There's a saying among scientists that as people become more educated, they outgrow religion. According to surveys, in fact, nearly two-thirds of all scientists do not believe in a higher being, countering that human life, like the rest of the natural world, is the result of natural processes. On the other side of the spectrum, creationists who believe in the literal word of the Bible are downright hostile to science and the theory of evolution.
But what about scientists who believe in God, or theologians who support science? Are they locked in a paradox where they must turn off their faith in the lab or their reasoning in church?
A growing number of people on both sides believe science and religion can coexist because each addresses a different set of questions. Science deals with the material world of genes and cells, religion the spiritual world of value and meaning. Two scientists, therefore, can agree that the world has evolved over more than 3 billion years, but disagree over what, or who, set everything in motion.
Countering creationists who say God made the world in six days just 6,000 years ago, scientists of faith embrace evolution and say it points, in the words of noted physicist and Anglican priest Dr. John Polkinghorne, to a God that created "a world that could make itself." Dr. Francisco J. Ayala, a professor of biological sciences and philosophy at the University of California at Irvine and a former Dominican priest, goes even further to argue that the theory of "special design" supported by many Christian fundamentalists is blasphemous because it suggests a fallible God. "Think of all the backaches, infected wisdom teeth and painful childbirth that exist because we humans evolved incompletely," Ayala said recently in the New York Times. "Do you think God is absent-minded?"
Not everyone agrees that science and religion can, or should, coexist. Christian fundamentalists attack evolution as "only a theory" and, at the extreme, a lie against which to test people's faith. On the other hand, some scientists argue that while the laws of physics remain constant, theology changes too frequently, often in the face of scientific discoveries, to be taken seriously. Increasingly, however, scientists and theologians are reconciling the facts of evolution with the faith of religion. According to Stephen Jay Gould, a self-proclaimed Jewish agnostic and professor of biology at Harvard University, there is room for "respectful discourse" among scientists and theologians "toward the common goal of wisdom."