate ancestry of man and apes, and a young earth” (293). Although creation science does a good job of stretching the words of the bible in order to keep up with the fast paced findings of science, I find it hard to believe in creationism. The overwhelming amount of evidence in support of evolution makes it a far more plausible explanation for the origin of species.
Another problem between science and religion concerns the existence of god. The field of physics describes the universe in relatively simple concepts. Although the explanations of the mechanics of the universe offered by physics may not appear to be simple, as we learn more and more physics, the structure of the universe does in fact seem more and more uncomplicated. However, theists postulate that an infinitely complex god is necessary to explain the simple structured universe. Descartes argues that god is a very complex being, having qualities of omnipotence and omniscience. The theist’s position replaces the question, “How did our simple universe get here? ” with the much more difficult question “How did an infinitely complex god get here?” The principle of Ockham’s Razor posits that simpler explanations are more likely to be correct than complex explanations (Britannica Encyclopedia Online). This scientific principal cuts God out of the picture. According to the most well known scientist of our time, Albert Einstein, “the more a man is imbued with the ordered regularity of all events the firmer becomes his conviction that there is no room left by the side of this ordered regularity for causes of a different nature” (Larson and Witham 313). In other words, the more a person understands about the workings of the universe, the more he or she is aware of nature’s simplicity, and the less likely he or she is to believe in god. This is the reason why 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences are nontheists (Larson and Witham 313). However, theists claim that the existence of god can be proven through scientific fact. Rev. William Paley in his 1802 book, Natural Theology, argues that, ” an artifact exhibiting a complexity of parts that collaborate to create a purposeful function requires a designer” (Foster 58). Paley argues that if we see evidence for a similar design in the creations of nature, then the object also needs a cosmic designer, or God (Foster 59). I find this position hard to accept. Everything in nature can be seen or measured. However, god is intangible, and to believe in god is a complete act of faith. Many theists point out that certain aspects of nature are also invisible, such as gravitational fields and magnetic fields (Foster 60). However, a parallel cannot be drawn between the invisibility of these natural phenomenons and the invisibility of god, because these aspects of nature can be measured. God, on the other hand, cannot be proven to exist through empirical evidence.
If scientific evidence exists that refutes the teachings of the bible, then why do people believe in religion? Religion gives humanity a sense of security, a sense of individual purpose, and most importantly, brings people together. Arguably the most important aspects of any valid religion is its belief in a code of conduct, a set of moral teachings that define how people should behave towards others. Religion is one of the major ways one generation passes on its values and morals to each succeeding generation. Religion has also been viewed as a way to control the masses. According to Karl Marx, “Religion is the opium of the people” (Microsoft Bookshelf CD-ROM 1998). Despite the scientific arguments that challenge the teachings of religion, religion will always remain an institution in our society.
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