With Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War coming out, we at Science ACEs decided to see if there are any “civil wars” in science. The most obvious one is religion and science. Are they two opposing viewpoints or do science and religion compliment one another? We had two ACEs write two different view points: (1) science vs. religion and (2) science and religion. Read on to see what each side thinks and you decide which side of this “war” you pick.
(1) Dear Religious Scientists, I Don’t Understand You
Religion and science are completely incompatible. I am baffled by the amount of scientists that subscribe to anything other than atheism. Historically, the religious community has rejected scientific progress on several occasions, and to this day there are issues between the two communities that cause conflict. This is especially concerning when religious ideals are allowed to dictate education and scientific research.
In the 1920’s the public’s attention was fixated on a small town in Tennessee anxiously awaiting the results of the Scopes Monkey Trial. In January of 1925, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed the Butler bill, which banned the teaching of “any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” Later that year, John Scopes, a high school football coach and substitute teacher defied the Butler bill and was indicted by a grand jury and found guilty. After an appeal, the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the court’s decision and the Butler bill was deemed constitutional. To this day, educators and scientists are fighting to get evolution in textbooks, but they face opposition from religious lobbyists and politicians that insist on including creationism in the curriculum.
Another well documented conflict between religion and science involves the use of embryonic stem (ES) cells in research. The use of ES cells could broaden our understanding of human development and be used for cell therapy to regenerate damaged or dead tissue. However, for the last two decades, ES cell research has been met with strong criticism from some religious groups citing their anti-abortion stance. Harvesting embryonic tissue for research purpose is still controversial, and the debate to provide federal funding for organizations that provide embryonic tissue continues.
Not all religious groups speak out against the scientific community or try to stifle scientific progress, but the core beliefs of religion and science are completely at odds. This conflict was first described in the 1800s and termed the Incompatibility Hypothesis. The basis of this hypothesis is that belief in evolution and creationism cannot coexist without contradiction. To believe in evolution is to make conclusions from observable evidence, while belief in a creationism is based off of faith and non-observable phenomenon. The crux of the scientific method is to make hypotheses that can be supported or rejected depending on observable, testable phenomenon. Subscribing to any religion requires one to make untestable assumptions and replace an evidence-based belief system with one that is based in faith.
To be clear, I’m not advocating for continued conflict between religious and scientific people. I believe they can coexist within a society as long as one does not attempt to suppress the other. But, how can one possibly reconcile being a religious scientist when they are such contradictory schools of thought?
(2) It Was Very Good
As many others around the world, I am a Christian and a biologist. The current head of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, has published multiple books about his journey in science and religion. At the same time I accept that many great scientists have taken alternative views about Christianity and indeed all religions.
It is, of course, a challenge at times. Every religious scientist will face issues where they will be asked to pick a side: how can you believe in a creator and evolution? do you believe in the supernatural? Et cetera. To this I would answer that culture has established a false dichotomy. There are not just two sides to these issues, instead there are numerous viewpoints that people can take. Religions have denominations, scientists have opposing theories; why can’t there be multiple views for how the two overlap?
Dr. Ian Barbour famously presented 4 different views on the relationship between science and religion, but the one he preferred was dialogue, a conversation between the two. As Dr. Barbour noted, “This requires humility on both sides. Scientists have to acknowledge that science does not have all the answers, and theologians have to recognize the changing historical contexts of theological reflection.” There are creationists, and there are evolutionists, but there are also theistic evolutionists. This term isn’t even a single viewpoint, but represents a range of viewpoints of people who simply argue that a creator God is still compatible with the theory of evolution.Together, science and religion are both based in the philosophy of realism, the idea that there is an objective world that exists, even when we cannot perceive it. In my religious tradition, we have what is known as special revelation and general revelation. Special revelation is what we learn about God when God interacts directly with humanity in a supernatural way. Meanwhile, general revelation is learning about God through the natural world. At its most basic definition, science is studying the natural world. It is very careful and organized studying, but it is the desire to understand the world as it exists. For the scientific theologian, science is the search for general revelation, which leads to a greater understanding of God’s works. Indeed it is said that some of the first scientists were driven by the desire to understand the world that God had made. I can not say that I choose to study science for a religious reason, but remembering that science is an act of seeking God’s wonders can help on those days when experiments just feel like work.
I do not claim to have all of the answers, nor do I claim that these are bulletproof arguments. I do know that I am a scientist and I still read the book of Genesis. Among the verses in the story of the creation, there is one phrase that speaks to me as a Christian seeking God and a scientist seeking the wonders of the natural world. “God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31 NIV)
Anthony Barrasso Anthony is a 3rd year graduate student studying retinal development. His career interests include cancer research, education and politics. Outside of lab, he likes playing with dog and eating delicious food. Follow him on twitter @barrasso67. The Motley Advocate (Editor) Motley Advocate is a Christian, a biologist, a writer and an amateur at many other things. He doesn’t have a twitter but you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org