At a meeting of the British Association in 1860, Samuel Wilberforce, the bishop of Oxford, and T.H. Huxley, a proponent of Darwinian evolution, engaged in a heated exchange about the validity of evolution.

The incompatibility of evolution and religion has had a long history. As science explains it, evolution is the process by which populations undergo genetic change over time. One of the agents of evolution is natural selection, which acts on the variation within a population. This variation must be heritable
(transmitted from parent to offspring) and must affect an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a given environment. 

Individuals with beneficial variants produce more offspring than those with deleterious ones because they are better able to survive and reproduce. Over time, the number of individuals with beneficial variants increase relative to those with deleterious ones. As a result, the population becomes better suited to its environment.

This week, The Varsity asked members of U of T to comment on whether evolution and religion are compatible. Here is what they said:

“From my perspective and knowledge regarding the subject matter, I am… confident to say that religion and evolution are intimately related to each other. They are simply different manifestations of the exact same phenomena that happened on earth a few million years ago. Looking back at every civilization, religion has always been around to serve as guidance for people as lost, and to offer an explanation for the magic of creation. On the other hand, evolution is the human way to regard this exact topic by crowning Homo sapiens at the top of the food chain. People could view this subject in whichever way that they are comfortable with, because the ‘truth’ shall never be altered [regardless of who] believes it… ” 

— Jessie Gao, third-year physics and math student

“Religion and evolution are completely compatible. Scientific evidence need not conflict with religion. Science and religion answer completely different questions. Science answers the ‘how and when’. and religion answers the ‘who and why’. A creator can therefore govern over evolution and have a hand in these processes. Nothing should surprise God, so when we discover a distant lineage of life that has implications for humans, that should not overturn religious doctrines but rather enable us to interpret them in new ways.”

— Adam Varro, fourth-year ethics, society, and law student

“For many Christians, it would never occur to them that a model for explaining nature’s development would be incompatible with a commitment to the truth or religious faith. The support for science and university, longstanding in the church, rises from conviction that there is one God and truth is united in him. That implies, however, that the Christian does not believe the universe is without a source or that life can be reduced to the physical realm and stripped of meaning and purpose.  For the believer, it is a fuller and truer description of life as we know and experience it.”

— The Rev. Canon Dr. Dean Mercer, instructor, Wycliffe College

“If, as many faiths teach, there is an all-powerful, omniscient Creator, the unfolding of scientific understanding can be seen as part of the divine plan and of the process of divine revelation, even if new scientific information — as in the developing study of evolution — challenges and transforms some previously-held beliefs.”

— The Rev. Andrea Budgey, Humphrys Chaplain, Trinity College and the University of Toronto

“Evolution as a theory was devised as a tool for us to … understand the world. It is supported by … evidence, but we are far from being able to claim that evolution is an accurate representation of the reality. In fact, no scientists claim their theories to be absolutely correct. That being said, sciences are not dogmas. Although the Bible may conflict with Darwin’s theory, this does not prevent religion from coexisting with sciences.”

— Dominic Li, third-year math and statistics student

“What does it mean to be compatible? In my personal opinion, if people are able to accept both religion and the theory of evolution then, by definition, the two are compatible. Nowadays, religion and science play two different roles in people’s lives. The primary role of a religion is more to give people comfort and relief. Before, people may have turned to religion to find the ‘truth’, but now that’s the role that science takes. If science and religion play two different roles in our lives, why shouldn’t they be compatible?”

— Mike Park, third-year math and physics student