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Science vs. Religion – It all started with Adam & Eve

September 8, 2010

Many historians of the development of human thought would argue that the tension between science and religion–or more broadly reason and faith–began sometime in the early 19th century with the rationalist revolutions in America and France. First, the American colonists kicked out the English monarchy and set up a government by the people, for the people and of the people, and guaranteed freedom of religion. And then the French stormed the Bastille and cut off the heads of every nobleman they could get their hands on. All that push back against the divine right of kings was fueled by the reasoned philosophy of Hobbes, Locke, Voltaire and Rousseau, but then Darwin came out with his theories of evolution and natural selection and suddenly the rift between reason and faith, science and religion, widened even more.

But our reader DrewM–writing in response to these two recent posts about the differences between scientific and religious thinking–argues that the tension between reason and faith began in the Garden of Eden.

Both seek to answer the question “why?” But each prefers a different kind of “why.” In science, we seek the “why” that can provide us with the most accurate predictions. In religion, we seek the why that gives us the most enduring motivations. Science answers “should I expect to see X occur with Y again?” Religion answers “should I care about X and Y at all?”

These are two fundamental questions for which we need satisfactory answers in order to get through life. In the reasoning of everyday life, such as in an office or family situation, these two kinds of questions are mixed together. Science and religion are specialized outgrowths of this messier, more mundane reasoning. As the Bible teaches, science and religion are late developments in the Genesis. It is the acquisition of knowledge that leads to the crisis of meaning from which religion is developed.

“It is the acquisition of knowledge that leads to the crisis of meaning from which religion is developed.” I love that statement. I think his point (and I hope he’ll correct me if I misrepresent him) is that the tension between reason and faith is built into our very being and the story of Adam and Eve illustrates this tension beautifully.

At first, Adam and Eve find meaning simply by being. The fact of their being is enough to give their lives meaning. But their naturally questioning minds are aroused when the snake tempts them with the fruit of knowledge. So they eat it and gain knowledge–knowledge of how and what they are (hence their desire to cover themselves–as the story goes). And once they know the how and what of their being, they naturally find themselves wanting to know the “why.” Why do they exist? Why do any of us exist?

Seeking the answer to that question means they are, in a sense, playing God, and so God casts them out of the Garden. And try as we might, we’ll never fully find the answer to that big “why” in the sky–because we’re not God. As DrewM puts it, science can help us to learn the proximate causes of “why” we exist, and thereby science can help us know what to expect as we go about our lives. But science cannot determine for us the ultimate cause, the ultimate “why” of our existence.

And neither can religion. Many religious people might disagree with me, but I would argue that religions cannot answer the big “why” question behind the meaning of our existence . As Professor Krane argues, religions invite us to embrace the mystery behind our existence, not to minimize that mystery. So no, I don’t think faith (or anything else) provides final, absolute answers like that. Rather, I think religion can help us know, as DrewM puts it, why we should care about our lives.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Michael Adams permalink
    September 8, 2010 3:57 pm

    My Physics professor in college stated that science does not attempt to answer “why,” but it’s goal is to determine “how.”

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