|Carina Nebula [Courtesy NASA]
What do major religions say about the war between science and religion?
David H. Bailey
Updated 1 January 2020 (c) 2020
Just as the public broadly perceives scientists as completely opposed to religion, many also believe that major religious leaders and movements are utterly opposed to science in general and to evolution in particular. Indeed, many believe that major religions are pitched in battle with the world of science. There is some truth to this assertion. Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, the evangelical organization that operates the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky (a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio), declared, "[M]illions of years of evolution not only contradicts the clear teaching of Genesis and the rest of Scripture but also impugns the character of God." [Ham2009]. In a similar vein, John G. West of the Discovery Institute, the organization behind the intelligent design movement, declared that Darwinian evolution fundamentally cannot be reconciled with Judeo-Christian theism [West2007].
Statements by major denominations
However, numerous other theologians, religious officials and religious organizations have stated that they see no fundamental conflict with science in general, or with evolution and the creation scriptures in particular. Here are some statements from several large religious organizations (listed in alphabetical order):
Along this line, a recent study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that only 11% of Americans belong to religious organizations that openly reject evolution. They conclude that the principal divide here is not between science and religion debate per se but instead between mainstream religious communities who accept science and a fundamentalist minority who battle science [Lee2013].
- Catholic Church [Pope1996] (Pope John Paul II): "In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation, provided that we do not lose sight of certain fixed points. ... Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis. In fact, it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies -- which was neither planned nor sought -- constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory."
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("LDS" or "Mormon") [Evenson1992]: "The scriptures tell why man was created, but they do not tell how, though the Lord has promised that he will tell that when he comes again (D&C 101:32-33). In 1931, when there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution, the First Presidency of the Church, then consisting of Presidents Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins, and Charles W. Nibley, addressed all of the General Authorities of the Church on the matter, and concluded, 'Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.'"
- Episcopal Church [Episcopal2009]: "Episcopalians believe that the Bible "contains all things necessary to salvation" (Book of Common Prayer, p. 868): it is the inspired and authoritative source of truth about God, Christ, and the Christian life. But physicist and priest John Polkinghorne, following sixteenth-century Anglican theologian Richard Hooker, reminds us Anglicans and Episcopalians that the Bible does not contain all necessary truths about everything else. The Bible, including Genesis, is not a divinely dictated scientific textbook. We discover scientific knowledge about God's universe in nature not Scripture."
- Presbyterian Church in the USA [Presbyterian1969]: "We conclude that the true relation between the evolutionary theory and the Bible is that of non-contradiction. ... We re-affirm our belief in the uniqueness of man as a creature whom God has made in His own image."
- Rabbinical Council of America [Rabbinical2005]: "[The Rabbinical Council of America] notes that significant Jewish authorities have maintained that evolutionary theory, properly understood, is not incompatible with belief in a Divine Creator, nor with the first 2 chapters of Genesis."
- United Methodist Church [Methodist2004]: "Science and theology are complementary rather than mutually incompatible. We therefore encourage dialogue between the scientific and theological communities and seek the kind of participation that will enable humanity to sustain life on earth and, by God's grace, increase the quality of our common lives together."
In addition, thousands of members of the clergy, representing virtually every Christian, Jewish and Islamic section, have submitted their names in support of science and in opposition to a "war" between science and religion. Here is the declaration by Christian clergy, which currently has been affirmed by over 12,000 members [Clergy2011]:
We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as "one theory among others" is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God's good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God's loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.
Here is the declaration affirmed by several hundred Jewish rabbis [Rabbis2011]:
As rabbis from various branches of Judaism, we the undersigned, urge public school boards to affirm their commitment to the teaching of the science of evolution. Fundamentalists of various traditions, who perceive the science of evolution to be in conflict with their personal religious beliefs, are seeking to influence public school boards to authorize the teaching of creationism. We see this as a breach in the separation of church and state. Those who believe in a literal interpretation of the Biblical account of creation are free to teach their perspective in their homes, religious institutions and parochial schools. To teach it in the public schools would be to assert a particular religious perspective in an environment which is supposed to be free of such indoctrination.
The Bible is the primary source of spiritual inspiration and of values for us and for many others, though not everyone, in our society. It is, however, open to interpretation, with some taking the creation account and other content literally and some preferring a figurative understanding. It is possible to be inspired by the religious teachings of the Bible while not taking a literalist approach and while accepting the validity of science including the foundational concept of evolution. It is not the role of public schools to indoctrinate students with specific religious beliefs but rather to educate them in the established principles of science and in other subjects of general knowledge.
Literalists of various religious traditions who perceive the science of evolution to be in conflict with their personal religious beliefs are seeking to influence public school boards to authorize the teaching of creationism. We, the Imams of the mosques, see this as a breach in the separation of church and state. Those who believe in a literal interpretation of scriptural account of creation are free to teach their perspective in their homes, religious institutions and parochial schools. To teach it in the public schools would be indoctrinating a particular religious point of view in an environment that is supposed to be free of such indoctrination.
We, the undersigned Imams of the mosques, assert that the Qur'an is the primary source of spiritual inspiration and of values for us, though not for everyone, in our country. We believe that the timeless truths of the Qur'an may comfortably coexist with the discoveries of modern science. As Imams we urge public school boards to affirm their commitment to the teaching of the science of evolution. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.
Evolution at major religious universities
Along this line, it is worth adding that evolution is taught matter-of-factly at every major university in the U.S., Canada and Western Europe. This includes universities, such as Baylor University (Baptist), Brigham Young University (LDS), Southern Methodist University (Methodist) and the University of Notre Dame (Catholic), that are flagship universities of their respective religious movements [Scott2001].