Science and Religion

Over the centuries religion and science have been in a constant battle for domination with heated debates about the meaning of life. The disagreement starts at the very beginning of time, with the religious view that an omnipotent God created the world on his own, in opposition to the scientific theory of the Big Bang and the creation of the Universe.

Science and religion are both extremely difficult topics to define. A popular definition states that science cannot involve moral judgments or opinions as it is constructed by facts and scientific statements can be proved. Bearing this notion in mind, it is obvious that science cannot be employed to explain anything supernatural since there is no evidence of it. On the other hand, religion is just as vague to pinpoint. The diversity of religious movements around the world makes it virtually impossible to provide a universal definition.

Some religions are based on the concept that God decides what happens to people and there is nothing they can do but to repent and await salvation, while others give each person a free will to determine the course of their own life. The ardent followers of each religion might claim that it is only their belief that is correct and that would suffice to explain the ways of the world. It would seem, therefore, that science and religion are in a constant conflict. Thus, the major difference may be found in methodology, the polarization between facts and faith. In the 20th century, another conflict emerged involving ethics. Modern technology provides scientists with practically limitless options including genetic engineering and euthanasia, all of which cause concern to those involved with religion.

There are examples in history of agreement between the two sides. The Greek mathematician Pythagoras believed that numbers were a divine creation. Scientific pioneers like Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Boyle were all devoted Christians. The origins of how the conflict arose in the first place may lie in the Middle Ages. During this period, the Church was the ultimate institution and more powerful than kingdoms and empires. The periods known as the Enlightenment in the 18th century and the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century saw the common people turn to science and education. The resulting liberalistic spirit undermined the authority of the Church and it gradually lost its influence and power.

The different viewpoints between science and religion were brought to a climax in 1859 when Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published his theory On the Origin of Species, claiming that humans were descendants of monkeys, a statement that religious institutions found simply outrageous. In 1860, a famous debate on evolution took place at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Oxford University between Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873) and Thomas H. Huxley (1825-1895), a supporter of Darwin. According to the story, Bishop Wilberforce asked Huxley if it "is on your grandfather's or your grandmother's side that you claim descent from a monkey?" Huxley told the Bishop that he'd rather have a monkey as a relation rather than a bishop who hid the truth, which caused uproar at the time.

However, conflict between religious doctrines and scientific theories had existed long before that. One of the most notable examples took place in the 17th century and involved Italian physicist Galileo (1564-1642) who published a theory about heliocentric, or a sun-centered universe. Galileo was a controversial character and the Catholic Church accused him of being a heretic. Back in the 12th century, it was not unusual for a man to be both a saint and a philosopher as was the case with St. Thomas Aquinas, who employed a theological method of studying the Scriptures. He even considered the possibility of the existence of alien life forms on other planets.

In his best-seller the God Delusion (2006), British scientist and author Richard Dawkins argues that a supernatural creator simply cannot exist and that a belief in God is a "delusion" and irrational. This topic has been the cause of a major debate in the United States. In 2005, a federal judge ruled in favour of a group of parents in Pennsylvania who argued that Darwin's theory of evolution had to be taught in biology lessons. The decision was described as a "landmark" ruling and a bitter blow to religious conservatives, who believed it marginalized their beliefs. In other states, federal courts have been considering this important issue as the debate continues.

Science and Religion: Selected full-text books and articles

Science and Religion around the World By John Hedley Brooke; Ronald L. Numbers Oxford University Press, 2011
The Beginning of All Things: Science and Religion By Hans Küng; John Bowden William B. Eerdmans, 2007
The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate By Adam Frank University of California Press, 2009
Science, Religion, and the Human Experience By James D. Proctor Oxford University Press, 2005
The Faith of Scientists in Their Own Words By Nancy K. Frankenberry Princeton University Press, 2008
Evangelicals and Science in Historical Perspective By David N. Livingstone; D. G. Hart; Mark A. Noll Oxford University Press, 1999
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