by Craig Branch – (The introduction to Areopagus Journal Vol. 5 No. 1 January-February 2005)
One of the primary goals we have for producing Areopagus Journal is to provide a sound theological treatment of important worldview issues in a way that bridges the gap between the rarified air of intellectualism and the dumbed-down level of mass media. This issue on Science and Christianity is quite a challenge in that regard as it is a complex issue covering a large number of related issues. But one doesn’t have to be a scientist or philosopher to realize the relevance of this topic. It affects many areas of our lives including public policy and our efforts at personal evangelism (i.e., overcoming the barriers to faith that have been consistently erected by years of public school education).
Is there indeed a conflict between Christianity and science? If so, which side is at fault? Is there a way to bring a rapprochement between the two perspectives? There is indeed significant hostility from many atheists, agnostics, and secularists toward Christianity’s (and many religions) perceived intrusions into the field of science. On the other hand, there is significant hostility among Christians toward much of modern science. However, an import ant distinction needs to be made between Christians who oppose science and those who oppose scientism, which is addressed in the journal.
Indeed when one considers the topic of Christianity and its relation to science, one usually thinks about the dispute over evolution and creation. While that is a significant issue, it is merely one manifestation among many of the real issue: what is real science and is there a valid relation between God, philosophy, ethics and science? Can religion/theology have anything significant to say about things in fields like ecology, astronomy, chemistry, physics, applied mathematics, physical sciences and resulting technologies, and medical science? The next Areopagus Journal will be devoted to the issue of evolution and creation, but this one will investigate these more fundamental questions. It is beyond the scope of this journal issue to present in exhaustive detail the evolution (see, I can use that word) of the conflict between science and Christianity, or the long history of the actual relationship between the two, but we will attempt to present you with an adequate understanding, and hopefully answer the question, Can Christianity and science ever be friends? So, we will examine various understandings of science, the scientific method, how the conflict arose, the limits of science, and how science and Christianity can and do cohere.
THE CONTEMPORARY WAR BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION
One doesn’t have to look far to encounter hostility from secular humanists and scientist s toward religion. There are a number of popular magazines produced by professional skeptics which offer a steady stream of rather vitriolic attacks on Christian views on science. For example, in Free Inquiry, a laureate in the International Academy of Humanism, Arthur Clarke writes,
“Perhaps we should thank the Taliban for finishing the task the Crusades began nine hundred years ago proving beyond further dispute that religion is incompatible with civilization. . . .Although religious beliefs mainly result from brain damage acquired in early life, the worse symptoms (e.g., churchgoing) are often delayed for years.”1
In the same issue, Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics, charges that President Bush’s Council on Bioethics reflect s religious rather than secular principles in that, The majority of the Council argues that human life cannot be treated as a commodity, that it is wrong to manufacture life, and that the human life including cloned embryos has the same dignity and moral worth as a person from the moment of it s creation. He calls any attempt to cast that position in any secular sense neither consistent nor coherent.2
Free Inquiry, along with other popular publications like Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic (which frequently feature well-known figures such as evolutionary biologists Richard Dawkins and the late Stephen Jay Gould, National Center for Science Education director, Eugenie Scott, and Massimo Pigliucci) give the impression that real science and religion are totally incompatible and that religion (read superstitious myths) stands in the way of progress. Yet, in a moment of confusion, one evolutionary scientist and paleontologist writes, “The larger unanswered questions are why America is the only First World national culture to retain Third World levels of belief in God.”3
The common perspective largely engendered by the secular education establishment and media is that (1) science has disproved the existence of God, and (2) that science is the liberator of progress from the restrictions imposed by religion. Thus, “warfare” nomenclature between science and Christianity exists in popular western culture.
The anti-religious scientists are not the only p arties in this warfare model, however. The other p arty is North American fundamentalism, characterized by its aggressive reaction to science as anti-Christian. The idea of science as an enemy of Christianity is seen in some popular writers, speakers, and debaters such as Dr. Henry Morris and Dr. Duane Gish of the Institute of Creation Research, and Ken Ham. The images and language used such as, Battle for the Bible and evolution is Satan’s weapon in his war with God, while theologically accurate (Eph. 6:10-18, 2 Cor. 10:3-5), are not altogether helpful or conducive to dialogue. There is a large and growing number of respected scientists who (unlike Richard Dawkins and friends) freely acknowledge the limits of the scientific method, and who are open to exploring the possibility of a more positive relationship between science and religion. In fact, there are large numbers of influential scientists, some Nobel Prize winners, who are Christians. One such scientist is Stephen Barr, a theoretical p article physicist at the Bartol Research Institute of the University of Delaware. He writes,
“What many take to be a conflict between religion and science is really something else. It is a conflict between religion and materialism. Materialism is regarded as scientific, and indeed it is often called scientific materialism, even by its proponent s, yet there are no legitimate reasons for considering it scientific. It is rather a school of philosophy, one defined by the belief that nothing exists except matter. However, there is more to materialism than this cold ontological negation. For many, scientific materialism is not a bloodless philosophy, but a passionately held ideology. Indeed, it is the ideology of a great part of the scientific world. Its adherents see science as having a mission that goes beyond the mere investigation of nature and the discovery of physical laws. That mission is to free mankind from superstition in all its forms, and especially in the form of religious belief.”4
In fact, the true allegiance of the atheistic crusader scientists surfaced recently when they lost one of their most respected champions. Renowned British philosopher and Oxford professor, Anthony Flew, became an atheist at the age of 15 and proclaimed the lack of evidence for Gods existence for decades in books and debates. Now 81, Flew has recently concluded that some sort of super intelligence or first cause must have created the universe.5
It should be noted that Flews new position, is that of a theoretical theism and not a practical theism, like Judaism or Christianity. Nonetheless, as noted in an article from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago, “At least, Flew and Faith, science and religion, agree that the complexity of life demands some origin in intelligence and purpose not involved in people s lives. These are important claims and genuine advances in understanding.”6 Ironically, the first formal account of Flews new perspective will be in the introduction of the new edition of his book God and Philosophy to be released soon by the major atheistic publisher Prometheus Press. Now the secular scientists are scrambling and attempting to spin Flews defection as “of little consequence”.
RECONCILING SCIENCE AND RELIGION
In this issue of Areopagus Journal, we offer an article by Nancy Pearcey, the Francis Schaeffer Scholar at World Journalism Institute, “The War that Wasn’t: Why Christianity Is a Science-Starter”. She rebuts the stereotypical claim that Christianity (i.e., the medieval Roman Catholic Church) tried to suppress the scientific advances of men like Galileo, Copernicus, and others and by extension, the “anti-science” (anti-Darwin-ism) gatekeepers from some public schools. Pearcey demonstrates that, “Most historians today agree that the main impact Christianity had on the origin and development of modern science was positive”.
Pearcey documents that the Enlightenment period “was conceived initially as a propaganda ploy by militant atheists and humanists who attempted to claim credit for the rise of science.” She rightly concludes that Christians need to be informed and active in communicating to others that ethical issues such as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and various forms of genetic engineering cannot be divorced from true science. We answer the question of why and what we must do with the data.
For the serious student of the history of interaction between Christianity and Science, I recommend the book, The Foundation of Dialogue in Science and Religion written by Anglican theologian Alister McGrath who also has a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics. One devastating blow to the secularist image is his comment, “While Richard Dawkins assert s (argues is hardly an appropriate word) that faith is one of the worlds great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate, this is not a view that commands much support within the scientific community.”7
Two additional articles in the journal will help you to understand the recent Intelligent Design Movement (ID), the focus of a large and growing number of Christian (and some non-Christian) academics and scientists who work in various fields of theoretical and applied science. First, “Gods Handiwork: How Scientific Evidence Points to the Existence of God” by Dr. Jay Richards, Senior Fellow at the cutting edge Discovery Institute (www.discovery.org). In addition to outlining the amazing evidence for intelligent design in nature, Dr. Richards explains the negative legacy of materialism and the positive advances of the ID movement. He points out how the present “evolution” of media coverage is finally moving from negative to more positive coverage. The “battle” is now focused on the actual science, and educational policy and legislative action.
Secondly, ARC’s Dr. Steve Cowan exposes the flaws in what is called “Methodological Naturalism” (or scientific naturalism), the view that science, by definition, can only allow natural explanations. Methodological naturalism is often used as a weapon to squelch debate in the “war” between secular science and religion. But, Cowan shows that methodological naturalism is both question-begging and a science-stopper.
Also, to help everyone “renew their minds” in this area we have included a recommended booklist. One of those books is Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence?, written by Dr. Henry Schaefer, one of the most distinguished physical scientists in the world, a five time nominee for the Nobel Prize. The book carries 28 recommendations from science professors and theologians and is available through ARC.
Also included in this issue is a “Christian Apologetics Manifesto” written by Christian philosopher Doug Groothuis. It s stated purpose is to “ignite the holy fire of apologetics passion and action. . .because of (a) the waning influence of the Christian worldview in public and private life in America today, (b) the pandemic of anti-intellectualism in the contemporary church, and (c) the very command of God Himself to further the truth.” Not everyone will agree with every detail of Groothuis manifesto, but we should all resonate with his call to intellectual engagement with our culture.
In closing, I want to affirm that there is no real conflict between true Science and Christianity. The conflict arises when one moves from science to scientism, a philosophical atheistic presupposition, and when one fails to recognize the limitations of science due to our human finitude. The Psalmist writes, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God and their expanse is declaring the works of His hands” (Ps. 19:1). And as Paul tells us, everyone knows that there is an omnipotent, omniscient Creator through observing His creation and that God has given His image bearers an awareness of absolute morality and ethics. He goes on to warn that it is mans sinfulness, his He goes on to warn that it is mans sinfulness, his rebellion that suppresses these truths (Rom. 1:18-25; 2:14-16). That is the presupposition that we operate from in the apologetic enterprise of reasoning in the marketplace (Acts 17:16-34).
Craig Branch is the Director of the Apologetics Resource Center, Birmingham, Alabama.
1 Arthur C. Clarke, “Thoughts for Today (and Tomorrow),” Free Inquiry 23:1 (Winter 2003/02): 16.
2 Arthur Caplan, “Attack of the Anti-Cloners,” Free Inquiry 23:1 (Winter 2003/02): 28.
3 Gregory Paul, “The Secular Revolution of the West,” Free Inquiry 22:3 (Summer 2002): 33.
4 Stephen M. Barr, “Retelling the Story of Science,” found at www.leaderu.com/science/storyofscience.html.
5 See Associated Press article, December 9, 2004 at www.abcnews.go.com/ US/print?id=315976.
6 William Schweiker, “Faith & Flew,” Sightings (Dec. 16, 2004) found at www.marty-center.uchicago.edu/sightings/archive_2004/1216.shtml).
7 Alister McGrath, The Foundation of Dialogue in Science and Religion (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998), 25