Sunday, March 29, 2015

Science vs. Religion: Evolution

This morning I read "Teaching Evolution to Students to Students Who Tell Me They'll Pray for My Soul," an article written by James Krupa, a biology professor at the University of Kentucky. Krupa describes many of his students' reactions to his teaching human evolution, and argues, among other things, that religion and science are not necessarily mutually exclusive, a position with which I agree.

I've had students in my English classes tell me that evolution was wrong because it's a "theory." However, what I can't quite seem to explain well is that, like with many words, multiple definitions exist, and in different contexts mean different things. (Evolution might be a theory, but so is germ theory, and we know germs exist.) As Krupa notes:
To truly understand evolution, you must first understand science. Unfortunately, one of the most misused words today is also one of the most important to science: theory. Many incorrectly see theory as the opposite of fact. The National Academy of Sciences provides concise definitions of these critical words: A fact is a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it; a theory is a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence generating testable and falsifiable predictions. (para. 9)*
Using the Bible as a means to scientifically explain the development of the world negates the complexities of scientific research, and ignores the scientific and cultural development having taken place since the time of Christ. The Bible was written in three languages over a period of roughly 2,000 years by 40 different authors from three continents. Not only was it written during times when there simply wasn't the same level of scientific understanding, it was written by and for people who tried to explain and grasp the origins of our world in ways that an uneducated and illiterate population would understand (not to mention that so many authors writing over that many millennia in multiple languages is bound to lead to mistranslation or other linguistic inconsistencies). We've moved past that, and to continue to argue, for example, that the world was created in six 24-hour days, or that the world is about 10,000 years old, is a discredit to actual scientific data and critical thinking, and projects modern notions of time and narration. The Bible was written and preached for a lay audience in a historical context; these people weren’t scientists or journalists, so it's illogical to treat the text as a tight chronology.

The purpose of science is different than that of the Bible's. The purpose of science is to explain how the world works. The purpose of the Bible, to my mind, is to teach people how the world should work:
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:37-40).
They're not mutually exclusive. Be kind to others. Help others in whatever capacity you can, when you can. A belief in evolution specifically or science generally doesn't detract from that.
Krupa, James A. "Teaching Evolution to Students to Students Who Tell Me They'll Pray for My Soul." Slate. Slate. 26 Mar.   
     2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.

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