“Scientists believe in evolution, and the Bible says that all things were created as they are”: Anita's perceptions of the relationship between science and religion
Anita’s perception of the nature of scientific knowledge
‘Anita’ was a Y9 student at ‘Abbey School’ (a faith school). Anita could only suggest one law of nature that she was aware of, that ‘animals eat other animals’, but she thought that such laws offered definitive knowledge, being “what happens like, it’s just a regulation, and is definitely what happens”. She thought that such laws derived from direct observation of nature, “from people observing them and like comparing them to like what other things do within nature, and then – yeah – write down a list of laws of what happens”. She seemed to feel this was an unproblematic process “because you can like watch the laws of nature and you can like hopefully trust your eyes”.
By contrast, Anita’s notion of scientific theories was more ambiguous. She suggested that a theory was “like someone’s opinion that’s got like a string of almost like rules, it’s like a hypothesis or something”. Anita was aware of “some theories say that we could just be dreaming and we wake up and it’s completely different, so it’s kind of weird”. She thought that “some are true, …cos some are just completely ridiculous, and others do actually have evidence supporting it and it’s helpful”. An example of a theory which was not true was “the flat Earth, that is completely ridiculous, because we already know that it’s round”. In a similar way currently accepted theories could become discredited,
“I think they could if we turned out to be wrong like the phlogiston theory, because as soon as Lavoisier like proved it wrong, it was obvious that it was (pause) so yeah, once we make a mistake I’m sure we can like change our theory”
For Anita, considering a theory true seemed to be a matter of it having successfully replace a discredited theory: “I really do think it’s about like the countering evidence for other theories”.
Anita’s perception of the nature of religious knowledge
Anita referred to the Bible as the source of religious beliefs, so for example “the Bible says that all things were created as they are”. Anita was aware that different people would believe different things, and recounted an origin myth she had heard from a different culture,
“there’s a story about how there was a woman that peeled shadows off the wall, and it talks about the mosquito and how it can’t use his poison, and – yeah, and she peels off the animals off the wall of the – she sees shadows on the wall from her fire and she’s in a cave – she peels the animals off the wall, and they come to life and then she sets them out into the world”
Anita suggested that different people thought different things because people construct different ways of making sense of the world,
“I think it’s because people’s minds trying to explain it and everyone, and you could have a really-really good imagination, or really a logical mind, and then you piece it all together and then you get something completely different”
Despite this, Anita thought that the Bible - which was the source of her religious beliefs (about the origin of the universe and living things, for example) - “is sacred”,
“the Bible is not just a whole load of random stories, it’s a proper holy book and it’s like true stories that people must’ve been inspired to put them down, so it’s like God is talking to you through the Bible”
Anita’s perception of the relationship between scientific knowledge and religious knowledge
Anita was aware of a number of areas where she considered science and religion to contradict. So for Anita scientific and religious views on the creation of the World were at odds as
“some people believe in the 7 days, and how He, God, created the world, and I think others believe in the big bang very strongly and they don’t think that like God can exist because of that evidence”.
Similarly “the scientists’ belief in evolution” of different species of living things was contrary to religious belief as
“because in the Bible it says God created them as they are … [whereas] science doesn’t believe that”. She explained that, “scientists believe in evolution, and the Bible says that all things were created as they are, and … God could have created animals as … like cells, and then they could’ve evolved – the Bible doesn’t say that”
Anita thought that the term ‘miracle’ “means like something all miraculous happens, like science cannot explain, and they’ll try but it won’t fit and it won’t feel right”. Anita included in her notion of miracles personal experiences such as “sometimes when my homework’s late, the teacher is ill… that’s kind of a miracle” (as she avoided getting told off for not having done the work on time), but recognised that such experiences could be explained by science:
“I think science kind of limits miracles to like minor things, such as, the homework thing – it’s not really a miracle, but to me it feels like a miracle because then I don’t get detention”.
However, Anita thought there were other types of miracles that science really could not explain, but which really happened. She referred to examples of miracles performed by Christ, and to his resurrection:
“Jesus turned the water into wine, and the people drank the wine and they knew that it was wine, so yeah, I don’t think – unless he was some kind of really weird magician that had wine up his sleeves…when Jesus raised the girl from the dead, science says that well once we have like died, we can’t come back, but like that girl was fully there, but whether as in the story when Jesus came back, he was just like – he wasn’t [just] a spirit, they could touch him but he had spiritual properties, which I don’t think science can explain”
Anita reported that she “read about miracles quite a lot”, and gave an example of a more contemporaneous episode that she considered miraculous where “there was a young child who had cancer, and she played Pac-Man inside her body, and she ate all the cancer cells – she imagined that was happening and then the next day after she’s finished that game of Pac-Man, she no longer had cancer”.
Anita’s personal response to her perception of the relationship between scientific knowledge and religious knowledge
Although Anita appeared to feel that scripture should be taken literally, and was contrary to science, she was open to finding a way of ‘fitting’ religious and scientific ideas together, and considered that “it’s fun to compare them”. She saw diverse ideas and disagreements as a positive spur to thinking ideas through,
“I think it’s good that we all have good imaginations and logical minds, and it’s good to challenge people’s theories, and like challenge your own theory, so you can be open to other people’s theories”
Anita thought that it was sometimes possible to develop a synthesis as “I think you can like link some of the things together, and then you can get something else and then it would be interesting to challenge it to other people’s theories”. When this brought new insights (“ that could happen!”) it made her feel “accomplished”.
Anita acknowledge that for “some people” there remained contradictions between the Bible and science as “some people just can’t fit it together, and yeah – they just can’t decide what to believe”. She herself was in that position with regard to “the evolution one, because of like they do clash and it’s like which one can I believe, or can I put them both together”. However, with regard to the creation of the Universe itself, Anita could find an accommodation between the two sources of ideas,
“it’s really interesting because like all the different theories, they clash, but like when you think about it deeper like with the big bang, we don’t know why it happened, it could’ve been God creating the universe with the big bang…we can’t deny that the big bang probably did happen, but we still don’t know what like made it happen” For Anita such issues did not undermine her religious beliefs, as “I like to challenge my faith, and it’s like get closer to God by challenging it”.
This account is based on an interview given by Anita (an assumed name) as part of the LASAR project.
(Note on editing: quotations have been slighty tidied to aid readability, and resequenced to give a coherent narrative account, whilst taking care not to change meanings or misrepresent Anita's ideas.)