Michael Zimmerman

Michael ZimmermanWhile it is true that some people believe that scientific advances help them perceive the mind of God, and while it is also true, according to a 2007 Pew Research Center report, that 14 percent of Americans say that scientific discoveries have actually made them more religious, I think it is beside the point to focus on the contributions science might make to Christian faith. The ultimate goal of science isn't to advance Christianity, or any religion, but to further our understanding of the natural world. 

Similarly, although some occasionally imply otherwise, the goal of science isn't to attack religion. Indeed, science is one of the few fields of human endeavor that very clearly and purposefully is self-limiting. The methodology of science, its dependence on the concept of observation, hypothesis formation, data acquisition, and testing, coupled with its insistence that it can only deal with ideas that are able to be expressed in a falsifiable fashion, means that large areas of importance to many people fall outside the realm of science. Areas such as the existence of a deity, the nature of aesthetics and most areas of public policy fall outside the reach of the scientific method. I hasten to add that the areas outside the bounds of science are no less important than those within its reach. Simply put, it's critical to recognize that religion and science use different methodologies to address different questions.

What's absolutely essential is for people to recognize that there is nothing about science that should threaten anyone's religious worldview. The only time real conflicts arise is when religious adherents demand that ancient religious documents be read as science texts rather than as the religious documents they were meant to be.

What becomes truly problematic is when fundamentalists attempt to hijack the discussion about the relationship between religion and science for their own narrow purposes. Instead of acknowledging that the two can be complementary, fundamentalists assert that their view of religion is the only "correct" view and that anything that runs counter to it is anti-religious. Those promoting this extreme perspective have done serious damage to public science education as well as to religion. They attempt to define religion in their narrow manner and claim ownership of it. 

Religion, though, is far broader and more robust than any such definition. And, with that broader perspective in place, religion and science should be seen as disciplines that may comfortably coexist.

Dr. Michael Zimmerman is the founder and director of The Clergy Letter Project, an international organization of religious leaders and scientists created to demonstrate that religion and science need not be in conflict. Zimmerman has been involved with the evolution/creation controversy for almost three decades. He is the author of Science, Nonscience, and Nonsense: Approaching Environmental Literacy (Johns Hopkins University Press) and writes regularly for The Huffington Post.