Forget evolution. The most consequential conflict between science and religion concerns sex. Science has given us the ability to enjoy sex without necessarily having babies. Since that possibility was, if you'll pardon the expression, inconceivable at the time the Bible and other sacred texts were written, conservatives interpret the Scriptures as being opposed to any sort of family planning. This has terrible consequences.
In the Islamic nations, a single woman who becomes pregnant, even if by rape, often faces death at the hands of her own family in what is quaintly called an "honor killing." In the United States, we're not quite so barbaric. We just condemn teen mothers to a life of poverty and poor health.
There is a lot of handwringing among conservative Christians about unplanned teen pregnancy -- as indeed there should be, since they contribute to it through their adamant opposition to sexuality education and contraception for teens. A recent study by scholars at Drexel University and the University of Pittsburgh shows an extraordinarily strong correlation between fundamentalist religiosity and teen pregnancy. The correlation holds up even when other variables, such as income, are controlled. Having created a crisis, the fundies respond to it by setting up "crisis pregnancy centers" that try to scare young women into rejecting abortion and giving up their babies for adoption instead.
A similar situation exists in South Korea, the New York Times reports today. South Korea is the one Asian nation where Christian missionaries have found great success. Abortion is illegal there, in contrast to Japan, where it is commonplace. In America, access to legal abortion hangs by a judicial thread. In the meantime, opponents do everything they can to make it impractical for a pregnant teen to get an abortion. It is understandable that those who believe that a zygote or fetus is just like a baby would be passionate about saving its life. But the question is why should anyone believe that?
There is surely no justification at all for believing that a fertilized egg is just like a newborn baby. Anti-abortion zealots are fond of framing their position in scientific terms. "It has a unique human genome," they will say. Sure. So does one of my hair follicles, but no one would jail me for donating my hair to a wigmaker, I hope.
As I've had an opportunity to point out to lawmakers in a legislative hearing, some of the daughter cells of a successful zygote will go on to become a placenta, the liver-like organ that mediates the exchange of nutrients and wastes between mother and fetus.
Do we want to extend civil rights to a placenta? I hope not. The question is never "When does life begin?" but rather "When does a new person arrive in the world?"
As a society, we don't believe that kindness is confined to "unique human genomes." Otherwise, Michael Vick would never have served time. What we find immoral is cruelty to a sentient being -- something that can feel pain. Vegetarians feel empathy for cattle sent to slaughter, but no one weeps for wheat before the sickle.
The question of whether a fetus becomes a sentient being before birth is one that science may one day evidentially answer. Religion has nothing authoritative to say on this question, anymore than it does on astronomy. In the meantime, we must trust mothers.