Can science be reconciled with religion?
Answered by Jacob Silverman and HowStuffWorks
  • Jacob Silverman

    Jacob Silverman

  • HowStuffWorks


  1. It's possible to say that science and religion in fact can be reconciled, but that also depends on what you are expecting from each of these disciplines. That is, do you expect religion to mostly prescribe a code of ethics, ceremonies and prayers, a cultural history and the like? Or, do you also expect religion to explain the origin of the world and to account for how things work in nature? If so, then that religion will be overlapping directly with the domain of science, which seeks to explain the physical and natural world through observation, experimentation and rigorous application of the scientific method.

    If you adhere to a religious explanation for the creation of the world -- say, one that claims that Earth is only 6,000 years old -- then such a theory will be consistently under attack from science. That is because,  according to the best scientific data available, Earth is more than 4.5 billion years old. A religious person may respond by citing an article of faith, simply claiming that he or she believes otherwise, in accordance with his or her religion. Or the religious person might say that radiometric dating of apparently ancient rocks, along with any other physical evidence of Earth's ancient character, have themselves been created by an omniscient God and were for some reason disguised to appear that way.

    It's not unheard of for people to hold both of these ideas at once -- that according to religious teachings the Earth may be one way but that science itself is but a sort of deity-created cover story, yet one that is still worth pursuing and exploring and making decisions based upon. Francis Collins, a scientist who led the Human Genome Project in its mapping of human DNA, has spoken publicly about his Christianity, yet he also has said that the evidence for Darwin's theory of evolution is "absolutely overwhelming" [source: Collins]. In his view, an omniscient God did create the universe more than 13 billion years ago with certain rules attached. We know those rules as physics, mathematics, quantum mechanics and the like, and in Collins's view, they are simply the mechanisms by which the God he believes in controls the universe (or at the very least, set it in motion).

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  2. Schools of thought differ on whether science and religion can peacefully co-exist in both the mind of a person and within the larger society. One school of thought suggests that the beliefs associated with both science and religion are too fundamentally at odds with one another to co-exist. This idea is based on the 19th-century "conflict thesis." You could find more examples of harmony between religion and science within the individual. A 1996 poll found that 40 percent of working scientists believed in a Biblical-type omniscient God. This underscores the other school of thought that allows the reconciliation of the two institutions; that the Big Bang created the universe, but a creator God gave rise to the Big Bang.

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