Friday, November 18, 2011

What is the difference between Religion and Science?

As a science teacher, and a teacher of biology where we of course educate students about evolution, it is important to consider the difference between religion and science.  Some might say, science is just a myth--a story that explains how things work, just as is religion, and I would in part agree.  But if that is so, some ask, why should we give science special authority in our lives?

Well, I wouldn't say one is intrinsically more important than another, importance depends on values, goals, and beliefs.  There are, nonetheless essential differences between the two.  One thing that sets science apart from most all religions is the fact that scientists are constantly trying to improve the content of science.  Religious leaders and practitioners however do not attempt the same type of improvement--that isn't their goal.  Their goal is instead to strive to understand and interpret and follow the teachings/beliefs of their religion.

Thus, the scientific idea of how species developed (the theory of evolution) is qualitatively different than a creation story -- a religious idea of how species developed.  In science we are constantly examining evidence around us, all kinds of evidence, to see if our ideas of evolution should be improved to be more consistent with that diverse body of evidence.  I think in religion it would be considered blaphsmous to try to improve on it's creation story.  However, it would be very appropriate to improve ones answer to the question, "What does that story mean to me in my life?"

Therein lies the power of science: it's drive to constantly improve its knowledge, to make them more consistent with what we see around us, to make the explanations better at solving more and broader problems.  And, that's why it's important to not equate religion and science--each domain is designed to answer different kinds of questions, solve different kinds of problems.  In short, if you want to know where the huge diversity of species has come from, look to science for an answer.