The unnecessary war between science and religion

The last two centuries have witnessed an ever-widening gulf, a war really, between science and religion. It’s very unproductive. Does it have to be this way?

Many scientists have declared that because of our scientific advances in understanding the age, composition and development of the universe, as well as evolution of all forms of life in it, we no longer need a deity to explain it all. Some say it succinctly: “God is dead.”

Many fundamentalist religious authorities counter that scientists don’t agree with each other, so they cannot all be right. They just make it up, slant the research and announce questionable theories such as those related to the age of the universe, so-called “evolution” and man-induced “global climate change.” Better to turn to Scripture, the Ten Commandments and the literal interpretation of Genesis, which at least have the moral authority and persuasion science lacks.

There are serious problems with both of these belief systems. Science does not, in fact, address the ultimate origin of the universe, or where it’s all going. It cannot measure Spirit. Atheism, tempting for some, is not scientific, as it posits, without evidence, the non-existence of God or Spirit, just as we once, as recently as the 1950s, denied the existence of black holes and dark matter and energy in space. Today, virtually all scientists agree we were flat-out wrong in our denials. At best, the true scientific method in this case calls for agnosticism, not atheism.

The problem with Scripture is that it is virtually impossible to separate the inspired moral content from tales told by fairly primitive, albeit well-meaning, story-tellers. We are asked to “believe” in the obviously unbelievable. Why do we find dinosaur bones that are millions of years old? Answer: “To test your faith.”

The conflict between science and religion has been very damaging to U.S. education, to responsible governance, to the U.S. Congress, and even to both science and religion. It has reached the point where the two sides cannot or will not talk to each other or cooperate together for common purposes. Is there no way out?

I think there is a solution.

We need to ask persons of science and persons of religious persuasion to back off each other, be less didactic about the truth, less fearful, and less angry with each other. Calm the rhetoric. Scientists should openly admit that they don’t know, or even seek to know, ultimate questions of origin, spirit or fate. Religious persons, particularly Christians, should recognize they are not the only “believers,” and, by way of example, they should allow the Creator to use evolution as the means of species creation if He so chooses. Examine the actual evidence. Don’t tell God what He can or cannot do.

It’s the hardline positioning by both sides that is the problem. Soften the line, and declare a truce. Then we can learn from and work with each other for the common good. That’s the solution.

Anthony Piel is a former director and general legal counsel of the World Health Organization.