Can science, religion coexist?

Science and religion have been at odds since the dawn of time, as people have searched for answers about the existence of a higher power, the origins of the universe and evolution. For many, it is not always an easy topic to talk about or understand. Sometimes it is taboo. But in a world that is constantly changing, the debate continues to develop as well.

When discussing this controversial subject, one might perceive that the terms “science” and “religion” are very broad, and bogging them down may lead to confusion.

“We’ll say something is scientific as a way of basically saying reasonable, and we’ll use the term religion as being something that is not reasonable,” said Joe Sanzo, a professor of the history of the study of religion at UCLA. “The terms themselves carry very much a rhetorical flavor to them, and that makes it very difficult to use them as descriptive categories.”

According to Sanzo, the age-old question of “science versus religion” should not include all of science and all of religion, but the argument should instead focus on more specific subjects. These subjects often include the evolution of humans and animals and the creation of the universe.

A theologist may reference the Bible and say that God created humans, animals and the rest of the universe in six days. A scientist, however, could start talking about the Big Bang Theory and how humans evolved from single-celled organisms over many millions of years.

These two disciplines reach their conclusions in very different ways.

Scientists use the scientific method, which involves forming a hypothesis and then continuing to experiment with it until an answer is reached. Theologists, on the other hand, mainly use the God of the Bible and the Torah as evidence.

Jason Roberts, a non-denominational Christian, believes that the Bible is inerrant, meaning that it can never be disproven, even by scientific discoveries.

“Scripture is truth; anything that comes against it is a lie,” Roberts says.

Not all religious people think this way, however. Pastor Fred Masted of Westchester Lutheran Church feels that it is a mistake to take the Bible literally.

“When you try to take all these things literally, you just end up with nonsense,” Masted says.

Rabbi Zach Shapiro of Temple Akiba in Culver City agrees with Masted.

“We’re not supposed to look at these things as exactitudes, but rather as an overarching story,” Shapiro says.

So it seems that even people who believe in the same higher power and read from the same holy book have different views on how to interpret what they are taught to believe.

Similarly, the views of scientists are not universal either. According to a 2009 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Pubic Life, 51 percent of scientists either believe in God or some other higher power.

But even scientists who believe in a deity can have their doubts.

“I would say that I believe in God, but exactly what that means, I’m not entirely sure,” Sanzo says.

Edward Tarvyd, a marine biology and zoology instructor at Santa Monica College, also has his reservations about the existence of God, calling himself a “Catholic on sabbatical.”

“There might be something there, there might not be, but I concern myself with other things,” Tarvyd says.

While questioning the existence of God is a popular subject among those who debate religion as a whole, Tarvyd feels that it is not an issue that scientists should tackle.

“There is absolutely no scientific experiment that has ever been devised, or probably can be devised, that can either prove or disprove the existence of God,” Tarvyd says. “It is completely incompatible as far as the rules of science.”

So where does that leave someone trying to decide whether to take a scientific or faith-based view on life?

According to Shapiro, the two views should have nothing to do with one another.

“I don’t look at religion to teach me about science and I don’t look at science to teach me about religion,” Shapiro says. “My theology is not based on what’s black and white in the Bible.”

Masted has a similar view.

“Scientists should study their discipline; religionists should study their discipline,” Masted says. “Where the problems get in is when the scientists try to be religionists and the religionists try to be scientists.”

Armando Castillo, a 23-year-old SMC student with Christian parents, admits to being an atheist since the age of eight. When it comes to deciding which argument explains the origins of humans and the universe best, his viewpoint is clear.

“I’ve always been a person of logic, so if it makes sense, then I’d probably go with science,” Castillo says.

With religion and science often being at odds, one may wonder if there can ever be an agreement between the two.

Castillo doesn’t think so.

“As humans, we always want a definitive answer,” Castillo says. “It’s human nature to prove each other wrong, so it’s just going to keep going.”

But others believe that religion still has a place in society.

Sanzo points to civil rights movements and many other “positive things” within the last 50 or 60 years as having been rooted by some sort of belief in a religion.

“Having something beyond human beliefs, practices, et cetera, that can point to something larger can serve a very positive function, and has done so in the recent past,” Sanzo says.

Tarvyd takes this line of thought a step further.

“[Religion] gives people hope that there is something at the end; it gives them a path to follow,” he says.