Illustration depicting the apparent conflict between science and religion

Science and religion

Is conflict between science and religion inevitable?

Science is a way of looking at the world and coming up with explanations for why it is like it is. The scientific method provides a route to gather evidence to choose between alternative explanations.

Religions are based on revelation and faith. They too seek understanding, but by a different route – faith in the truths revealed by higher authority.

Science and religion have clashed in the past: Galileo with the Catholic Church, Huxley with Samuel Wilberforce. So are the two doomed to conflict? People’s opinions vary.

For a start, people with religious beliefs take up very different positions. Some people believe in the literal truth of a holy book such as the Bible and therefore reject the theory of evolution as wrong.

Others suggest that sacred texts should be read more as metaphors or stories than historical accounts. Natural selection is the mechanism chosen by God to enact his vision for the world.

What of scientists? Some are content to see science and religion as occupying different spaces, asking different questions in different ways. Science may answer the ‘how’ but doesn’t touch on the ‘why’. Many scientists hold religious views – in fact, the proportion of ‘believing’ scientists hardly changed during the 20th century. Other scientists argue that there is no evidence for supernatural explanations and no need for God.

Lead image:

Trouble arises when religion challenges science on its own territory, or scientists attack religious thinking.

Illustration © Glen McBeth

Questions for discussion

  • Do you think science and religion are compatible?
  • Some people talk about ‘non-overlapping magisteria’. Do you know what this means? Do a little research; do you think that is a good model?

Further reading

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Evolution’ in January 2007 and reviewed and updated in December 2014.

Psychology, Ecology and environment
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development