The religious-right is calling evolution "faith-based" in order to argue for creationism in schools

Science is not a ReligionScience is not a religion. When I hear creationists say why their beliefs should be taught alongside science in classrooms across America, one tactic they use in defense is that science is a biased system of unsubstantiated beliefs like religion. Science, more specifically the theory of evolution, is often called a religion, and a “dogmatic belief.”

There are many reasons why science and its methods of obtaining information about our world are not the same as a religion.

The United States is a very unique example in the Western world. When it comes to teaching science in science classrooms, its main opponents are the religious-right. Defense of Young Earth Creationism is done in many ways, and among the most ridiculous is to compare science with religion.

They often say that science is “faith-based” like religion, therefore one cannot be a more valid way of explaining the world than the other. Believing that science is faith based is a basic misunderstanding, and shows a lack of understanding in the nature of science itself.

The basic thesis to the creationist idea is that if science (evolution) is as dogmatic and faith based as religion, then there is no reason not to teach both religious doctrine and scientific theorems as equally plausible.

It seems strange for me to even need to write an article about this, but many Americans are mired in this insanity. If people have to take to time to explain what the difference is between science and mythology, it’s a bad symptom for a society.

Let me be clear, I have no background in natural sciences. Yet, I realize that without science the very nature of how we understand our world, universe, and our place in it all, would be quite different. Our understanding of all things stems from scientific discovery. Science changes when new information arises.

Science is a very thorough understanding of certain categories of existence (as we know it), through facts discerned by testable claims.  Religion is essentially stories fabricated and cobbled together to give explanation without need of a claim to be testable. One requires a process for which to “prove” something, while the other claims proof without any real way of showing it.

Science expands, changes. From Copernicus to Galileo, Newton to Einstein. Theories of science have changed many times, and scientists have to adjust to these realities when necessary.

Is Science dogmatic? Well, that’s a tricky question. I would reframe the question as, “Are scientists dogmatic?” It depends. Any credible scientist has to be very careful on what they put forth, in any field. There is a rigorous peer-reviewed process that many scientific fields have to undergo in order to be considered valid in the field.

It is true that certain individual scientists can be very dogmatic in their field of study, and it would not be fair to say that no scientist can be arrogant or cocky when it comes to their job. Yet, more often or not, scientists tread their words carefully, and make sure their work withstands scrutiny before speaking too surely of themselves.

Science depends on any given claim to be testable. If you can test it, you can then break down certain models to reach a conclusion. Process of elimination, basically. The reason why I put “prove” in quotations when discussing science, is because scientific fields do not necessarily want to prove anything (directly). Usually the means of reaching conclusions comes by disproving certain models, under various methods, and performing similar tests to see if these tests reach similar results.

What is religion? At its core, mythology. Religion cannot be compared to science, as both operate on different playing fields. Religions are based in stories told for untold generations, often used to both explain the natural world, and inspire a code, or doctrine of how to live. It’s principles are based on faith, belief.

Religion needs no facts to justify its stories, because the stories are the granted origin of all facts. There is no need to research, test, or verify anything with religion. Everything is pre-set in this situation, and unlike science, religion takes pride in dogmatism.

Codes of religion were perhaps necessary ages ago, for order and explanation. But science has filled these gaps, and will continue to fill the gaps we don’t know.

There is nothing wrong with studying religion, as religion. But saying that religion is equivalent to science is a bridge too far. Way too far. It is perfectly fine to have a faith, but realize that having this faith does not mean you have evidence for this faith. At no point in our history has a scientific problem been solved by a religious answer. I can’t say the same for the reverse.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Science and religion belong in the same conversation only to the extent that religion may—or may not—assign meaning and value to the apprehension, appropriation and application of scientific methods and findings.

    To posit religious beliefs as objective, demonstrable, scientific fact is to both misuse and abuse sacred texts and/or historical/ahistorical traditions in the service of one’s personal agenda—be it religious, cultural, political or a combination of the three. Indeed, in the effort to do so, the layers of meaning, the texture and the richness of those texts and traditions is often either ignored or just lost. The first Creation narrative (Genesis 1:1-11) and the Flood Narrative (Genesis 6-9) of what we reference as the Old Testament are perfect examples of how nothing is gained but much is lost in the attempt to conflate religious belief and scientific fact.

    On the other hand, particularly in western culture, religion has, at times, provided a helpful meaning/value/ethical context to which science has looked per the necessary task of setting boundaries for its methodologies and limits for the application of its findings. Knowledge, after all, disconnected from a concrete meaning/value system, has proven, throughout history, to be a right dangerous commodity.

    The dark side of religious meaning/value systems providing a context for setting scientific boundaries is obvious and the examples are innumerable; cf. Copernican theory, Galileo, Darwin, stem-cell research, etc., etc. (though, to be sure, the constraining limits that some religious elements in western culture have proposed are far from universally agreed-upon in the religious community).

    The other side, however, of scientific knowledge being or, better, not being constrained in its methodology/application by a meaning/value/ethical context that may be religious in nature—about which I spoke a brief word earlier—is perhaps best illuminated anecdotally:

    During World War II, the German authorities in charge of the Final Solution faced a perplexing problem: While more than efficient at killing those in the camps, they were far less efficient at disposing of the bodies. Hence, they approached a privately-owned German engineering firm, explained the problem and, without a word of protest, the engineers utilized their scientific/engineering knowledge to design the giant ovens that would eventually produce a snowfall of human remains in areas proximate to the camps.

    This is a simplistic and right rough effort to at least outline a way in which science and religion can positively co-exist and even intertwine without one compromising the other. Admittedly, it requires a particularized view of how each, at its best, functions redemptively in service of the Creation and its Creator. But, given that my perspectives are particular to me, it’s as good as I can do.

  2. I was very fortunate to have a father who was a scientist for NASA and taught me that science is real and the bible is not an all or nothing resource. However, he did believe in God or a divine power greater than himself. Astronomy proved that to him so there was no dogma either way.

  3. I know I’ll get blasted for this comment, but it’s my thoughts and I choose to share them.

    The significant difference I see between the “Christian” religions and science is that science can present solid, tangible facts and proof behind many of their claims and discoveries, while religion has only written and verbal stories passed down through generations. Yes, there have been a few artifacts to substantiate some of their general stories, but not one can prove the multiplication of fish and bread, walking on water or their biggest story, the resurrection, among other unsubstantiated myths.

    I am not dissing “faith” because I believe every individual has a right to believe what they choose to believe, (even if it’s forced on them from birth and they end up brainwashed.) What I am saying, however, is that when an intelligent person examines all facts shown by science to be proven and reliable and still chooses to ignore those facts, they become, in my opinion, less intelligent.

    With that said, I’m not sure at this point how I feel about creationism being taught in schools. I definitely don’t believe it should be taught in the early grades, because young children don’t yet have the full capacity of discernment between fiction and non-fiction when it’s presented to them by adults. They tend to believe what they are told.

    However, in high school and beyond, the fact that there are elective classes on world religions, (not to mention science fiction and anime in the post-apocalyptic future) then I don’t see the harm with presenting another view.

    • The problem with your position, Michael, is that when it comes to religion the public schools, as entities of government, would have to teach the creation stories of all of them.

      Do you think Creationism would agree to that?

      Let churches handle the job of religious instruction. There is no need to turn the schools into churches by proxy.

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