It has been over 150 years since Charles Darwin first published his seminal volume “On the Origin of Species,” and, although his work proved highly controversial in its original context, it is refreshing to see that people of diverse faith traditions view the theory of evolution as more or less valid. Indeed, even the Catholic Church, which was hardly a friend to Galileo in his day, does not question Darwin’s scientific rigor, and for that the institution deserves credit.
We might be inclined to believe that religion and science have a hard time coexisting peacefully thanks to the amplified voices of politicians and school board members lobbying to teach creationism in schools, but it should be obvious today that being a devout Christian hardly bars one from being able to think critically or accept proven science as fact.
What interests me in particular is when religious believers try to use science to validate their own faith traditions. Such arguments have a long history: consider Plato, who was one of the first thinkers to put forth the argument that God is the “First Cause” for the rest of the universe’s existence. Thomas Aquinas piggybacked off that hypothesis and gave the “Argument from Design,” believing that the world’s ostensibly perfect design could hardly be explained by chance, and therefore God must have been the one pulling the strings.
Today, as we come to better understand the vast nature of the cosmos, some have been reaffirmed in their belief by evidence of just how unlikely it us for life to develop, even on our own planet. A little bit closer to the sun and we all would have burned; a little further away and Earth would have been a frozen wasteland. It’s comforting to think that we ended up exactly where we were because there was something out there keeping everything in place.
But I caution believers when they use arguments like this. First of all, the science itself isn’t exactly conclusive on how special our position is. Even if the existence of life is as unlikely as we believe it to be, that’s not exactly affirmative proof that God put us here. People win the lottery all the time; sometimes you get lucky and the numbers work for you. Moreover, I think there’s an element of faith that necessarily needs to be antithetical to pure reason. What makes Christianity a religion rather than a fun story is that Christ is supposed to have done the impossible: die on the cross and resurrect for our sins. No amount of science is ever going to simulate that experiment. Religion and science can certainly come together in the public sphere for common good, but it’s unwise to assume one can be perfect evidence of the other.
Bub is a senior majoring in English, history and political science.