Many students have said that if they accept a religion, they then must reject science and evolution.
Or if they accept science and the existence of evolution, then they have to reject religion.
When this occurs, some students experience distress when learning about scientific topics such as evolution, the Big Bang (creation of our universe billions of years ago), or nuclear chemistry: dating of the Earth’s layers, or fossils within them, is done with radioactive elements. This shows that our world is billions of years old.
However, most religions find science and evolution compatible. See “Voices for Evolution”, from the National Center for Science Education. It offers quotes from many religious groups, stating that evolution is compatible with religious beliefs. These groups include the Catholic Church, many large Protestant Christian groups, Jewish groups, Unitarian Universalists, and more.
Also see The Clergy Letter Project – this is an endeavor designed to demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible. This has been signed by almost 14,000 Christian priests, bishops and ministers, and hundreds of Jewish rabbis, Unitarian clergy and Buddhist clergy.
Genesis, The Hebrew Bible (“Old Testament”)
Genesis is the first book of the Bible, in Judaism and Christianity. Biblical scholars and many clergy note that Genesis contains two creation stories:
Genesis 1:1-2:3, sets out the seven days of creation:
Day 1: Creation of the heavens, earth, light, day and night.
Day 2: Creation of the the dome (sky) that separates the waters on earth, from the waters above the sky.
Day 3: dry land and vegetation.
Day 4: stars, moon, sun.
Day 5: water creatures and birds.
Day 6: Creation of land animals; humankind (both male and female). The number of humans created is not specified. God here gives to people “every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food” (Gen 1:29) – no prohibitions.
Day 7: God rested, and blessed this day.
Genesis 2:4-25. In the second creation story, things are a little different.
Here, individual days are not specified. And the sequence is different:
The Earth and heavens are created first; no rain yet, but a spring would well up and water the ground.
From dust, man was created (not woman yet)
The Garden of Eden – man is put here; the garden includes the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
God tells man to till and keep the garden of Eden, but not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Woman has not entered the scene yet – man is alone.
God notices that Man is alone, so God first creates animals and birds, and Man names them. But still there was no helper as partner for the man. So God makes Man fall asleep, pulls out a rib, and makes Woman. The story of original sin then ensues.
In the first Biblical creation story, all of creation is good. In the second story, even the garden of Eden is not a place of relaxed enjoyment, but a place of work (Gen 2:15), and a place where something is off-limits (Gen 2:16-17).
How do different people understand these two Biblical creation stories?
There are many other religions: each has its own Creation story.
The following is adapted from “10 Creation Myths” by Anthony Duignan-Cabrera & Tom X. Chao, Dec 19, 2004, LiveScience.
The ancient Greek Creation story
The early Greek poets had many teachings: The best-preserved is Hesiod’s Theogony. In this hymn, out of the primordial chaos came the earliest divinities, including Gaia (mother earth). Gaia created Uranus, the sky, to cover herself.
They spawned a menagerie of gods and monsters, including the Hecatonchires, monsters with 50 heads and a hundred hands, and the Cyclopes, the “wheel-eyed,” later forgers of Zeus’s thunderbolts.
Next came the gods known as the Titans, 6 sons and 6 daughters. Uranus, despising his monstrous children, imprisoned them in Tartarus, the earth’s bowels. Enraged, Gaia made an enormous sickle and gave it to her youngest son, Cronus, with instructions. When next Uranus appeared to copulate with Gaia, Cronus sprang out and hacked off his father’s genitals. Where Uranus’s blood and sexual organs fell, there sprang forth more monsters, the Giants and Furies. From the sea foam churned up came the goddess Aphrodite. Later, Cronus fathered the next generation of gods, Zeus and the Olympians.
The Hindu Creation stories
The Hindu cosmology contains many myths of creation, and the principal players have risen and fallen in importance over the centuries. The earliest Vedic text, the Rig Veda, tells of a gigantic being, Purusha, possessing a thousand heads, eyes, and feet. He enveloped the earth, extending beyond it by the space of ten fingers. When the gods sacrificed Purusha, his body produced clarified butter, which engendered the birds and animals.
His body parts transformed into the world’s elements, and the gods Agni, Vayu, and Indra. Also, the four castes of Hindu society – humans – were created from his body: the priests, warriors, general populace, and the servants.
Historically later, the trinity of Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer) gained prominence. Brahma appears in a lotus sprouting from the navel of the sleeping Vishnu. Brahma creates the universe, which lasts for one of his days, or 4.32 billion years. Then Shiva destroys the universe and the cycle restarts.
Japanese Creation stories
The gods created two divine siblings, brother Izanagi and sister Izanami, who stood upon a floating bridge above the primordial ocean. Using the jeweled spear of the gods, they churned up the first island, Onogoro.
Upon the island, Izanagi and Izanami married, and gave forth progeny that were malformed. The gods blamed it upon a breach of protocol. During the marriage ritual, Izanami, the woman, had spoken first. Correctly reprising their marriage ritual, the two coupled and produced the islands of Japan and more deities. However, in birthing Kagutsuchi-no-Kami, the fire god, Izanami died. Traumatized, Izanagi followed her to Yomi, the land of the dead.
Izanami, having eaten the food of Yomi, could not return. When Izanagi suddenly saw Izanami’s decomposing body, he was terrified and fled. Izanami, enraged, pursued him, accompanied by hideous women. Izanagi hurled personal items at them, which transformed into diversions. Escaping the cavern entrance of Yomi, he blocked it with a boulder, thus permanently separating life from death.
Chinese Creation stories
A cosmic egg floated within the timeless void, containing the opposing forces of yin and yang. After eons of incubation, the first being, Pan-gu emerged. The heavy parts (yin) of the egg drifted downwards, forming the earth. The lighter parts (yang) rose to form the sky.
Pan-gu, fearing the parts might re-form, stood upon the earth and held up the sky. He grew 10 feet per day for 18,000 years, until the sky was 30,000 miles high. His work completed, he died. His parts transformed into elements of the universe, whether animals, weather phenomena, or celestial bodies.
Some say the fleas on him became humans, but there is another explanation. The goddess Nuwa was lonely, so she fashioned men out of mud from the Yellow River. These first humans delighted her, but took long to make, so she flung muddy droplets over the earth, each one becoming a new person. These hastily-made people became the commoners, with the earlier ones being the nobles.
The Aztecs (Native American Indians from the area now known as central Mexico)
The earth mother of the Aztecs, Coatlicue (“skirt of snakes,”) is depicted in a fearsome way, wearing a necklace of human hearts and hands, and a skirt of snakes as her name suggests. The story goes that Coatlicue was impregnated by an obsidian knife and gave birth to Coyolxauhqui, goddess of the moon, and to 400 sons, who became the stars of the southern sky. Later, a ball of feathers fell from the sky which, upon Coatlicue finding it and placing it in her waistband, caused her to become pregnant again.
Coyolxauhqui and her brothers turned against their mother, whose unusual pregnancy shocked and outraged them, the origin being unknown. However, the child inside Coatlique, Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and the sun god, sprang from his mother’s womb, fully-grown and armored… He attacked Coyolxauhqui, killing her with the aid of a fire serpent. Cutting off her head, he flung it into the sky, where it became the moon. That was supposed to comfort Coatlicue, his mother.
Ancient Egyptian Creation stories
The ancient Egyptians had several creation myths. All begin with the swirling, chaotic waters of Nu (or Nun). Atum willed himself into being, and then created a hill, otherwise there’d be no place for him to stand.
Atum was genderless and possessed an all-seeing eye. He/she spat out a son, Shu, god of the air. Atum then vomited up a daughter, Tefnut, goddess of moisture. These two were charged with the task of creating order out of chaos.
Shu and Tefnut generated Geb, the earth, and Nut, the sky. First they were entwined, but Geb lifted Nut above him. Gradually the world’s order formed, but Shu and Tefnut became lost in the remaining darkness. Atum removed his/her all-seeing eye and sent it in search of them. When Shu and Tefnut returned, thanks to the eye, Atum wept with joy. Where the tears struck the earth, humans sprang up.
Ancient Babylonian Creaton stories
The Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elish, begins with the gods of water, Apsu (fresh), and Tiamat (salt), spawning several generations of gods, leading to Ea and his many brothers. However, these younger gods made so much noise that Apsu and Tiamat could not sleep (a complaint still common today amongst apartment-dwellers). Apsu plotted to kill them, but Ea killed him first.
Tiamat vowed revenge and created many monsters, including the Mad Dog and Scorpion Man. Ea and the goddess Damkina created Marduk, a giant god with four eyes and four ears, as their protector. In tangling with Tiamat, Marduk, bearing the winds as weapons, hurled an evil wind down her gullet, incapacitating her, and then killed her with a single arrow to her heart. He then split her body in half and used it to create the heavens and the earth. Later he created humans to do the drudge work that the gods refused to do.
Zoroastrianism, the Religion of Ancient Persia (Iran)
The Bundahishn of the Middle Persian era tells of the world created by the deity Ahura Mazda. The great mountain, Alburz, grew for 800 years until it touched the sky. From that point, rain fell, forming the Vourukasha sea and two great rivers. The first animal, the white bull, lived on the bank of the river Veh Rod. However, the evil spirit, Angra Mainyu, killed it. Its seed was carried to the moon and purified, creating many animals and plants.
Across the river lived the first man, Gayomard, bright as the sun. Angra Mainyu also killed him. Ouch! The sun purified his seed for forty years, which then sprouted a rhubarb plant. This plant grew into Mashya and Mashyanag, the first mortal humans. Instead of killing them, Angra Mainyu deceived them into worshipping him. After 50 years they bore twins, but they ate the twins, owing to their sin. After a very long time, two more twins were born, and from them came all later humans (but specifically Persians).
Norse mythology – Beliefs of the ancient Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Germans
According to Norse lore, before there was Earth (Midgard), there was Muspell, a fiery land guarded by the fire sword-wielding Surt; Ginnungagap, a great void, and Niflheim, a frozen ice-covered land. When the cold of Niflheim touched the fires of Muspell, the giant Ymir and a behemothic cow, Auðumbla, emerged from the thaw. Then, the cow licked the god Bor and his wife into being.
The couple gave birth to Buri, who fathered three sons, Odin, Vili and Vé. The sons rose up and killed Ymir and from his corpse created from his flesh, the Earth; the mountains from his bones, trees with his hair and rivers, and the seas and lakes with his blood. Within Ymir’s hollowed-out skull, the gods created the starry heavens.
* Primal Myths: Creation Myths Around the World , Barbara C. Sproul
* In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World, Virginia Hamilton (Author), Barry Moser (Illustrator)
* Parallel Myths, J.F. Bierlein (Author)
What are the rules for teaching about religion in public schools? One good resource is “The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide”, published by The Bible Literacy Project, Inc., and the First Amendment Center. The guide has been endorsed by the following organizations:
American Association of School Administrators
American Federation of Teachers
American Jewish Committee
American Jewish Congress
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs
Christian Educators Association International
Christian Legal Society
Council on Islamic Education
National Association of Evangelicals
National Association of Secondary School Principals
National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
National Council for the Social Studies
National Education Association
National School Boards Association
People for the American Way Foundation
Union of American Hebrew Congregations
Educators widely agree that study about religion, where appropriate, is an important part of a complete education. Part of that study includes learning about the Bible in courses such as literature and history. Knowledge of biblical stories and concepts contributes to our understanding of literature, history, law, art, and contemporary society.
The Supreme Court has held that public schools may teach students about the Bible as long as such teaching is “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.”6
The Court has also held that religious groups may not teach religious courses on school premises during the school day.7 The U.S. Department of Education guidelines reiterate that public schools “may not provide religious instruction, but they may teach about religion, including the Bible or other scripture.”8
In keeping with the First Amendment’s mandate of governmental neutrality toward religion, any study of religion in a public school must be educational, not devotional. This principle holds true whether teaching about the Bible occurs in
literature, history or any other class and whether the course is required or an elective.
Any class about the Bible [ Or other scripture] must be taught in an objective, academic manner.10 The class should neither promote nor disparage religion, nor should it be taught from a particular sectarian point of view.11
….In recent years, a consensus has emerged among many religious and educational groups about the appropriate role for religion in the public-school curriculum. In 1989, a coalition of 17 religious and educational organizations issued the following statements to distinguish between teaching about religion in public schools and religious indoctrination:
>The school’s approach to religion is academic, not devotional.
>The school may strive for student awareness of religions, but should not press for student acceptance of any religion.
>The school may sponsor study about religion, but may not sponsor the practice of religion.
>The school may expose students to a diversity of religious views, but may not impose, discourage, or encourage any particular view.
>The school may educate about all religions, but may not promote or denigrate any religion.
>The school may inform the student about various beliefs, but should not seek to conform him or her to any particular belief. (20)
6. School District of Abington Twp v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 225 (1963). See Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39, 42 (1980) (per curiam).
7. McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948).
8. ”Religious Expression in Public Schools,” Department of Education, Letter from Secretary Richard Riley (August 10, 1995) (original emphasis).
9. See Hall v. Board of Commissioners of Conecuh County, 656 F.2d 999 (5th Cir. 1981); Gibson v. Lee County School Board, 1 F. Supp.2d 1426 (M.D. Fla. 1998);
Chandler v. James, 985 F. Supp. 1062 (M.D. Ala. 1997); Herdahl v. Pontotoc County School District, 933 F. Supp. 582 (N.D. Miss. 1996); Doe v. Human, 725 F.
Supp. 1503 (W.D. Ark. 1989), aff’d without opinion, 923 F.2d 857 (8th Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 499 U.S. 922 (1991); Crockett v. Sorenson, 568 F. Supp. 1422
(W.D. Va. 1983); Wiley v. Franklin, 468 F. Supp. 133 (E.D. Tenn. 1979), supp. op., 474 F. Supp. 525 (E.D. Tenn. 1979), supp. op., 497 F. Supp. 390 (E.D. Tenn.
1980); Vaughn v. Reed, 313 F. Supp. 431 (W.D. Va. 1970). Compare Malnak v. Yogi, 592 F.2d 197 (3d Cir. 1979) (holding unconstitutional a school course in which
students participated in transcendental meditation ceremonies).
10. Schempp, 374 U.S. at 225; Graham, 449 U.S. at 42; Hall, 656 F.2d at 1002; Gibson, 1 F. Supp. 2d at 1432; Chandler, 985 F. Supp. at 1063; Herdahl, 933 F.
Supp. at 592; Human, 725 F. Supp. at 1508; Crockett, 568 F. Supp. at 1427; Wiley, 497 F. Supp. at 392, 394; Vaughn, 313 F. Supp. at 433; Malnak v. Yogi, 592
F.2d 197 (3d Cir. 1979) (holding unconstitutional a school course in which students participated in transcendental meditation ceremonies).
11. Wiley, 497 F. Supp. at 394. See also, Gibson, 1 F. Supp.2d at 1433-34; Herdahl, 933 F. Supp. at 595.
20. This consensus statement, as well as extensive guidelines and resources for teaching about religion in public schools, can be found in Finding Common
Ground: A First Amendment Guide to Religion and Public Education by Charles C. Haynes and Oliver Thomas. Finding Common Ground is available at cost from the First Amendment Center.