RECONCILING Science and Religion

Jan 23, 2012, 3:30 PM |

"Science and religion [are] no longer seen as incompatible."— The Daily Telegraph, London, May 26, 1999.

BOTH science and religion, in their noblest forms, involve the search for truth. Science discovers a world of magnificent order, a universe that contains distinctive marks of intelligent design. True religion makes these discoveries meaningful by teaching that the mind of the Creator lies behind the design manifest in the physical world.

"I find my appreciation of science is greatly enriched by religion," says Francis Collins, a molecular biologist. He continues: "When I discover something about the human genome, I experience a sense of awe at the mystery of life, and say to myself, 'Wow, only God knew before.' It is a profoundly beautiful and moving sensation, which helps me appreciate God and makes science even more rewarding for me."

What will help one to reconcile science and religion?


An Enduring Quest

Accept the limits: No end is in sight in our quest for answers about the infinite universe, space, and time. Biologist Lewis Thomas noted: "There will be no end to this process, being the insatiably curious species that we are, exploring, looking around and trying to understand things. We're not ever going to get it solved. I can't imagine any terminal point where everyone will breathe a sigh and will say, 'Now we understand the whole thing.' It's going to remain beyond us."

Similarly, when it comes to religious truth, the reach is boundless. One of the Bible writers, Paul, stated: "Now we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror . . . My knowledge now is partial."—1 Corinthians 13:12, The New English Bible.

Partial knowledge concerning both scientific and religious questions, however, does not prevent us from reaching sound conclusions based on the facts we have. We don't need a detailed knowledge of the origin of the sun in order to be absolutely sure that it is going to rise tomorrow.

Let the known facts speak: In the quest for answers, we need to be guided by sound principles. Unless we stick to the highest standards of evidence, we can easily be misled in our search for scientific and religious truth. Realistically, none of us can begin to evaluate all scientific knowledge and ideas, which today fill huge libraries. On the other hand, the Bible provides a manageable compendium of spiritual teachings for our consideration. The Bible is well supported by known facts.*

However, concerning knowledge in general, earnest effort is required to distinguish between fact and speculation, between reality and deception—in both science and religion. As the Bible writer Paul advised, we need to reject "the contradictions of the falsely called 'knowledge.'" (1 Timothy 6:20) To reconcile science and the Bible, we must let the facts speak for themselves, thereby avoiding conjecture and speculation, and examine how each fact supports and adds to the other.

For example, when we understand that the Bible uses the term "day" to represent various periods of time, we see that the account of the six creative days in Genesis need not conflict with the scientific conclusion that the age of the earth is about four and a half billion years. According to the Bible, the earth existed for an unstated period before the creative days began. (See the box "The Creative Days—24 Hours Each?") Even if science corrects itself and suggests a different age for our planet, the statements made in the Bible still hold true. Instead of contradicting the Bible, science in this and many other cases actually provides us with voluminous supplemental information about the physical world, both present and past.

The Creative Days—24 Hours Each?

Some fundamentalists claim that creationism rather than evolution explains pre-human history. They assert that all physical creation was produced in just six days of 24 hours each sometime between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. But in doing so, they promote an unscriptural teaching that has caused many to ridicule the Bible.

Is a day in the Bible always literally 24 hours in length? Genesis 2:4 speaks of "the day that Jehovah God made earth and heaven." This one day encompasses all six of the creative days of Genesis chapter 1. According to Bible usage, a day is a measured period of time and can be a thousand years or many thousands of years. The Bible's creative days allow for thousands of years of time each. Further, the earth was already in existence before the creative days began. (Genesis 1:1) On this point, therefore, the Bible account is compatible with true science.—2 Peter 3:8.

Commenting on claims that the creative days were only 24 literal hours in length, molecular biologist Francis Collins remarks: "Creationism has done more harm to serious notions of belief than anything in modern history."

Faith, not credulity: The Bible provides us with knowledge of God and his purposes that cannot be gleaned from any other source. Why should we trust it? The Bible itself invites us to test its accuracy. Consider its historical authenticity, its practicality, the candor of its writers, and its integrity. By investigating the accuracy of the Bible, including statements of a scientific nature and, even more convincingly, the unerring fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies throughout the ages and into our present day, one can acquire firm faith in it as the Word of God. Faith in the Bible is not credulity but a proven confidence in the accuracy of Scriptural statements.

Respect science; acknowledge belief: Jehovah's Witnesses invite open-minded people, both scientific and religious, to share in a sincere quest for truth in both realms. In their congregations the Witnesses nurture a healthy respect for science and its proven findings as well as a profound belief that religious truth can be found only in the Bible, which forthrightly and with abundant evidence declares itself to be the Word of God. The apostle Paul stated: "When you received God's word, which you heard from us, you accepted it, not as the word of men, but, just as it truthfully is, as the word of God."—1 Thessalonians 2:13.

Of course, as with science, damaging falsehoods and practices have infiltrated religion. Thus, there is true religion and false religion. That is why many people have left organized, mainstream religion to become members of the Christian congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. They have been disappointed by the unwillingness of their previous religions to disavow human tradition and myth in favor of discovered or revealed truth.

What is more, true Christians find real meaning and purpose in life, based on an intimate knowledge of the Creator, as he is revealed in the Bible, and of his expressed intentions for humankind and the planet we live on. Jehovah's Witnesses have been satisfied with reasonable, Bible-based answers to such questions as, Why are we here? Where are we going? They would be more than glad to share these insights with you.

Jehovah's Witness studying

Jehovah's Witnesses nurture respect for true science and belief in the Bible

Has Science Taken the Moral High Ground?

Understandably, religion has been rejected by many people of science for its resistance to scientific progress, its dismal record, and its hypocrisy and cruelty. Professor of microbiology John Postgate points out: "The world's religions have . . . brought the horrors of human sacrifice, crusades, pogroms and inquisitions. In the modern world this darker side of religion has become dangerous. For unlike science, religion is not neutral."

Comparing that with the assumed rationality, objectivity, and discipline of science, Postgate claims that "science has come to occupy the high ground of morality."

Has science really seized the moral high ground? The answer is no. Postgate himself admits that "scientific communities have their share of jealousy, greed, prejudice and envy." He adds that "a few scientists have shown themselves capable of murder in the name of research, as happened in Nazi Germany and Japanese prison camps." And when National Geographic assigned an investigative reporter to find out how a fossil hoax ended up in its pages, the reporter spoke of "a tale of misguided secrecy and misplaced confidence, of rampant egos clashing, self-aggrandizement, wishful thinking, naive assumptions, human error, stubbornness, manipulation, backbiting, lying, [and] corruption."

And, of course, it is science that has given mankind horrific instruments of warfare, such as weapons-grade disease organisms, poison gas, missiles, "smart" bombs, and nuclear bombs.

* See The Bible—God's Word or Man's? published by Jehovah's Witnesses.

Ant Nebula (Menzel 3), from Hubble Space Telescope: NASA, ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)