Philosophy of Religion

Chapter  3: Science and Religion  

Conflict of Religion and Evolution  ?

Can a person believe in evolution and also believe in a God? 

In Judaism ?   YES    In  Catholicism ?  YES       In  Islam ? YES  

The appearance of a conflict between science and religion continues to exist where in the Western Religions and somewhat elsewhere, there appear in the sets of beliefs associated with each religion sentences that appear to make empirical claims.  Where such claims can be examined they have often been proven to be inaccurate.  Other claims have been made for which there is as yet no empirical support or evidence.

Take for example the belief within the religions of the West that there is one deity who created the entire universe out of nothing and did so about 6,000 years ago.   There is no evidence in support of the story of divine creation.   There is an alternate explanation for the origin of the universe and for life on planet earth offered by the sciences and supported with a great deal of evidence and capable of being further supported through experimental measures.  The Evolutionary Theory has been accepted by scientists around the world as having been proven and effective in explaining all forms of life.

Does evolutionary theory present a direct threat to the religious beliefs of those in the Western religions.  Must they abandon their faith to accept science and the evolutionary theory? Not necessarily.  It may be the case that adherents to religious traditions who are insistent on a literal reading of their scriptures might have extreme difficulty in accepting the results of scientific inquiry but not those who are willing to interpret the writings found in their scriptures as products of their age and expressing a message found within the literal meanings.  There can be a view of Religion and Science that holds that they are not in conflict but can be held to be commensurable(  more on this in chapter eight).  This theory of the relation of reason to faith as being commensurable leads to the acceptance of well formulated and supported scientific theory such as that of evolution despite the literal reading of sacred scriptures.  Consider the material below in which members of each of the three largest Western religions accepts evolutionary theory as being true.

Judaism: Rabbi Jo David 

Q: Can a person who believes in evolution also believe in a God, such as in Judaism?

A: I'd like to answer your question with a question. Who developed the system that we call "evolution?"

In Judaism, there's no problem with believing in scientific theories while also having faith in and a belief in God. One of the reasons for this is that there are many different Jewish understandings of how God operates in terms of the universe and in relationship to the earth and human beings. Unless science comes up with concrete proof that there is no Divine influence in the universe, there's no reason not to believe in both science and God at the same time.

Although many Orthodox Jews look at the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) as the actual word of God, most Jews see the Torah, which is the most important book in Judaism, as a God-inspired anthology of history, sacred myths and religious instruction, rather than as literal, scientific truth.

Judaism is a wonderful religion, although not an easy one to practice, since it requires the individual to decide many things for him/herself. There are almost no ideas that one must accept in order to be Jewish; however, there are many laws to learn about. Judaism is a religion that is also a lifestyle, unlike some other religions, where acceptance of certain religious truths and attendance at worship is sufficient.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Jo David. All Rights Reserved.


Roman Catholicism: Pope John Paul II 

Accepting the Theory of Evolution   at

His Holiness Pope John Paul II
October 22, 1996
To the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Truth cannot contradict truth

With great pleasure I address cordial greeting to you, Mr. President, and to all of you who constitute the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, on the occasion of your plenary assembly. I offer my best wishes in particular to the new academicians, who have come to take part in your work for the first time. I would also like to remember the academicians who died during the past year, whom I commend to the Lord of life.

1. In celebrating the 60th anniversary of the academy's refoundation, I would like to recall the intentions of my predecessor Pius XI, who wished to surround himself with a select group of scholars, relying on them to inform the Holy See in complete freedom about developments in scientific research, and thereby to assist him in his reflections.

He asked those whom he called the church's "senatus scientificus" to serve the truth. I again extend this same invitation to you today, certain that we will be able to profit from the fruitfulness of a trustful dialogue between the church and science (cf. Address to the Academy of Sciences, No. 1, Oct. 28, 1986; L'Osservatore Romano, Eng. ed., Nov. 24, 1986, p. 22).

2. I am pleased with the first theme you have chosen, that of the origins of life and evolution, an essential subject which deeply interests the church, since revelation, for its part, contains teaching concerning the nature and origins of man. How do the conclusions reached by the various scientific disciplines coincide with those contained in the message of revelation? And if, at first sight, there are apparent contradictions, in what direction do we look for their solution? We know, in fact, that truth cannot contradict truth (cf. Leo XIII, encyclical "Providentissimus Deus"). Moreover, to shed greater light on historical truth, your research on the church's relations with science between the 16th and 18th centuries is of great importance. During this plenary session, you are undertaking a "reflection on science at the dawn of the third millennium," starting with the identification of the principal problems created by the sciences and which affect humanity's future. With this step you point the way to solutions which will be beneficial to the whole human community. In the domain of inanimate and animate nature, the evolution of science and its applications give rise to new questions. The better the church's knowledge is of their essential aspects, the more she will understand their impact. Consequently, in accordance with her specific mission she will be able to offer criteria for discerning the moral conduct required of all human beings in view of their integral salvation.

3. Before offering you several reflections that more specifically concern the subject of the origin of life and its evolution, I would like to remind you that the magisterium of the church has already made pronouncements on these matters within the framework of her own competence. I will cite here two interventions.

In his encyclical "Humani Generis" (1950), my predecessor Pius XII had already stated that there was no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of the faith about man and his vocation, on condition that one did not lose sight of several indisputable points.

For my part, when I received those taking part in your academy's plenary assembly on October 31, 1992, I had the opportunity with regard to Galileo to draw attention to the need of a rigorous hermeneutic for the correct interpretation of the inspired word. It is necessary to determine the proper sense of Scripture, while avoiding any unwarranted interpretations that make it say what it does not intend to say. In order to delineate the field of their own study, the exegete and the theologian must keep informed about the results achieved by the natural sciences (cf. AAS 85 1/81993 3/8, pp. 764-772; address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, April 23, 1993, announcing the document on the "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church": AAS 86 1/81994 3/8, pp. 232-243).

4. Taking into account the state of scientific research at the time as well as of the requirements of theology, the encyclical "Humani Generis" considered the doctrine of "evolutionism" a serious hypothesis, worthy of investigation and in-depth study equal to that of the opposing hypothesis. Pius XII added two methodological conditions: that this opinion should not be adopted as though it were a certain, proven doctrine and as though one could totally prescind from revelation with regard to the questions it raises. He also spelled out the condition on which this opinion would be compatible with the Christian faith, a point to which I will return. Today, almost half a century after the publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as something more than just a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.

What is the significance of such a theory? To address this question is to enter the field of epistemology. A theory is a metascientific elaboration, distinct from the results of observation but consistent with them. By means of it a series of independent data and facts can be related and interpreted in a unified explanation. A theory's validity depends on whether or not it can be verified; it is constantly tested against the facts; wherever it can no longer explain the latter, it shows its limitations and unsuitability. It must then be rethought.

Furthermore, while the formulation of a theory like that of evolution complies with the need for consistency with the observed data, it borrows certain notions from natural philosophy.

And, to tell the truth, rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations. What is to be decided here is the true role of philosophy and, beyond it, of theology.

5. The church's magisterium is directly concerned with the question of evolution, for it involves the conception of man: Revelation teaches us that he was created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1:27-29). The conciliar constitution "Gaudium et Spes" has magnificently explained this doctrine, which is pivotal to Christian thought. It recalled that man is "the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake" (No. 24). In other terms, the human individual cannot be subordinated as a pure means or a pure instrument, either to the species or to society; he has value per se. He is a person. With his intellect and his will, he is capable of forming a relationship of communion, solidarity and self-giving with his peers. St. Thomas observes that man's likeness to God resides especially in his speculative intellect, for his relationship with the object of his knowledge resembles God's relationship with what he has created (Summa Theologica I-II:3:5, ad 1). But even more, man is called to enter into a relationship of knowledge and love with God himself, a relationship which will find its complete fulfillment beyond time, in eternity. All the depth and grandeur of this vocation are revealed to us in the mystery of the risen Christ (cf. "Gaudium et Spes," 22). It is by virtue of his spiritual soul that the whole person possesses such a dignity even in his body. Pius XII stressed this essential point: If the human body take its origin from pre-existent living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God ("animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere iubei"; "Humani Generis," 36). Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person.

6. With man, then, we find ourselves in the presence of an ontological difference, an ontological leap, one could say. However, does not the posing of such ontological discontinuity run counter to that physical continuity which seems to be the main thread of research into evolution in the field of physics and chemistry? Consideration of the method used in the various branches of knowledge makes it possible to reconcile two points of view which would seem irreconcilable. The sciences of observation describe and measure the multiple manifestations of life with increasing precision and correlate them with the time line. The moment of transition to the spiritual cannot be the object of this kind of observation, which nevertheless can discover at the experimental level a series of very valuable signs indicating what is specific to the human being. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-awareness and self-reflection, of moral conscience, freedom, or again of aesthetic and religious experience, falls within the competence of philosophical analysis and reflection, while theology brings out its ultimate meaning according to the Creator's plans.

7. In conclusion, I would like to call to mind a Gospel truth which can shed a higher light on the horizon of your research into the origins and unfolding of living matter. The Bible in fact bears an extraordinary message of life. It gives us a wise vision of life inasmuch as it describes the loftiest forms of existence. This vision guided me in the encyclical which I dedicated to respect for human life, and which I called precisely "Evangelium Vitae."

It is significant that in St. John's Gospel life refers to the divine light which Christ communicates to us. We are called to enter into eternal life, that is to say, into the eternity of divine beatitude. To warn us against the serious temptations threatening us, our Lord quotes the great saying of Deuteronomy: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Dt 8:3; cf. Mt 4:4). Even more, "life" is one of the most beautiful titles which the Bible attributes to God. He is the living God.

I cordially invoke an abundance of divine blessings upon you and upon all who are close to you.

Full text from the October 30 issue of the English edition of L'Osservatore Romano compiled by Christus Rex.

VATICAN CITY, OCT 23, 1996 (VIS) - In a Message made public today to the members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, meeting this week in the Vatican in plenary session, the Holy Father recalled that Pope Pius XI, who restored this academy in 1936, called this group of scholars "the Church's 'scientific senate'" and asked them "to serve the truth." The Pope expressed delight on the plenary's theme on the origin of life and evolution, "a basic theme which greatly interests the Church, as Revelation contains, for its part, teachings concerning the nature and origins of man." If the scientifically-reached conclusions and those contained in Revelation on the origin of life seem to counter each other, he said, "in what direction should we seek their solution? We know in effect that truth cannot contradict truth." --VIS 961023

The Pope's acknowledgement was welcomed as a significant advance by scientists, even though some said it had come late. "It will allow many Catholic scientists, who have been engaged for some time in research on human evolution, to continue their work without any censure or difficulty," said Francesco Barone, a leading Italian scientific philosopher. --Pope accepts theory of evolution - Reuters, 24 October 1996  


Consider this manifestation of the reworking of the idea of the deity away from the traditional and toward the post modern by the Roman Catholic priest who is head of the Vatican Observatory is a trained scientist.  Dr George Coyne has spoken and written about the relation of Religion to Science.  He has expressed his view that there need not be a conflict of religious belief with scientific findings. In the controversy concerning Intelligent Design and Evolution Dr. Coyne has expressed these views concerning the nature of the deity.

" Religious believers who respect the results of modern science must move away from the notion of a God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly.  God should be seen more as a parent or one who speaks encouraging and sustaining words.  Scripture is very rich in these thoughts.  It presents a God who gets angry , who disciplines, a God who nurtures the universe.  The universe has a certain vitality like a child does.  It has the ability to respond to words of endearment and encouragement...Words that give life arte richer than mere commands of information.  In such ways does God deal with the universe.  I claim that Intelligent Design diminishes God , makes her/him a designer rather than a lover. "  From  "The Pope's Astronomer" in New York Daily News, December 26, 2005, p. 33.


Islam:  Noor ad-Deen Ingalls

Within the past century, the theory of evolution has been taught, particularly in Western schools, as fact. While there is much controversy surrounding the conclusiveness of evolution, our response does not seek to disprove the theory nor repaint it in a faith-based light.

It should be noted that volumes have been written on the subject; they reflect a spectrum of positions including scientific skepticism of evolution to scriptural defense of it. If you are interested in the issue, we suggest that you examine it from several angles before you draw your conclusions.

Rather, our response aims to clear up areas of evolution that cannot be reconciled with the teachings of Islam, while acknowledging areas that may or may not be accurate – the Truth being known only to Allah. We hope that if our answer is found to be satisfactory, you will consider it as further proof of the soundness of the Islamic doctrine, particularly when compared with other creeds that demand “leaving the intellect at the door.”

To begin: the most important fact to bear in mind is that Allah alone controls ALL affairs. Allah is Qadeer, the Absolute Controller, of every event that has taken place, is taking place, and will take place. Nothing happens outside His will.

Nothing happens before Allah wills, nor after He wills. Nothing happens more than He wills, nor less than He wills. Nothing happens in a different manner than He wills. A snowflake does not fall in the arctic except by the will of Allah; a grain of sand does not blow across the desert except by His permission. A molecular mutation in a genetic code does not occur except by His power and control.

Allah alone causes life, and Allah alone causes death. Every living thing in the universe has been given life by Allah, and He alone is sustaining every second of its life. If a species survives better than another in a particular environment, it is because Allah allowed it to live more days, and He willed for its progeny to continue.

Allah has both a Sunna (usual way of making things happen), and He has a Qudra (ability to do anything even if it contradicts the usual order of things). He controls both cause and effect. Allah can will an effect to happen without a cause, and He can will a cause to take place but with no effect.

Regarding the former, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once fed an entire army to its fill with a single pot of food, due to Allah’s Blessing (baraka) and not due to any perceivable cause, such as more food being added to the pot, etc. Similarly, the Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) was thrown into an enormous fire by the wicked King Nimrod, but Allah willed for the fire to be cool for him, and thus he was not harmed. Allah removed the quality of burning from the fire, thereby overruling its effect. Both cases illustrate the Qudra of Allah, whereas water’s typical freezing at 0 degrees Celsius illustrates His Sunna, though it does so only by the will of Allah.

Allah is both transcendent and imminent in His qualities. Among the evolutionists, the role of “nature” or “natural selection” is confined to an absolutely transcendent and unconscious force that driven by an ill-defined “will to live.” It is not governed by wisdom, mercy, or justice. This is not Allah.

Furthermore, as we described the absolute control that Allah exhibits over His creation, it is impossible for Him to have started creation and then let it continue on its own. In other words, “random mutation,” if we are suggesting this as a means by which Allah might cause the origin of a new species from its cousin, is not absolutely random in that it cannot act outside the power of Allah.

In practical terms, if we take the theory of Evolution as a means by which Allah diversifies life on earth to show us His majesty and ability, then He alone, for instance, causes a nucleotide base to be deleted or added in a DNA sequence, thereby causing a frameshift mutation, which leads to the birth of a new species, which represents an evolutionary superior to its genetic predecessor, which passes on its DNA to its progeny, which results in a subsequent mutation, ad infinitum. Furthermore, Allah not only starts this process but He also sustains and directs every second of its execution and development.

Evolution is a huge subject; we naturally cannot do justice to it in a few paragraphs. For a more detailed look at an Islamic perspective on Evolution (but not the only Islamic perspective), please refer to the following link:

Islam and Evolution

In answer to your question, it is important how we think we were created, because it reflects our understanding of Allah. If I think that Allah created the first seeds of life and then “stepped back” from His creation, I am deluded as to the reality of my Sustainer. As such, I will not be able to worship Him correctly, with the proper level of reverence, and I may even consider there to be powers that act outside of His will. To think that something other than Allah has inherent power and can function beyond His power is a form of shirk, associating partners with Allah – the only unforgivable sin.

Furthermore, Evolution can help to explain how life functions, but it will never explain why it functions and exists. Only the prophets of Allah, those who have been selected by Allah to transmit knowledge of the unseen world to us that we otherwise could never access, are able to teach us the purpose for our existence and show us the way to Success.

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© Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2001. All Rights reserved.

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