Science and religion are both wrong

There is hardly anything among natural scientists that is less controversial than the theory of evolution. Since Charles Darwin introduced them in the 19th century, researchers from a wide variety of disciplines have continued to uncover the mechanisms of the origin of the species.

Not all questions have been answered yet, much is still not understood. But little by little, the growing knowledge of biologists is fitting into this theory. Anyone who discovered something that refutes them would be a sure candidate for the Nobel Prize.

And yet very many people reject the theory of evolution. It is those believers who are convinced that the earth and life as it currently exists were created by God. Others are more open-minded, but hold on to the belief that God at least intervened in a guiding manner so that man finally came into being. But this also contradicts the theory of evolution, for which the factor of chance plays a fundamental role. It is difficult to reconcile this with a plan of God.

Nevertheless, there are devout Muslims and Christians who are convinced that their beliefs can really be reconciled with the theory of evolution.

Resistance to the theory of evolution worldwide

The rejection of the theory of evolution is particularly widespread in the USA. Two thirds to three quarters of the population are convinced that God either created man or directed his development.

In Germany, too, in a survey in 2009, 20 percent were convinced that man was "created by God as it is in the Bible"; almost as many were not sure.

The group of those who reject the theory of evolution is particularly large among the Muslims, reports the teacher of Islamic religion, Turgut Demirci. The great majority "regards the evolution theory not only as wrong, but also as incompatible with the Koran," said the Austrian in his master's thesis. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, relatively many Muslims assume that humans will "develop" because they did not ask whether humans developed from common ancestors with other animals. Then the result would have been different, so Demirci.

Hadi Schmidt-El Khaldi from the Liberal-Islamic Federation in Germany suspects that a large number of Muslims in developing countries around the world are illiterate or have only a low level of school education and therefore have no clear idea of ​​the theory of evolution. In Germany and Austria, on the other hand, the basis is being created at schools and universities for integrating them into a Muslim worldview.

But even here, says Demirci, most Muslim students have adopted a negative attitude from their parents or from the mosque communities. Unlike Christian religious instruction, Islamic instruction convey the account of creation as a fact. Instead of helping the students to reconcile the biological knowledge with their beliefs, they would be induced to develop an irrational defensive attitude towards the modern sciences or to accept contradictions uncritically.

Faith and science with different tasks

Demirci knows what he's talking about. A few years ago, the trained imam was one of the majority of those who reject the theory of evolution. Then at the University of Vienna he dealt with the question of the compatibility of the theory of evolution and his beliefs - and came to the conclusion: There is no contradiction between Islam and the scientific theory of the origin of species.

Devout Muslims, he says today, could easily accept the theory of evolution. All you have to do is recognize that religion and science have very different claims and goals.

Scientific research must fundamentally leave God as a factor outside of the equation: not because he does not exist, but because God's work could otherwise be used as an explanation for every not yet understood phenomenon. Allowing supernatural explanations would bring research and science to a standstill. Scientists would therefore have to try to examine and explain reality using rational methods.

The stories of the scriptural religions, on the other hand, should be meaningful, says Demirci. The creation account of the Koran as well as the Bible should be understood as a narrative with which people should be made clear about their finitude, their purpose of existence and their responsibility towards God. "The Koran does not claim to convey any scientific information at all," Demirci quotes the Turkish professor for Koran exegesis, Mustafa Öztürk from the Çukurova University in Adana. He only draws on the knowledge and ideas of Mohammed's contemporaries to impart religious teachings, Demirci said.

Historical causes for the rejection of evolution

The prevailing worldview among Muslims is still strongly influenced by the convictions of religious scholars such as the most influential Islamic theologian to this day, Muhammad al-Ghazali (Algazel). He taught in the 11th and 12th centuries that the Koran already contained all knowledge. Even subjects like arithmetic and geometry held the risk of getting entangled in sins.

With regard to the theory of evolution, this was felt by the late Ottoman academics who brought Darwin's findings to their homeland from the west in the 19th century. Against the resistance of theologians and intellectuals, the theory could not prevail. In Turkey, for example, it was discussed in modern biology classes, but was rejected by most Turks. Now it is no longer on the curriculum.

According to Demirci, even most of the Muslim scholars who advocate the theory of evolution try to develop a special "Islamic" form. So they ascribe to God the role of a guide who intervenes in the development of species as he pleases - which contradicts the scientific approach.

Non-overlapping areas of competence

The idea of ​​viewing science and religion as two separate areas of competence, as Demirci suggests, is not new. Almost exactly 20 years ago, for example, the American paleontologist Steven Jay Gould declared that this would prevent conflicts between the two areas. The occasion was a declaration by Pope John Paul II the year before, in which the Catholic Church officially recognized the idea of ​​evolution as a scientific theory for the first time.

With recourse to a formulation by Galileo Galilei, Gould was convinced that science and religion could coexist without any problems as "non-overlapping teaching areas". The US National Academy of Sciences supported Gould's view.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the Italian astronomer Galileo pointed out that "the purpose of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how to get to heaven, not how the sky moves". Galileo saw the latter as the task of scientists.

Doubts about the possible coexistence

But some scientists are not convinced that this dividing line can be drawn clearly. The evolutionary geneticist H. Allen Orr from the University of Rochester pointed out that behind the religious answers to questions about the meaning of life and morals there is still a belief that something supernatural affects the world.

But if that is the case - if miracles occur in our world by the hand of God, as the great religions say - God is going into that area that can be scientifically verified, says the British evolutionary biologist and religion critic Richard Dawkins of the University of Oxford .

Some do not even want to leave the field of morality to religions alone. "The mere fact that we agree on moral boundaries that trump any claim to religious freedom - we would not allow any religion to make human sacrifices - shows that we are not giving religion the ultimate authority over moral rules," countered the American philosopher Daniel Dennett to the biologist Gould.