Defining your terms carefully, evaluate the claim that science is a better way of understanding reality than religion.
The debate of religion vs science has been a heavily disputed topic for centuries. Science proposes the argument that every part of the physical and natural world can be explained through observation and experiment. On the other hand, religion bases its beliefs on faith in scriptures and the Church. As well as their philosophies, science’s and religion’s outlook on reality, the state of things as they actually exist, is very different. A great example of these differences, and a significant part of reality, is how life started on Earth and how we, humans, came into existence. Thus, this is the example I will be focusing on. In addition, due to the development of several religions, I will base the religious argument on Christianity’s ideologies and beliefs on this topic.
The religious outlook on this idea, in relation to Christianity, can be identified in the book of Genesis, which is located in the Old Testament of the Bible. Both Genesis creation stories present the idea that man alone is created in the image and likeness of God, thus portraying God’s characteristic as a Creator. Genesis 1 tells the creation story from the divine perspective. It outlines the order of events that the world was made, with man being created last. The purpose of this was to give man dominion over the world, to protect and care for the world and its creatures. This would make sense as it is apparent that humans are the most fit beings for this, due to them being made in the ‘image and likeness of God.’
In Genesis 2 the human perspective is evident, giving us a closer insight into specifically how humans were created, according to the Bible. Firstly, man was created made from the dust of the earth. This may seem a bit unrealistic, especially with the present knowledge of the composition of the human body and genetics, as dust is simply a combination of dirt, sand and dead skin. Therefore, scientifically, this would seem rather far-fetched. Nevertheless, according to Genesis, a woman is then made, taken from the body of man and fashioned out of his rib. Again, this may be a difficult image to comprehend, as a rib does not have the genetic makeup and necessary cells to be able to form complex organs and tissues. As a result, it would be illogical for a bone to compose a complex structure such as the human body, made up several types of cells that together create tissues and subsequently organ systems. Despite these ambiguities, this concept of creation has been largely accepted, due to simple and naive faith in the Bible and the Church. A further contributing factor is that most people in the past did not receive the necessary education to be able to rationally and scientifically question these ideas. As well as this, society as a whole had less freedom to think and share their criticisms, especially considering the Church’s previous great power and authority. This can explain why popularity of religion has started to decrease, now that more people have access to education and freedom of thought.
On the other hand, in relation to how life started, science proposes a much more logical and comprehensive answer. The most accepted theory on this has been Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, presented in ‘On the origin of the species.’ The basis of Darwin’s theory is natural selection, the concept that organisms with ‘useful’ heritable characteristics have a better chance of surviving and reproducing. Thus, ‘differential reproduction’ occurs, causing ‘useful’ characteristics to be passed on in a higher proportion than other characteristics. An advantage over the religious argument is that Darwin’s theory can actually be explained. Darwin explained his theory through what he called the ‘struggle for existence’, by which an organism would do anything to ensure its survival and reproduction, thus only the ‘fittest’ organisms with ‘useful’ characteristics would survive. As the theory can be explained logically, it may be a better way of understanding reality than Genesis, which is based on simple belief and ultimately just a story without a valid explanation.
As well as having a logical explanation, another strength of the evolutionary thesis is that it can be observed in species. For example, natural selection can be observed in giraffes having long necks, as giraffes with short necks would not be able to reach the vegetation high up. Therefore, they would die if the vegetation lower down died and consequently not reproduce, meaning a higher number of long necks would be inherited proportionally to short necks. This makes the theory rather relevant, as we can apply it by personally witnessing natural selection in organisms. Rational people would therefore be more appealed by this theory as it would help convince them of the validity and realism. Contrasting with Genesis, which of course cannot be observed now, as it is not ordinary to see a man appearing out of dust or a woman being shaped out of a rib. Consequently, this can make the Bible story seem unreasonable and hard to believe, especially for logical and rational individuals.
Furthermore, a lot of research and evidence has supported Darwin’s theory. A great example of this are fossil ‘links’ being found, showing human evolution. With improved technology and expertise, the chronological order of fossilised deposits has been greatly elaborated and become considerably accurate in determining their relative dating. Discovery of thousands of human fossils have enabled researchers to study the changes that occurred in brain and body size, locomotion and diet of early human species over the past 6 million years. The famous ‘Lucy’ fossil skeleton, discovered in 1974, has shown that there are double the number of branches in the human family tree than we originally believed there to be and the length of time of our existence, has almost doubled. Therefore, this evidence gives science a much stronger argument for being the basis of understand reality, as it increases its validity, through providing physical evidence for the evolution of humans. Religion, however, does not have any real valid evidence, as it is based on faith, thus making people question its reliability for understanding reality.
Finally, a great advantage of science over religion in understanding reality is that it is constantly evolving and being understood in a more complex way. Continuing with the evolutionary example, Charles Darwin initially got the hereditary mechanism wrong, as he proposed the idea of blending inheritance, along with the inheritance of acquired characters. However, Gregor Mendel then disproved this, by publishing his “hard” model for inheritance in 1866, where a gene inherited from either parent segregates into gametes at an equal frequency. Mendel’s model is now better known as genetics and turned out to be the correct mechanism for inheritance in eukaryotes, which is still accepted today. Even though Darwin’s theory was partly wrong, it was still extremely successful as it triggered further research into the area and resulted in the complex understanding of evolution that we have today. This is one of the biggest reasons why science is a better way of understanding reality than religion, due to it causing constant debate and investigation around the problem, which conclusively ends up bringing results and answers, such as in the evolutionary theory. Reality is therefore never truly understood through using science; however, it constantly leads to a more logical understanding of it and our knowledge of reality improving. Science even offers the hope that eventually we may possibly truly understand reality, through our knowledge becoming more extensive.
Moreover, the study of human genetics has further reinforced how closely we are related to other primates and allowed us to understand evolution on a biological basis. Biologists have discovered that genetic variations result from mutations in the nucleotide sequence of DNA. A mutation does not necessarily always make the organism better suited for the environment, however, if a gene variant does improve an organisms’ adaptation, the organisms carrying that gene are more likely to survive and reproduce than those without it. Biochemistry and molecular biology have additionally supported the idea of common descent. For example, the fact that proteins in all organisms are invariably composed of the same set of 20 amino acids, is a powerful argument in favour of the common descent of the most diverse organisms. Genetics further illustrates the idea of how fast science can develop, from the ‘Origin of the Species’ being published in 1859, based purely on observations, to now, where we have a complex and detailed understanding of the biological aspect of evolution. Despite this, our scientific understanding of evolution is still only partial. This, again, reinforces the forever-improving aspect of science, which will inevitably bring us closer to a more profound understanding of reality.
On the contrary, religion has maintained the same belief on the beginning of life since the original story of Genesis. Of course, there has been different interpretations of the scriptures from several different strands of Christianity. For example, conservative Christians would, of course, regard the Genesis stories literally, as they believe in the errancy of the Bible. Although, Liberal Christians do not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, thus would not interpret Genesis as a literal presentation of reality but understand it as a fallible human product showing the power of God. Despite these differences within the branches of Christianity, the Genesis story and understanding of Creation has remained the same since the original Bible. This continuity of the same believes could be argued to signify the perfection and realistic illustration of reality. More commonly, however, it would be perceived as outdated and inflexible in its beliefs. Unfortunately, this may cause religion’s outlook on reality be continually flawed.
In conclusion, science, with a logical and questioning outlook, presents a more comprehensive and extensive argument for understanding reality compared with religion, in regard to how human existence began. Although religion is still vastly popular all over the world, its argument, from a logical point of view, may seem outdated and irrational. This questions its validity and reliability for a representation of reality. Nevertheless, it is impossible to prove which one is the correct way to understand reality. As science is constantly changing and adapting its beliefs on reality, through new discoveries occurring, thus continually being imperfect. Whereas, religion maintains the same rigid outlook with no real evidence to prove it.
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