Science and religion

An overview of Unit 6 of Religious Philosophy and Ultimate Questions

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  • Created by: Kate
  • Created on: 25-05-12 07:37

What is meant by truth?

Truth is something that we believe is right and there is evidence (facts) that support our opinion

The evidence may be subjective evidence (based on opinion) or be objective evidence (based on facts)

Scientific truth: this is truth backed up by scientific evidence and is objective as it's not just one person's opinion. It's constantly changing as new evidence proves or disproves theories (a hypothesis that explains facts that are widely accepted). To most people this is the most reliable kind of truth

Religious truth: what believers claim to be true about the existence of God and the purpose of life. The evidence is the history of the religion and the sacred writings, but the main source of evidence is the believer's faith

Historical truth: The evidence for historical truth would be objects and writing from the time, but the historian's job of explaining why something happened is based on the historian's opinion and so is subjective. Historical truths cannot be proven like scientific truth

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Origins of the universe (1)

The big bang theory:

  • Happened 10 to 15 billion years ago
  • The beginning of the universe was when a singular explosion happened and everything came into being
  • Supports the idea of an ever-changing universe as the universe is always expanding
  • Many stars formed and died before our solar system was made and the death of the stars provided the materials we neeed for life to develop

The creation account - Genesis

In the beginning there was darkness and  then God began the process of creation out of nothing. It took 6 days (light; heaven/ earth; land/ sea; stars/ sun/ moon; life; humans) and on the 7th day God rested. This is in both Christianity and Judaism's religious scriptures

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Origins of the universe (2)

Fundamentalist view: This is creationism. It is the belief that everything in the scriptures is the direct word of God and so should be taken as a literal, exact truth. The big bang theory contradicts Genesis and so is wrong

Non-literal view: Judaism traditionally doesn't view the creation story literally and many Christians agree. They believe that the scriptures are God's word interpreted by people. The Genesis account says that God created the universe in a way that the non-scientific people of the time would understand.

Creation account as myth: this can include non-literal views. It has truth within it but is not historic or scientific - it is moral truth. It is only designed to help people understand God's role in creation

  • Atheists and fundamentalists would not find the Genesis account and Big Bang theory compatable
  • Other believers would - scientists agree that nothing happened before the Big Bang and that God could be the cause. The stages of creation aren't very different to the stages of the universe
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Other religious creation accounts

Buddhism doesn't have a proper creation story and there is little focus on creation, and so they happily accept the Big Bang Theory

Islam teaches in the Qur'an explained by Allah that everything was created by Allah. They have no problem accepting the Big Bang Theory as it is seen as additional evidence that Allah is the creator

Sikhism teaches in the Guru Granth Sahib that God created the whole universe, and God was all that existed before creation. He planned creation and everything he planned at the end was enclosed in an egg. When God decided the time was right the shell burst and everything moved away from the point of bursting. Sikh believe there is nothing that contradicts the Big Bang

Hinduism teaches that the universe was created from a lotus flower by Brahman, which he divided into sea, earth and heavens. He filled the sea and land with life and made humans. Hindus believe that the universe is created and destroyed in cycles and so the big bang could be how the universe is recreated after it's destruction

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The cosmological revolution

  • In the Middle ages science and religion agreed as science included God and was based on Genesis.
  • It was believed that we lived in an earth-centred universe and that God had placed the earth in the centre and controlled it.
  • The church taught that all that mattered was being admitted into heaven at death and so finding out about the living world didn't matter
  • At the end of the middle ages this chaged as the church's control broke down and there was a renewed interest in learning

Galileo observed sunspots which proved that the heavens were not unnchanging. He helped to prove Copernicus

Copernicus observed the planets and concluded that the earth went round the sun, and only the moon went round the earth. He said that the sun was the the centre of the universe and everything moved in circular orbits around it.

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The challenges of the cosmological revolution

  • If the sun was the centre of the universe then God had not put humans at the centre but on a tiny orbiting planet, which questioned Humanity's special relationship with God
  • The Christian faith no longer had control over science and so scientist no longer had to make their findings match Christian teachings
  • Religion became the explanation for things that were not understood by science
  • God was no longer regarded as immanent and the controller of everything as his creation was like a machine that could work by itself. God may have created the world and moved on
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Origins of life

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck believed that:

  • The organs a life form uses most in order to survive get bigger and stronger and those that aren't needed shrink
  • Changes that are useful for survival are inherited by the offspring

Charles Darwin pioneered natural selection, where he observed that many varying offspring were produced but only some would survive. This would be because of their variations and so they could pass it on to their offspring who would have more of the variation helping the species to survive

Evolution is the process of the development of animals from primative life forms. Genesis says that life was made in its final form on the 5th and 6th days of creation and humans were made in God's image

  • Atheists and creationists would not find Genesis and evolution compatible
  • Other religious believers can accept both as compatible if the Genesis account is not taken literally. According to Genesis the first life forms were in the sea and the last were the humans, which fits with evolution which could be God's plan for the development of life
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The challenge of Darwin's evolutionary theory (1)

Darwin was brought up a Christian. When he started studying evolution he thought that it would prove that God had a plan for the creation of the world and prove the design argument for God.

Gradually he became convinced that God had designed the laws of nature but left evolution to random chance.

Later natural selection caused him to doubt the bible. His theory of evolution undermined Genesis because:

  • Living things developed in small steps which demonstrated that things weren't in their final form on the 6th day
  • If things happen because of chance this rejects the idea of a designer God
  • Evolution shows that things change to fit their environment which rejects the Genesis idea that God created the environment for the benefit of living things
  • Genesis says that humans were made in the image of God so can't have evolved
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The challenge of Darwin's evolutionary theory (2)

Religious reasons for rejecting Darwin:

  • Humans have souls that distiguish them from animals so they can't have evolved from them
  • There are gaps in the fossil records so there is no conclusive evidence that it actually took place
  • Scientists have never found clear fossil evidence to support the transition from apes to humans
  • Natural selection happens by random chance, but the transition to a higher life form would take careful selection of the variation in the species that there is no evidence of in nature

Religious reasons for accepting Darwin:

  • Buddhists have no problems as they don't believe in God
  • People can believe that evolution is the process through which creation took place and is part of God's plan
  • Evolution shows the power of God's design for the development of humanity
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Can science and religion agree? (1)

Why they can agree:

  • Many believers feel that the conflict is over unimportant points and if the Bible is not taken literally then science can explain the laws by which God created the universe
  • Islam says that science proves the truth of the Qur'an and so encourage research
  • Buddhism, Hunduism and Sikhism all believe that science tends to support their oldest teachings and that both science and religion put forward some of the same truths
  • We can agree if scientists accept that God is beyond scientific understanding and religious believers are willing to adapt their interpretation of the scriptures to science 
  • Intelligent design explains the features of the universe scientifically but avoid saying that things are random. This makes it easier for science and religion to agree as it does not say what the cause was
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Can science and religion agree? (2)

Why they cannot agree:

  • Scientists who are atheists reject all religious belief
  • Believers who agree that the scriptures contain literal truth are unlikely to agree with science unless like fundamentalist Christians they create their own scientific theories that support Genesis, called scientific creationism.
  • Religious believers who reject agreement may say that changing religion truths to fit science as it could lead to more Bible teachings being rejected

Many religious believers say that science can back up thier religions as it shows how God acts in the world. There are things that science can't explain and people then turn to religion, which cannot be proven. It is all to religious interpretation whether science and religion can agree

Science and religion both ask the same questions, but for science the emphasis tends to be on how and for religion it's why. This means that sometimes they can agree. (e.g. How did life begin/ why did life begin)

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Absolute truth v. evolving, changing truth

Absolute truth: fixed, unalterable facts, something that is true at all times and in all cultures.

  • Fundamentalist Christians believe that the Bible contains absolute truth.
  • Richard Dawkins believes that it is absolute truth that there is no God

Evolving, changing truth: truth that changes depending on the knowledge and understanding at the time.

  • For an agnostic, this could be a belief in God.
  • Scientists are also willing to see scientific truth this way - this is why discoveries are called theories - they can change with new discoveries
  • Some religious believers are willing to see that scriptures are open to interpretation and so see that their understanding of their religion may have to change with the world

Whether or not something can be seen as absolute truth depends on the authority. This may be God, but for most people this would be their personal beliefs, which means that this is subjective

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Science v. religion in the modern world

  • The cosmological revolution has led to science and religion being more seperate and people turning more to science to answer questions
  • As science developed it was felt that God was there to fill in the things that science couldn't explain, so in the 19th century he was known as "God of the gaps"
  • After Newton's discovery of gravity scientists began to think that they could find exact rules as to why the universe works and so it was like a machine so there was no need for God who may have created it and moved on and was no longer seen as the controller of everything
  • A belief developed that compared the universe to a clock (Deism) where God set things going and then moved on.
  • Einstein's theory of relativity and Quantum mechanics have shaken scientists in their ability to establish facts and so some are again turning to religion to explain things
  • Most religious believers have now accepted that science is independant and can no longer conform its findings to religious teachings
  • Many now agree that the modern world now needs science to explain facts and religion to cater for people's spiritual needs
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Joanna Patrick


Are you sure you don't mean the Big Bang was 10-15 billion years ago, Kate? **



I thought I'd changed that....



sorry ment to put 5 stars but whilst flicking through i put 1 and now i cant seem to change it :(

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