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Monday, February 18, 2008

Science versus Christianity? I don't think so.

A commenter on a previous post said, in part:

The scientist Stephen J. Gould said the world can be divided into two "majesteria." One is the physical world of evidence and experimentation. This is where science goes. The other is the world of thoughts and conjecture and belief. This is the world of religion. . . .

The creationism/evolution debate is caused by people leaving their magesteria. Creationism and Intelligent design are unscientific, just as denial of a soul is atheistic. Thus, unless people want Darwinism to be taught in Church, they must stop trying to insert Creationism and ID into science class. One is supported by fact, one by millenia of scripture. They cannot and should not be mixed.

The reference is to Stephen Jay Gould, one of the great popularizers of biological science of the late twentieth century. In Rocks of Ages, one of his many books, Gould proposed that science and religion are Non-Overlapping Magisteria -- each is legitimate, but they don't have anything important to say to each other. On the face of it, that's an attractive view. Science can't answer a lot of "why?" questions, and religion doesn't produce valid equations for gravitational attraction. However, there are some problems with such a view.

This scheme results in the trivialization of religion. Science, after all, is based on facts, and religion is only a matter of opinion, it is often said. In a way, that's true, but there are opinions in "science" that masquerade as facts. For religious persons, the things that are believed are also facts, although they can't be demonstrated experimentally.

For the Christian, there is another problem. That problem is that God has revealed Himself to us in multiple ways, and it is shortsighted and dangerous to ignore any of these ways. (I am not attempting to cover the subject of all the ways God is revealed to us in this post.) Why do I say this? Because of the Biblical evidence. Psalm 19 and Romans 1 tell us, respectively, that
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

and that "20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. . . ."

Not only that, but, as I was forcefully reminded in yesterday's sermon at the church I am presently attending:
Colossians 2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
(All quotes from the ESV)

If all treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ, surely that includes knowledge about quarks and ecosystems, quartz and energy. How, then, can Christianity be isolated completely from science, or how can science be completely isolated from religion? I am not arguing that only Christians can do effective science, or that the New Testament is a primary text for courses in astrophysics or microbiology, but that Christ, the Bible, and scientific findings are all ways of knowing about God. Nor am I arguing that we correctly understand all scripture, or all scientific findings.

Ian Barbour has been a leader in what he calls integration of science and religion. I think that, rather than what Barbour calls "conflict" or "independence," is the proper relationship between these two important areas of human thought.

Thanks for reading.


Dave Hansen said...

Thanks for another thoughtful column.

Martin LaBar said...

You are welcome.