Science and Religion: Compatible or Not?

Ok, this is a post to tackle a few issues.  #1, Bishop Rick did request a post: “Personally, I would like to see a post that shows how evolution could fit inside the Genesis account of creation. I predict a lively discussion there.” I did do a post on Evolution, but he didn’t know me then (My blog was very new.)  However, it was quite lively over at Mormon Matters! This current post can also be considered a follow-up to my previous post on Science and Religion.

Also, the conversation veered off the road on my Malay post, going into the space-time continuum.  So, since I like to compartmentalize things, I thought I’d open up a new post where space-time continuum, advanced civilizations, etc can be talked about.  So, this is basically a science post where you can post anything to do with science vs religion.  I don’t care about threadjacking here, as long as it shows some reference to science.  I do want to pull a quote from Nachminides, as we start this discussion.  I posted this previously on my DNA post:

“Although writing more than 700 years ago, [Rabbi Moses] Nachmanides’ message is even more clear and relevant today.  His writings directed the person of faith to realize that there is much more hidden than revealed, both in the traditional Biblical writings and also in the natural world.  Our challenge is to continually study and investigate both realms, with the realization that apparent conflicts are merely artifacts of temporary incomplete understanding in one or both realms.  This avoidance of intellectual pride, allows the person of traditional religious faith to work comfortably within the framework of rigorous scientific hypothesis and empiricism.  This is also in keeping with the rationalist approach in Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed.”

So, Bishop Rick, before you get started on Evolution/Creation, please read this blog post from S Faux, Biblical Genesis Corresponds with Evolution. I’m no expert, but Faux is an LDS professor at a university in the midwest.  I think he presents a pretty compelling argument, especially for those like you who view the creation story as non-literal.

For those wanting to discuss space-time continuum, feel free to continue the discussion here.  (I want to quote Doc Brown from Back to the Future, “1.21 jigga-watts!!!  He mispronounces it badly, it should be giga-watts.)  Perhaps we need a flux capacitor to truly understand all the implications of the Theory of Relativity.  Star Trek handles time travel pretty well too, and can go back or forward in time relatively easily.  Of course, don’t forget Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure!  Someone mentioned that people don’t go into the future, but I think that is because we have no idea what needs fixing in the future.  It’s much easier to look on the past and fix that instead.

Anyway, I think science and religion ARE compatible, but sometimes it is hard to see how.


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93 comments on “Science and Religion: Compatible or Not?

  1. Science and religion are compatible only from religion’s point of view. Science says that you must see before believing and religion says you must believe before seeing. However, religion will accept the scientific method as one way to reach the truth. Whereas, science says that if it is not possible to see the truth – then it does not exist.

    As far as the theory of evolution goes. I don’t feel we have reached that point equivalent to Galileo confronting his church on the true nature of the universe.
    That encounter certainly challenged many and science began its long trek to separate itself from established church dogma.

  2. When science says it must see before believing, its not literal seeing. We cannot see, what we call, “black holes” but we know by measuring the movement of other detectable particles that something that fits a description of a “black hole” is there.

    As far as the existance of “God” is concerned, science has given up the quest for this truth because the qualifications required by religion do not correlate with the perameters set for using the scientific method to prove such a thing.

    However, throw philosophy into the mix – then one can conclude, almost without faith, that an advanced civilization exists somewhere in the universe that contains within itself attributes far beyond what we on earth can comprehend.

    It could be so advanced that we would need to communicate with a representative of this advanced civ. in order to understand just a little bit about it.

    Some have said that this communication process has allready begun and things have been communicated, like humans are made in the image of the leader of the advanced civ., the concepts of faith, the atonement etc., etc.

    It would appear that, within the advanced civ., that there is no conflict between science and religion. Does anyone believe we can reach that state without advanced assistance?

  3. The old science vs. religion debate is of little intellectual value because it’s based on a flawed premise where both are concerned. The Gradualism philosophy of science is plainly wrong, as is the Creationism of religion. It’s the modern equivalent of the medieval scholars’ argument about how many angels can stand on the head of a pin. It’s an exercise in futility. The whole discussion sounds, to my ears, like Raymond’s incessant and futile repetition, born of his autism, of the old Abbot and Costello “Who’s on Second” routine from the movie “Rainman.”

    In my opinion, only when we can redefine the underlying philosophies and perspectives of both science and religion can we make any true progress. Correct those elements, and the debate vanishes for the most part.

    As things presently stand, science will remain the “great and abominable” church that Nephi saw opposing the true church, just as the Lord told Joseph that none of the churches is correct. We Latter-day Saints have the revealed key to both questions. We just don’t realize it.

  4. The problem is not with religion and science – it’s with fundamental/conservative religion and science. Faith exists only where there is no scientific explanation. I don’t think rain is the result of God crying or thunder the result of God snoring. Before the scientific understanding of these phenomenon were understood, it was rational for people of faith to believe that these and all things “miraculous” were of God, or gods.

    As science started lifting back the veil of these mysteries, the need to explain them by faith went away. Of course, at each turn, the “heretics” were made to suffer for suggesting the reason the plants grew were because of sun and water, not sacrificing virgins or doing appropriate dances – but eventually, the science was accepted and we were better for it. And not because it weakend or lessened faith or God – but because it helped us better understand the natuer of God.

    It is wonderful that God is no longer seen as a magic being who sits in the clouds and dains that our crops grow so long as we appease him. As we understand the physcial and natural aspects of our surroundings, the Gospel becomes more and more apparent, in my opinion.

    For me – I don’t have to spend hours perplexing over why God magically helps me find my keys when I’ve lost them, but sits idly by while hundreds of thousands are killed by tsunamis. Because I understand natural science, and probability and other scientific rational for these acts and can better appreciate what the nature of God is.

    It seems crazy what people did to Gallileo or others based on scientific discoveries that were incompatible with religion or faith – but we do the same things today, most notably on the issue of evolution/creation. It doesn’t mean evolution is correct or creationism is wrong – but if we wanted to, we could still claim the Earth was the center of the Universe, after all – God can do anything (or ask FireTag about all the possible ways the Earth could currently be the center and our understandings are just messed up based on some alternate universe).

    Faith is about the impossible. You can’t “scientifically” prove something of faith. If you think God lets your plants grow because you show proper homage, notwithstanding not watering them, then more power to you, because by science, that would be impossible. But by faith, anything is possible.

    So again, is the Book of Mormon historical? Not by any scientific measure. But by faith, it may be. Is this incompatible? Only if one side wants to fight the other. But it is a losing battle on both sides.

  5. I think that in most cases, asking if science and religion are compatible is like asking if mathematics and poetry are compatible. The question really doesn’t make sense. Sure, perhaps they can probably share the same room, but in most cases unless one is trained in both, they usually have no idea what the other is talking about.

    To ask if the Genesis account of creation is compatible with evolution is to totally misunderstand the Genesis account. It was never meant as a scientific or literal account of creation. Anybody who goes through the LDS endowment should be acutely aware of that (though unfortunately most are still too obtuse to realize it). The seven creation periods are no scientific accounts, but is simply a means to use the numerically significant seven (which means totality) to break apart the known world into seven parts and show that for God the totality of creation was good.

    Much of the same can be said about the two accounts of the creation of man in Genesis. Neither are meant to be scientific accounts, but are rather religious accounts used to point out the fallen nature of all of us. Again, the LDS endowment should make it clear to LDSaints that the Eden myth is not about two naked humans running around a magical garden and talking to snakes, but is meant to show that each of us has fallen and is in need of redemption. This is why I believe the Book of Moses teaches that God says “And the first man of all men have I called Adam, which is many” (1:34). Adam was not meant to be understood as a real naked person in a magical garden, but representative of all of us.

    I think we could all find a greater use of our time if start recognizing the categorical differences between religion and science and realizing that in so many cases the question of their compatibility is simply nonsense.

  6. BTC: You’ve made the point about a “God in the gaps” view of the relationship between science and religion, and I agree that it provides part of the answer. However, the boundary between science and religion, and what we do as that boundary changes, is a more complex issue. Ultimately, for science to supplant (or as I believe, converge with religion into a unified view of reality) religion, the basis of religion itself must be placed into evolutionary theory.

    The following address “http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16725-theory-of-mind-could-help-explain-belief-in-god.html” contains a March 9, 2009 story and a link to a National Academy of Sciences piece that explains the most current progress in this latter task of which I’m aware.

    A.E.Larson: Your site looks interesting and I’ll be back to look at it in detail, but it’ll take some time to do so.

    Narrator: I certainly agree that if we get so caught up in explaining the “science” behind Genesis or any other part of the canon that we lose the spiritual meaning, we have erred. I’m from a denomination that I think risks falling off the other side of the knife-edge in regard to most of the canon beyond the NT and the most recent sections of OUR D&C because many don’t bother to be held to a standard of anything non-scientific. So boundary questions remain vital even for those of us who fully accept evolution.

  7. FT: More complex than what?

  8. To All:

    I have 2 problems with evolution as explained by Darwin.

    [1]. If all life evolves and considering that the universe is so vast containing billions of stars older than our sun. – Why haven’t we been invaded by advanced bugs like in the movie Independance Day? Or advanced lizards or whatever?

    Religion provides an answer, in that the entire universe was created and is currently ruled by, the ultimate advanced civilization.

    [2]. If evolution is true, are we presently close to being in really big trouble?
    According to evolution theory humans evolve very slowly. However, technology has literally shot thru the roof and is not slowing down. Humans, according to evolution, cannot keep pace. And its only a matter of time before the MACHINES! take over.

    Fortunatly, religion provides an escape with its own form of evolution. Hopefully, there will be a 2nd coming of Christ, ushering in a new millennium.

    However, humans will be responsible themselves for obtaining righteousness to a degree wherein they can qualifly to live in this new world.

  9. Sxarx,

    [1] because the possibilities for life are extremely rare; because other possible forms of life would be too far away for any sort of possible travel, and because we don’t life in movies. we life in reality.

    [2] see the last part of the last answer.

  10. Sxark is referring to something called the “Fermi paradox”, on which wiki has a good article that covers most of the hypothesized answers. It is a very valid scientific question that generates real scientific articles in real, refereed scientific journals.

    BTC: I meant “more complex than simply ‘non-overlapping magisteria'”. Sorry, I forget sometimes what thread we are discussing things in and what things are still in draft.

  11. Firetag:

    Thank you for bringing up the “Fermi parodox” in wiki. I’ll show my ignorance, I was not aware of it. I enjoyed the part where Fermi was walking to lunch with others, talking about matter traveling faster than light, and he doing some fast mental calculations, concluding that we should have been visited by aliens several times over.

    However, the article contained only scant references to a religeous perspective.
    The concept, that the entire universe and all life forms were created by an intelligent being, was not brought up.

    Christians can refer to John in the book of Revelations, where he said he saw several life forms worshiping God – that didn’t look like anything we have around here.

    The narrator:

    For those that believe in human evolution, it just appears that technology is traveling faster than since this planet was formed. [the time before Noah – excepted] And it just does not seem possible for humans to keep pace on this really slow pace, as described by Darwin. Thus – what could be the end effect of such a scenerio?

  12. The end of religion.

  13. Interesting points all. It seems to me that it is hard-core religionists who reject science, and hard-core scientists who reject religion. I think the bulk of people fit somewhere in between. I really like Nachminides and Maimonides thoughts that a apparent conflicts are the result of not fully understanding one or the other. I agree with Narrator, that sometimes it seems that they just don’t speak the same language.

    Bishop Rick, did you check out S Faux’s post on evolution and creation?

  14. I did check it out. I found it to have loose parallels. If you stretched it far enough, you could fit creationism in there, but it would be uncomfortable.

  15. Yes, Bishop Rick, I understand your sentiments, but Faux makes a big case that the Genesis story is actually poetry, and therefore shouldn’t be taken literally. Isn’t this appealing to a non-literalist like you?

  16. Sxarx, you need to use better grammar. I can’t understand you.

  17. MH #13:

    On the contrary, hard core religionists accept the scientific method of observation as “one” source of truth. It is hard core scientists who reject religion.

    A religeous scientist, one who is righteous before the creator, will be the one who is able to practice his or her trade in a manner where they will be able to discover the true and enlightened secrets of all of creation.

    The unbelieving scientist will be left in the dust, working with throw away scraps from the righteous scientist.

    The Narrator:

    I’ll work on my grammer if you will work on your spelling.

  18. Sxark, I can point you to some religionists who completely reject evolution. Do you want me to give you some examples? I believe there is a museum in Kentucky which espouses creationism, and denigrates evolution.

  19. MH:

    Have I not shown, just with logic, that there are major problems in accepting the theory of evolution on blind faith?

    The theory of evolution has not yet passed the test of the scientific method of observation. It has not yet risen to the level of Galileo’s presentation of where the center of our solar system is.

    We are probably at the point, where we will have to wait for the millenium – where all mysteries will be disclosed, – which may include a combination of creation and evolution that has not been thought of before.

  20. Sxark, I am neither pro, nor anti-evolution. I think the Nachminides quote covers the conflicts between creationism and evolution quite well. I am not willing to throw out either proposition. Neither proposition is fully satisfactory to me. Creationism leaves out too many details to be useful, and evolution doesn’t answer all the questions either. Frankly we need to learn more about both, in order to iron out the apparent difficulties. If it happens in the millenium, great, but I’m not holding my breath for that as the ultimate solution either. The glory of God is intelligence, right?

    My point is that there are religious extremists, as well as scientific extremists. These are the people who fail to speak the language of each other, and set up a false dichotomy suggesting that religion and science can’t coexist.

  21. MH:

    Good points – talk later.

  22. I like what Galileo supposedly said: “Religion teaches you how to get to heaven; science teaches you how the heavens go”.

  23. Sxarx, it’s spelled g-r-a-m-m-a-r. And your argument doesn’t hold a drop of water.

  24. I’m not holding my breath for the millennium either. We don’t even know for sure if it will happen. I lean towards evolution because it answers more questions than any other theory at this point.

  25. FT: I absolutley think science and religion overlap, which is why so many scientists are still people of faith. One does not have to discover how human eggs are fertilized only to immediately discount Jesus’ divinity – one can take their understanding of science and allow it to reveal greater depths of faith. One can study how the mind works and the human body works and not discount the beauty of creation. They build on one another.

    That said, one cannot prove matters of faith scientifically, any more than one can prove a scientific theory by declaring that one “has faith” that it is so.

  26. BTC: The boundary question lies precisely in what becomes the definition of a “matter of faith” versus a “scientific theory”. Is it to be defined phenomenologically by what we are trying to explain or by classifying the explanation independently of the phenomena? That’s where I think the issues get complex as the phenomena that science can explain expand.

  27. Science and Religion are mutually exclusive. Science means “the study of”.
    Therefore the spirit world can be understood in scientific terms. Ghost hunters do it all the time.

  28. The narrator #24

    Perhaps my arguments don’t hold any drops of water for those that have eyes, but do not see – have ears, but do not hear.

    Its all based on ones frame of reference of reality. We all wear different tinges of rose colored glasses and thru exersizes of exchanging info – like in this format – we all learn and benifit.

  29. Sxark: You can’t see something that is not there, and don’t believe everything you hear.

  30. Sxarx, you should really apologize for accusing me of misspelling when it was you who struggles with orthography.

    And before you accuse me of not seeing something, find a way to articulately relay your seemingly nonsensical argument so that it can be something which can be seen.

  31. BR:

    I would agree that if something really is not there, that you cannot see it. I never said anyone could.

  32. Narrator:

    I apologize – I’m an absolute cripple – when it comes to orthography.

    I take it that you desire that my “nonsensical” arguments pass the scientific method of observation test before you can see.

    You know what they say in the Bible about those who want to see “signs” before they believe?

  33. Narrator:

    Sorry, I just saw that you were refering to the manner my arguments are presented so they could be understood. – so ignore the last half of #33.

  34. Sxark: There is nothing wrong with your theories. This issue people take is the way you present them as if one MUST accept them. If you want to believe that God is just an alien that happens to come from a more advanced civilisation, go for it. But, you will need a lot more than older stars and matter exceeding the speed of light to convince me…and apparently many others as well.

    And the off-hand “eyes but can’t see…” comments do not validate your arguments.

  35. BR:

    I’m not suggesting that God is just an ordinary alien from a substandard advanced civilization.

    I’m suggesting that God is the leader of an incomprehensible advanced civilization that created and still controls the entire universe. – And that we need God’s help if we wish to understand anything he created.

  36. Here is the flaw in that approach.
    I could care less about an advanced civilisation that can’t be proved exists.

  37. The more fundamental flaw is recursion. We start out with one mystery to explain: reality. We say it is created in all its mystery by God. We say we cannot explain God. We are left with the same unexplainable mystery called by a different name, and can go around again.

    It is more useful to ask, “What does reality (which we may or may not prefer to call God) seem to be like.”

    Sxark is proposing that God is creative, is concerned enough about our opinions to take offense, makes us in His physical image, can be conceptually separated from His creations, etc. That’s not really different than people in the Western traditions have believed for several thousand years since monotheism developed.

    So lets not jump on Sxark. People who believe that “God” IS the same conceptual entity as the system — whether pantheists like me or atheists — or who believe that God is an internal part of a larger system (like many LDS), or who believe that equally immaterial concepts as God like “good” are the basis for understanding of reality, are actually rarer birds. And that doesn’t exhaust the religious or philosophical possibilities.

    BR: Hypothesizing about things that can’t be proven to exist is the first step in how how many sciences make most of their progress.

  38. BR:

    I gathered that, awhile back. That’s why I brought up the concept of older stars etc. – because we already have proof and it requires little or no faith to pursue my argument.

    Take Firetags advice.- Look up the “Fermi paradox” in wikipedia and if you think my arguments are difficult to understand – you will go cross eyed trying to understand the issues brought forth by Fermi and all his friends.

  39. Sxark: your arguments are not hard to understand. You just need more data to back them up before people start getting in line behind you.

    FT: I don’t have a problem with new ideas. I think Sxarks is an interesting one. It’s the snarky “eyes but can’t see…” comments that detract from them.

  40. BR:

    If you need more data, why not follow the advice already given? Check out the “Fermi paradox”.

    You have been repetitive in your perception of minimizing concerning the existance of older stars and how many there are. Thus, making it difficult for you to grasp that an advanced civilition must exist somewhere and you have failed to follow that we would require assistance from this advanced civ., in order to understand it.

    The scope and vastness of what we know of the universe is fantastically dumbfounding. And they say we only know 1% to 10% of whats really out there.

    Therefore, one can make safely make the jumps I have made without faith, because the overwelming data backs me up.

  41. Sxark:

    There is a BIG difference between saying that there is a Fermi paradox, which has numerous possible solutions, and saying that your solution is the RIGHT one. For example, one of the hypothesized solutions to the paradox is that technological civs destroy themselves after a few hundred years. Then it doesn’t matter how old stars get, because there is a ceiling on how great technology can get.

    So the existence of advanced civs is a hopeful extrapolation of current knowledge and a legitimate question for science to address — which is why people fund things like SETI. But it is NOT a requirement of what we understand that there exist an advanced civilization that created physical reality.

  42. Firetag:

    I’m not saying my solution is the right one. Only that its highly plausible that an advanced civ. exists somewhere in the universe and that the only way we can fully understand its attributes is to receive info from reps. of the advanced civ.

    Another answer to solve the Fermi Paradox is to assume that the advanced civ created and still controls the universe.

    And it just so happens, that the scriptures proclaiming one God, support this premise.

    I only wanted to show that one needs only a little faith to believe in this premise.

  43. The importance of “assistance” in understanding is important to those of us who are believers. But it is also possible for people to believe that reality does not help us understand it; many human beings believe exactly that, even if I am not one of them.

  44. I meant to say “the idea of assistance….”

  45. Firetag:

    So, would you agree that an adequate synopsis has been presented [by me, myself, & I] – for those with little or no faith, that it is now easier for them to believe in “God”?

  46. No Sxark, I think you are only preaching to those of us who are already in the choir. If you want to get people to believe, you have to be more of a witness than a lawyer.

  47. Sxark, I don’t think you’ve persuaded anyone to your position. I think we all are pretty much in the same place as we started.

  48. To all:

    I can only conclude that my grasp, based on my frame of reference of reality, concerning the known universe is either different from some or that they have an inner fear of accepting any of this logic, – for if they do – they will then be forced to continue the thread to its logical end.

    My argument is a mear stepping stone to becoming a witness. That’s why I made it,-so that others can once again be a witness. Unless, they have an inner fear of that prospect.

  49. Sxark, you have to be one of the MOST arrogant people ever to come upon my blog. (I’d put you right there with BOMC.) To blame the listener (an inner fear of accepting any of this logic) is truly your most ridiculous statement here.

    If I were to espouse that the earth was flat, and then blame you for fearing my logic (the earth is too vast, NASA is in a conspiracy, etc) you would call me a loon. If I then interspersed it with comments about eyes that cannot see, you would understandably view me as non-scientific.

    Your arguments are not compelling. I encourage you to read S Faux’s post on evolution and Genesis. Prior to my reading his article, I didn’t view evolution and genesis as compatible. His excellent communication skills encouraged me to change my mind.

    For the record, I think that the advanced civilization idea has merit. However, I am more inclined to listen to FireTag, because his communication skills are better than yours. FireTag doesn’t resort to “eyes do not see”, or “inner fear” to make his point. He is respectful of the listener, unlike your approach, which denigrates the listener. I encourage you to work on your communication skills. Your tactics so far are not persuasive, but rather coercive, dismissive, and unappreciated.

  50. MH:

    Of interest, is that the critics of Jesus – during the last 3 years of his life on earth, said that he was not persuasive but rather coercive and dismissive and his tactics certainly were not appreciated.

    Jesus answered his critics simply by saying: “they have eyes but do not see, they have ears but do not hear”.

    Now that that you have inflamed my psychological complex, concerning my pitifull writing skills, I feel closer to understanding how sad Moses must have felt concerning his innability to speak in the proper manner.

    However, if you think that the advanced civilization idea has merit, then did I win this debate, – despite the poor manner, in which it was presented?

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