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The Tension Between Science and Religion

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'I refuse to prove that I exist,' says God, 'for proof denies faith, and without faith, I am nothing.'
- The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

There is an inherent tension between religion and science, and the tension between the theories of creation and evolution is only one of the most clear and controversial.

The tension runs deep, because of a fundamental difference in the disciplines and habits that religion and science require of the mind.


Religion requires, first and foremost, faith - unquestioning faith in the existence of (a) God and the truth of His various manifestations. The believer does not need proof, should not need proof, and in fact is discouraged from even thinking that proof might be necessary or possible. Questioning one's relationship with God may mark one out as a blasphemer. Questioning the very existence of God, or any deity - the foundation on which the whole of religion is predicated - marks one out as a heretic, which is of course much worse. Religion requires that one accept without question certain truths, such as the fact of God's existence. Obviously, some religions and denominations expect more or less specific beliefs than others. For instance, Catholics have more prescriptive sets of beliefs to which they are required to adhere than do Anglicans. Whether they do or not is of course a matter for the individual.


Science, on the other hand, absolutely requires doubt. It requires the practitioner to question everything. If one is to be a true scientist, one must forever question the status quo, seek new evidence, and seek new and better interpretations of that evidence. The perfect example of this approach is the theory of relativity. Newton's laws of motion had been adequate, and in fact very successful, in describing the observable universe for over 200 years. But in order to formulate the theory of relativity, the crucial first step Einstein had to make was to recognise and accept that Newton was wrong.

Similarly, for thousands of years it was taken as read that the Earth was the centre of the universe. All sorts of complicated cosmological theories were dreamed up to account for the strange movements of the planets across the sky. It is difficult to overstate the impact on mankind's view of its place in the universe that Copernicus had when he proposed that in fact these complex movements could be best and most simply explained by placing the sun at the centre, and the Earth and other planets in orbit about it. The important point being that he did not take into account what the accepted view was - as a true scientist, he considered the evidence and proposed what he thought was a theory that best explained it.

Science and Religion

So is it possible to be religious and yet still be a scientist in the true sense? Undoubtedly, yes. There are many eminent scientists who maintain a deep religious faith. This is because they are able to do two important things.

On the one hand, they can practice a kind of 'doublethink', in which their scientific instinct to question everything is not applied to those areas of their life having to do with religious belief. On the other, they are able to recognise that science does not have all the answers. Questions such as 'how can I be a better person' arise all the time. Scientists offer no answers to questions like this - this is the domain of the spiritual. Science has no answers for that, and has never pretended it does.

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