Common ground

Common ground

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A case for ending the animosity between science and religion
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Ned Bowden
Ned Bowden is an associate professor of chemistry in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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In our era of punditry, it seems that only the loudest, most extreme, and most intransigent voices are heard. It’s not enough simply to have an opinion; you must shout down anyone expressing a different view to demonstrate the “right-ness” of your own.

I wish more people could stop to see that seemingly opposite views do not necessarily cancel each other out. It is possible for different world views to exist simultaneously and even support one another, if we only can ask and answer questions honestly and without name-calling.

Take for example a perceived conundrum in two fundamental areas of my life: science and religion.

I know some scientists who think we can understand everything in the universe without God. I know some Christians who think we can understand everything in the universe without science.

They’re both wrong. It’s unfortunate that so few take the time to consider that science and faith do not have to be mutually exclusive but can support one another.

Let’s consider one of the most contentious “battles” between science and religion: creationism vs. evolution. Think of all the energy that has gone into knock-down, drag-out, red-faced shouting matches between these two camps. But if you examine both ideas side-by-side, the creation story in Genesis is remarkably consistent with what we believe as scientists.

If we throw out our modern definition of a day as a 24-hour period, Genesis tells us that on the first day, “God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void…”

When this story was written 4,000 years ago, they didn’t have the language to talk about things like the Big Bang theory and subatomic particles. But whether you take the Big Bang or “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ ” it says the same thing.

We can argue whether this happened 5 billion years ago or 10,000 years ago, but really, what’s the point? I have utter confidence in radioactive dating and no doubt that our universe represents more than 10,000 years of history. But I’m perfectly willing to engage with someone who believes otherwise under the premise that at the moment of creation 10,000 years ago the earth was created to appear much older. It doesn’t really matter whether the Earth was created 5 billion years ago, 5,000 years ago, or, heck, even 5 minutes ago.

Moving on through the Genesis story, we see that on the “third day” (remember, not just 48 hours later; perhaps as much as billions of years?) “…the earth brought forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding seed after his kind…”

Doesn’t that sound like the beginning of photosynthesis and the release of oxygen on earth? Skip ahead to day five when God created, “…great whales and every living creature that moveth…” and you have the next step in the scientific time-table: an explosion of complex life that happened during the Cambrian period.

Which of course leads naturally into the creation of man and woman sometime later. Genesis calls it the sixth day; modern scientists have more accurately dated the emergence of humans. But either way, we went from nothing, to oxygen, to plants, to animals, to humans.

It’s remarkably consistent how evolution and Genesis look at the process and tell the same stories using different words. Science can never prove or disprove God, but science can provide support for the existence of God and that is what the Big Bang and evolution can give us. There are, of course, holes in the theory of evolution that are big enough to drive a semi-truck through, but it is highly possible that evolution was the tool that God used to bring humans into being.

There is no reason for Christians to fear science. Denigrating or denying the clear, measurable, logical, repeatable work of thousands of scientists through the years does nothing to bolster Christian beliefs. We should embrace science and what it confirms about the existence of a Creator.

And despite our portrayal as God-less heathens, scientists do take a lot on faith (though we don’t like to admit this.) I’ve never personally observed the full change from a simple to complex organism—it takes too long to see it through—but I believe that it happens. I’ve never seen an electron, but I’m pretty sure they exist!

For me, it comes down to faith and life, not a hard and fast belief in a literal interpretation of one chapter of one book. An argument about whether Genesis and current scientific beliefs are at odds with each other misses the point that Christianity is about Jesus, his life, his death, and his resurrection. We argue so much and get distracted about something that in the end is not that important. Maybe it’s time we stopped shouting and started listening.

Related: The science of evolution: faculty members respond

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Ned Bowden, Chemistry

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