Do you remember seventh grade? In seventh grade, things got complicated. In so, so many ways. For the sake of time, I’ll specify that things got complicated, for me, in my social studies class. This class covered early human migration, an interesting and important subject completely appropriate to bring up with kids just starting to understand humanity from a more grown-up perspective. Really! I’m not even being sarcastic.
But that’s not quite how I saw it at the time. I’d heard rumors from other students that my teacher, Mr. Coram, taught evolution. Human evolution, no less. Sure, these rumors came from the same kids who couldn’t celebrate Halloween or read Harry Potter books due to their own special brand of Christianity, but I didn’t think things like that through as a self-conscious thirteen-year-old. Among my classmates, Christians were Christians, and that included me.
Shocked and disgusted, I tried to understand why my teacher, who was a very nice man, would be allowed to teach such a horrible thing. Without any speck of an idea what evolution meant, beyond “God didn’t create us,” I told my friends in disbelief that I just couldn’t imagine evolution coming up in our class.
And I’m not sure that it ever did. We discussed Pangaea and land bridges, early primitive living systems and hunter-gatherer societies, but not what came before all of that – where those ancestors came from and how we ended up here, as we are today. Maybe that was for the better. I still had a lot of growing up to do.
A couple years later, Biology class happened! That one took me by surprise. After enthusiastically learning basic genetics, species classification, and whatever else they teach you in high school biology, we finally broached that sticky subject. Quite badly, I think.
See, we had two options. Believe in God and be wrong, or believe in science and be right. I mean this literally. One of the first multiple-choice questions on the unit test specifically asked us to choose the most accurate description of the origin of life. One of the wrong answers was “a divine creator.” It pained me to choose “survival of the fittest, resulting in evolution,” over the clearly-right-to-me other answer, but my grade mattered, and choosing both was not an option.
It was a strange thing, understanding evolution without knowing if I believed it. I felt so torn, trying to figure out my identity as a religious person who didn’t want to deny science. Evolution made perfect logical sense to me, but outside forces told me that I couldn’t possibly believe in these controversial scientific issues while also maintaining faith in God.
A big misconception regarding the whole “Science versus Religion” debate is that its existence originates and thrives in the church house. I will readily admit that many members of the LDS church have anti-evolution ideologies, but it’s certainly not something taught as doctrine. In fact, we’re quite good at just letting it be. There’s still the occasional Sunday School “contributor” spouting off tales about dinosaur bones placed in mountains by Satan as a trick meant to test our devotion to God (really), or those who think the world literally began 6,000 years ago (where does that math even come from?), but I never took any of that too seriously.
What I did find important at the time were the modern church leaders who encouraged activity in science. Those who, while teaching of Adam’s role as the first man created in God’s image, also stated there’s not a problem with studying science in addition to nurturing a testimony. As Gordon B. Hinckley put it: “Studied all about it. Didn’t worry me then. Doesn’t worry me now.”
I will fully admit that religion has problems with science, but we too often ignore science’s issues with religion. I would have liked to go to my high school science class and learn that many fully-functioning adults, intellectuals even, believe that science and religion may coexist. But I don’t think my teacher understood that.
It took me years to realize that she was the one lacking perspective and understanding, not me. There is no reason, even as a staunch atheist, to single out students for having religious beliefs. Instead of forcing young, impressionable kids to abandon their previously-held worldviews, shouldn’t a teacher focus on gracefully integrating new ones, or at least introducing them in non-intimidating ways that encourage gradual, self-guided change of opinions? Is that way too much to ask from the public school system? Probably.
But my point still stands: science shouldn’t have to be atheistic. Conversely, religion shouldn’t have to be all that scientific. Religion isn’t scientifically quantifiable, by its very definition. How on earth could the vital concept of faith even exist if we could physically, scientifically prove the existence of a divine entity?
Faith and testimony are truths felt inside the soul, nourishing our spirits. For many of us, science and the studies of man feed the intellect in a similar way, but it is the eternal truths of Heavenly Father’s plan that encourage our souls in times of trial and grief that things will work out, that life is good and we will all be all right.
Science could never help me through my problems. Science teaches me that in two billion years, the sun will burn us up, if we haven’t offed ourselves or evolved into something more interesting already; it doesn’t help me understand why that has no effect on my eternal salvation, that humans are not doomed for destruction beyond our temporal lives.
Science tells me that bodies cease to work because hearts stop and brains no longer send signals, but it doesn’t help me cope with losing someone I care about.
Science says that I am insignificant, one of billions of other forgotten humans who were, who are, and will someday be using energy on this earth until our lifeless bodies return to the ground to complete the chemical life cycle. Religion is there to remind me that, in addition to all these physical truths, there exist a set of even-greater spiritual truths of my inherent value as a daughter of God created in His divine image.
And so we find a balance. I think science is beautiful, and that it is our duty as nature’s beneficiaries to seek out its hidden truths. The Earth is a gift, and we should get to know it the best we can, while we can. From a scientific perspective, we come from an intricate, incomprehensibly complex and ongoing process that started in the stars and finished with a human birth. I love that. Our bodies and the way they have come to be are incredible.
And religion teaches us where to go from there – what do we do here, and how should we feel? What is the best way to treat others, and how can I find meaning in my miraculous life? How do I cope with despair? How do I find hope against all odds?
It should be our duty to seek further knowledge regarding this beautiful, life-giving Earth we’ve been so generously blessed with, but as a faith-driven person, I refuse to allow that knowledge to shake my belief in a creator. Science does a great job at describing the what, and decent job at describing the how, but falls short at the why. That is the reason I believe. That is the reason I hope.
A few months ago I shared a section of a train from London to Edinburgh with two other LDS girls and a young woman from Scotland we had never met. After conversing for some time, the subject of religion came up, and our new acquaintance admitted that she couldn’t will herself to believe in God since scientists have found so much evidence for the Big Bang and human evolution. Though I tried explaining to her that it’s possible to believe in those things in addition to a creator, I struggled finding the right words to express my passionate conviction that the struggle between science and religion is one we have created ourselves.
It is a struggle, one that many of us face constantly as the influences of our peers, teachers, and the media bombard our lives, convincing us to doubt ourselves and root our faith in man’s lofty endeavors alone. But I know, and I hope you know, that beyond the chaos, beyond the high school tests and strangers on trains, beyond these physical things that intrigue us and add a lovely zest to our lives? – is a Heavenly Father who loves us very much, and wants us to know that, against all scientific odds, we matter.