the·o·ry [thee-uh-ree, theer-ee]
noun, plural the·o·ries.
1. a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena: Einstein’s theory of relativity. Synonyms: principle, law, doctrine.
2. a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact. Synonyms: idea, notion, hypothesis, postulate.
One word, two slightly different definitions. When we talk about the Theory of Evolution, or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, or The Big Bang Theory, we’re using the first definition. “A coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct.” Indeed, everything in science is a “theory”…we simply don’t tend to refer to, for example, the Theory of Gravity, in everyday parlance, we simple say, “gravity.” Why? Because the effects of gravity are easily and readily observable by all…although, ironically, science probably far better understands how evolution works than how gravity works.
However, religious fundamentalists tend to confuse this with the second definition. That it means that evolution, relativity, the big bang, or what have you…are merely “ideas”…just a simple notion…”in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.”
Science does not claim that there are absolute facts, or, rather, it says that there are, but we can never be 100% sure of them, as new evidence may come to light which may, at some point, disprove those facts.
Religion, however, claims to know the absolute truth, through divine revelation, rather than observation and experimentation.
There should, ultimately, be no war between the two…no conflict…because science is concerned with answering the question “How?” and religion is concerned with answering the question “Why?” Religion can never tell us how the universe came to be, and, likewise, science can never tell us why we are here.
Why is religion threatened by science? I’ve never understood this. Are the religious afraid that man might disprove the existence of God? If this were possible then what of it? Although I have learned throughout my own life that people would rather believe a comforting lie than be told an uncomfortable truth. And yet, by His very nature God must necessarily be supernatural, and so exist outside the realms of science. So where is the conflict? Where is the threat? It seems to stem from a misunderstanding of science, and an over simplification of faith. If faith is simply blindly following a doctrine, if faith cannot stand up to simply inquiry and testing, then what is that faith worth? Blind faith, I would suggest, is no faith at all. Learn all there is to know about the Universe, test your beliefs to breaking point, and if you still find that there’s room on in your understanding for a God or gods…or fairies…or dragons…or anything beyond the ken of science…then more power to you!
Do I believe in God myself? I’m honestly not sure right now. But what I do know is that life is pretty dull without a sense of wonder. For some, science provides enough wonder…just Google pictures of nebulae and if your imagination isn’t fired then you’re dead inside. But some need more…some need angels and demons, vampires and werewolves, nymphs and satyrs, dragons and ogres.
My personal feeling is that science is still very much in its infancy, that so much is still to be explained…spend a little time studying quantum physics and you’ll start to doubt everything you’ve previously believed about existence…and that it’s foolish for anyone to believe that science currently holds all the answers, and to therefore dismiss anything that seems to fall without its bounds as nonsense. One day science may be able to explain it all…one day science may reveal to us a God (and, interestingly enough, that was the aim of many of the founding fathers of modern science…well, that and turning lead into gold…)…but until that day it behooves us all to keep an open mind.