Copyright © 2020 by E.J. Yozamp
A debate as old as primordial slime — or so many of us think. Contrary to popular belief, the debate between science and religion is actually a rather modern, and uniquely Western one, and it begins with the history of Creationism in Fundementalist Christian thought.
For those unfamiliar with Creationism, it is usually described as “a doctrine or theory holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by God out of nothing and usually in the way described in Genesis [the first book of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures]” (Creationism, n.d.). Creationism is derived from a verbatim approach to the Bible, a practice associated with Fundamentalism as a subset of Evangelicalism within Protestant Christianity. Because Fundamentalists believe that the Bible is divinely dictated, rather than divinely inspired as most Christians do, the Creation story in Genesis is understood to have happened in exactly seven days’ Earth-time.
There are several types of Creationism, such as Young Earth Creationism, the Gap Theory, and the Day-Age Theory. While Young Earth Creationism rejects any and all secular science that challenges its theory of cosmology, the latter two, however, attempt to reconcile our current knowledge of astronomy, geology, and evolutionary biology by suggesting a less-than literal interpretation of the Genesis account of creation. However, Creationism has become somewhat of a colloquial umbrella term for the overall belief that the universe was formed according to a Christian Fundementalist, literalist interpretation of the Book of Genesis.
The conflict narrative
Naturally, one could see how Creationism might conflict with the evolution of species. But how the roots of this infamous conflict became so deeply entangled with science and religion, whereas they would become practically synonymous with such, goes far beyond the conflicting doctrines of either. Instead, it is the result of centuries worth of ignorance for science and religion that birthed the modern conflict narrative that is evident today. Creationism and Evolution just happen to be a popular talking point any time the debate arises. For example, “in all major civilizations, people have thought about nature and about man’s place in the cosmos, but it has been primarily in the modern West that we have separated that thinking into two distinct ways of classifying the world. [But] by making this division, science and religion have come to be seen as paradigms of different and often competing modes of understanding… Some of the most widely retold stories in this area involve conflict. The cases of Galileo and the church and, more recently, creationism versus evolution reinforce the conflict narrative… [In fact] the historical myths that emphasize conflict continue to make frequent appearances in popular science narratives to this day. The 2014 remake of the American television documentary Cosmos narrated by astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson used historical conflict myths again and again to valorize science and denigrate ‘authoritarian’ religion,” (Weldon, p. 6).
It goes without further saying that while Creationism and Evolution may blatantly disagree with each other, the purpose of this thesis is to demonstrate how science and religion may be divorced from this tired narrative of conflict.
Prior to any further word, it should be noted that for the sake of simplicity, the term “religion” is being defined as the belief in the existence of an unseen, higher power(s), and nothing more within the context of this thesis. To discuss religion as anything more and/or specific, I believe, would take us beyond the scope of the following argument, but may naturally warrant further discussion postlude.
What science is — and is not
What science is, is about as much as it is not. Every good scientist knows that science may be understood as the testing of limits to discover a boundary, or a “ruling out” of variables that may provide evidence for a boundary, rather than a mission to find proofs for it. It also goes without saying that truly knowledgeable people exercise this same modesty in the admittance of their own limits of expertise (Dunning & Kruger, 1999).
“Science is a three-dimensional tool only meant to measure a three-dimensional universe because humanity’s ability to empirically reason is limited to the same dimension one is bound by.”
The formal definition of science, however, is delineated by the Scientific Method: the process of observation, hypothesizing, and experimentation for understanding the natural world. According to that definition, it may then be reasoned that science is a three-dimensional tool only meant to measure a three-dimensional universe because humanity’s ability to empirically reason is limited to the same dimension one is bound by. After all, we can only experiment in, or manipulate, the dimension that we exist in, so it would follow that the scientific method cannot be applied in any other dimension other than this one. Because of this, it may then be reasoned that science neither proves or disproves the existence of an intelligent, higher power(s) [the term “higher power(s)” meaning a being(s) in a higher dimension that has the ability to exercise its will upon the ones nonlinearly layered “beneath” it].
Moreover, if the aforementioned higher power(s) is truly an intelligent being(s), meaning, that being(s) possesses a degree of intellectual autonomy such as we do as free agents of our respective domain, its workings cannot be predictably measured using the scientific method, just as hard science (i.e. physics) cannot definitively predict the mind and behavior of a human being.
The problem of miracles
It would follow that since we are bound by the third dimension, that means one cannot, in one’s own ability, comprehend the workings of a being(s) that exists in any dimension above ours without being contacted first by that being(s), should there be any. In other words, one cannot “reach out” to initiate contact with something that exists in more dimensions than we do, that being(s) has to “reach out” to us, according to what we theoretically understand about the quantum mechanics of our universe.
The notion of a higher power(s) initiating contact with us is commonly illustrated in the receiving of a revelation, a “sign”, or in other words, a miracle.
According to eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume, miracles are violations of natural law, and therefore, are scientifically impossible. The matter with miracles however, is not their existence nor nonexistence, but the assertion of either strictly through an empirical lens. “Miracles are a problem for the philosophy of naturalism, which assumes that the natural world is the whole of reality… In that respect one who accepts naturalism is, ironically, more like a Greek philosopher than a modern scientist, since the matter is decided deductively on the basis of first principles [rather than the Scientific Method],” (Hummel, p.196). In other words, while miracles are a problem for philosophers [just as the existence of higher power(s) are], they are not for scientists because scientists do not deal in the kinds of problems that philosophers do.
Unlike popular assumption, miracles are not events that, once the scientific processes thereof are understood, cease to be miracles thereafter; rather, they are an intelligible response to the target audience of said event.
Faith is commonly defined as “the complete trust or confidence in someone or something”, (Faith, n.d.), which is only obtained through familiarity with that someone or something to have faith in. Religion is a term that is often equated with faith, because for those that believe in a personal, theistic god(s) [wherein that god(s), or higher power(s), provide a vehicle of communication such as the Holy Spirit within the religion of Christianity] a response may be had via prayer, etc.
Therefore, it could also be argued that science and religion (or faith, a form of “knowing” in response to a relationship with a being[s] that possesses free will, rather than an object one can manipulate) are two completely different facets of “knowing”, and arguably, both would therefore be necessary for a full and unified approach to reality if a higher power(s) were to exist. But regardless, since the existence of such cannot be objectively proven nor disproven using the scientific method, neither conflict with the other, and therefore, may coexist as “two sides of the same coin”.
We have now approached the outer limits of this argument. Any further, and we would continue on into the realm of discussing specific beliefs. In that event, only rational and/or anecdotal/historical evidence, rather than empirical evidence, could be used to argue for or against any particular perspective. Those that have a firm understanding of science also understand that this is the appropriate avenue for discussing such topics should one choose to.
Creationism. (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/creationism
Faith. (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/faith
Kruger, J, and D Dunning. “Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 77, no. 6, 1999, doi:10.1037//0022–35220.127.116.111
Hummel, Charles E. The Galileo Connection: Resolving Conflicts between Science & the Bible. Inter-Varsity Fellowship of the United States of America, 1986.
Weldon, Stephen P. “Science and Religion.” Science and Religion, edited by Gary B. Ferngren, 2nd ed., John Hopkins University Press.