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Rivalry Week: Science vs. Religion

This post was created in fulfillment of an assignment for a course in theology.

From the hallways at the middle school where basketball practice happens. Someone added the score to the college displays. I think this person should be my bestie.

“Mom, why do we even hate the Ducks?”
-Cameron Rask, age 10

“Mom, I think science is like God’s sidekick.”
-Cameron Rask, age 9

The final weeks of the college football season have just concluded, leaving my ten-year-old son to ponder the deep questions of life such as why, exactly, we as loud and proud Oregon State Beavers hate the Oregon Ducks (Which…everyone knows we beat them this year, right? 38-34? Just wanted to make sure we’re clear).

“Well,” I responded, “Because…well, their fans are obnoxious and they always get all the money and everyone thinks they are sooooooo great and…and…and…”

Honestly, I didn’t have a good answer. We’ve just always hated the Ducks, they’ve always hated us, and that’s just how it’s always been. That’s the thing about rivalries—most of the time we don’t even know why we’re fighting. We may have great stories about that one time when the other team broke into our gym and stole our mascot, but even then the rivalry usually existed before the shenanigans.

One thing is for sure, though, rivalries are big money events. In any given season, tickets to some Beaver games are fairly easy to come by but the Oregon State/Oregon game is always sold out. Merchandise associated with the rivalry is a hot commodity as well. (My husband and I may or may not have matching orange “Shut the Duck Up” t-shirts.) Oregon State even launched a fundraising effort where people could donate $38.34 cents, in honor of the score of the game this year. Truly, rivalries mean big bucks for any and all stakeholders.

Much like college football, the same ideas apply with the science/religion rivalry. Historically cast as diametrically opposed, a closer examination of many of the reasons cited for this conflict do not hold up and the fires of rivalry have been stoked throughout the ages by people and institutions looking to benefit from the drama.

If you can get your hands on an article titled, “The War that Never Was: Exploding the Myth of the Historical Conflict Between Christianity and Science” by Joshua Moritz, do it. He compares and contrasts the facts of situations like Galileo’s imprisonment and the Scopes trial with how they have historically been presented and highlights who has benefitted from that presentation. Anyone familiar with any story that’s been turned into a movie and “tweaked” in order to craft a screenplay and sell movie tickets can probably envision how “Inherit the Wind” stacks up with how events actually went down.

Interesting as well is this piece about the Draper-White Conflict Thesis—it’s a less than five minute watch and was put together by creators who do not stand on either side, their agenda is to advance dialogue between the two sides:

When you dig in and start unpacking the history of this science/religion “rivalry,” you find that both sides are equally guilty of advancing their cause at the expense of the other—and that outside forces such as people trying to sell movies and books and those seeking political gain or viewer/readership have amplified and exploited the conflict for their own purposes 

So…when it comes down to it, why are we fighting? There are certainly places where science and religion can have some friction. Christians for whom it’s really important that the events of Genesis happened literally the way they are written on the pages of Scripture struggle with the scientists’ conclusions about the origins of the earth. Other Christians, however, feel like the Genesis creation narrative tells us about who God is, about God’s love and purpose for creation, and is not intended to recount the actual logistics of creation—those discoveries are being made in the realm of science. But you know what? That’s ok. There are lots of things about Scripture and God’s self that remain mysteries and not all Christians are going to see eye to eye.

So, how do we move forward? First of all, we need to embrace the reality that the science/religion conflict has at best been amplified and exploited (at worst manufactured) by people with an agenda—often people outside the disciplines of science and theology. Then, we need to get curious. If science and religion are not diametrically opposed to each other, how do they function in concert with one another? How might theology provide context for scientific study and how can scientific discoveries inform our vision of God’s created universe? How can we handle the places where we might find them at odds with each other? How do we react toward people on both sides who are still hostile—or worse, condescending and superior?

Fortunately, there are folks out there leading the way in this work. Here are some organizations doing research and creating resources:

Science for the Church

The AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion

The Templeton Foundation

Additionally, however, we need to look in our own neighborhoods, churches, and contact lists. Chances are good that you know someone who might love to talk about this. There may be scientists attending your church who would love to come out of the shadows and talk about their experiences as Christians doing science. You may know a scientist who has always had questions about theology, faith, and God but has never felt welcome to ask them. Basically, we need to open up some seats at the table for one another.

I’ll end this post with two things. First is to draw your attention to the second quote from Cam above, “Science is like God’s sidekick.” He said that out of the blue on a car ride one time last year and I think he’s onto something.

The second is to say that while I truly believe all of what I said, I have no intention of applying it to the Oregon Ducks. That’s a conflict that nobody needs resolved. Plus, the Ducks are gross.


Wife and mom in the Pacific Northwest, dreaming of a world with no mom left behind.

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