Contradictions between Science and Religion

Science and Religion

There is great distance between the concepts imposed by science and those brought by religion. In many aspects they contradict each other or differ in the answers given to historical questions that man has tried to answer from the beginning of history.

The establishment of scientific debate started in the middle ages (McGrath, 1998) when the western world came in contact with translations of Greco-Arabic texts of scientific nature. The medieval Western world rediscovered Greek philosophy and ancient theories about the universe and life that gave their beliefs a new direction. It was also in that middle age period that the great universities of Europe were established and the natural science began to develop significantly. As the great faculties developed Theology and Philosophy, new ways of thinking and interpreting the Bible began to appear.

People did not just blindly believe the holly writings but they were interpreting them, trying to read between lines, to decipher the codes they were redacted in and this gave new meanings to those writings. New questions appeared about the world and its origins and the search for explanations about all matters became more vivid than ever since the ancient times.

It was in that period that new astronomical discoveries contradicting the Bible (such as Galileo’s theories) rose great controversies and violent reactions from the church. It stirred the attention of other science men, but was not accepted by religion, that in that age was a main authority. For many years science had to develop in secret, since the new discoveries defied the Christian beliefs.

The contradiction between science and religion has always existed. This brings the question of whether religion is an ally or an enemy of science (McGrath, 1998) but there are many kinds of science and their relation to religion is different from each case. The same way, there are different kinds of religions that each finds a different relation to science and its studies. Before stating how much science and religion contradict or complement each other this multiplicity of patterns has to be considered.

Not only religions are very different from one case to the other but it is important to note that science developed differently as well in zones where one specific religion was dominant (McGrath, 1998). It might not be a coincidence that natural science has developed differently in Christian or Muslim countries, and that the perception of such is differently seen in one place or another. Looking back at classic periods this contradiction seems something relatively new. In ancient times it appears that science and religion were close allies instead of contradicting each other. For some civilizations of the past, the scientific development was closely linked to their religious beliefs, especially where astronomy and mathematics where concerned.

This contradiction began mainly when science started to preoccupy itself in explaining the origin of things and not merely study the present reality. Religion was the first entity to explain and narrate the beginnings of the universe, life and humans. For many centuries those where the officially accepted explanations. When science began to look for the origin of everything and found different possibilities than those offered by religion a rupture occurred between people’s beliefs and scientifically proved facts. Some people leaned towards religious logic and others accepted blindly the science version, even if they were highly different.

Religion is not one specific thing that can be defined and understood. There are too many different religions and different approaches. It is about traditions, beliefs, culture and way of thinking. Science itself could be considered a religion for many people, since it has the same basic character: it is an instrument to offer explanation for things that escape human understanding, gives people a way of thinking and a point-of-view that pass to the next generations.

There is blind faith in science as well, since hundreds of people that read manuscripts from scientists describing their findings and theories will simply believe them without testing for themselves, in the same way people from ancient times would believe in the writings of prophets or holly men and took their testimony for real.

One example is the creation of man and its beginnings. Every religion in the world agrees that the human being was created by the gods, and many versions agree with the Christian concept that man was created from the earth.

Darwin’s theory proposes the idea that life forms are not static but they evolve; species are in constant change, some origin and other extinct. The process of evolution is slow, continuous and gradual, with no sudden changes or sudden appearances of new life forms. Also, organisms are linked, as members of one family and they evolve from a common antecessor. All of the organisms can be tracked in the past to one unique common origin of life. Natural selection is the key that explains the entire system.

First nature produces variety, spontaneous modifications in the beings. Then the selection through fight for life: the better and stronger will remain, reproduce and improve the species, leaving their qualities to the next generations; the others will be discarded and eventually disappear for good.

Darwin in his writings applies directly to the hommo sapiens those evolution theories. Those theories obviously brought controversies and critics. To many they constituted an offense to human race. With Darwin’s concept, the human was no longer a favored special being, but at the same level with the rest of the animals and life forms, being merely one more link in the chain.

Those theories were accepted by most of the scientific community and taken seriously by science men. However, caricatures and critics reveal the popular rejection to his concepts of man being included in the community of animals. However some scientists did not agree with the gradualism of life and believed that the process took sudden leaps and species appeared spontaneously. This would explain the missing link between apes and humans, and allude that the species appeared as a violent transformation. The concept of natural selection was the most discussed by scientists and philosophers. The harmony in the community of living creatures could not be the random result of natural selection. To be so perfectly balanced it must be a clear project, planned with specific rules and order.

The desire for knowing the origin of everything characterizes the Western society (Eliade, 1975). From the VXIII century humanity has seen more and more research about the origin of the universe, life, civilization, humans, language, religion and every other element that concerns the world and its structure. People need to understand the origin of everything in order to understand the way those things work, and probably to find the key to change and control life in their own benefit. Ancient civilizations devoted lives to understand the cosmos in order to learn how to predict the future from the stars and modify prophecies.

In the XX century things changed with the arrival of psychoanalysis. This was the only science that concords with religion in the idea that the beginnings of humans were something perfect, that gradually deteriorates, contrasting with other sciences that conceive the beginning of everything as being the scrape that will develop and improve with the slow process of many hundreds of years (Eliade, 1975)

The Church’s first reaction to Darwin’s theory was violent. But as the scientific facts about the age of the world, the evolution and genetics and other biological studies and anthropologic were coming to light, the Church’s critics became less severe. Those theories rose controversies about all the others species in the world. Especially the question of why it was precisely the ape that resulted in the human and not another animal. Why there is not a human end for all the other species, human forms descending from canines, felines or birds?

As much as the Christian version of creation left blanks unexplained and raised questions about its authenticity, the evolution theory may be criticized as inconsistent as well. For science it seemed illogical that the man was created in one day, copying the image of a being that supposedly has no face or body, and therefore, no image to create alike. The man is too strongly related to other animals as to be completely foreign to the other species. He has to be part of a group and live by the same rules that dominate the rest of the living creatures. There has to be a link between man and animals if there are so many similarities between all of the life forms on the planet, and there is a path than can trace man’s origins to the same as animals’. But this theory leaves a great hole that makes it inconsistent and brings it to question as accurate.

There must be more to this ‘creation’ of man than science achieves to explain, more than simple coincidence of natural selection. Especially considering that the species resulting in the most intelligent creature on the planet was not a strong or endowed organism, but a rather weak and simple one. Following the logic of natural selection that this theory implies, the evolution of humans should have resulted from another kind of species, one stronger or provided with natural weapons, one that would have been more likely to survive above all the other animals and achieve special manual abilities.

In this light, the evolution theory leaves a hole in the logic assumption that the perfect order of the universe would take a turn that would be rather illogic. That would mean that behind the evolution of man there should be a plan and logic and that this evolution was not merely coincidental as science tries to make it appear.

As long as both approaches have a logical point and leave unanswered questions the contradiction between science and religion will always exist.


Eliade, M. (1975) Myth and Reality. New York: Harper & Row.

McGrath, a.E. (1998) Science & Religion: An Introduction. New York: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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