Sample answer on scientific and religious interpretations to the origins of the universe

3.a) Describe the major differences between a scientific and religious account of creation. (14)

Although many people think of the two different accounts or the origin of the universe as essentially incompatible the most major differences actually lies in the questions that they presume to answer. All religious accounts, by there very nature XXX that any scientific accounts, seek to answer the questions ‘Why? Is the universe here?’ ‘Why is everything the way it is?’ ‘Why am I here?’ ‘What is the purpose of life?’ Formulated millennia before science and the development of scientific language there accounts are couched in the language of myth and symbol with imagery drawn from the contemporary culture so that the stories they tell could be understood by the people of the time. Scientific questioning, beginning with Aristotle and Ptolemy which led to the belief that the earth was the centre of the universe, continued on through Galileo, who practically observed that in fact the earth and the other planets orbit the sun, and on again through Darwin who postulated his theories on evolution, etc., has XXX appeared to be in direct conflict with religious teaching. Couched as these accounts are in hard concrete, practical, technical terms they have consistently attempted to answer the questions ‘how?’, ‘when’, ‘where?’ concrete and practical questions.

The fundamental differences in the answers have come about because of the fundamental differences in the approach. Science uses facts, observation of the physical world, repeatable experimentation + extrapolation; religion uses experience of the numenon, faith and instinct all unrepeatable, all subjective and devoid of objective, verifiable proof.

What then are these accounts? Although there are many others I will refer primarily to the Judaeo-Christian (Biblical) accounts. In Genesis we are told:

  • That God created
  • That he created in 6 days
  • That he created Light first, t6hen the universe, then the sun, then life on earth and finally man and woman
  • That man was to reign supreme over creation
  • That man was created in God’s image and with God’s sense of morality and responsibility. Whereas the new widely accepted theory called ‘The Big Bang’ theory accounts for creation like this?
  • First all energy was compressed into a tiny space at one point of the universe
  • Then something caused an enormous explosion whereupon all matter began to fly away from this centre at terrifying speeds
  • This speed caused heat which caused light
  • As it began to slow so matter began to form, stars to coalesce, planets to clump together and after billions of years
  • Life began by evolving from single-celled orgasms an upwards

So on the face of it these two accounts couldn’t be more dissimilar – in one an outside agent – God, in the other a physical process ; in the first a mere 6 days, in the other billions of years ; the Genesis account assumes a deliberate activity leading to humanity as the culmination of creation, science logically sees human life as an accident stemming from a inordinately long series of random events ; and of course the Bible story invests a certain purpose to man’s existence, whereas science cannot but see man’s place as superior merely through the process of natural selection and by being the ‘fittest’ survivor – so far? Finally the Bible story expanded in John’s gospel shows us God the sustainer behind the universe working to keep it in balance while science predicts the inevitable end of the universe, albeit at some unimaginable time in the future, based on the hard evidence of existing physical laws and principles.


3.b) How far are they incompatible with each other? (6)

Having just said these two accounts seem incompatible on the surface we need to look deeper to see if they really are.

Of course religious and (scientific) fundamentalists could never accept that a blend or XXX of these two apparently opposing viewpoints could by possible. Religious fundamentalists fear that science is trying to do away with God and that Heaven and Hell are utterly real and that 6 days means just that. While scientific fundamentalists feel that to speculate that a God might have created the universe through the mechanism of the ‘Big Bang’ and that evolution equally might merely be another device God has used to realise human potential is to compromise the very rationality upon with science is based.

However, fortunately, these close-minded folk are, today, in the minority and many on both sides of the divide can see the differences as well as the similarities between the two. Indeed many famous Christian philosophers have seen that the two can go hand in hand. Teilhard de Chardin said “All roads to the truth lead to one God” and St. Anselm believed that reasoned argument can strengthen faith though it is no substitute for true commitment to God. In fact in 1884 Archbishop Temple declared that it was “impossible for science to rule out that we might be made in God’s image“.

Scientists too have counted among there number many who have also been able to believe in a creator God: notably Einstein and Newton. Einstein believed that “science without religion is lame (While) religion without science is blind” – Perhaps partially a reference to the way Galileo’s scientific discoveries were greeted by the medieval church! While Isaac Newton was convinced of a “being, incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent” by rational reflection on the orderliness of nature.

Perhaps we should let Francis Bacon have the final say: “We have a book of God’s words (the Bible) and a book of God’s works (nature) (and) both should complement each other.”