At Science and Religion Today, Dan McAdams explains why we can’t make evolution a better story. No motivated main character, no narrative arc, just random, mechanical forces. No way around it–religion and science are different.
I would argue, though, that evolution and science could attract more “believers” if we looked at them on their own terms but from a slightly new angle.
Here’s the key question: What are some of the heartfelt uncertainties or needs that people look to religion to resolve? Here are three. First, many people feel a need to know the big picture—how the universe began and what our purpose is in being here–and religion gives it to them. Two, religion offers consolation in the face of death. And three, it gives guidance about the difference between right and wrong.
I think science can offer or suggest responses on these matters to a greater degree than most people think.
First, science not only describes the Big Bang and the cosmic aftermath; it also makes a strong case that, as living things, our built-in, never-ending purpose, always pursued in ways basic or sophisticated, is to stay alive and try to thrive.
Two, about death, science doesn’t promise an eternity in heaven, but it does show us the awesome 3 billion year history of living things. For me, there is some consolation in knowing my life/death is a link in a very long, very large chain of life.
Finally, all creatures, even plants, cooperate and compete, reproduce and kill, and, if the creatures are us, love and hate. Science certainly doesn’t hand down commandments, but by showing us the deep roots of behaviors that help and hinder life, it can help us make choices.
So maybe looking to science to tell stories is not the best approach. We might do better sharing the ways that science, on its own terms and with reasonable expectations, meets some of our spiritual needs.