Matt Walker is a senior in Plant Sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca who is still investigating his spirituality but does not believe in organized religion. Matt is also the author of a blog, Nuggets of Nugacity, which covers science, technology, and the environment (among other things). He is also Adam’s brother-in-law.
Science, Religion & Education
On the broader topic of science and religion, many atheists believe that religion is inherently bad and that there is no place in the world for religion. This is simply not true. Here’s my view on science and religion:
First, a common definition of science: the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we see in the natural world. Science has provided us with answers to many phenomena, but it cannot answer many important questions like how did life begin and what is the meaning of life? Science can provide suggestions at best, but will never be able to prove a single answer to be true. This is where religion has a role. Religion allows explanations that transcend the natural to include supernatural explanations. This allows an explanation of not only where we came from and what the meaning of life may be, but can also provide an explanation for things like luck, misfortune, and other seemingly random phenomena.
Now for a little on the hot topic of religion in education, one issue for which there is no room for pluralism, for one reason: school is a place where facts are taught. Whether history or science, we don’t want kids to be confused about the difference between fact and opinion.
Some argue that evolution is not a fact. After all, it is called a theory, and therefore creationism or intelligent design should be offered as alternative theories. This represents a misunderstanding of what a scientific theory is, which is much different from the non-scientific meaning of a theory. While in an everyday context, a theory can mean a hunch or simply an idea, a scientific theory represents something proven to be able to fully explain a certain phenomenon. You don’t see anyone questioning the theory of gravity, or cell theory (all living things are made of cells), or germ theory (germs cause disease). And while “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” there is nothing taught in school that lacks as much evidence as either creationism or intelligent design.
And do you really want a science teacher to teach a religious idea? Many science teachers, especially at the college level, feel it is their duty not only to teach evolution, but to discredit religion – and some will do whatever it takes. While I think this is obviously wrong, that the goal should be understanding, not acceptance, I believe that parents and/or youth programs have a responsibility to expose kids to all views on evolution and the beginning of life, something I doubt many do. Kids who are taught the story of the creation and the beginning of man as presented in the Bible need to be prepared for the conflicting views that will be presented in school.
Reconciling belief in religion with an understanding and acceptance of the theory of evolution and the true time for the beginning of the universe is a hard thing to do, and is something not discussed nearly enough. An increased dialogue around this issue could not only provide a solution to the whole religion in education problem and prepare youths for ruthless science teachers, but possibly convince some of the hard-core creationists, as well as some of the hard-core atheists, that science and religion do not have to be mutually exclusive.
So, how do you reconcile an understanding of evolution and the true age of the earth/universe with your belief in Christianity (or other religion)?