Ever since the rise of modern science, there have been vocal proponents of the view that science and religious belief are incompatible. Today, the work of the “new atheists” – Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett – popularize the viewpoint that science has disproved God or rendered belief in him unnecessary. These writers and their supporters confidently proclaim the irrationality, and the eventual end, of religion on the basis of science.
But many scientists who do not believe in God, such as famous Harvard evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, argue that the natural sciences are consistent with both atheism and conventional religious belief. Many contemporary scientists continue to hold to the same view held by the “founding fathers” of science (Kepler, Bacon, Galileo and Newton): that science and faith are not only compatible but are indeed complementary. How are we to understand the compatibility of science and faith in Jesus?
SCIENCE AND GOD
Can science disprove God?
Scientific knowledge is built on observable and measurable evidence, repeatable testing, and reviewable analysis. Those who argue that science disproves or displaces God do so on the basis of the viewpoint that truth can only be known via scientific or empirical methods (the official terms for this view are ‘scientism’ or ‘positivism’). The problem with this viewpoint is that it cannot be proven by science—it doesn’t pass its own test.
Here’s another way to look at this: In order for science to “disprove God,” at least two things would have to be true — 1) Proof of God’s existence must be discoverable by the methods of science; and 2) We must have exhaustive knowledge of all the relevant evidence for or against God’s existence. Neither of these statements can be proven by science. Therefore claims that “science shows there is no God” can only be made on unscientific presuppositions: on the basis of a prior belief (ie, faith in something besides science).
Are there limits to science?
Leading scientists argue that it is essential to acknowledge the limits and scope of science. Nobel Prize winning immunologist Peter Medawar writes, “That a limit upon science is made very likely by the existence of questions that science cannot answer, and that no conceivable advance of science would empower it to answer…I have in mind such questions as: How did everything begin? What are we all here for? What is the point of life?”
Another Nobel Prize winner, physicist Erwin Schrodinger, agrees, “I am very astonished that the scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It give us a lot of factual information, puts all of our experience in a magnificently order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.”
Does Christianity encourage science?
Yes! Christian theology supports and celebrates scientific discoveries and advances. In fact, Christian belief provides the supporting rationale for science that science itself cannot provide. How do we know there is a correlation between what we think about the world and the world outside of our minds? What grounds do we have for affirming the uniformity and regularity of the natural world? Why is the universe amazingly fine-tuned for life? Why do we long to explain the world in which we find ourselves? Why are we awestruck by its order and its mysteries? Christianity provides a basis for science by answering these foundational questions.
Noted philosopher of science Michael Polyani described this scientific endeavor as “the pursuit of discovery guided by sensing the presence of a hidden reality toward which our clues are pointing.” Christianity tells us that the clues are ultimately pointing us toward God. The world he made reflects and reveals his character to us, and he created us to explore its mysteries and uncover its potential.”
What about Evolution?
The creation account in Genesis focuses on who created the universe, what he created (everything), and why he created humanity. It was not written to answer our modern scientific questions about how he created. The interpretation of the creation account and its relationship to modern evolutionary science is an ongoing discussion within the Christian community. Many biblical scholars and scientists hold to the truth of Scripture and see no conflict between the creation account and evolutionary science.
What this means is that what you believe about evolution and creation does not determine what you believe about God. Science has not proven that the evolutionary process is an unguided process of purely random and natural selection. The absence of God is assumed from the start rather than disproved from the evidence.
- Jesus’ life: Nothing is more beautiful than the life of love Jesus lived. No other life lived on this earth comes close.Response: God is not an alternative to science as an explanation. He is not to be understood merely as a God of the gaps. On the contrary, he is the ground of all explanation. When we discover natural causes, we don’t explain away God, instead we discover how He works. Christianity doesn’t teach God is found in the “gaps” of our knowledge but that His wisdom and glory are see in all our knowledge of the natural world.
- Aren’t most scientists atheists?Response: No. Surveys indicate that the percentage of atheists in scientists held steady from 1916 to 1997 — about 40%. The advances in scientific knowledge have not led to a significant decrease in scientists who believe in God.
- Aren’t Miracles scientifically impossible?Response: Miracles are only “impossible” if you presuppose a purely naturalistic worldview (the material world is all there is). If there is a God, then miracles are extraordinary glimpses of God’s power and presence, as well as pictures of His ultimate purpose for humanity and creation.