Last week my friend and colleague Caleb Hendrich wrote a column about why evolution is a scientific theory, and isn’t a religion. While I couldn’t agree with him more, the Collegian.com comment section accompanying Hendrich’s post last week implies that the dialogue needs to be added to.
I don’t intend to try and make the scientific part of the conversation more enlightening. From the fossil record to the existence of a spleen, the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, and people can choose to acknowledge it or to choose to ignore it. Chances are once someone has made a decision either way, they probably won’t change their mind. I plan to waste my energy trying to convince people to take their fingers out of their ears and stop humming loudly.
But I do believe I can add to the religious side of the discussion.
I am certainly not an expert on religion in any narrow or broad way. But I grew up in a very religion-heavy home. My parents met studying graduate level theology, and my father is a priest and a retired chaplain in the Army. Christianity hasn’t just played a role in my life; it is my life.
And despite living a life founded on faith, I have never once felt as though science has conflicted with or threatened my belief system. It’s very hard for me to wrap my head around how others protest evolution on grounds of it conflicting with their religion, especially when that religion shares a banner with my own.
There’s a lot of complicated ways that my convictions of faith and belief in the empirical play into each other. But the quickest way to summarize it is that religion explains what happens, and science explains how. Christianity states that God created the earth and all the creatures in it. Evolution explains how that beautiful, wonderful, complicated miracle happened.
Once, when I was in middle school, I accompanied a friend to her church’s youth group. They showed a video about a group of religiously diverse individuals learning about protestant fundamentalism; specifically in this video they discussed evolution. I remember the pastor from the tape taking off his wristwatch and saying that evolution was like taking the hundreds of pieces of his watch apart, putting them into a bag, shaking the bag, and the pieces rearranging themselves in a perfectly ticking time-telling device.
After sharing this massive misunderstanding of evolution with the group, my friend’s youth pastor asked who in the room believed in creationism? Everyone there identifying as a Christian, and we all raised our hands.
“Just for kicks,” he continued, “who here believes in evolution?” To many shocked and concerned gazes, my hand was the only one in the room raised. I was told I would be prayed for seeing “God’s true ways.”
The lesson continued by using natural aesthetics, like a majestic mountain, as evidence of God’s existence because something so beautiful couldn’t exist without a master designer. They then compared the human body to the mountain; so perfectly designed to work in incredible ways.
Why can’t that design have been a process that has lasted billions of years? Something so complex, so perfect, didn’t happen at the snap of a finger.
The Christian God is all-knowing and all-powerful. Do you really think such a deity isn’t capable of orchestrating an array of events so perfect and precise? That’s insultingly limiting of such a god.
In my opinion, neither religious beliefs nor empirical ones are complete without the help of the other. Sure, they can exist on their own, but they won’t be as rich or rewarding experiences as they are together. It’s not only okay for these two aspects of the worldview to coexist; they perfectly work together to explain to wonders of the world around us.
If your belief system claims that scientifically backed data is not only wrong but actively defies your religion, well, maybe it’s time to find a new and more rich belief system.
After all, you can change what you believe. But you can’t change repeatedly scientifically tested and supported facts.
Anna Mitchell grew up a PK, inspiring a song by Toby Keith, a reality TV show, and a movie starring Kevin Bacon. Love notes and hate mail can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org