Thoughts of a geek

16 May 2008

Truth, faith, science and religion

I came across an interesting blog article recently, entitled Internet Arguments and the Search For Truth. It discusses the meaning of ‘faith’, and its relation to religion and science. The author has some interesting things to say about ideologues and debate, and I recommend reading it.

Whether science and religion can co-exist seems to be a common topic of disagreement and confusion, especially the divide manufactured between ‘Creationism’ and ‘Evolution’. Certainly it was a common theme to the questions people had to ask last year when the VUW Christian Union ran our Ask God in the Quad event here at Vic, and it has come up again this year.

Unfortunately some Christians have quite strong and loud beliefs along the lines of ‘God created the Earth in 6 (24 hour) days a few thousand years ago, this is the only possible way of interpreting the bible, and Evolution is an evil plot by Science to destroy people’s faith in God’. For their own part, their opponents often have equally fundamentalist views that Evolution conclusively disproves all religion, without even understanding very well what Evolution means.

I see no contradiction between science and Christianity. I am no biologist, and I cannot claim to have a terribly clear knowledge of exactly which of the claims grouped under the popular heading of ‘Evolution’ are generally accepted by the scientific community from what evidence. The closest I have come to studying evolution is the use of evolutionary computation techniques in AI (genetic algorithms, genetic programming, etc.), where they are a useful technique for optimisation and machine learning. My understanding is that there is a clear case from fossil records that there has been change with species throughout history, and a fairly clear case for speciation and common descent (at least to some extent), but there is no scientific consensus on how life came to exist in the first place. There seem to be a range of models for and hypotheses on abiogenesis, but no substantial evidence.

There are in fact quite a range of views within Christianity on the origins of life, based on different interpretations of the creation account given in Genesis. gives one useful comparison of some of the views, from the perspective of a proponent of Old-Earth Creationism. TalkOrigins has a much shorter summary of some interpretations.

Christians have been thinking about these issues for quite a long time: Augustine of Hippo (a Christian theologian and philosopher who lived from 354 AD to 430 AD) had some interesting attitudes towards the interpretation of the Genesis account (as well as open-mindedness in general). He makes the excellent point:

In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.

Davis A. Young has written a good article about Augustine’s views that I recommend reading, both for non-Christians and Christians.


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