Are Religions Evolving?

Last night Dr Mike Taylor came to Malmesbury Abbey to talk about Dinosaurs and God (see pic). A self-proclaimed ‘armchair Palaeontologist’, with a PhD no less, he spends his spare time trawling through fossils in museums across the world. He has particular fondness for the long-necked dino’s called Sauropods, two of which he has been able to name – Xenoposeidon proneneukos meaning “alien earthquake god” and Brontomerus mcintoshi meaning “thunder-thighs”. These choices of names perhaps reflect his controversial belief that taxonomy is merely an art. Besides this, the reason for Mike’s talk was that he is an avid Christian who believes science and his (blind) religious faith can co-exist in harmony, and don’t contradict one another.

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Now as a scientist and definite non-believer I find his position quite baffling. I am sure that science can and does answer every single question about how life on Earth (and we humans) came to be here, so I see no need to bother with religion. Mike also fully appreciates the power of the scientific method but argues that there are some questions it cannot hope to answer – what these might be is not quite clear. He is very sure of the evolution of all animals and humans, but suggests that at some point in our relatively recent evolutionary past God recognised that we look close enough to ‘his image’ and waved his magic over us, raising us from mere animals to some higher status that we now enjoy. Mike argues that we are moral, responsible, merciful, forgiving and that these things set us apart from all other animals, contrary to the clear evidence that we are nothing more than a particularly strange ape.

I’m not trying to cause offence, but it’s hard to see why someone who accepts the evidence for evolution needs any further explanation for how and why we got here. Religion seeks to give answers to the ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ of life and being human, but science adequately answers these questions; most people just don’t like to accept the answers it gives. There is no great ‘meaning’ of life, we are here by chance and the only ‘purpose’ we and all other living things have is to produce replicates of ourselves, thereby propagating our genes and outcompeting our rivals. Perhaps this truth is just too anti-climactic for most to accept and therefore religions have flourished by filling people’s need for something more. Being scientifically enlightened does not make you feel empty and meaningless; it fills one with awe, excitement and curiosity as the wonders of life itself are revealed.

As science continues its unquenchable desire to explain, it is constantly putting pressure on religious beliefs, by falsifying them. Their only strategy to survive as a religion is to adapt and admit that certain passages (more and more it would seem) are not meant to be literal historic accounts but are poetic stories with hidden messages. After countless attempts to scupper the advances of evolutionary thinking, religious groups are finally starting to accept that fighting against science is simply hopeless. The result is that people like Dr Taylor are helping to promote the marriage between science and religion. In this way they hope that their faith can continue despite the mounting evidence that there is no need for religion, as everything is comfortably explained by science. Ironically then, religions are now being forced to ‘evolve’ to stay relevant and maintain the appeal of increasingly educated people, most of whom rightly accept science as fact.

Unfortunately, religion will always be able to fall back on the personal nature of ‘belief’ and the impossibility of disproving the existence of (a) God. But with some luck and much quality education, soon parents and their children won’t see any need for religion when science can successfully explain everything there is to know about life on Earth and Homo sapiens.