Can Science and Religion Coexist?
By: Amanda Albright
Senior, East Mecklenburg High School
Whether or not one is an atheist or a die-hard believer in God, religion and science must always be reconciled on a personal level. It’s extremely unwise to believe in one without at least considering the other. As Albert Einstein said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” The two seem to contradict each other, whereas they can actually complement one another. Reconciliation of the two gives people well-rounded beliefs, values and knowledge.
Religion provides guidance in the search for the answers of life’s most meaningful questions. “What is my purpose on this Earth?” “How will I find my happiness?” Nearly every person on the planet has struggled with these questions at one point or another, and religion offers some advice in finding the answers. For example, religion recommends charity and generosity and resisting sins such as greed and pride in order to be a better person.
Science, on the other hand, offers no explanation or guidance when it comes to considering life’s most important question. It can explain how we were put on Earth, such as evolution, but it can’t explain why we are here. For this reason, many people prefer a belief in religion rather than science. A sole belief in science is often a lonely and unfulfilling one, because it doesn’t answer these questions that truly matter to most human beings.
Justice Oliver W. Holmes said, “Science makes major contributions to minor needs. Religion, however small its successes, is at least at work on the things that matter most.” The successes of religion that Holmes refers to could be anything from religion’s attempt to encourage followers to love one another to religion’s discouragement of being judgmental. The things that matter most to people, like love and good deeds, are what religion in general is centered around.
A lot of these lessons involving religion I had to learn the hard way. I used to attend a church that I had several qualms about. Among them: the fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, the seemingly hypocritical followers, and the church’s effort to proselytize to as many people as it could. After leaving the church, I said a lot of negative comments about these things that I now regret. It took a while, but I now have a positive outlook on the church because of the overall things the church stands for. The church gives a considerable portion of its proceeds to charities, such as a program that gives scholarships to teen moms. One of the biggest focuses of the church is service, especially creating a volunteer community within the church. Looking back, though the church was flawed, I think it was more beneficial to the community than it was harmful. These are the “small successes” Holmes is talking about, and they are actually quite meaningful to people and affect society as a whole for the better, because they deal with things that matter most.
That being said, a belief system centered on religion, ignorant of scientific information, is not well rounded. Pope John Paul II stated wisely, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition.” Many religious beliefs are simply irrational and the lessons the beliefs originate from were not intended to be taken literally. For example, many of the parables in the Bible feature situations that defy science – such as when Jesus turned a few loaves of bread into enough to feed thousands. Whether this is a commentary on how generous Jesus is, or how a belief in Jesus can fulfill thousands, this story was not meant to be taken literally.
An example of this is a controversial one. The Bible gives many proclamations in the book of Corinthians, most notably that a “man shall not lie with another man.” This has been a subject of scrutiny by many for hundreds of years, and gays have been oppressed by society throughout history because of it. However, now there is scientific evidence that defies what the Bible says. This evidence says that homosexuals really were born that way because there is a gay gene. Studies show that in a pair of identical twins, if one is homosexual, there is a 50% chance that the other is too. This has been used as evidence for the “gay gene” since the 90s. Science has a lot of other evidence that supports the idea that homosexuality is not a choice – what many religious people argue. For example, there are dozens of animals that participate in homosexual acts, which scientists have used as proof that homosexuality is perfectly natural.
Pope John Paul II furthers his idea that science can prevent religion from being too superstitious or simply wrong, with this: “Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.” He means that science does not deal with values or morals whatsoever, just formulas and explanations. Therefore, a sole belief in science means that one could live his or her life in any which way he or she pleases, because believing in science does not necessitate believing in any morals or values. And as aforementioned, science does near to nothing in helping answer life’s most important questions. This outlook can be a little misleading, because one does not need religion in order to have morals. However, I think the Pope’s overall message is correct, since he is saying religion “can” purify science, and not that it always purifies science.
Reconciliation of science and religion is hard – some would say impossible. But people must attempt to find a balance between the two, because it doesn’t seem like people can live without either one. Ignoring scientific fact is simply unwise because it will cause people to have unreasonable, outlandish beliefs, such as the idea that the Earth is 6,000 years old. But believing in only science won’t work either. Most people need religion to give them hope or love or simply fulfillment. When piecing together Pope John Paul II’s statement on science and religion, he says, “Science can purify religion for error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.” But most importantly, he goes on to say: “Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish…”